"" Writer's Wanderings

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Lazy Day In Beautiful Costa Rica


 There is an unwritten rule Bob often likes to tell people. Where it started is a mystery to me. I'm sure sometime I may have said something that he absorbed and turned a bit with his wry sense of humor. The rule according to Bob is: Karen doesn't get off the ship unless the next cruise is booked. Well, good news! The next cruise is booked. 

After an exasperated "Let's just go home," we began looking at other options. The Regent cruise line made a slight change in their itinerary to tempt some of the Crystal passengers to book with them in Aruba and have at least another 10-12 days in the Caribbean before a return to Miami. We briefly thought about it but still feeling defeated, we said, "home."



One of the disappointing things of the cancellation of the Grand Voyage was that I looked forward to having my birthday during the cruise. Always a special time on the ship and for the first time in a while, we wouldn't be on the road heading home from Florida. Dreamer that I am, or maybe it's fighter, I started looking at options for at least salvaging some part of winter in a warmer climate. I looked across at the Holland America ship before the Emerald Princess took its place, and remembered some great cruises. I managed to sell Bob on a cruise in March, the Caribbean again but I don't care. So I'm calling it my birthday cruise, Bob doesn't have to worry about a present or where to take me to dinner. The starting price was good enough and our Mariner points with HA (we have a silver medal, one we could wear if it wasn't so heavy) allowed us to get a luxury suite. So we are licking our wounds and indulging ourselves a bit.

Now the biggest problem is schlepping all this luggage home. We have seven bags. Three we had shipped and four we brought with us. The original cruise would have called for hot weather as well as much cooler weather when we reached Europe so we packed more than usual. And now we have more to add to those bags, the rest of the gifts from our Grand Voyage. Wondering if I should eat the chocolate so we don't have to pack it. Hmmm.


Our second day in Puerto Limon proved to be as beautiful as anything Costa Rica advertises, sun, calm waters, serene mountains and lively music provided by a group at the end of the dock. We did our morning walk and ended by going ashore to the little craft market in the port area. So many tempting things but no room in the suitcase for them. 

I did a couple loads of laundry and read most of a book in the afternoon. While we don't have a lounge chair on our veranda, at the rear of the ship on our deck there are some loungers and a couple of really nice cushioned loungers with pillows. Cozy enough for marathon reading.

We ate at the specialty Italian restaurant called Prego. I couldn't pass up the mushroom soup in a bread bowl, cream or no cream. It was worth it! My rack of lamb was super tender and tasty. Bob had some sort of appetizer that was basically paper thin beef with cheese and balsamic and lemon and parmesan sprinkled over it. He loved it as well as the pasta with extra meat sauce.

Entertainment was a mentalist. Not my speed. Bob went to the show and I went back to the room early. I was tired and feeling a bit anxious as well. Earlier in the evening before dinner, the captain had made an announcement that we would be spending another night in port and he would have "good news" for both crew and guests at noon the next day. Everyone spent the evening speculating on what would be the good news that would be good for all of us. Guess we would have to sleep on it.

Monday, January 24, 2022

Puerto Limon And The Canals!


 After much angst on our part over questioning if any port will have us due to the financial fix the cruise line is in, we discovered that a stop at Puerto Limon was still possible and we would overnight there. The stop in Colon however was canceled. We woke to a mixture of rain clouds and sun but by the time breakfast was done, the sum had chased the rain. 

We hustled down to breakfast to be sure we would be done in time for our tour that was to meet on the ship at 8:45 in the lounge. Breakfast is a little earlier and faster up at the Marketplace but we really like eating in the Waterside restaurant where we can sit at a table and not have to roam for our food at a buffet. It's Sunday, so those of you who know Bob's breakfast schedule know it had to be waffles.

