Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Cruising the Eastern Caribbean:St. Martin and the everglades

We arrived at St. Martin bright and early. St. Martin is divided between a Dutch and French side.  The boat docks on the Dutch side. I over slept and had to rush to get to my off shore excursion. I even had to skip breakfast. The excursion I signed up for was a jeep adventure tour. There really wasn't much of an adventure.  You all pile into jeeps and drive around to the normal tourist spots.


Our first real stop was at Maho Beach. It's a small beach that is famous on the internet.  Watch the video I shot below to find out why.

Yep. It's that crazy airport beach.

Unfortunately, one of our jeeps had a flat tire and we ended up wasting 45 minutes of our time waiting for it to be fixed. Next stop was a shopping area on the French side of the island. I should have gotten something to eat here but I just wandered around and looked at the water. Our final stop was the large  Orient beach. We were supposed to spend a couple of hours there but with running so late we only had about an hour. By this time I was starving. At the beach was a very tourist trap kind of restaurant. I ordered a cheeseburger and  can of coke.  The bill came to twenty five dollars.  As I started eating the burger I realized it was pink inside.  I didn't have time to bother with complaining so I just ate around the edges. Did I mention that it was a horrible burger and cost twenty five dollars? Once on the beach, I quickly realized we were on the French side of the island. I wandered up and down the beach for the remaining forty five minutes.

BTW, did I mention the horrible overpriced twenty five dollar burger :)




After St. Martin we cruised for two days back to Miami.  Since our flight wasn't until several hours after we disembarked, we decided to do an everglades tour.


Baby alligator.


Bird showing off(actually drying its wings.)


See more pictures on flickr

Sunday, April 27, 2014

I break electronics but sometimes I am just dense

I am well known as a destroyer of electronics. I also have a beloved acer aspire one netbook. You can guess where this is going. As a nerd, I use it as an experimental platform for new operating systems. I recently decided to try out a new (to me) version of linux called elementary OS. It is based on Ubuntu and meant to look like the mac. I don't have a review of it. I only used elementary OS for about 3 weeks. My little netbook just isn't powerful enough to run it, or regular Ubuntu. I decided to try out Linux Mint 16 xfce which is supposed to be light weight and easy to run. Good thing I had decided to switch OSes because, the netbook kept locking up within a minute of booting up. I installed the new OS and then got busy so I set the netbook aside.

The next day I tried to wake it out of sleep to search something on the web. Nothing happened when I pushed the power button.   I pulled the battery out and put it back in.  Then I noticed that an indicator led blinked blue 5 times whenever I tried to turn it on. I quick web search showed this to be an indication of a hardware fault.  The netbook is well out of warranty so I just chocked it up to my usual ability to break all things and it had given my over a year of use. For some reason, I decide to plug it back into its power supply and then I went about my day.

Several hours later I came back and gave it one last chance to start up. It started right up. The battery had completely drained itself overnight. For some reason, mint xfce has the default behavior when you close the lid set to just turn the screen off. It doesn't go to sleep or hibernate.  I changed the preferences and now it's fine. Just imagine that if I hadn't plugged it back in I would have thrown away (put in my communities electronic recycling)  a perfectly good netbook. I am sometimes dense.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Cruising the Eastern Caribbean: Pics

Our first port of call was San Juan


Approaching the island of Puerto Rico


The Fort of San Juan.  The Spanish realized the importance of the port for them to maintain a hold on trade in the new world, so they build this impressive fort. It was assaulted several times but managed to stand until the Spanish American War in 1898.



Approaching the fort from land like many would be attackers :)

This stray cat was stalking that pigeon.  Sadly she failed and had to find a different dinner.

Onward to St. Thomas




After a tour of St Thomas led by a wonderful local I sat out on the top deck of the ship waiting for departure. As I sat there I felt a few drops of water hit my legs. I assumed it was from the people washing parts of the ship. Suddenly more drops hit me and I was forced to open my eyes.  A pleasant rain storm had come over the island. Most of the passengers fled but a few of us stayed around and enjoyed the warm shower.

Well that is enough pics for one post.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Quick Jobu story + bonus pic

Jobu suffers from the late night berserks. It is a lot like what is in this Simon's Cat video.

