Saturday, September 27, 2008

At Sea - Day 7

It's our last full day and the ship will be at sea. Lots if interesting activities, but I think today calls for laying out in the sun for a little while, followed by some shipboard activities and catching up on the Internet.

Dinner time came fast, but a decent nap will do that for you too. We had a decent showing at the table with all four couples present. We talked about the things we liked best, and least. The most common thing that bothered people was the language barriers with the crews, especially service personnel. We shared funny stories about that problem.

Now, it's time for packing and getting ready to leave in the morning.

After packing and putting the bags out for pickup, we walked a bit, bought a photo of us in St. Martin, then went to the open air Lido deck to "dispose" of a pair of Cubans that we had somehow come up with. A last walk around the decks before turning in. Tomorrow is a busy day.

At Sea - Day 6

This was a total day at sea. Starting in the morning, for some odd reason, people were asking me, and sometimes my wife, how was I doing. I suspect they were at the deck part the night before.

We decided to take it easy and laid out on the Promenade deck, walked around, and I took a nap in the afternoon. Interesting thing sleeping in mid-day, not something I usually do. Dinner was elegant dress and we dressed for it. On the way, we even had a few photos taken. We'll see how that works out tomorrow.

A little time at the blackjack table earned me a few dollars back. The biggest problem are the folks that don't know how to play or have had too much to drink to play properly. They don't understand that they can affect the entire table.

The night wrapped up with a few hours at karaoke and then watching Transformers on the big screen on the Lido Deck by the pool.

Friday, September 26, 2008

St. Martin - Day 5

For those not aware, St. Martin is an island with dual personalities. By treaty, it is divided into halves owned by France and The Netherlands. Both are still considered a part of their patron countries.

We opted for an excursion that was to tour the island with time in Margot, the capital of the French side, Orient Beach, also on the French side, and finally Phiipsburg, the capital of the Dutch side. Instead of the traditional open-bus, we had a more typical tour bus with comfortable seats. The problems came from two places; the first was that the bus's air conditioning wasn't working and the windows didn't open. The second was that the driver decided to skip the Philipsburg portion of the trip. This was a terrible disappointment and considering that this was my first Carnival cruise and only excursion, it has not left me feeling very good about engaging in such activities again.

The weather was good though and it was a nice time at the sidewalk cafe in Margot and the beach bar at Orient Beach. I really want to make time to return and see both capitals again. We picked up a few duty-free items before we boarded the ship.

I then had an appointment at the ship's spa, another first. I felt terrific after the massage and think I'll make this a regular activity on any future cruises.

It was Margarita night at the casino bar and I did my part to add to the tradition. The mistake probably came from switching drinks during our cigar moment on the Lido deck.

Tomorrow is the first of two days at sea on the way back to Miami.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

St. Thomas - Day 4

We pulled into beautiful St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands this morning amidst deep blue skies and moderate temperatures. We aren't the only ship here so I assume Charlotte Amalie will be busy with tourists. We have no specific plans but intend to go to Paradise Point by way of the tram and wander around town. I'll write about it later. At the moment, we have to go through U.S. Immigration.

Despite almost 20 announcements, items in the newsletter, and signs all over the ship, it seems there were a number of people who decided that they were special and didn't need to go to the U.S. Immigration checks. We all heard their names on the PA system several times throughout the morning as the crew did their best to locate them.

We prepared for our trek and as we were about to leave the cabin, some flyers were delivered that mentioned specials at the spa for the day. I called and made an appointment for a triple-massage later at night. It should be nice. We disembarked and it all went smoothly. Finding a ride downtown was not a problem, but it was a bit chaotic trying to find a dorry headed for our specific destination. The cab drivers were trying to upsell everyone on island tours or longer trips to one of the beaches.

We were dropped off downtown and began our exploring. After a while we stumbled across a little place called The Giggling Gecko owned and operated by Michelle, originally from Prince Frederick in Maryland (small world it is). Its a delightful place and a few bottles of Island Summer Ale later we were back on our way through the town.

After another hour we stopped in at The Green House, another local haunt frequented by tourists. The Macho Nachos hit the spot as did a bottle of Carib, a beer from Trinidad.

A quick cab ride and we were at the foot of the tram that runs to Paradise Point. The ride up gives you quite a good view of the harbor and town below. At the top is a nice little restaurant and gift shop. Their speciality is a drink called a Bushwacker. I decided to try one, along with a bottle of water. It tastes a lot like a chocolate milkshake made with low-fat ice cream. The view and sites from their were incredible. You can clearly see Puerto Rico and some of the other Virgin Islands. I got quite a few shots that will be on Flickr when I return.