Our excursion was to the Tortuguero Canals. I'm not sure they are actually a part of the Tortuguero National Park but they are close to it. We've done this excursion once before and enjoyed it so we decided to try it again. An air conditioned and nice clean bus picked up up at the dock and drove almost a half hour to the canals. We were told a ton of Costa Rican history and culture by a very savvy guide named Cynthia. 


The green countryside got greener and more dense as we left the port city. The natural beauty of Costa Rica is something to experience. We've had several opportunities with a couple of cruises and a Pickleball tour that got us into the mountains as well as the shore.

The canal boats are quite well done. They offer you fresh local bananas and fruit and a little beer if you like before or after your trip. Ours was offered before as we waited for an earlier tour to finish its trip. There was a small gift shop there and while I saw some clever things that might have been fun to buy for grandkids, I don't know where I'd pack them. (More on the packing later).

When our tour boat unloaded, we boarded. The boat seats around 50 people and I think we only had about 30 so there was plenty of seating to go around without feeling crowded. The humidity was climbing a bit but once the boat was moving, the gentle breeze was cooling. Quiet is the first thing that comes to mind. Even though we weren't far from a road, for the most part, the boat cruised quietly--quietly until we started sighting some of the nature the rainforest has to offer.


Birds were what we saw at first and our expert spotter and boat captain made sure we all could see them as long as they didn't fly off too quickly. Cynthia was well versed on each species and offered lots of details of habits and habitats. When the bird sightings repeated or got sparse she would tell us bout the trees, especially the banana trees. I did not know that the wild bananas have too many seeds to make them palatable to us picky human eaters. And another newly learned fact--plantains, while they grow on a similar looking tree to bananas, don't form the same kind of cluster. The fruit splays out instead of in a closed compact cluster. 

The cruise along the canals was so calming. It was just what we needed considering the chaos and uncertainty we'd faced the last week. We stopped suddenly when the sound of monkeys was heard in the distance. Cynthia and the boat captain finally spotted them off in the distance. The only thing we could really see was the branches moving as they swung from one to another.

I was feeling a bit disappointed. We hadn't seen a sloth yet. The last time, we'd seen two. Just as I was wondering how much time we had left, the boat was quickly put into reverse and our guides pointed up with their laser pen and mirror light. Way up in the tree was a three toed sloth. Somehow you can tell by the facial pattern although it was so high up I don't know how she saw the features. [So high up that I couldn't get a decent picture.] She did manage to wow us with the fact that they stay in the tree for seven days before coming down to relieve themselves. They have four chambers in their stomach and it takes that long to digest their food. If they sense danger on the way down, they climb back up and stay another seven. Okay. . .


We were almost in sight of the facility where we began when we stopped again behind another boat that was turning slowly. There was a group of monkeys much closer in the trees and somewhat active, climbing and jumping and pretty much showing off. They must not have been bothered by us because they didn't start howling. We've heard the howls before. It's like a band's huge amplifier that's gone a little crazy. Yes, that loud.

I must apologize for the pictures. I managed to walk off the ship and forget to take my good camera. Drats! These are all I could get from my iPhone. When you zoom in, you loose sharpness. I do have a nice video that I will try to post tomorrow. The internet isn't always friendly to those kind of uploads.

We attended the protestant church service in the evening. Sadly it will be the only one we have this voyage with Ed Voosen. His topics are always interesting. 

We had the best steak for dinner. It was a filet and cut like butter it was so tender. Our waiter, Marcin, spoiled me with pecan pie and a scoop of ice cream that he added hot fudge sauce to. My chocolate levels needed that. They were low. 

What will we wake to tomorrow? Our sister ship, Symphony, now sits empty in Bimini as the passengers and most crew were ferried to Fort Lauderdale. Many of you probably heard that as I understand it made some of the national news. As it stands now, we have one more day in Limon, two sea days and an overnight stay in Curacao before we arrive in Aruba where some will disembark on Saturday and the rest of us on Sunday. The crew is still a little uncertain of what will happen with them. That is all predicated on whether or not another creditor or the same one will try to get our ship "arrested" for outstanding bills. Meanwhile, we continue the philosophy of one day at a time. Que sera sera. 

