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Caribbean Cruise, by Jennifer Gross

May, 2009

Day 1, Sunday, 3 May

After a dreary start and drive down to Galveston, the weather turned nice when we arrived at the cruise terminal. Aside from some roof damage and some boats in very odd places, this part of the island seemed relatively unscathed from Ike. After about an hour of security, check in, etc. we made it on board around 1 PM and ate a quick lunch on the Lido deck. We then retired to our cabin until the 3:30 muster drill, which consisted of us standing next to the lifeboats with our life vests on with all of the other passengers for 30 minutes. Out of consideration for spreading germs during the great swine flu “pandemicEthey told us to bump elbows with people instead of shaking hands. There was giggling. After our escape from Deck 4 we returned to our balcony to watch the ship leave Galveston. Our stateroom was larger than I’d expected, and it was a magnificent study in tackiness, with salmon pink accent trim and gold leaf paintings. We had some time before our 8:15 dinner, so we checked out the public areas of the ship. Alfred’s bar was dark and quiet, and featured cigars and a pianist. The atrium was beautiful and had a bar and also some live music. Deck 5 had most of the indoor entertainment venues, including the casino, cafE disco, lounge, and a sushiya. We also walked the length of the outside deck, which was very windy while the ship was moving. There are two exterior pools: the main pool and what we dubbed “the old people pool.E Only the OPP was functional on Day 1. Dinner was in the Renior restaurant, and since we had a somewhat early and small lunch we were quite hungry. I had tomato soup, fried shrimp with Asian noodles and sweet and sour sauce, with chocolate molten cake for dessert. Matt had the flat iron steak and black forest cake. The food was quite good and we were definitely not hungry after dinner. We were quite tired, though, so after a sip or two of champagne in our cabin we were both ready for bed.

Day 2, Monday, 4 May

I woke up early and managed to drag Matt out of bed before 9 AM. We went to breakfast in the Monet dining room and decided to partake in some mid-morning sunbathing. We were going to swim in the OPP (the main pool was very busy), but I stuck my toes in the side and it was freezing, so I decided to not go in. After lunch we drank a cocktail out of a cup shaped like the ships funnel and watched an ice carving demonstration. The cruise director asked people to guess what it was going to be as the carver worked. Some suggestions: “fun shipEfunnel, whale, eagle, peace sign and penis. It was an angelfish. It was very sunny on the Lido deck, and, fearing a sunburn, we retreated inside and finished our cocktails in the atrium and listened to music. The cocktail and the sway of the music made me sleepy, so I quickly fell asleep back in our cabin while Matt played videogames. It was the first formal night, so we dressed up and headed to Deck 5 for coffee and the captain’s reception, which featured free booze. After that I changed into my blue dress and we headed to dinner at the Point supper club. It cost extra, but it was worth it. We didn’t want to drink any more after the reception, but we still had a hors d’oeurvre, appetizer, salad, main course, and dessert. I had a piece of salmon, a crab cake, Caesar salad, surf and turf, and fruit. Matt’s complimentary thingy was not identifiable by me, and he had a porterhouse steak and onion soup for his entrée and starter. The crab cake was moist and flavorful, with a lot of crab. I’d never had lobster before, and it was good, but I still prefer crab. The filet was tender and very moist. The salad was made at our table and the dressing was one of the best Caesar's I've ever had. We were so full we had to skip the final compliment and headed straight back to bed.

Day 3, Tuesday, 5 May

We got a little singed by the sun yesterday, so we decided to spend the day inside. After breakfast, we ordered a shore excursion for Jamaica, which we reach tomorrow. At lunch we were visited by a magician that was quite good. I can't even describe the trick that he did, you just have to see it. After lunch we visited the art auction, but we didn't find anything we wanted to purchase. We had afternoon tea with classical piano music, then we attended a mixology class at one of the (many) bars. The class was generous with the samples, so I was well lubricated by the end of it. My favorite drink was the Washington apple martini, which has Crown, Apple Pucker, and cranberry juice. After the booze class we went to the evening show, which featured a Motown-style vocalist and it was actually pretty entertaining. We had dinner in the main dining room. I had French onion soup, penne mariscos, and strawberry cheesecake. Matt had sushi, jerk pork loin and a fig and date cake. Matt accidently ate like half of the wasabi at once when it stuck to the bottom of his fork.

