Time to re-LAX

Got up at 6.45am to find that the Celebrity Eclipse was docked in Los Angeles, right back where she started from.  Felt really depressed that this was the last day of our fabulous, long-awaited holiday.

The weather was dry but dull, and certainly cooler than it had been when we’d arrived. We walked along Deck 14 to the Ocean View café to get a substantial breakfast today as we didn’t know where/when we’d be eating next.  I therefore opted for the full American breakfast: coffee, juice, crispy bacon, corned beef hash, pancakes, waffles and maple syrup.  The self-service restaurant was fairly crowded as expected, and we thought enviously of those, such as quiz team-mates Frank and Norm, who’d be staying on board for the next cruise.

After breakfast we returned to stateroom 8166 to collect our bags and have a last look round to make sure we hadn’t left anything behind.  Then we left the room for the last time and made our way to the Eclipse Theatre for this morning’s excursion.  Yes! As our flight wasn’t until 20:50 hours tonight, we had time to do a half-day excursion around Los Angeles with a handy airport drop-off afterwards.

We waited for a short while in the theatre before our bus number was called, then off we went to Deck 2 and the disembarkation process.  At the quayside we were directed to our coach and we took our seats, stashing our carry-on bags in the overhead lockers, and settling down.

The bus set off through the busy Monday-morning LA traffic towards Beverly Hills, the millionaires and movie-stars hangout.  I’ve read a lot of the late, great Jackie Collins’ books, many of which are set in the cut-throat movie business in Beverly Hills, so it was interesting to see some of the places I’d only read about.

We travelled along the famous Santa Monica Boulevard on the way, and eventually the coach pulled up and we got off in Beverly Hills.  By now the sun was shining brightly and it felt pleasantly warm.  Our first stop was for some people to use the restrooms, and then we followed our guide across the busy street to the picturesque Beverly Gardens Park.

Beverly Gardens Park is 22-blocks long and stretches along Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills, California for 1.9 miles. It was designed by landscape architect Ralph D. Cornell.

The park serves to provide a lengthy green swathe between the northern residential area and the commercial sections of the city. It features a two-mile jogging path, many hundred-year-old cypress and ficus trees, gardens, sculpture, and the big, iconic Beverly Hills Sign, a re-creation of the original arching, lighted historic sign, built near the city’s centre.

The 6-monthly Beverly Hills Art Show is held on the park’s central blocks, during the third weekend of every May and the third weekend of each October. Approximately 250 artists from around Los Angeles and throughout the United States are selected to display work, and up to 50,000 patrons attend throughout the weekend.

It was pleasant and relaxing in the park, and Trevor posed for a photo in front of the sign.  Then we followed our guide along the streets towards the famous and elegant Rodeo Drive, full of designer shops and often frequented by the rich and famous.  On the way, the guide pointed out the area where the iconic “shop scene” in the movie Pretty Woman had taken place.

We strolled along the street, looking at the famous names like Louis Vuitton, Max Mara, Bulgari, Hermès, Rolex, Cartier, Tiffany & Co – all shops where Trevor and I could never afford to buy anything.  We were quite amused to see that many of the shops had their Christmas decorations up, and outside Versace was a huge Christmas tree and several ornate wreathes.  I know it’s already November, but I don’t feel at all Christmassy yet, and certainly not in the hot Californian sunshine!

At the end of Rodeo Drive, our guide pointed out the Regent Beverly Wilshire hotel.  This hotel is famously frequented by movie stars, millionaires and politicians, and it was also the hotel featured in Pretty Woman.

We then made our way through the streets and back towards the park to where the bus picked us all up, and we continued on our way to the famous Santa Monica pier.  Along the way, our guide pointed out all the huge, expensive properties and said it was impossible to buy even a small house here for under a million dollars.

We pulled up along the seafront and were told we had an hour and a quarter of free time here, so Trevor and I decided to go and find somewhere to get something to eat.

We walked up a side-street and spotted a Subway, so in we went.  Our guide had gone in there too for her lunch.  You can’t go wrong with a Subway sandwich; you can choose what type of bread you want and choose your filling and sauces.  We opted for the meal-deal and I chose a beef and cheese 6″ sub with lots of salad.  This was accompanied by a cardboard carton of Diet Coke and a bag of jalapeño crisps which were pretty hot.

After lunch we walked back across the road towards the park and funfair, where a small crowd had gathered round a couple of street entertainers.  The two guys had a massive ghetto-blaster and were doing break dancing to the loud bass rap music.  As we were watching, a couple arrived with their dog on a leash and stopped to watch as well.  Just then, I turned to look at the dog (which was quite an attractive animal) and it caught my eye, then launched itself at me with a series of frenzied barks!  It was just as well it was muzzled, because I surely would have been bitten.  I was a little shaken, but there was no harm done, and the couple apologised profusely.

We then returned to the bus and continued our excursion, this time towards Malibu.  We passed lots of huge, beach front houses and saw several surfers, swimmers, walkers and joggers just passing their time with insouciant ease.  Across the road from the beach the rugged hills rose into the cloudless blue sky, and we could see more of the millionaires’ homes perched in the hills with incomparable views of the sparkling Pacific Ocean.  How the other half live!

Soon we came to Malibu Bluffs park where we once again alighted from the bus for a walk around. There were a great many grey squirrels and signs up advising visitors not to feed them as it would lead to over-population and increase the nuisance value.  One of these signs was posted above another sign warning people to look out for rattlesnakes.

All too soon it was time to get back on the bus and make our way towards Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).  We arrived after about an hour, and the guide asked which airlines we were using so we could be dropped off at the correct terminal.  Trevor and I were the only ones getting off at the British Airways terminal.