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Somewhere Between Here And There

 

And the saga continues.

We awoke this morning wondering what the day would bring, certain of one thing and that was it would be a sea day. Yesterday's time spent at the salon was successful and this morning I went back for a mani-pedi. The salon crew is in a better position than the wait staff and housekeeping in this current situation of the cruise line shutdown. They are hired from a company that supplies staffing for the salons on ships therefore they will most likely be reassigned to another cruise line and ship. The same for the guy who takes care of the fitness center according to what he told Bob. But that leaves a lot of other people with an uncertain future.

The morning destination lecture was all about Puerto Limon and Colon and the San Blas Islands. As it stands now, we will be in Limon tomorrow and the next day. Then we skip Colon and the San Blas. That's disappointing in that we really wanted to go to the visitor center at the Panama Canal from Colon. We've been through the canal several times but were hoping to see the new locks or at least a different view of the passage through the locks.

Here's the new haircut and nails. Not
giving you a picture of the pedicure.

Captain Giske sounded weary as he gave his noon report today. With a sigh he told us that the reason we couldn't go to Jamaica was because we owed too much money and hadn't paid the bills. I guess I'm surprised that the whole rest of the cruise isn't just called off and we head to whatever port will let us disembark. With another sigh and almost under his breath, he said that the ship was almost "arrested" (a maritime law term) in Cozumel. We did leave a half hour early from there but I don't know if that had anything to do with it. My son was joking about the repo man chasing us. I don't think he's too far from the truth. 

Considering the unpaid fuel bills that I have heard could be as much as $5 million, I would love to glimpse the fuel gauge on the ship. We still have a ways to go to get us to Curacao and then to Aruba. Perhaps that is why we are overnighting in Costa Rica and then Curacao. Less fuel needed? After all, who's going to sell us fuel on a promise to pay? And/or, is there any extra money to fill the tank with?

Meanwhile, we will continue to enjoy the sunny days and warm weather until we once again have to don heavy jackets and boots. Bob is getting plenty of Paddle Tennis in and I'm getting some reading done. I'll leave the novel writing until I get home and can concentrate on it. 

Marcin, our favorite waiter, photo bombing our
picture. He has been a delight.

I neglected to mention in my previous post that we had an outstanding performer last night for showtime, CeCe Teneal. She sang tribute songs of Aretha Franklin and had the whole theater on their feet and dancing in the aisles. Tonight's show was a repeat of the Icons. It was good even a second time around.

More and more we hear crew speculating about the future especially the near future. Payday is the first of the month. Will they see a pay check and will it be good? My heart goes out to them.

Settling Into A Sea Day


 This morning's walk was a challenge. The seas are not rough but the wind made it quite an exercise. The starboard side was like walking uphill and the port side was like running down it. Getting around the bow of the ship was like being in a wind tunnel. Not a morning for any light weights. They would blow over the side.

We have looked forward to the protestant chaplain who was on our 2015 World Cruise and was to be here for the Grand Voyage that is not happening now. He gave the first of his morning devotionals this morning and we joined the small group. I love that he highlights the old hymns and gives the background for them, how they were inspired and a little about the life of the writer. He said he looked forward to seeing us on Sunday for whatever time the service was scheduled. I guess everything is in a bit of flux on the ship. He laughed and said he had prepared his sermon ahead of arriving on the ship and titled it "Surprise!" In light of the situation, it should be interesting.

Today was Asian cuisine at the buffet. Would have loved some more sushi but I'd had a big breakfast and wasn't very hungry. I did have some really good Thai curry coconut soup with veggies and some jasmine rice pudding with a sweet raspberry sauce.