But imagine it happening sometime between 3 - 7 am and involving a lot more yowling. I hear mreor mreor yowl and then run run run, thump, thud.. crash.  Blissful silence follows for a short time. Then gallop gallop gallop into the bedroom and then.... thud as he lands on my chest. MREOw and he sprints off.

So this morning he is in full on berserk mode.  At least it was seven in the morning and not three. After being disturbed for several minutes I finally decided to get up.   Jobu is very happy. Daddy is up to chase him around. He sprints into the room a look of pure joy on his little fuzzy face. I make the move to start chasing him. He turns around and jets out of the room .. BLAAAM.  His head went right into the door frame. Poor Jobu, how can he be expected to remember were the walls are. He's only lived here for seven years.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Cruising the Eastern Caribbean: the Celebrity Reflection

We set sail from Miami about 4:30 in the afternoon and headed into the Atlantic.


The next day was a day at sea.  I took this time to get used to my new life aboard ship. Being my first time cruising, I really didn't have anything to compare it with. The Celebrity Reflection impressed me.

For the trip, we had a cabin with a balcony. The cabin was nicer than I thought. It was skinny but comfortable. The bathroom really impressed me. It might have been small but it was well appointed with a really nice shower. In the future I don't think I would splurge for the balcony. I imagined sitting out their for hour soaking up the sun in private. In reality I only spent maybe on hour the entire cruise out there. If I wanted to sit outside I did it on one of the top two decks.  

At the front of the ship is the main theater. It's large with nice seating. Most nights they put on a shows. The shows were excellent and featured a really talented cast.  They sang. They danced. They wowed.  Sadly it was their last cruise and the cast  went their separate ways afterwards.

The center of the ship in the lower levels is taken up by some shops, bars, and the casino.  The shops were mostly upscale watch and jewelry shops though not everything was out of the "normal" persons price range. In fact I bought a citizen echo drive watch that without taxes and one sale was actually a few dollars cheaper than I could find it online. I can't really tell you about the bars.  I didn't buy the drinks package going into the trip so, given the prices, I didn't drink much. The casino was much larger than I imagined. It had a whole load of electronic slot machines etc, but also had several tables for live gambling. They had black jack tables, roulette, craps and a Texas holdem table. When at sea they held a Holdem tournament every two hours during the night. It had a two hundred dollar buy in and I kept trying to work up the courage to play but in the end I just messed around with the slot machines a bit.

The main dining room inhabits the other end of the lower 2 decks.  There are two main ways to dine. You can choose the set meal time or the floating meal time.  If you go for the set meal time you eat in the lower level at the same table with the same people everyday.  We chose the floating meal time. You show up during dinner hours, they ask if you want to request to eat alone or with others. We picked to sit with other people, so each night we sat with a new group. I kept running into the people throughout the cruise so it was a good way to interact with other cruisers. The meal consists of three courses: an appetizer, main course, and a desert.  There is a set meal that is served every night but also specialty items for each course.  The staff were amazingly helpful and attentive. Two tips: You are supposed to let the server put the napkin in your lap and let the ladies order first.

The fifth deck has a small area near the rear of the ship, that has three smaller more intimate bars.  I spent a fair amount of time in the ensemble lounge.  After dinner they would feature live music.  Down past the bar are a set of specialty restaurants. I can't tell you anything about the specialty restaurants since I never ate at one.  Most of them required some extra charge and why bother when I could get all the food I wanted already.

Working your way up the middle of the ship you find a few smaller areas.  There is an iLounge. Supposedly the only certified apple seller on the seas.  You can also pay an exorbitant amount if you really want internet access.  There is a game room with tables for playing cards and they even have some touch enabled game surfaces. If you forget your kindle, they have a library.  Sadly the library had no books on pirates. This is my suggestion to the celebrity cruise people Have a section of the library with a selection of books about the part of the world you are cruising.

Forward on the twelfth deck is the spa area. Here they have a massage area, a hair salon, and a very well equipped gym, with a wide selection of free weights and machines. I, being a slug, didn't use the gym.

On the thirteenth deck there is an indoor pool and a couple of pools in the middle of the ship with a lot of area to lay out on the deck. Near the pools is an open area for music and zumba, lots of zumba. Aft is taken up by the buffet eating area. It is open from 6 am to 2 am so you can get some sort of food almost any time.  The food isn't bad and you can have as much as you want.  After a few days it might start getting repetitive but I always like it.  Breakfast particularly shined with a good selection of British and American food.

