January 14, 2024

Jan 12 - Return to Tampa

Tampa is a small port. I think at most they can dock 3 cruise ships. We are tied up to the dock long before I awake at 5:30.

I pack my carry on and we head to the dining room for breakfast. We have lots of time to kill.

Often I avial myself of wheelchair assistance for disembarkation. With the high demand for the service on this ship and the fact that the ship and port are smaller, I elect to forgo that convenience today.

The ship is cleared by authorities early,  and disembarkation begins. Our luggage tag number is called just after 8:00, nearly 40 minutes before the anticipated time. The walk up the gangway to the terminal, across the terminal, and down to the luggage hall is long. With a few stops I make it.

There are no lines for having our passports checked. They do not have facial recognition, but do have 6 or 8 agents manually checking. 

Now it is time to see how well valet service works for retrieving my car.

The valet stand is clearly labeled and is a few steps away just outside the terminal door. I hand the attendant my ticket, a runner heads off to get my car. Within 2 minutes my car is waiting with the trunk lid open ready for our suitcases. I step off the curb into my car. Definitely worth the few extra dollars!

I take a few minutes to plug my home destination into the GPS and we are on our way.  As often is the case, GPS takes me a different way than I would go. But she usually knows more than I do, especially about current local conditions.

It is a gloomy day with fog, low clouds and a light misty rain. Traffic is heavy as would be expected on an early Friday morning. We are guided to I-4 to get out of Tampa and then take the back roads to Clermont. Must faster than the major highways.

We are home by a few minutes after 10:00, the water is turned on, the heat turned up, and laundry started.

In conclusion, a very enjoyable trip despite the cold rainy weather. I verify that it was just 10 years ago that I had last sailed on the Constellation. Looking at the condition of the ship today would give no indication that she is as mature as she is.  I say mature as I avoid the "O" word.

Jan 11 - Sea Day

The skies are overcast and rain occasionally falls. Not a day for the sunworshippers.

The dining room is busier this morning, but the delay is only a few minutes at most. I try the pancakes this morning. Like with nearly everything else, the staff  does a good job.

The last "beyond the podium" presentation about interviews with the Hollywood greats  is at 10. This is followed with the cruise director interviewing the Captain and the Hotel Director. A new format that has replaced the Q&A with  the officers. Personally I don't feel it was done very well. It was totally scripted by the CD and it came across as a bragging session of how great Celebrity is.

Today is the last cruise day, tomorrow it is back to daily reality. I am supposed to be at a train show Saturday and Sunday, but I will be prudent and skip it with my leg issue, and instead consult with my primary care physcian as to the best course of action for a complete and speedy healing.  In reality, it is much better today than it was when I boarded the ship.  In part because I have learned what not to attempt to do. I normally favor my left leg as it has had issues most of my life. Now suddenly I have had to reverse strategy, favoring my right leg. Not an easy change.

The afternoon is filled with trivia and a musical murder mystery. Absolutely hilarious.

By Noon time the special procedures because of the norovirus outbreak have ceased. I guess the cruise line doesn't care if you get sick now as you will be home before any symptoms appear.

Prime rib is my choice for dinner in the main dining room. As with nearly every choice I have made, it was excellent. Definitely much better than the dining room food on Royal.

After dinner, we enjoy live music until 9:00 and then I must pack. Luggage should be out by 10:00.

I set my alarm for 6:00 so we can go to the dining room for breakfast. Our scheduled departure time is 8:45 but we must vacate our cabins by 8:00.

The forecast is for showers and cool temperatures when we arrive in Tampa.

Jan 10 - Costa Maya

By the time I see the light of day we are docked in Costa Maya. The Carnival Jubilee, a new LNG fueled ship out of Galveston with about 6,500 passengers, shares the dock with us.

We are in no hurry, and head to the dining room for breakfast. Busy, but not packed. Again I have cell service. An excellent feature of my shared T-Mobile plan. I say shared because it is really my daughter's and she shares with me. Effective coverage is provided in several hundred countires around the world. It is rare I don't have cell service while in port.

We decide to walk into port. My leg is still sore, but I have learned what moves I can make and what not to do. Oh, and how many drugs to take and how often. The benefit of being prepared for many contingencies. The port area is crowded. We browse the stores, watch passengers playing with the dolphins, and catch the "flyers" decend from the 75 or 80 foot high pole. Always a spectacular sight, but nothing I would ever dare to do.