Now came the extremely boring and tedious part of the day; the long, long, long wait around at the airport for our flight.  We had about six hours to kill, so we hoped it wouldn’t be too early to check our cases in.  The queue at the BA desk moved pretty fast, and when we got to the front we asked if we could have the upper deck on the Airbus A380, and preferably seats in Row 80, as these were the ones we’d been in on the outward journey.  When we received our boarding passes we noticed that the woman on the check-in desk had ignored our request altogether, giving us seats on the lower deck; one at the window and one in the centre of three, which meant there would be a stranger sitting beside us in the aisle seat who we would have to disturb from time to time.

In the meantime, we went through security and over into airside.  We browsed the duty-free shops but as the pound is weak against the US dollar, everything appeared very expensive so we didn’t buy anything.  We then went to a cheerful little wine bar that also sold craft beers, so we grabbed a bar stool each and ordered a bottle each.

We stayed for two drinks and the bill was an eye-opener; around $32.00 for four bottles of beer.  We then decided to move on, and just spent some time sitting and reading or playing games on my phone, as the time passed by so slowly.

Finally we decided to go to another bar.  We found one that seemed to be doing a roaring trade and we sat on bar stools; I had a large glass of Pino Grigio while Trevor had a pint of beer.  We took our time drinking them, and I got out my laptop and used the free wifi to check my emails and upload some of this blog.  We then asked for the bill, and it was a colossal $35.00, which worked out at £27.28 for two drinks !!!!!  Good grief.

Afterwards we just made our way along to the departure lounge and sat it out.  Soon came the time to board and we took our seats and settled back before the giant aircraft was pushed back from the gate and taxied to the runway for the 10 hour flight back to Blighty.

Flight BA268 then took to the skies and carried us east through the vast cloudscape, ever closer to home.

 

 

Wine Tasting in Ensenada

REMEMBRANCE SUNDAY

Got up at eight o’clock this morning and went out onto the balcony; the weather was a bit warmer this morning and we hoped it would be hot and sunny on our arrival into Ensenada, Mexico.  We had last visited Ensenada in March 2000 on the Holiday, and we looked forward to seeing how it had changed.

Went up to Deck 14 to walk along to the Ocean View café. The usual morning power walkers and joggers were out in force, getting their pre-breakfast laps in.  We enjoyed our regular substantial breakfast then went along to the Sky Lounge to meet up with the rest of our (winning!) quiz team for the morning trivia.

We answered the questions and felt as though we’d done fairly well, but I don’t know if we won or not, because Trevor and I had to leave before they’d gone through all the answers.  This is because, at 10 o’clock, a Remembrance Service was being held in the Eclipse Theatre and we didn’t want to miss it.

The service was brief (only 15 minutes) but meaningful.  It was non-religious, and gave thanks to the armed forces for their sacrifices in both World Wars (and other wars).  One of the entertainment team gave a reading, then Big Mike played a classical piece on the piano. Then came the beautiful and famous Ode to Remembrance (from the poem For the Fallen):

They shall not grow old, as we who are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
WE WILL REMEMBER THEM.

We then stood up and had a minute’s silence, before the service finished with a tenor singing Nessun Dorma.

Afterwards we went back to our cabin and reluctantly decided to make a start with our packing, as tonight would be our last one on board.  Dragging one of the cases out from under the bed, we stashed a lot of the stuff we wouldn’t be needing again this cruise, as well as all the prizes we won.

We then went up on deck to have a wander around. We could see ‘land ahoy’ and we watched as the Eclipse manoeuvred her way into port.  We could hear the instantly-recognisable ohuh, ohuh, ohuh grunts of seals, and when we looked, sure enough we saw a group of them playing and frisking in the sea near the harbour wall.  There must have been about four of them, and their noise brought other passengers over to our side of the ship to have a look.  😊

We returned to 8166 to get our excursion tickets, as well as bag, phone, money, credit-cards etc. before making our way back to the theatre to await the call for our half-day excursion, which didn’t take too long.  Then we went down to Deck 2 to disembark the Eclipse and proceed to the line of waiting buses.  Beforehand, however, we all had to go and sign some sort of waiver form which we couldn’t understand, as we were only going to a vineyard for a spot of wine-tasting.  There were quite a lot of people milling around on the dockside, not quite knowing where we were supposed to be going; it didn’t seem to be very well organised.  There were about 90 people waiting to go on the vineyard tour, and I hoped the group would be split up into more manageably-sized groups, as it would have been ridiculous with a group of 90 (imagine the queues everywhere).

However, we needn’t have worried as we were split into two groups and each assigned a guide and a bus.  Our guide explained it would take about 45 minutes before we reached our chosen vineyard and winery and in the meantime we were to sit back, relax and enjoy the scenery passing by outside our windows.

The scenery included a very arid landscape with rocky hillsides and many cacti, as well as many grapevines growing in rows on the sandy slopes.  This area is noted for its deep granite soils, warm sunny days, and nights cool due to breezes from the nearby Pacific Ocean. The area is ideal for both red and white wines, and one of the few locales in the world that can grow grapes for world-class wines. Grapes for Baja California (which includes Ensenada) wines are also grown in areas in the neighbouring Sonora state. The varieties of red wine produced in the Baja California region are Cabernet Sauvignon, Ruby Cabernet, Zinfandel Grenache and Mission. The white wines are Chenin Blanc, Palomino, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Saint Emilion and Malaga.

We were told that this area produced 90% of Mexico’s wine, with most of it coming from three regions not far from the port city of Ensenada: the San Antonio de las Minas zone, which includes the Valley of Guadalupe, the San Vicente Valley and the Santo Tomás Valley.