After a lecture on the British Crown Jewels which we've had the privilege to see on one of our trips to London, I got up the courage to make a hair appointment. I don't normally get a haircut and color professionally, well haircut yes but it's been years since I've gotten professional color. He was very meticulous and I was very careful to hold my mask in place. When I did have to cough, he laughed and said, "It's okay. The virus and I are good friends." Then he apologized and said that wasn't funny. I thought it was. It certainly broke the ice. So now I am wearing a new bob and a beautiful new color on my hair, not too different than the usual but certainly much more nicely done. Thank goodness though for onboard credits. All I can say is cha-ching!

While I was in the chair, the captain came over the PA to announce that we are now closed out of Jamaica. I'm beginning to wonder if the comment I saw online about the financial situation is a part of it. Someone thought that we couldn't return to Miami and had to disembark passengers at Aruba because Miami was afraid of not getting paid for the port fees which would be substantial. Hmmm. Turns out that there is a lawsuit pending in the States against the Crystal ship the Symphony for non payment of fuel charges for over 3.5 million dollars reportedly. They will "arrest the ship" according to maritime law so that ship is ending its cruise in Bimini where the parent company owns the large resort there and the passengers will go by ferry to Fort Lauderdale from Bimini. Makes us wonder what may happen to us. 

Our itinerary seems to be in flux. We are still scheduled to stop in Puerto Limon, Costa Rica but now we are overnight. And as we checked our itinerary on our phone app, it has changed to an overnight stay in Curacao as well. That hasn't been confirmed yet but it looks like the two stops in Jamaica and the one in the San Blas islands are scrapped. It is an ever-changing adventure to be sure.

On the positive side, one of the things I love about the Caribbean area is the amazing clouds you see. It was always one of the fascinating things to observe when we went diving in Grand Cayman all those years. Instead of the thick overcast cloudy and gray skies back home, the clouds here form columns and shapes and when the sun lights them up just right they are breathtaking. I'm going to miss seeing more of them.


Friday, January 21, 2022

Stopping By Cozumel


 While some people, mostly diving enthusiasts, love Cozumel, us? Not so much. Even when we went diving there, we were not very excited. They do mostly drift diving because of the currents. By that I mean you get dropped off in one spot with one of the dive members holding a buoyant ball by a rope that tracks the groups progress and you just drift along, usually faster than you want to until the dive time is up. I'm someone who likes to explore at my own pace and just linger if I find something interesting. Hard to do when you have a current to fight. On the other hand, people say it's easy diving because you don't expend much energy letting the current carry you. To each his own.


Above sea level doesn't attract us much either. We usually end up at a dock that has a mall area at the end of it. Nice, it you are a shopper and love the hassle of the sales pitches. Sombreros, ponchos and colorful materials are pleasing to look at but I don't care to purchase any. And the jewelry? Everything you could imagine and more if you trust the sellers. I'm not big on jewelry either.

To sum up our walk ashore, it was pleasant weather, terra firma, and for once the mall was not so packed with people that you felt crowded and bumped. The mall also looked a lot cleaner than I remembered from the past. We stopped at a "supermarket" that was mostly stocked with tequila and liquors and found some chocolates to choose from for our stateroom attendant. A lot of the local chocolates were filled with tequila and while I thought that might be appreciated given the situation with the crew's future, we settled on a package of M&Ms that contained six small packets of candy.


Before we went to dinner, we set it on the bed with a note. "When things go badly, a little chocolate sometimes helps. Here is some for you and some to share." She has been a real sweetheart and kept us well stocked in towels and water and the other necessities of room care. When I got sick with my head cold/sinus infection,  she said she would pray for me. She had seen my devotional book in the room and told us she was a Christian too.

Dinner was at Umi Uma, the Japanese restaurant, last night. Melt in the mouth sushi and sashimi. 

Bruce Hammond was back on board ship and did his Frank Sinatra show. Love his voice and as he put it, "real music". 