The weather is perfect. Sunny, a little breeze and no rain predicted. I ride the pier shuttle into port, but walk back. Hot and tired, but the leg survives.

Fried chicken legs and corn on the cob for lunch in the buffet was excellent. I couldn't have asked for it to be prepared any differently.

Ironically, while here in Costa Maya I get an email from my daughter asking if we would like to join her in December on a cruise to Cozumel and Costa Maya. The answer will probably be yes, but I need to check the calendar more carefully once I am home before making a  firm plan. We have been asked to organize the train club Christmas party, and that will come first.

Service is slow again in the lounge before dinner. Our server has been working since 6:00 AM, called to extra duty to fill in for a fellow crew member that left the ship in Cozumel, scheduled or unscheduled was not shared.

The beef tenderloin, carrots and green beans are excellent. 

A brief pause for some music in the Grand Foyer and then to see Gabriel, an illusionist, in the main theater.  His show is excellent, a little more grand than most magicians. His card manipulations are excellent, his disappearance from the stage effective, and his escape from a straight jacket while hanging from his feet above the stage quite dramatic. He is booked on the ship thru March. With more equipment than most headliner entertainers it is not surprising that he is booked here for an extended period of time.

In overhearing other passengers it sounds like Holland has cut out most of it's live entertainment much the same as Carnival. 

There are a number of passengers here enjoying a discount on their fare compliments of the casino. But I can assure you they are paying for that discount by making heavy gambling contributions. Making the casino non smoking has not hurt their business. In fact I would argue that it has helped significantly. Everytime I walk thru, the casino is packed.

Most passenger behavior has been good. Much better than on ships with a younger crowd. But of course there are exceptions. Riding in the elevator with the hotel director a passenger took the chance encounter to complain strongly that the water glasses in her cabin were not changed often enough. Of course it never occurred to her to ask the cabin steward.

Separately I did learn that two of the dozen or so young children on the ship are the 9 and 13 year old daughters of the hotel director. Originally from eastern Europe they now reside in Pennsylvania.

The seas remain under 5 feet and the ship is quite stable as we head towards Tampa at about 18 knots. By dinner time the skies have changed from being mostly sunny to solid cloud cover with a few showers. Tomorrow will be our last "gulf" day.

January 10, 2024

Jan 9 - Belize

The alarm is set for 6:30, breakfast will be delivered to the cabin between 6:30 and 7:00. At 8 we need to meet our tour group in the theater.

By 6:30 we are  anchored several miles from shore along with three other ships. The Radiance, the Celebrity Edge, and a Holland America ship. The winds are still brisk at 20 knots, but the  temperatures are supposed to be in the low 80's all day with 100% sunshine and no rain. A perfect tourist day. Despite the distance from shore, I have good cell service.

We are using two tenders today, one forward and the other midship. Tender boarding is slow. There are many elderly passengers, many that move much slower than I. It takes almost an hour to load and be transported to the dock. After another 45 minute wait we board our tour bus.

I must say the planning was horrible. Four ships and probably 8,000 passengers descending on the port at the same time for shore excursions, and only capable of only loading 2 buses at the same time. The process was painfully slow and disorganized.

I hadn't remembeed a lot of my last visit to Belize. There are several new casinos and several partially completed new developements. Much of the city still looks very poor. Few homes have air conditioning. There are few automobiles, not surprising since gasoline cost $7.50 per gallon. Belize has oil, but no refinery, so the oil is exported and finished products imported.  None of the homes have heat. A few weeks ago the temperature dipped to below 50.

A cruise port with docks for cruise ships is in the process of being developed on a nearby island. I heard no estimate of its intended completition and also got the feeling that many locals were not in favor of its developement.

Our tour guide was good, and I think everyone heard her despite the fact that the microphone did not work.

By shortly after noon we were waiting for the return tender to the ship. 

Back on the ship, surprisingly security isn't even collecting alcohol bought on shore. If passengers only knew this earlier. 

The pool grill is not busy so it is a good place for lunch. If you ask they will put your plate in a small oven and then everything is served nice and hot.