Dinner is in a bit and the massage a bot after that. I think I may reschedule as I managed to get some sunburn that might interfere with the massages.

Tomorrow is St. Maartin and we have an excursion planned to sightsee the island.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

At Sea, Day 3

The morning arrived to find us at sea. But the seas were rougher than anticipated with 10-12 foot swells. That made the whole day a bit rough. I heard a number of folks talk about feeling under the weather.

The morning was easy. We went up to the main pool areas to lay out for bit. I wandered into Rosie's and had a light breakfast of mostly fresh fruit. Upon getting back to the chairs, I spread on the sunscreen, got out the iPod and headphones and laid back. I rolled over a few times and even replenished the sunscreen. By 1:00, it was raining so I headed in. Later, I discovered that I was burned and even had bright red areas where I missed with the sunscreen. Not painful, but bothersome nonetheless.

Later was lunch that included leg of lamb, and back to the casino. Then dinner and the casino where I lost a few more dollars. Dinner was excellent and we were joined by 2 more couples. The synergy was terrific and dinner was very entertaining. We went back to the casino where I managed to lighten my wallet even further. I thought I had a chance in the Blackjack Tournament, but was knocked off the top six list at the last moment by just $200.

Overall, a nice and relaxing day with napping, sunning, book reading, blackjack, and craps. All of this in the wake of 12-15 foot seas, clouds, and spotty rain. I found it a good day though.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Nassau, Bahamas - Day 2

We were already in port at Nassau when we awoke. Since we had no specific plans, we had a lazy breakfast then headed ashore about 10:00. We walked around the downtown and port area, taking in the shops and some of the local culture. However, mostly what we ran into were other folks from the ship or taxi and bus drivers.

After an hour walk, we decided to put into the Athena Cafe. This Greek restaurant was founded by a Greek seaman who jumped ship in Nassau and never left. We had some local beers and conch fritters; both were excellent. We headed back to the ship afterwards, but at a leisurely pace. Upon boarding, we decided to change and head across the ship to other destinations. We had some drinks at the Argonaut bar by the pool, then a hearty lunch at Rosie's Cafe -- named after Rosie the Riveter from WWII fame.

Today was "elegant" night on the ship, meaning a higher dress code at dinner, The Captains reception was a 5:00 so we dressed up and headed there. We met a couple from Canada they were very nice. The drinks and appetizers flowed. I latched onto this lime-flavored drink and they kept setting new ones in front of me. Time for dinner came and we found ourselves with another couple. Jeff and Mary Lou from Maine showed up. They seem to be serial entrepreneurs, starting a business then selling it and starting another. I have to admire that mindset.

After dinner, we changed and headed back out. We first went to the casino and did okay. Te wife won $500 on slots and I won back some of the money I lost on the first night. More importantly, it was fun. On to karaoke where we ran into other people we knew. First, we sat with the couple from the ride to Miami. Then, some of the best singers were from my blackjack table earlier in the evening.

We wrapped up the day by watching "Deja Vous" on the big screen at the pool/

Today, we also agreed that he occupants of the cabin to our right need to get a better handle on their kids. Between the banging, jumping, and slamming doors it is getting to be pretty onerous. Banging back on the wall seems to get it to stop for at least a little while, but not permanently. We'll see how it plays out over the next several days.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Cruise Day is Here!

Steve from SAS picked us up right at 10:30. I can't say enough about the quality of his service and highly recommend him for any of your transport needs in the Ft. Lauderdale/Miami area. He mentioned that the port in Miami was a mess due to four ships arriving at the same time. According to his information, people that should have been off already were still nowhere near disembarking.

He had no other pickups so we were headed strait to the port. On the way, a call came in about a pair of travelers needing to be transported from Ft. Lauderdale airport to the same ship as ours. After asking us if we minded, which we didn't, he turned around and retrieved them. It made the trip go easier having someone else to talk to.

Arriving at the port, we could see it was still a complete mess. Frequent cruisers now that things are usually cleared out by 11-11:30. Here it was almost noon and there were hundreds of people still getting off the ship! He dropped us off and we made our way inside. It is no exaggeration to say that we waited in lines to have a turn waiting in another line. It was ridiculous and horrendous. Had this been our first experience with Carnival I guarantee it would have been our last. It took hours to check-in. At the counter, our customer service person explained that Carnival rented the facility from NCL as theirs were full. Since it was an NCL terminal, there were no Carnival systems or computers. Everything was being done by hand. Once we knew this, it made sense and was more tolerable. Why Carnival chose to not communicate this to the thousands waiting to board is one of those business decisions where the only response is, "what were you thinking?"