There are three major wine producers in this area, Vinos L.A. Cetto in the Calafia Valley, Vinos Pedro Domecq and Bodegas de Santo Tomás in the Santo Tomás Valley. All have had wines that won international competitions including the Double Gold won by L.A. Cetto at the San Francisco International Wine Competition in May 2009. Many of these wines are now exported to Europe, the U.S. and Canada.  Today we were visiting the first of these, Vinos L.A. Cetto.

On arrival at the winery we alighted from the bus into the hot Mexican sunshine.  Our guide explained how the grapes were grown, harvested and processed.  We went into one of the huge rooms where the wine was fermented in massive steel vats; in here the ambient temperature was strictly regulated and it felt cold after the sunshine outside.

We then went into another room where there were many large barrels containing the wine which was left to mature.  The air was rich with the scent of fruit, yeast and grape must. Then it was time to go along for the best part of the visit – the tasting.  😊

Inside the large shop a guy was waiting by a counter containing a long row of wine glasses, to which he poured some white wine to a depth of about half an inch.  We each took a glass (you kept the same glass for the duration of the tasting session) and swirled the wine about, sniffing and tasting, while the guy told us all about it and showed us the bottle, and how much it cost to buy.  We tried a total of three whites and three reds; they were all very palatable indeed, and very reasonably priced.

A lot of people were buying bottles (and even cases) of the wines, but we couldn’t really do so as we were flying home tomorrow. ☹

After visiting the restrooms we all got back on the bus again to our next stop, the Casa de Doña Lupe.  Not only was this a winery but it was also a farm shop, selling fresh, home-made breads in different varieties, some containing sun-dried tomatoes and jalapeños.  Also home-made cheeses, jams and marmalades.  If, like me, you were thinking of strawberry or raspberry jams – think again.  These were made of chillies, including jalapeño and the very hot habanero. The chillies were mixed with fruits like pineapples, peaches and apricots.

In the farm shop were many samples of the delicious breads, cheeses and jams for us to try.  As we hadn’t had any lunch we were quite hungry, so we tasted the breads and cheeses then joined the queue for the chilli jams.  There were Ritz crackers out so you could put a teaspoon of jam onto the cracker to try.  I tried a habanero one and, at first, all I tasted was sweetness.  A few seconds later the heat kicked in.  😊  I bought a jar of the home-made habanero jam to take into work for my colleagues to try.

Next was the wine-tasting.  We were each given some vouchers which entitled us to four samples of wine.  Taking a small plastic glass in which to contain it, we queued at the front of an open-sided trailer which had the list of available wines chalked on a board above it.  The queues were quite long, so the trick was to get your sample of wine, then immediately rejoin the queue so you could drink your wine before getting the next sample.  We tried a few – a delectable honey wine stood out for me; it was more like a sherry or a Madeira.

Once we’d used up all our vouchers it was time for pizza!  We all sat down at a long wooden trestle table while staff came round with large boards containing different varieties of pizza; we were allowed a slice each (which, to be honest, was sufficient, as the pizzas were large).

Then it was back on the bus for the return journey to the Celebrity Eclipse.  If anyone thought they were going to be able to have a nice, wine-induced nap on the bus, however, they were in for a disappointment.  For some inexplicable reason our guide put a Spanish-language movie on in the bus which we gleaned was about the tennis player Billie Jean King.  The sound was quite loud so that ruled out any napping!  I don’t think any of us understood Spanish well enough either.

We were glad when we finally arrived back at the port, but we had quite a bit to wait as the bus went through customs, and a Port Authority bloke came on the bus to look at all our passports and shipboard cards.  Eventually we got through, however, and it was around 4.20pm when we found ourselves back on board.

We did some more packing, leaving out what we would need for this evening.  Around five o’clock the Eclipse gave a long, loud blast on her foghorn and slowly started to move away from the dockside, next stop Los Angeles.

I got showered and shampooed and ready for the “last supper” in the Moonlight Sonata restaurant.  Quite a few people were absent from the restaurant, probably doing the last of their packing or eating in the self-service.  We enjoyed the usual calorie-laden delicious four-course meal and the impeccable service of our waiter David and our sommelier Demmy.  Then we said our “goodbyes” and “safe journeys” to our table mates and went back to our cabin to finish off our packing, as the cases had to be outside our cabin doors by 10.00pm.

Back in 8166 I changed out of my smart clothing and back into what I would be travelling home in tomorrow, that is, linen trousers, cotton top, flat shoes and fleece-lined denim jacket.  Then I just left out my toothbrush and cosmetics for tomorrow morning, and we sealed and locked the cases and put them outside the door before going to the Eclipse Theatre for the show.

Tonight’s performance was by the Show Company and was called “Euphoria”.  It was a very unusual show, more like a circus act, featuring the aerialists, gymnasts and acrobats as well as a number of inflatables, like huge dragons or chrysalises.  The music was amazing and it was an extremely enjoyable show.  We were sorry when it ended.

We finished the evening by going to the Quasar where Shania was valiantly trying to get a karaoke started, but there was hardly anyone there (unsurprisingly).  One person got up and sang in a half-hearted fashion, and I got up and did Zombie by the Cranberries, but that was about it.  Therefore,  Shania closed the karaoke early and had an unexpected bonus early finish.  She came over and thanked us for making her first cruise very memorable (if it was her first time, she was very good at it – a natural, in fact).

We then just stayed behind and had a few drinks and chatted with Eka.  Then we returned to stateroom 8166 for our last night on board the fabulous Celebrity Eclipse.  We turned in about 11.30pm – we didn’t want too late a night because we had to be out of our stateroom by 8.00am, and we needed to be up early for our arrival into Los Angeles.