No cashews or other tidbits at the Ensemble Lounge again tonight. Yesterday we were told the bartender forgot to order them from provisioning. Today the first waiter tells us they are all gone. A second waiter an hour later tells us she will go check. When she returns she says they were all transferred to another ship. Take your pick, the end result is the same.  The ship has also run out of Pinot Grigio wine. A pretty basic wine staple, and this is not a heavy drinking crowd. Oh well.

Just before heading to the dining room for dinner the captain makes an announcemnt that there is a suspected outbreak of norovirus. A very common GI ailment that easily spreads in congested environments like schools, sporting events and cruise ships.  Several protocols change, the most notable being that servers will be serving all food in the buffet instead of passengers being able to help themselves.

Tonight is lobster night. A limit of one per guest has been imposed by most cruise lines. Lynn gets mine. I have beef tenderloin which is excellent.

The entertainment in the theater is two brothers from Urkraine performing on a ship for the first time. They are excellent acrobats in superb physical condition working with rings and hoops. Unfortunately they need to fill time to get the show to 45 minutes, and it was done with monotonous pounding on drums which detracted from thier true abilities.

Tomorrow we start heading North and will spend the day in Costa Maya.

January 09, 2024

Jan 8 - Cozumel, Mexico

By the time I awake at 8:00, many passengers are already off the ship. We share a dock with the Radiance of the Seas. Two Carnival ships are at the next pier. A fifth ship is at the dock a few miles distant. Cozumel will be busy today.

With internet service thru my cell carrier T-Mobile I can easily check the local weather. Not ideal. The temperatures are near 80, but there is a 30 to 50% chance of rain all day.

Heading for breakfast in the dining room I manage to trip over a very low coffee table near the Rendevous Lounge. Total stupidity on my part. Already suffereing from a pulled tendon since just before the cruise, I concede it now hurts to move my right knee. Not enough for the ships doctor, but enough that considering the weather I will just stay on the ship today and dig into my emergency kit for the Tylenol.

This is the first day we go to the main dining room for breakfast. The french toast was good. Nothing fancy, no piece of bread 2 inches thick, just normal french toast. The dining room is full. 

While enjoying breakfast, the rains start. Not a shower but a heavy downpour. The skies are solid with rain clouds. Definitely looks like a day to stay on board.

I catch up with the dozens of emails in my inbox. In looking for a quiet place to sit and type, it is quickly obvious that at least 50% of the passengers have also chosen to remain on board.

By shortly after noon the skies have cleared, the rain stopped and the sun is shining. Maybe we have paid our 50%. Lynn decides to take a short walk into town. I remain behind and watch as a passenger from the Radiance is taken away by ambulance.

Cocktails as usual  about 4:30. The veal dinner is excellent in the main dining room, and the service has substantially improved since the first 3 nights.

As is typical each evening there is live music in the wine bar, The Rendevous Lounge, my favorite, and the Grand Lobby. We catch a set on the way to the theater for the 9:00 PM show. I have yet to choose a lounge and been unable to find seating. Such a contrast with the megaships.

Our clocks get turned ahead tonight, the third change on this trip. OK by me as it permits an extra hour of sleep.

The seas are about 5 feet and there is a gentle roll to the ship broken by an occasiinal shudder.  The guest performer on the main stage, a man eithoit his sea legs yet, had difficulty maintaining balance when he stood up from playing the piano.

Tomorrow we will be in Belize. A tender port where we have an 8:00 AM shore excursion. The csptain has told us we will be in port an hour longer than scheduled.

January 08, 2024

2 Days at Sea

Entering the gulf after having left New Orleans about 11 PM last night, the skies begin to clear up. Rain is reduced to an occasional shower. Other than cold, I can't tell you what the outside temperature is. The ship has chosen not to share such information with guests. The public spaces on the ship continue to require heavy clothes and a jacket for most passengers. Other than a few brave soles in the hot tubs, the pools are deserted.

The days are occupied by the usual games, speaker presentations and trivia. The winds today are about 35 knots, almost directly on the port side. The ship is rolling slightly, the stabilizers doing a good job.

As often happens,  information on the "app" is out of sync with reality. Dozens of us waited in the theater to no avail for Clelbrity's equivalent of the captains corner. It just wasn't scheduled for today despite what the app said, or no one bothered to tell the captain. Take your choice.

