Thursday, September 18, 2008
We left home this morning around 8:40 for the trip to the airport. After checking the luggage, we went to the Delta lounge where we were told that only international passengers could use the lounge. We were disappointed because access to the lounge was one reason we were flying in the front of the plane. The staff let us stay, however, so we relaxed with coffee, tea and snacks until just before 10 a.m. when we went to the gate for our flight to Atlanta.
The flight was uneventful and we were a little early, so we had more time to kill in the airport while we waited for our 2:55 flight to Seattle. We wandered the “A” section of Hartsfield looking for someplace for lunch. Our first choice had no vacant tables because many were occupied by egocentric people working on their laptops but not eating or drinking. We ended up in a glorified bar and had mediocre sandwiches. We left as soon as we were finished so as not to hog the table. At the gate, we waited and read until it was time to board.
This leg of our journey was also quiet. We were served lunch [a choice of a spicy jalapeno pasta or pot-roasty beef short rib] and arrived in Seattle around 5 p.m. local time. We took our time walking to the baggage claim area, knowing that we would arrive there before the bags. Sure enough, it took Delta a long time to get the bags unloaded. As we approached Baggage Claim, we saw our friend Richard checking the Arrivals list to see if we had landed yet. We sneaked up on him and then did the “long-lost friend” stuff. He and his fiancée Donna had volunteered not only to pick us up at Sea-Tac but also to take us to dinner. Getting the luggage into Richard’s car was a challenge, but we persevered. Traffic out of the airport was horrendous – rush hour complicated by construction compounded by an accident. With Donna navigating, we traveled against traffic to downtown Seattle, passing both the baseball [Safeco] and football [Invesco]stadiums as we approached the city.
Richard and Donna dropped us and the Vanderbilt’s luggage at the hotel, parked and went for a drink while we checked in. We were to call when we had settled in and were ready for dinner. The hotel looked better on the internet than it did in person and our concerns increased when the elevator didn’t work properly. Once it became operational, D suggested strongly to the clerk that an adjustment to the bill would be appropriate; when the bill showed up the next morning, the room rate had dropped $20.
Diner was at Palisade, a beautiful venue across Elliott Bay [?] from Seattle. We could see the skyline and the Space Needle from our table as we at a wonderful meal. MA had scallops stuffed with king crab and D had a curry soup loaded with scallops, shrimp, clams, firm white fish and a king crab leg that was at least 8 inched long. It was all yummy. By the time we finished, it was past 8:30 which meant 11:30 to our weary bodies. A quicker trip to the hotel and right to bed by 10; we were exhausted.
Friday, September 19, 2008
We were in no rush to get up this morning but ventured out around 9 to find a Starbucks. We had to walk about 3 blocks! Imagine! MA had a cinnamon scone and a vanilla latte and D had oatmeal and a cup of decaf; we had a coupon for the oatmeal so we had a good and cheap breakfast. Back at the hotel, we finished repacking and had the desk call a cab when we got downstairs around 11:10. We were at the HAL dock by 11:40 after a pleasant drive through downtown Seattle. Our cabbie was a refuge from Somalia and we talked sports mostly, especially pro football. After 14 years in Seattle, he was a Philadelphia Eagles fan; go figure.
The driver horsed the bags out of the cab and stayed to make sure a baggage handler had loaded our bags before driving off. Check-in was a breeze and we were through the minimal paperwork and on board by noon. We schlepped the carry-on with the computer to the Lido deck and had a relaxed lunch. Cabins were available around 1:15, so we wandered to our stateroom on Deck 6. Right near our inside cabin is an almost private deck at the rear of the ship; we hope to take advantage of it in warmer weather. Our room itself was disappointing. Although HAL had upgraded us to an allegedly better stateroom [higher deck, near this rear deck], the room itself was cramped because it was sideways relative to the hallway. Instead of entering at the end of the room, the door was in the middle; there was very little clearance between the bed and the dresser and closets, and it seemed to have less storage space than normal. We were able to stow everything but may have to make a map to find it all gain.
We wandered around for a while orienting ourselves to the ship. D inquired about a cabin change but was told that nothing was available for the 32 days we’ll be on board. We certainly did not want to change cabins every time we came to a new port, so we declined the offer. We scoped out the casino but were disappointed in the slots selection; that by no means is to suggest that we won’t be in there every day, just that we didn’t see any familiar machines. Eventually we returned to the room and unpacked with about the normal amount of bickering over what to put where.
Dinner is at 8 p.m. each night. The alternative is 5:30 which is waaaay too early and smacks of early bird specials. We’re not ready for that yet. While we were unpacking, we received a phone call from Roxanne Pettus with whom we had struck up a friendship on the CruiseCritic.com chat room devoted to this specific cruise and arranged to meet before dinner for a drink. Our Travel Agent[TA], Ted, had requested we be assigned to a table with Roxanne and Ed and they had also asked their TA to make the same request. During our conversation with them, we discovered that we had been assigned to separate tables. Apparently, HAL didn’t want to mix 65-day passengers with the riff-raff like us who were taking a shorter segment.