To the Victors, the Spoils

Got up this morning at our usual eight o’clock, marvelling that it was a fortnight ago that we’d left home.  How the time had winged by. Today was our last sea day before reaching terra firma, and once again we got into our routine and did all the ‘usual’ things.

After breakfast, therefore, it was just a case of convening in the Sky Lounge with the rest of our team mates for the morning trivia.  Maybe we weren’t quite awake yet but we didn’t win (we thought we’d give another team the chance).  😊

We had to be out of the Sky Lounge quickly to go down to the Eclipse Theatre where music historian Bill Powell was doing another very fascinating presentation and slide show; this time about the rise and fall of the Beatles.  As ever, it was most interesting.

After the talk we decided to venture out on deck and, although it was dry, there was still that annoyingly-brisk sea breeze which made it just that bit too uncomfortable to sit outside.  This was a shame really; with so many sea days in this cruise we had hoped we’d see better weather.  However, there was always plenty going on below decks on the Eclipse to keep us entertained.

Around 11.30am we went to the Casino bar and enjoyed a pre-luncheon drink each, while sitting doing one of our favourite cruise ship activities – people watching.  Then we went back up to the Ocean Café for our lunch; I had a big plate of fresh salad and cold cuts, washed down with a glass of prosecco.

We didn’t really do much after lunch; just relaxed and pottered around, reading, watching TV and (in my case) doing some of this blog or playing Plants vs Zombies 2 on my phone.

Soon the time came to make our way for the last time to the Sky Lounge to meet with Kendal, Janet, Norm and Frank for the Progressive Trivia. There was no quiz today, however, because it was the Results and Awards.  As far as we knew, “It’s Only A Game” had achieved second place, so that was the best we were hoping for.

In the meantime, we brought our 24 wrist bands (I wore 12 on each wrist, going up my arms) so we could trade them in for whatever prizes would be on offer.  We could see a table with lots of goodies and certificates on it, and Shirley was standing with the microphone ready to make the big announcement. 😊

She then announced the third-placed team, and their members went up and received a Celebrity Cruises t-shirt each, as well as a certificate.  Then we listened out for our team being named as the runners-up, but another team’s name was called instead!  We looked at each other in surprise – surely we couldn’t have dropped to 4th place, and out of the prizes?!

Then – drumroll – Shirley announced the winners.  She said that the competition had ended in a tie for first place between “The Internationals” and “It’s Only A Game” – we were therefore joint winners!  It had transpired, when she was checking all the papers, that someone had marked one of our papers incorrectly and not awarded us a point when we should have had one.  😊

We all went up to get our prizes; the inevitable Celebrity Cruises t-shirt and a certificate.  We’d really enjoyed doing all these quizzes and had had a really great team; without doubt the best we’d had on a cruise ship!  We were so pleased Kendal had asked us to join their team and we’d had a lot of fun with really nice people.  😊

Afterwards I went up to redeem all the wrist bands and ended up with two Celebrity Cruises towels (quite large and quite good quality) and two Celebrity Cruises coffee mugs – not a bad haul at all.  We then stayed in the Sky Lounge for a while afterwards, because Kendal had brought a bottle of fizz up with him and he dispensed it into six glasses for us all to have a victorious drink.

The rest of the afternoon winged by as usual, and soon it was time to start getting ready for the final ‘evening chic’ night. I dressed in a blue floral maxi dress with a silver beaded crochet shawl and my inevitable IC shoes (the Fruity Bowl ones).  I was somewhat dismayed to see/feel that the dress was considerably more snug on me now than it was last time I wore it!  ☹

In the Moonlight Sonata restaurant we were pleased to note that lobster was on the menu, so we enjoyed the usual extravagant meal (hence the reason for the snug dress!) washed down with rosé wine and followed with liqueurs.

Afterwards we passed some time in the Casino bar then went along to the theatre as usual for tonight’s entertainment, which featured violinist David Klinkenberg.  He was very good; he put a modern twist on some of the old classics and, accompanied by Big Mike and his orchestra, it was an excellent performance.

Then we went along to the Quasar Lounge where the karaoke was taking place once again; the usual suspects were there but I didn’t put my name down to sing anything as I’d probably exhausted my repertoire by now.  In any case, we wanted to be out in good time to see comedian Al Ducharme’s “adults only” show at 10.15pm.

Once again, the show was great; it was side-splittingly hilarious and all of Al’s sound effects were spot-on.

Back in the Quasar Lounge the karaoke was still going strong, but we just sat on bar stools, enjoying the prosecco and cocktails, chatting with Eka the barman and with some of the other karaoke singers, who we recognised.  Some of them (even the blokes!) came over to have a look at my shoes and asked what the brand was.  One of the guys, who was a very sharp dresser with long, blond dreadlocks, asked if Irregular Choice did men’s shoes, and when I said they did he went straight onto the web site and had a look, ordering himself a pair!  😊

It was probably about midnight when we left the Quasar and returned to 8166.  We were not due to arrive in Ensenada until 11.00am tomorrow, so we could still enjoy a lie-in.

Ships that Pass in the Night

Ahhhh… woke up and stretched luxuriantly in our crisp cotton sheets this morning, and lay for a while watching the sea passing by outside our balcony doors.  Then I got up and went outside; once again the sea-breeze was brisk and it wasn’t as warm as we would have liked.

Today we had nothing planned at all; we were just going to go with the flow, so to speak.  It was great not to have to look at the clock and just to do what we wanted.  We didn’t really see anything in the programme we fancied doing today (other than the quizzes, of course!) but we looked forward to whatever the day would bring.