Duck hiding is progressing. I watched one that remained for 24 hours before disappearing, major success. I watched another scooped  up by a beverage server within a minute. I have not spotted any others than one's I have hidden. Considering the demographics and the fact there are only about a dozen kids under 25, I am not surprised.

As we progress southerly the temperatures begin to warm. By the end of the second day many people are on the pool deck, that is until the rains return and drive everyone for cover.

The quality of food in the dining room remains good. Short  ribs, were delicious. Pasta is made to order in the buffet. Perfectly cooked. Steak of various names seems to often be my go to choice.

The pool dance party is moved indoors because of the rain. I didn't plan to attend anyway.

Our next port will be Cozumel, Mexico. Arrival is expected about 6:30 AM.

Jan 5, 2024 New Orleans

I am dressed and in the lounge on Deck 11 shortly after sunrise to watch our arrival in New Orleans. 

As expected the river winds back and forth like a slimmering snake. Many tankers, freighters, and barges are anchored just out of the channnel or tied to docks waiting to load or unload. One tanker is being slowly loaded with coal being scooped out of barges with a clam shell bucket crane. A very slow process. A few other tankers are loading or unloading oil products at one of the many refineries.

The skies are overcast and a dark plume of smoke from a nearby fire is impervious to any sunlight. Our decision to cancel our excursion is reinforced.

The captain makes the decision to use the deck 4 ramp for disembarkation instead of the ramps on deck 2 which would normally be used. A move to protect the passengers from some of the impending heavy rain that is forecast for most of the day. 

Passengers begin to disembark about 10:30, a little late. The rains begin an hour or so thereafter. We elect to just stay on the ship.

I have pulled a tendon or muscle in my leg. Sometimes walking is OK, othertimes, painful. The cure is gin muscle relaxant and rest.

The dining room is nearly full, with a few passengers probably electing to dine in the city. There is very large mall with shops and restaurants adjacent to the pier.

The entertainment in the theater is a comedian. Well attended  and an excellent  show. Not one word of profanity!

The ship leaves New Orleans about 10 PM. I am sound asleep as we head down the river towards the gulf on our way to Cozumel, two and a half days away.

Jan 4, 2024 A Gulf Day

Our passage across the gulf is uneventful. Seas remain slight, the weather cloudy and cool with a high of about 55. Needless to say there are lots of chairs available around the pools.

The ship is very clean, and in excellent repair. carpets are fresh, seating good, and shipwide I must say some of the most comfortable seating I have encountered in a long time. The carpets look brand new and show no sign of wear anywhere.

The corridors are bright. The big deficiency is in heat. The public spaces are very cold throughout the ship. In all my ship travels to Alaska, Europe, the North Atlantic and around the world, this is the coldest I have ever found a ship. Not a mechanical failure, but a management decision to put profit way in front of passenger comfort.

When we return to the cabin, just before lunch there is a note on the door advising us of our new 6:00 PM dinner time in the main dining room. Our contingency plan was to have a good lunch in the dining room if we could not get earlier seating for dinner. We go to the dining room anyway even though our contingency plan is no longer needed. Lunch is decent. I have a cheeseburger and fries. Being a sea day and only a dozen people outside by the pools,  the dining room is packed, not something the staff appears prepared for.

The afternoon is filled with several trips to hide ducks, and a "beyond the podium" presentation by David Fantle, a professor from Marquette university relating experiences of interviewing 200 entertainment greats over a 50 year career.  A very entertaining program with unknown details about the likes of Bob Hope, Gene Kelly, Judy , George Burns and many other great Hollywood film and stage stars.

The 5:00 to 7:00 cocktail hour starts at 4:30 compliments of our server. While in the lounge we watch the line grow for the my time dining room from a few dozen people to a line stretching from the dining room entrance through the elevator lobby, completely thru the Rendezvous Lounge and beyond. Many wait 45 minutes to just get through the lounge.

Our dining room on deck 5 is much better organized. We arrive 2 minutes before 6:00, are immediately greeted and taken to our table. A table for 6, seated with passengers that were able to switch from late dining to early. Not surprising, all are from Florida.

Dinner takes 2 hours, not unexpected. The food is good and they do a good job dealing with the two passengers with special dietary needs.

The main show tonight is Jared Freiburg and the Vagabonds. A high energy piano, bass, and drums in the style of Jerry Lee Lewis.  Excellent.