A day at sea is next. If I can stop sneezing and hacking and blowing my nose, I'll try to get my hair done. We have some onboard credits we need to use up before the journey ends. There may be a shopping trip to the ship's stores ahead.  

Thursday, January 20, 2022

A Grand Voyage--The Beginning And The End


 Our day in Progreso, Mexico, was unsettling to say the least. It started out as a beautiful sunny day. The dock was the longest one I have ever seen. It is actually 4 miles long and it took us ten minutes by a shuttle van to get to the end of it. We were curious to see what Progreso was like since we'd never been here before.

The shuttle took us to the bus terminal which was just a block away from the end of the dock. There we got a sales pitch for all sorts of tours before we left the shuttle. The destination lecture had said there was a nice boardwalk along the shore so we tried to get our bearings and figure out which way to go.

The few blocks we walked before we found the shoreline were not pleasant--run down and with trash in the streets but once we found the boardwalk we were pleasantly surprised. It was beautiful. I can't tell you how far it stretched but on one side of it there were shops, restaurants and some small hotels. On the other side, was a gorgeous white sand beach that stretched as far as the eye could see. 


There were certainly opportunities to rent a chair and I think an umbrella and there were several places that had tables under cover for eating and drinking. While we got the usual patter of salesmanship you expect in the Caribbean and Mexico, it was not overwhelming and we enjoyed our stroll along the boardwalk. 

As we headed back to the shuttle service, we found that keeping the lighthouse in sight was a good navigation tool. The street we walked back on was not nearly as "rustic" as the other streets had been.

Now for the unsettling news. There had been rumors that Genting Hong Kong was in dire straits financially and it was coming to a head. Crystal Cruises is a part of that company but the news we had seen appeared to involve their ship building division. We had set it aside as something not to stress over needlessly.

Our ship sits at the end of a 4 mile long dock

Well, by the time we were back onboard the ship the rumors were flying and a little later confirmed by an email. Crystal Cruises would be suspending operations for all of their ships and river boats at the end of the segments they were on. That meant that our Grand Voyage would be a short one. It would end in Aruba on January 30.

As disappointed as we felt, it could not compare to the devastation of the crew. They had already been through one shut down because of COVID. We overheard some saying that they had sold cars and other possessions to survive financially. When the cruise line shuts down, they do not receive a paycheck. You have to applaud them though. For as unsettling as the news was, they greeted us with smiles and gracious service everywhere we went this evening. 


So we found ourselves scrambling to make sure we could get back home from Aruba. My sweet husband is always on the ball and he immediately made reservations for us with United. We never expected something like this. We had envisioned the possibility of our cruise ending due to COVID but certainly not due to the company's financial position. 

We have been assured that we will be reimbursed for the remainder of our cruise. Here is the email message:

Today, Crystal is announcing that it has suspended operations for its Ocean and Expedition ships through April 29, 2022, with River cruises suspended through the end of May 2022. Suspending operations will provide Crystal’s management team with an opportunity to evaluate the current state of business and examine various options moving forward.

Crystal’s three ships currently in operation – Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony sailing in the Caribbean and Crystal Endeavor in Antarctica – will complete their current voyages. Crystal Symphony’s current voyage ends in Miami on January 22, Crystal Serenity in Aruba on January 30 and Crystal Endeavor in Ushuaia, Argentina, on February 4.

“This was an extremely difficult decision but a prudent one given the current business environment and recent developments with our parent company, Genting Hong Kong,” said Jack Anderson, Crystal’s president. “Crystal has been synonymous with luxury cruising for more than 30 years and we look forward to welcoming back our valued guests when we resume our operations. We wish to thank our guests and travel advisors for their incredible support during these ongoing challenging times.”

For guests currently sailing on back-to-back voyages, Crystal will provide a refund for unused days of the cruise fare paid as well as the corresponding port charges, taxes and fees. Crystal will provide a full refund of cruise fare paid on affected bookings. Refunds will be processed automatically to the original form of payment so there is no further action on the guest’s part. If the cruise was paid via a Future Cruise Payment or Credit, the full value will be returned to their Crystal Society profile account.