As we walked along the upper deck to breakfast in the Ocean View Café, the wind buffeted our skin and hair and there was a hint of rain in the air; hardly anyone was outside apart from those stalwarts who make the most of the jogging/walking track around the deck, who wouldn’t let a little thing like the weather prevent them from taking their morning exercise.

Afterwards we adjourned, as usual, to the Sky Lounge for the quiz with the rest of our team. We exchanged pleasantries and anecdotes then picked up our pencils and answer papers ready for the questions, interrupted at 9.45am as usual by Captain Leo’s announcement.  We didn’t win this time, meaning there was no grumbling from the other team who, I believe, were thoroughly fed up with us winning ‘all the time’.  😊

Then we just relaxed and lazed around the ship, reading, watching TV or just spending ages looking out at sea, almost hypnotised by the waves.  Looking around as far as the eye could see, from horizon to horizon, we could see nothing at all apart from the endless Pacific; we hadn’t seen any other ships for days.

My vivid imagination put myself in a situated where I was shipwrecked and was just alive on a raft, waiting to be rescued.  It must evoke fear and intense loneliness, the feeling there was no-one else in the world, no other living thing.  What must it be like at night, once the sun disappears?  In the black, black night there would only be the stars or moon to light your way, and it could be days and days before another ship would pass by, always assuming that someone spotted you and came to your rescue.  This is why I love reading the true stories such as Sole Survivor and Adrift where survivors of shipwrecks have shown remarkable fortitude and resourcefulness against all the odds.

As we were walking along on our wanderings around the ship, we came across Captain Leo and told him how much we enjoyed the Liars’ Club last night.  He asked us where we were from and when we told him England he said “from the North, by your accents?”  We were impressed!  He then asked us if (shock, horror) we were Newcastle United supporters and we told him that, on the contrary, we were Sunderland supporters.  “Aha… Sunderland”, he replied.  “Yes, I watched a documentary about Sunderland on Netflix!”.  We were quite amused at the Greek captain of the Celebrity Eclipse watching the Netflix series entitled Sunderland ‘Til I Die which we didn’t think would be of any interest to anyone but Sunderland supporters.  What an astute bloke.  😊

The day passed in its pleasant way and soon we were back in the Sky Lounge for the Music Trivia, which was TV themes.  Trevor and I hardly contributed anything this time as most of the television shows were American; it was only those that had made their way across the Pond that we recognised.  In any case, our team didn’t win.  Maybe 12 wristbands each was as much as we were going to get.

Afterwards we sat at the bar in the Sky Lounge and enjoyed a couple more drinks.  Then it was time for the final round of the Progressive Trivia, and the league tables showed that “The Internationals” were now only a point behind us.  The pressure was on!

When taking part in a quiz, there is no such thing as a “hard question”.  You either know the answer or you don’t, and if you don’t know the answer then it’s “hard”.  Some of us had different answers from our other team mates, so we had to discuss amongst ourselves which answer we were going to go with.  Once the scores were totted up we were most interested to see what our rivals had scored; it appeared that they were now one point ahead of “It’s Only A Game”.  As this was the final round, it looked as if we were destined to finish in second place, after being in the lead all the way through.  However, the total scores would be examined and checked by the quiz organisers prior to the final decision being made.  We were magnanimous in defeat; after all our team name said it all – it’s only a game. 😊

After the trivia we returned to our cabin, pottered around for a bit, then got washed and changed and ready for dinner.  As we were doing so and as dusk was falling, we spotted the lights of another ship on the horizon; it was a large vessel and was obviously another cruise ship.

Then we made our way along to the Moonlight Sonata restaurant and greeted our tablemates on #350, asking who had been up to what and looking forward to another sumptuous meal.  Some of our tablemates had also seen the other ship and someone must have been looking on Marine Traffic because it was identified as a Princess ship.

When our waiter brought the bread basket out, there was an extra loaf of bread covered with a white cloth. Grace, who is Jewish, explained that as today (Friday) is the Sabbath (in the Jewish religion) it was traditional to eat the plaited white loaf known as challah, and she asked us if we would like to join her.  The bread was passed around and everyone tore a piece off.

According to Jewish tradition, the three Sabbath meals (Friday night, Saturday lunch, and Saturday late afternoon) and two holiday meals (one at night and lunch the following day) each begin with two complete loaves of bread. This “double loaf” commemorates the manna that fell from the heavens when the Israelites wandered in the desert after the Exodus. The manna did not fall on Sabbath or holidays; instead, a double portion would fall the day before the holiday or sabbath.

In some customs, each loaf is woven with six strands of dough. Together, the loaves have twelve strands, alluding to the twelve loaves of the showbread offering in the Temple. Other numbers of strands commonly used are three, five and seven. Occasionally twelve are used, referred to as a “Twelve Tribes” challah.

I found it all very interesting; I always like to learn about the beliefs and traditions of other religions and cultures.

After our delicious dinner and our coffee and liqueurs (I tried Frangelico for the first time and liked it a lot) we went along to the Entertainment Court to see what was going on as well as wandering around the shops in search of any bargains.  Then we went to the Quasar Lounge where we joined another couple for the quiz, which was Movie Trailers.  We were absolutely appalling as we are not movie buffs at all; I think there was only ET and The Green Mile (one of my favourite films ever) that we recognised.

In the Eclipse Theatre tonight, the entertainment featured comedian Al Ducharme.  He was really, really funny – he was brilliant at making all sorts of noises, voices and sound effects. He was certainly different from your average comedian, and we really enjoyed the show.

Afterwards there was nothing on in the Quasar Lounge, so we finished the evening off perching on bar stools in the Sky Lounge where there was lively dance music.