Our speed has been in the neighborhood of 12 knots as we journey towards New Orleans. It is appproximately a  8 hour journey up the river from the gulf. Not a passage for the inexperienced at night. We expect to  be docked by about 9:00 am.

January 05, 2024

Jan 3, 2024 Celebrity Constellation

The first cruise of the year. We chose this cruise because of it unusual itinerary. Sailing from Tampa we first go to New Orleans, La. and then to the Western Caribbean.  There are only a couple of cruises a year that do this, and that was reason enough. Being honest, adding to the destination is the fact this is a 9 day cruise on a smaller, older ship. Facts that keep the younger cruisers at home or on different ships. No zip lines or wave riders here.

Our assigned boarding time is 12:30, meaning that we can depart from home after 10 and still have time to stop for breakfast on the way. For a few extra bucks I have booked valet parking to avoid any hassle with the car.

We are anxious to get under way and leave the house a few minutes before 10:00. Traffic is lite, we are late enough to miss the morning congestion. I never know which way to go to Tampa. Sometimes it is faster to take 50 to 95, other times 27 to I-4.  Today my car GPS says 27 and I-4.  

After the usual pit stop at a McDonalds, I arrive at the terminal 30 minutes before my assigned time. There is little traffic. I am quickly directed to the "Valet" line. Our luggage is handed over along with the car keys. I carefully check that I am not leaving anything in the car.

With passport and printed boarding pass in hand we are quickly processed and board the ship. The agent really appreciated that we had printed boarding passes. Much faster and easier for them than scanning from someone's phone.

Not that the Constellation is a small ship, but the gangway goes down to board the ship, not up as with most vessels. I have sailed the Constellation before, but it may have been ten years. I remember none of her, but definitely a pleasure to be on a smaller ship where it is only a few minutes walk from one end to the other.

Cabins are not open, but we are allowed to drop our carry on bags and get our keys while the crew is still preparing for our stay. A much appreciated change in policy.

The first stop is the dining room to change our dining time. When I booked, only 8:30 was available. Impossible for either of us. As I have matured the food digestion has definitely slowed down.

We are added to the wait list for 6:00 PM dining. No promises, but she will let me know. I have little influence with Celebrity being in the middle of the status ranks.

The second stop is at shore excursions to cancel our tour in New Orleans. The weather forcast has been for cold temperatures and heavy rains in the afternoon and evening. A boat tour through the swamps is not worth getting cold and soaked.

Next stop is to check in at our muster station. Of course at the other end of the ship. Everythig is always at the other end. In the process a walk thru the casino. A smoke free casino. Finally! Not that I am a gambler, but the smoke often wafts thru the ship to other areas.

Our luggage arrives and everything is quickly stowed away. For a ship that is over  20 years old, the accomodations are very spacious with ample storage room. Yes the shower has a plastic curtain instead of a glass door, but the shower itself is larger than on many of the newer ships.

A beverage or two in the lounge on deck 11 as we sailaway and head out of the Tampa Bay Harbor. About 2 1/2 hours after departure we will pass under the Skyway bridge. I say pass under as our clerance is less than 5 feet.

Before we get to  the bridge we hear the first medical emergency announcement. Thirty minutes later the captain tells us he will be stopping the ship to transfer a passenger to the coast guard for transfer to a shore side medical facility. No details are given other than that the passenger is stable.

Dinner in the buffet is a little disappointing, but better than trying to eat at 8:30 or 9:00. Steak is being offered. I didn't know you could slice a piece of meat so thin and still call it steak. Regardless, I don't cruise for the dining. If I did, I would often be disappointed.

Shortly after passing under the bridge, the ship comes to a stop, the passenger is transferred to a coast guard vessel, and we resume our journey.

The passenger manifest on this ship is definitely more mature. If I don't count any of the crew, I think I have seen one person under 30.  Surprisingly though, the number of first time cruisers is quite substantial.

The production show is decent, a tribute to classic songs, mostly from the 60's and 70's. the theater is about half full.

It has been a long day. We turn our clocks back an hour for the next week, and retire early. In the Gulf of Mexico the seas are about 3 feet and impact litlle roll and pitch to the ship. As predicted rain showers arrive just after dark and continue for much of the night.

I will say tomorrow is a sea day, but in reality it is a Gulf day.