By the time we actually boarded and got our stateroom, it was nearly 3:00. Despite being famished, we decided on light eating to save our appetites for the scrumptious dinner that was awaiting us at 6:00. While lunching and having a drink, we met up with a number of other people from the discussion boards. They were all nice people.

Muster is the process of exercising for an emergency drill. Everyone is called out and shows up at the evacuation points with their life vests. In our case, it went pretty smoothly with a hundred or so people at out area, all wearing their bright orange vests. But, then there were the past cruisers that not only thought they didn't need to participate, but by talking amongst themselves, and quite loudly, kept new cruisers from hearing all of the instructions.

During muster, the ship pulled away from the dock. I went up on the observation deck to watch the sail-away. It wasn't all that interesting, though I must say that the city of Miami looks much better in CSI_Miami than it does in reality.

Dinner for us was at 6:00 and its the early shift. We found we were seated at a table of ten, although we found we were the only ones at the table. The ffod was excellent as was the bottle of Reisling we ordered. The service was impeccable as we have come to expect from Carnival. We went from dinner to the casino, where I promptly dropped some bucks at the craps table. The wife donated a bit to the slot machines, but we both had fun in the process. We decided to head back a bit early.

Monday is a day in Nassau, Bahamas.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Ft. Lauderdale as a Stopover to Miami

Before embarking on our cruise, we elected to fly to Ft. Lauderdale a day early and stay overnight. Through some connections, we got a goot rate at the Sheraton on the beach. It was well located, clean, and reasonably priced. They had a pool, pool bar, and the requisite restaurant, deli, and bar. All in all it was a decent place.

Our flight to Ft. Lauderdale was on Southwest and was, in all, fairly uneventful. We had arranged our transportation through SAS, which my wife found on the discussion board at SAS is run by Steve who met us with the utmost professionalism. He talked about the local area and activities that we might be interested in as he drove us from the airport o the hotel. Dropping us off, we finalized arrangements for the ride to the port in Miami the next morning.

After settling into the room, first had some beverages at the pool/beach bar and then we walked up Las Olas Blvd (A1A) and had lunch at Bahia Cabana, a well-known place amongst the locals. We eventually wandered some more and found ourselves embibing of a malt beverage at a local place called Rock & Roll Bar. It was streetfront/beachfront and was a lot of fun. After finishing a pair of drinks, we headed back to the hotel. Soon we were answering the siren call of Bierbrunnen, a German establishment just off of A1A. Lots of beers on tap, including some nice German brews. We had one for the road and made it back to the hotel after a short walk.

We repacked our luggage to better prepare for boarding the ship on Sunday.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Upcoming Trip

I'm leaving for some time in Ft. Lauderdale, then a cruise on the Carnival Valor. So, you can look forward to a basic travelogue and a good field test of my new Nikon D90 camera. I managed to get a few lenses before the trip; a Sigma 10-20 and a Nikon 70-300. These are not expensive lenses, but should give me a full range of options on the trip.

Carnival Valor

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Md Tech Council Social Media Seminar Sept 2008

Md Tech Council Social Media Seminar Sept 2008
Photo by shashiBellamkonda

A shot of me during the SuperStar portion of the TCM seminar on how to grow your business through social networking today.

I'll update this post with more information as it gets online.

You can also find some coverage of the event at these links:

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Nikon D90 DSLR coming soon

I have been waiting for Nikon and Canon to release their new models during this weeks Photokina event in Europe. I wasn't disappointed when Nikon held a press conference to announce their new D90 DSLR. What makes this particular camera ultra-special is that it will record high definition video as well. See my Tumblr post for more info.

I managed to finally order one this morning and was surprised to find that they are already in the warehouses and prepping to ship to customers on Friday, September 5. I ordered the kit with the Nikon 18-105 VR lens. With overnight shipping, that'll mean I get mine on Saturday.

I can't wait to try it out, especially the HD video. I haven't used an SLR since my old photography days when I had a Nikon FM, FE, and later and F3. I loved those cameras, but they soon wore on me as too much to carry for many events. I have been carrying a small Nikon point-n-shoot that has done a darn good job. But now I want more options and control over the process. Look forward to more postings with photos or photo-related news in the coming months.

For an excellent site and accompanying podcast on photography, visit TWIP: This Week in Photography.