We returned to stateroom 8166 around 11.30pm, but we had to put our clocks forward once again tonight as we travelled east, so we would lose an hour in bed.  Tomorrow was our last sea day, and we determined to make the most of it.

The Captain of your Ship

Another long, lazy sea day today, with another packed programme of events in which to participate, should we be so inclined.  The weather was much improved today; the sun was out and it was not quite as windy as it was yesterday.

As usual, after breakfast, we went along to the Sky Lounge to take part in the Brain-Waker Trivia with Kendal, Janet, Frank and Norm. The little Colombian quiz-hostess Shirley had barely asked the final question before the “bing-bong” announcement came over the Tannoy: “Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the Voice from Above”, as Captain Leo always liked to start his daily updates.  There followed the usual highly amusing weather and navigational information, in which Captain Leo told us how many nautical miles we were from the Leaning Tower of Pisa and from Sydney Opera House, as well as how many millions of “Mexican Tacoes” we were from different places.  He then regaled us with some words of wisdom from his revered late grandfather before signing off.  😊

We could then continue with the answers to the quiz, and once again Trevor and I were part of the winning team!  Yay!  😊

Afterwards we had a cup of coffee and returned to our stateroom, sitting out on the balcony for a while.  One thing I can say about this cruise so far is just how calm the ocean has been, barely any perceptible motion; you’d hardly know you were on a ship.

At ten to eleven we found ourselves in the Eclipse Theatre for this morning’s presentation, entitled “Oceans Ahead – The Secrets of Ship’s Navigation”, by none other than Captain Leo himself.  It was an extremely interesting talk in which he spoke about his career to date, the fact that he was the latest captain in a long line of captains in the family, and the sea-faring influences on him as a young boy in his native Greece.  He explained in depth about all the things to consider when navigating a huge vessel through the world’s oceans and seas, the safety checks, the sea depths, weather, waves, the safety of the passengers and crew, and lots of other fascinating stuff.

At the end there was a Q and A session among the audience, and Captain Leo answered all the questions thoroughly and eloquently.  We thoroughly enjoyed the talk before the Captain took his leave to return to his duties on the bridge.  It wasn’t the last we’d seen of him today, however, not by a long chalk.  😊

The end of the Captain’s talk coincided nicely with the start of lunch, and first of all we went out to the Mast Bar where we enjoyed a pre-luncheon drink; an Aperol Spritz in my case and a bottle of Samuel Adams in Trevor’s.  Then we went into the Oceans Café for our lunch before once again adjourning to the Eclipse Theatre for the matinée performance by comedy magician Chad Chesmark, whose show we’d enjoyed so much the other day.

The theatre was already pretty full when we arrived so we couldn’t get our usual front-row seats; we had to sit further back (although, when a magician is performing, that’s not always a bad thing).  Chad’s performance today was a ‘mentalist’ show, based on supposed mind-reading and the power of suggestion, which is a great illusion if you’re very practised at doing it, which Chad clearly was.  We enjoyed this show more than his main one the other day.

It did mean we had to leave the show early to get up to Deck 14 and the Sky Lounge to participate in the music quiz; when we got there, Kendal was there with a couple of new blokes we hadn’t met before, Tom and Tom.  The theme today was Male Vocalists and the two Toms were brilliant at this, meaning we scored 13/15 and won yet again!  That is now a total of 24 rubber bracelets Trevor and I had accumulated and we were told that we could trade them in on Saturday for some great prizes.  😊

After the music quiz we decided to go back to 8166 for a power-nap before the Progressive Trivia later on.  I took back a cold glass of prosecco and did some of this blog then had a lie-down, watching the blue Pacific passing by our floor-to-ceiling glass doors.  We then reconvened in the Sky Lounge with the rest of our team.  We were somewhat dismayed to see that we were now leading by only one point over “The Internationals”, so we hoped that we would do well and they would do poorly.  The final round would be tomorrow before the “awards ceremony” on Saturday – would “It’s Only A Game” lose at the final hurdle?

We spent the remainder of the afternoon pottering around the ship and taking advantage of the all-inclusive drinks package.  😊  Then we got showered and shampooed and ready for dinner, which was the usual grand affair in which we ate far too much and were very well looked after by our attentive Jamaican waiter David.

The entertainment in the Eclipse Theatre tonight was a singer called Laura Wright.  She was a bit cheesy and a bit boring, and didn’t really stand out from any other cruise-ship singer.  When she ended her show with the dreary Somewhere Over The Rainbow (one of my top 10 most-boring songs) it was all I could do to suppress a gigantic yawn, and it was just as well the house lights came on when they did, as it effectively prevented me from going to sleep.

We then went along to the Quasar lounge where they were holding the inevitable karaoke again.  This time Kendal and Janet were there to give me some moral support, so I got up and sang You Know I’m No Good by Amy Winehouse, followed by Madonna’s Material Girl.  The other ‘regular’ singers got up and we had a few drinks and enjoyed the banter with the friendly barman.

We finished the evening off by going back to the Eclipse Theatre to see Liars’ Club (called Call My Bluff in the UK) and this featured one of the entertainment team (I think his name was Chris) along with magician Chad Chesmark and none other than our own Captain Leo.  The game works by displaying an obscure word on a screen and each of the three panellists must give the definition of the word – only one of them will be telling the truth and it’s up to the audience to guess which one.

The words usually have a risqué element to them (two of the words were HAWSEHOLE and INVAGINATION) so when each person was giving his definition it was absolutely hilarious, especially the captain.  He had everyone absolutely rolling in the aisles and could have been a stand-up comedian if he wasn’t a seafaring captain.  The hilarity was enhanced by his completely deadpan manner, and we laughed ourselves silly at this really enjoyable and entertaining show.  😊

We returned to 8166 around 11.30pm and settled down for the evening, trying to put to the back of our minds that we only had another two sea days to go and the end of our fabulous cruise was looming ever nearer.