We had explored the dining room on our walk-through earlier in the day, so when we arrived at the dining room, we knew where to go without being escorted. We were the first to arrive at the table and we waited and waited for someone else to show up. While D had his glasses off so he could read the menu, he saw people approach the table. He couldn’t see clearly and he and MA were astonished and ecstatic when Russ and Patti Wayne came over and sat down. We had met Russ and Patti 2 years ago on a cruise, had dined with them for the last 2 weeks of the trip and have stayed friends. They have visited us several times on their way to cruises from Ft. Lauderdale and traveled with us on a river boat cruise in May. At that time, when we inveighed them to take this trip, they begged off because of pregnant grand-daughters and financial constraints. It turns out that they have been planning to surprise us for months! Even Ted knew they were coming, but he never even hinted at it. When Ted and their TA tried to get a joint table assignment, they were again rebuffed, but Russ prevailed when he told HAL that the only reason they were taking this cruise was to be with [and to astonish] us. They had spent the entire day avoiding us, staying mostly in their cabin so they wouldn’t spoil the surprise.
There are supposed to be 6 at the table, but the last didn’t show up. If they are absent for another day or two, we are going to try to get Roxanne and Ed reassigned, especially since they said later that their dinner companions were boring.
Dinner was fun, naturally, and it was nice to have the usual HAL service. As has become her custom, MA chose the vegetarian selection and D ate tandoori chicken. Eating healthy isn’t too hard to do on a ship if you are determined. On the other hand, it’s just day one. After dinner, we visited the casino for a while and then went “home” because we were exhausted.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
We were up too early this morning after a restless night. We had to set the clocks and watches back an hour as we sailed westward into a new time zone. We went to the main dining room for breakfast but discovered that we were 15 minutes too early; they wouldn’t open until 8 o’clock, so we went to the Lido Deck for cafeteria, not sit-down, breakfast. We shared a table with a couple who live at sea – they schedule back to back cruises and only go “home” to South Florida once or twice a year. They have no house or condo but stay in hotels while they see doctors and attend to things which can’t otherwise be done from a ship. It’s a fascinating concept for people who aren’t too attached to their “stuff.”
After breakfast and the morning pills, we ventured to the Crow’s Nest on the top of the ship. The Cruise Critic group, organized by “Wowzo”, a West Palm neighbor, was scheduled for a “meet and greet” so we could attach faces to on-line names. In most cases, only one member of a group had been on line, so it was even more interesting for the spouses to meet people they had never even heard of. We ended up sitting with Ed and Roxanne and “met and gret” a number of people with whom D had exchanged messages and information. We also discovered that Roxanne had found a third couple to join us in daily, cut-throat trivia, but we had to demur because we now plan on playing with Russ and Patti. Altogether, there were now 8 people and teams were limited to six. There will be enough folks who hadn’t planned so far ahead that we’ll all have full teams.
Team trivia was scheduled for noon, so we killed time in the Explorations Café where the computers are located. Even though our laptop will work wirelessly, the desktop PCs may be a little faster and definitely have bigger screens. Around 11:45 we headed for the Ocean Bar where we plan to spend a lot of quality time, not all of it playing trivia. While we waited for Russ and Patti to show up, another CC couple asked if they could join us. TravelingGG and her husband Chet were delightful. We will be a team, we hope, for at least the next 32 days; after that, it’s not our problem.
We razzed Roxanne before the game and said they would regret not having MA’s Shakespeare knowledge to help them. As luck would have it, there was a Shakespeare question, but her team answered it correctly. This year’s quizzes will consist of only 15 questions as compared to the 20 we are used to. Nonetheless, we prevailed, tying for first and then winning a tie-breaker to take more of those Dam mugs, these with an A” for Amsterdam. We now have enough HAL mugs to host a third-party political convention.
After trivia, and more friendly condescension, MA, D and Patti went to the dining room for lunch where we shared the table with another couple. The conversation hinted at politics but stayed non-partisan and we enjoyed meeting more new people. If we meet 4 new people a day, we will have met 10% of the passengers by the time we disembark. We won’t remember them but we will have met them. Some more money lost in the slots brought us to afternoon reading. We watched as a Canadian government helicopter circled the ship to ferry off a passenger who may have had a stroke. The delay caused by waiting for the chopper will not affect our current itinerary since we can take a more southerly route now that Russia has been taken out of play. Everyone was fortunate that the seas are as smooth as glass today which made the rescue much easier. We returned to the cabin around 4 for MA’s pre-dinner nap while D caught up the journal. Maybe the mystery couple will appear tonight. We’ve already scoped out the menu and know what we are ordering - the highlight of our decadent day is often previewing the dinner menu at lunchtime. Busy, busy, busy.
The mystery couple did appear tonight. They were too tired yesterday to venture far from their room having just come from Houston and the aftermath of Hurricane Ike. They have had electricity for over a week and were franticly making arrangements and contingency plans for its return. As it turns out, they were also part of the CC message board and were known as 2Cruisers. After dinner, MA went to bed and D went first to the casino where he recouped some of our earlier losses and then to the library to finish the journal before going to bed. We will lose another hour tonight. My, how time flies when you have jet lag.