Thank you again for your understanding.

Sincerely,

Crystal
Guest Services

We have ten days left to enjoy of what was to be 116 days. And that we will.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Ah, The Perks Of A Grand Voyage


 Last night we came back to our room to find that our stateroom attendant had left us a bag of goodies on our bed. There was heavy duty beach bag, two caps, a pretty scarf, two leather bound notebooks with pens and a waterproof blue tooth speaker. Guess I can take Kenny G to the beach with me.

Bob has stopped grumbling about his hair. The salon was open and he got a nice cut albeit a bit pricey when you consider what he spends at home. One of the nice things though is that we got a lot of onboard credits with our booking between Crystal and our travel agency so we figured all the haircuts and nail appointments should be taken care of with that.

The original brochure also listed free laundry service but I haven't seen anything yet to confirm that. Not a big deal since the free self service laundry is just down the hall and all the soap and softener is free as well. 

There are now rumors that we may be skipping Cartagena in several days. It's not a big deal at least to us but the cruise director mentioned that it's driving the excursion people crazy. One day it's on, another it's off. We were only to be there a few hours and we've been there several times before. While the old town is interesting there aren't many other places to go on your own.

Bob went to a golf clinic to try to learn how to hit a golf ball. He doesn't want to take up golf, just wants to be able to do better at Top Golf when we get home.

I spent most of the day reading and resting, trying to get past this head cold. The nice thing is that the lectures are close circuit televised to the ship so if you don't want to attend in person, you can watch from your room. I did that to learn more about Progeso, Mexico, which is our port for tomorrow. Since we are really not interested in Chichen Itza, the Mayan ruins, we were happy to note that there is a nice boardwalk to enjoy along the shore of Progreso.

[There have been some significant changes to our voyage. I will post tomorrow. The internet has not been cooperative.]

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Disembark, Embark, Let The Grand Voyage Begin!

 


Thankfully my COVID test the day before was negative because this morning I woke with a nasty head cold. Since it was a turn around day for our cruise, I wasn't going to miss much. We had breakfast and stayed in our room until it was time to meet in the Hollywood Theater with the rest of the people who were continuing on with the cruise to go through immigration. Let me explain.

When it is the end of one cruise and the ship enters a US port, immigration requires that all guests disembark and go through immigration. It should not take long as it's a formality but every guest needs to be off the ship before they can put guests back on. I heard stories that some people waited for an hour for the ship to clear so I grabbed my Kindle, a bottle of water and my phone along with my passport and room key. I was ready.


We waited in the theater on the ship about fifteen minutes until security said that the other passengers were off the ship. Then we were led as a group to the gangway where we had our ship cards scanned and then proceeded outside around the corner and back into the cruise terminal to go through another security check with metal detectors (which I set off with my knee). After a pat down, we were directed to some chairs and waited about ten minutes before we were allowed back on the ship. All in all not a bad ten minute stop in Miami.

Since there were only about thirty of us (another dozen had gone ashore) on the ship while the new passengers went through their testing and paperwork, we enjoyed quite a nice quiet rest of the morning and early afternoon. New passengers did not start coming aboard until around 1:30. 


Meanwhile we checked our home cameras to see what the winter storm had brought. FOURTEEN INCHES! And still snowing. We counted our lucky stars and expressed sympathy for those back home although at that point in time with the head cold, a cup of tea next to a nice warm fireplace sounded cozy.

I spent the afternoon reading in the stateroom while Bob sought out someone to play paddle tennis with. He ended up exercising in the gym. 


Just before dinner we took a picture beside the Welcome to the Grand Voyage sign in the atrium. Usually on a world cruise there would have been a big welcome dinner and dance but as much as people may have missed it, I think we were all just grateful to be here. Let the voyage begin.

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