It’s Only A Game

As with life at home, life on board a ship on sea days assumes its daily routines, favourite hangouts and regular mealtimes.  We therefore got up around 8.00am as usual and went out onto the balcony to see what the weather was doing today.  Disappointingly, the skies were cloudy and there was a brisk wind blowing, which would make it uncomfortable to sit out on deck unless you were well wrapped up and on the lee side of the ship.

As usual, we went up to the Ocean View café and enjoyed a substantial breakfast before returning to 8166 to peruse the daily programme and see if there was anything we fancied doing.  As usual, we went along to the Sky Lounge for the morning trivia and, much to the chagrin of the other regular teams, we won again!  That’s our 10th win this cruise so far.  😊

Some of the losing quiz teams argued or disputed some of the answers given – some of them took it so seriously – but as our team name proclaimed “it’s only a game”.

We then spent some time wandering around the ship and seeing if they had any bargains in the various shops and boutiques.  One of the displays that caught my eye was a fantastic selection of Mary Frances beaded handbags.  Mary Frances bags are extremely unusual and very striking and all feature intricate beading and ornamentation.  There was a brilliant one that was right up my street as it was in the shape of an ice bucket complete with bottle of champagne on ice with a couple of flutes – fabulous.  None of the bags had price tags on but I imagined none of them would be particularly cheap.*

Afterwards we went up on deck and, while there were some people sitting outside, there was no-one in the pool.  However, the indoor swimming pool and spa area was quite full; this is a lovely relaxing area, with a water feature at one end of the high-ceilinged glass room and lush greenery at the other.  People were resting on loungers or in hammocks or were in the pool and it was pleasantly warm out of the wind.

At 12 o’clock Trevor went to watch a video documenting the building of the latest Celebrity ship, the Celebrity Edge, while I stayed in the cabin and pottered around.  We then went for lunch in the Ocean View, which is self-service, and that can at times be a bit of a hazard with the number of passengers with mobility scooters, wheelchairs, walkers and sticks jostling and nudging in the queues of people waiting for food.  😊

We commenced the afternoon activities by going to the Sky Lounge, as usual, to take part in the music quiz.  The theme was Classic Rock which none of us was experts in, so whilst we did OK, we didn’t actually win; two teams tied on a higher score.

The ballroom dance class this afternoon featured the Foxtrot, which we haven’t yet started learning at home (other than the Social Foxtrot) so we didn’t join the class.

We then took part, with the rest of “It’s Only A Game”, in the Progressive Trivia.  According to the league table we were now only three points ahead so we had a bit of a team ‘pep talk’ in which we said we would need to think more carefully, not change our mind about answers, not go against gut feeling etc.  We felt as though we’d done pretty well afterwards, but it’s at the stage now where it also depends how the other teams have done.  😊

Straight after the quiz Trevor and I hurried along to Celebrity Central, the small lecture theatre on Deck 4, where there was another Lord Nelson presentation; this one was more about Lady Emma Hamilton, Nelson’s mistress, and was very interesting indeed.  It made me want to find out more, and watch the 1941 movie, That Hamilton Woman,  from which several clips had been used in the presentation.

Then it was once again time to get washed and changed and spruced up ready for dinner.  How the day had flown; there was always something to do, someone to talk to, something to see and no chance of ever becoming bored.  A lot of people we know are not too keen on cruises which have a lot of sea days, but I really can’t understand why; it’s a wonderful way to spend your days!  😊

Tonight I dressed in a red floral-patterned cheesecloth dress with a red mesh wrap; it was matched with a pair of gorgeous red patterned Irregular Choice shoes with a big red bow and gold glitter heels.

After we’d enjoyed our dinner we wandered along to the Entertainment Court to watch a Passengers v Officers competition called “Win It in a Minute”.  Each pair of contestants had to complete something in 60 seconds; it could be stacking cardboard beakers into a pyramid, emptying a box of tissues one at a time or unwinding a whole toilet roll – the only stipulation was that it had to be done with one hand behind the back.

In each case the officer or entertainment host beat the passenger which, to some extent, was a bit unfair; the Celebrity staff members had a lot more practice than the passengers. One of the ‘contestants’ was cruise director Lauren, and you could tell by the techniques she used that she’d done it loads of times before.  We didn’t really like Lauren; she talks far too much and is probably the most irritating cruise director we’ve ever had in 50 cruises.

Once the game show was over we went along to the Eclipse Theatre and got our usual front-row seats for tonight’s performance by the Show Company, called “Rock City”.  It was an excellent, high energy show with original costumes, great music, singing and dancing. It also featured the aerialists and acrobats and was superb; we enjoyed it a lot.

Up in the Sky Lounge they were holding a Sing-along Dance Party featuring the inimitable music of Queen.  We therefore decided to hotfoot it up there and, when we got there, it was already pretty crowded, so we were lucky to get a couple of bar stools.  Near to us were some people we recognised from the karaoke, including Charlotte and her mum and they all came over to have a look at my shoes!  (I must be getting a reputation).  😊

The Queen sing-along was brilliant; the lyrics appeared on a giant screen so that the dancers (and everyone else) could join in.  Everyone sang along with gusto and did all the appropriate hands-in-the-air clapping to songs like Radio Ga-Ga and We Are The Champions as well as We Will Rock You.  What a great evening it was.

It was after 11.30pm when we returned to our stateroom with a nightcap.  We didn’t sit outside this time as it was still a bit cool, but we still left the door open an inch or so to allow in the fresh sea air.