The top deck is a nice open space with a large grass area a couple of restaurants and plenty of space for sitting out and soaking up the sun.


Life on board ship can be as laid back or exciting as you want to make it.  The cruise constantly provides events throughout the day and night or you could just eat and sleep and chill.

Overall I have to say the ship is excellent and the crew even better.  The constantly work to make sure every need is met.

An odd not I have to add: I read one review of the Celebrity Reflection from when it first started to sale. The reviewer praised the art on board the ship. I found most of the art to be weird and bad.

Next Up: Pictures

Monday, April 14, 2014

Blood tests and hypochondria

As I've mentioned previously, I am a bit of a hypochondriac. A friend of mines husband has some hypochondriac leanings as well. I am an odd hypochondriac. When he thinks he has something he researches it and get checked out by a doctor. He goes to the doctor a lot.  I'd rather not know.  As if not knowing what is wrong with me means it doesn't exist.  This doesn't stop me from spending hours at night worrying about the phantom disease.

Today I had blood taken to do a complete blood workup. The last time I had that was in 2005 when I had diagnosed myself from the internet with one of the rarest forms of cancer, that would kill me in months.  Obviously, I was fine. Usually I would be tense and worried about the tests but I haven't been nervous.  I assumed the tests would take a week or so to get back to me, but the technician said I should have the results tomorrow or the day after.  I guess I don't have enough time to worry about things.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

It's the big 41

This random post brought to you by my confused mind after a nap.

Last year was the big 40. The ol 41 just doesn't seem that important. I was thinking that instead of the new year being when we make resolutions and take stock of our lives we should do it on our birthdays. Make it personal.  It also helps if one of you resolutions is to go to the gym because you won't have all the resolutionites clogging up the machines.

I am really good at making plans and lists.  I have notebooks  filled with lists of the ten things I am going to do over the next year to be healthy, wealthy, and wise.  If I am really motivated I may do what's on the list upwards of two or maybe even three days. Maybe someday.

Six years ago today I was on the French Riviera.


Nice 2008

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Cruising the Eastern Caribbean: The Adventure of Getting There

With the daunting prospect of another midwestern winter before us, a friend and I decided to book a trip somewhere warm during the depth of winter. Boy were we prescient. Unless you have been living in a cave in the southern hemisphere, you know this winter was brutal in North America.

The only criteria I had in planning the get away was that it be warm and all inclusive.  All inclusive isn't usually y sort of thing. Heck I landed at Heathrow in 2012 with no idea how to get to my hotel. My friend had the perfect idea: a cruise. We would be warm, well fed, and able to relax.

We decided on a seven night cruise on the eastern Caribbean aboard the Celebrity Reflection.  I had never been on a cruise before so I didn't know what to expect.  I was promised wonders, with the Reflection being the newest and grandest of the Celebrity fleet.

The Adventure of getting there

Whenever something goes wrong or the unexpected happens to mess up my plans, I refer to it as having an adventure. It makes setbacks in life much more manageable. The bus breaks down while commuting to work: an adventure. Get lost on a way to an event: an adventure.

So the adventure of my cruise began the morning before our flight. I live about a three hours drive from the airport.  I planned on driving up to see my parents and then onward to my friends house to stay the night for a 4:30 am wake up for the 6:30 flight.

I was in the midst of doing the last few things I needed to do before I could load up the car when my phone dinged. I checked and my weather app had put up one of its big read warning signs.  I clicked  it knowing that the forecast had called for the possibility of a small amount of snow. It was a  weather statement warning that an inch of snow would fall in about an hour.  It also said the snow would be lighter further north, the direction I would be heading. Given the mountains of snow we had already dealt with during the winter, I didn't worry. 

Within minutes a light snow started to fall.  I didn't worry. I took a shower. When I came out of the bathroom, I looked out the window. SNOWMAGGEDON had come. A blizzard raged outside with giant flakes causing a white out.  I worried, a little.

Over the next hour an inch of snow fell.  I quickly formed a new plan. Since I had plenty of time I would push back my leave a couple of hours to let the snow plows do their job. After I packed I headed out to get lunch and see what the roads were like.  I slipped and slid some but the roads weren't impassible. The snow tapered and stopped.  My plan seemed to be coming together.