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*UPDATE:  I looked up the champagne bag on Google later on and it’s on sale on the Mary Frances web site for $315.00.

Perfect Pacific

Got up around 8.00am and went out on the balcony where the weather was already pleasantly warm and sunny, with only a slight sea-breeze.  We then got dressed and went up to the Ocean View for our breakfast.  I had an American breakfast of crispy bacon, corned beef hash, pancakes and French toast, liberally covered in maple syrup – a far cry from the bowl of cereal I usually have at home!  😊

After breakfast we went outside on deck for a stroll around.  We found ourselves on Deck 15 at the Lawn Club (grass! on a ship!) and went round to where a glass-blowing lesson was in progress, with seats for spectators.  We spotted Kendal and went over to sit with him.  A bloke was making a multi-coloured flower ornament and was being shown how to shape the hot glass with special pliers; the item was returned several times to the kiln to keep it hot and pliable.  We looked at the various items you could learn to make, from paperweights, glass bowls, sculptures or ornaments, but the prices were pretty steep, between $80.00 and $120.00.  Think I’ll give it a miss!

It was then time to go and participate in the morning Brain-Waker trivia, and we went down to the Sky Lounge where Kendal and Janet were already waiting, quiz papers at the ready. Shortly afterwards Norm and Frank arrived, and we were all set.  We missed winning by a point.

We were slightly late arriving in the Eclipse Theatre where music historian Bill Powell was giving a talk today all about the Everly Brothers.  Again, this music was from an era before my time, but the talk was very interesting indeed, and I realised I knew all of the songs that Bill played, so we enjoyed the music a lot.

It was too nice a day to spend it below decks, so after the talk we went up to the Mast Bar and sat in the shade from the hot tropical sun, each enjoying a freezing cold bottle of Budweiser.  Afterwards, we watched a “Passengers v Officers” game of pool volleyball, which was really good fun.  At first we though the officers, who were all young, would knock spots off the middle-aged and elderly passengers, but in fact the passengers won!  😊

Still remaining outside, we had a burger with some salad for lunch, washed down with more cold beer, while we sat on bar stools by the pool, people-watching and enjoying the sea-breeze ruffling our hair.  Dull and rainy Britain, home and work seemed another world away.  😊

Around one o’clock we returned to our stateroom where Trevor sat out on the balcony and read for a while; I spent some time doing this blog.  Then we had a half-hour power nap before making our way up to the Sky Lounge for the music trivia which was called “Awesome 80s”.  That was good, because the 1970s and 80s are my music eras, so we expected to do very well.  We had to give both the artiste and the title of the song.  Dare I say it?  We won once again!  That’s 18 rubber bracelets Trevor and I have accumulated between us so far.  😊

We stayed in the Sky Lounge after the quiz for the dance class, which featured the Rumba this time.  Even though we’ve been learning this one at home, there were a few new steps we hadn’t tried yet, but we enjoyed the music and the dancing and felt that we’d made some progress.

It was then time for the Progressive Trivia Round 5.  Looking at the league table, we saw that “It’s Only A Game” was in the lead by five points, so we hoped we’d maintain our lead.  Our nearest rival was a team called “The Internationals” so we were as interested in their score as we were on our own!  After this round the gap closed by two points, as we only scored 11/15 (bad for us!) but they scored 13.

After the quiz we stayed in the Sky Lounge for one more drink before just spending some time pottering around back in cabin 8166.  It was then time to get showered, shampooed and spruced up a bit more because tonight was the second of the “Evening Chic” dress codes.  I wore a black off-the-shoulder dress with silver polka dots and a pair of silver sandals with small silver rhinestones (quite tame for me!).

Table #350 was full in the restaurant later on, all 12 of us were there.  It did feel, however, as if it was two tables of six, because it was difficult to hear/participate in any conversation at the opposite end of the table, so people tended just to talk with those nearest them.  The meal was delicious; as usual there was a good choice and we washed it all down with plenty of cold water (very much needed in a tropical climate like this) and chilled rosé wine.

Afterwards, as we were walking through the entertainment court, we saw that they were about to start a game of “Celebrity Heads”.  This was where the participant had their back to a screen showing a picture of a famous person; they had to ask the audience questions that could only be answered ‘yes’ or ‘no’, e.g. Is it male? Is it an actor?  Then they had to guess the celebrity before the timer ran out.

The show tonight featured a singer called Kenny James who had apparently had 13 consecutive wins in a TV talent show called Star Search and had won the $100,000 prize.  Obviously an American TV show because we’d never heard of either the show or the singer.  It transpired, during the performance, that Kenny James was also a past member of the 1970s soul group “The Hues Corporation” (whose most famous single was the 1974 hit Rock The Boat) but Kenny was not one of the original line-up.  It was a decent enough performance, backed by the superb ship’s orchestra, but a singer, in my opinion, generally tends to be a one-trick pony and it can get a bit boring after a while.

When we came out of the show, we went along to the Quasar Lounge which was conveniently-situated just along the corridor.  The ever-present karaoke was taking place with the usual ebullient crowd, but I didn’t get up to sing this time. We just stayed for a couple of drinks and the usual friendly chat with the barman.

Then it was back to stateroom 8166 to settle down after another most enjoyable day.  We went out on the balcony for a short while, but the sea breeze had blown up a bit and it wasn’t quite as warm as it had been.  We had also been notified earlier that, as we were now travelling east, our clocks would have to go forward now to GMT -9, so we’d lose an hour in bed.

Nevertheless, we took some time to pause and listen to the soporific sounds of the Pacific Ocean washing along the sides of the Eclipse as she carried us on the waves, comfortably ensconced within.