I headed out and drove to the highway.  The snow began again. Slow at first, it soon grew to white out blizzard conditions. I crept along the with a bunch of other drivers. There is no convenient way to get from where I live to where I needed to go. Most of the drive is on a two lane state road cutting through midwestern farm land. I finally made it to the exit onto the two lane road.  Here it was even worse. The road was just a packed inch of snow and ice.  I considered turning around but was determined to get through.  No way was I missing this cruise.

The road was crowded with vehicles and we inched along trying not to end up in a ditch. Going around one banked curve I tried to move over to give an  oncoming semi some extra room. My wheel slipped off the edge of the road I corrected my little fiesta back on the road and then the back end started to come loose. I saw the slowly oncoming semi and  my brain did a very quick calculation. How bad would be this crash?  We were both going under thirty so I would probably be ok.  Just then my wheels caught and with my heart pounding in my chest, I drove on.

As far as I had come, there was no point in turning around so I kept slowly going north.  I passed a few cars in ditches.  The next hour of my life stressed my patience as I kept waiting for the snow to end.  Finally, near my destination the road became clear of snow and ice. Next winter I am moving somewhere warm :)

The next morning began with me waking up on a frigid Chicago morning at 4:30 am. The cold crept in through the window urging me to snuggle deeper into the comforter.  But the lure of warmth and sea proved too strong and I shambled out of bed.  After a taxi ride that seemed to take forever, we arrived at O'hare airport and breezed through security.  Wonders of wonders I actually fell asleep on the plane.  Never before have I managed to sleep on an airplane.  I stayed awake, unintentionally, for the entire overnight flight to London.

The plane landed in a humid and balmy Florida that blew my frigid midwestern mind. Then we began the adventure of finding the bus to the ship. After collecting my bag we were at a loss as to where to go.  Eventually we found an old guy holding a sign that said "Celebrity Cruises".  He directed us to the lost baggage claim area to find a Sheila.  There wasn't really anybody at the lost baggage claim but on the way we passed an older lady with a name tag. I checked and it said Sheila, so I came up with the very original opening of asking, "Are you Sheila?"

Sheila gave me a tag for my luggage and us some tickets to make sure we could get on the right bus.  She informed us we'd have to wait for the next bus. Within minutes she rushed back and told us we were in luck. The bus hadn't left yet.  We grabbed our bags and ran outside into bedlam. There were four buses not quite parked properly,and lots of people just milled about looking confused. No one seemed to be in charge.  For some reason, I was reminded of my life. I am not sure how long we waited there, perhaps an half hour. I didn't care. It was warm and the sun was out.

Finally, the right bus arrived and we clambered into the crowded bus and, with my two carry ons clutched to my chest, waited for the luggage to be loaded. The bus started to pull away and an outcry erupted. "Our bags aren't on the bus!", an old lady screamed.  The bus paused and then started to move again. " OUR BAGS ARE NOT ON THE BUS!"  The bus stopped again. The guy "in charge" said that all the luggage wouldn't fit and that another bus would be bringing the left luggage. The other people seemed very concerned.  I couldn't see if my bag was one of the ones that were left. But I didn't really care about anything in that luggage.  Did I really need my five year old Men's Wearhouse suit I bought for $199.

After a short drive we entered an industrial port area. Railroad tracks crisscrossed the road while trucks lumbered between large oil tanks. It didn't seem like the kind of place to get on a cruise ship but we could see them in the distance.  We rolled deeper into the maze of streets and oil tanks. I checked the GPS on my phone and noticed that yes we were near a port, Fort Lauderdale port to be exact. The problem: we were supposed to get on the ship at Miami port about an hour down the road.  We thought there might be some sort of connecting road to speed transferring cargo etc between the ports.  Apparently not, because the bus driver performed a rather awkward three point turn and we started back out of the industrial park. He finally found the expressway and drove us rather recklessly to Miami port.

At first sight of the ships I realized how huge they are. I knew that they were big but I had no idea just how large.  We got on the ship without any troubles and waited for our stateroom to be ready and for departure.

Enjoy this picture of us sailing away from Miami. 

My luggage did eventually show up.

Next up: A Review of the Celebrity Reflection