Day 4, Wednesday, 6 May: Montego Bay, Jamaica

We woke early to the sound of the side thrusters maneuvering the ship into the dock. After a quick breakfast we headed to shore to take in the local sights. Our first stop was at a craft market filled with very pushy women trying to sell all kinds of knickknacks. We did find a wooden cat that shall adorn our mantle. We didn't find the never-ending array of tourist shops all that interesting, so we headed back to the ship to eat lunch and rest before our horseback riding tour. The ranch was about 30 minutes away, but the driver kept us entertained with information about the local economy and way of life. The horseback ride itself was about an hour through the dense forest, followed by about 10 minutes of horseback swimming. Matt's horse didn't like him, so he had a tough time getting the horse to go. Mine liked to try to bite the tour guide's horse, and finally succeeded in getting him on the butt. Riding on the horse while it swam was a unique experience. They took out fresh horses that had no saddles on them, and it was kind of hard to hang on and sit comfortably, but that was quickly forgotten when we got into the water. One of the land horses really wanted to come with us. She came down to the water’s edge with us. One of the handlers yelled “Curly Tail, you can't swim!Eand came and pulled her back to the stables. The water was warm and comfortable after a long, hot day. We got back to the ship about 45 minutes before it was time to set sail. We cleaned up and got some booze at the lobby before returning to our balcony to watch the ship leave port. We couldn’t quite see the sunset from our balcony so we headed to the Lido deck to get a good view. The evening show was a magic/dance show, which was extremely good. That woman was all muscle. Dinner was once again very good. I had fried mozzarella and a seafood platter with lobster sauce. Dessert was strawberry cheesecake. After dinner we relaxed at the virtually deserted hot tubs before heading to bed.

Day 5: Thursday, 7 May: Grand Cayman

I was a little sore after yesterday's riding, but we had to get up early none the less in order to make it on shore in time for our 8:30 AM kayaking excursion. Unlike Jamaica, which has deep water close to shore, the water around Grand Cayman is very shallow near shore, then drops off suddenly about a quarter mile off. The shop was too big to dock in the shallow water, so it was parked a bit off and we were ferried, or tendered as they called it, to shore. They told us the process could take 45 minutes. We were on the pier in 10. Georgetown, Grand Cayman's capital (and only) city, was clean and relatively quiet. It is immediately apparent that the Caymans are much wealthier than Jamaica. It was also much smaller and flatter. From our balcony on the ship you could see the water on the opposite side of the island. The water was warm and crystal clear. We met our tour representative and our fellow kayakers: one couple about 10 years older than ourselves, a man in his late teens/early 20s and his grandmother, a couple in their 50s and a couple in their 70s. We took one look at the very elderly couple and knew there was no way they were going to make it. We were quickly proven correct: they didn't even make it off the beach before the guild had to tether their kayak to his. There were several shore excursions meeting at the same time as ours, and we were both glad that we picked a more active tour. While our group was only 8 people and yesterday’s was only 6, there were tours leaving that had at least 100 people on them. The pier in general was very busy since the Conquest and the Inspiration were both in port today. The Inspiration was not originally scheduled for Grand Cayman, but she was diverted due to the swine flu scare. Our ship was prettier. After a brief and pleasant drive through town and along the beach (and some very expensive homes) we arrived at the beach where the kayaks were. We were worried that we were a little out of shape for this tour, but it became quickly apparent that we were the best rowers of the bunch. Our poor tour guide had to haul the old people the whole way. It was at least a mile round trip. We went along the shore and got to see the mangroves up close. Some were hurricane damage, but there were some in extremely good condition as well. We also got to see some fairly docile bottom- dwelling jellyfish. None of us took up the guide’s offer to hold one. We rode out to a snorkeling platform. We weren't out far enough to see the main body of coral, but there was a small piece nearby that was home to a variety of fish. And sea urchins. Don’t step on the sea urchins. We returned to the pier tired and hungry. We brought no cash to shore, so we returned to the Conquest for lunch. It wasn't long after we returned to our room when we fell asleep. Matt (finally) finished Final Fantasy Tactics, then found out he could save the game in combat, so I’ve spent half the cruise waiting for him to quit playing the damn game so we could go somewhere, when he could’ve saved it at any time. Grr. After the nap/game playing, we headed to Alfred's for drinks. I was extremely sore, so alcohol was much appreciated. The evening show was a variety hour of Chris (the cruise director that we’ve decided cannot possibly be a real person) singing, a guitarist, and a comedian. Dinner was chocolate melting cake, pasta, and corn chowder (not in that order).

Day 6, Friday, 8 May

We were supposed to go to Cozumel today, but it was skipped due to the swine flu scare. Still no zombies. Except Chris. After breakfast we attended a presentation on Carnival’s 2010 Alaska itinerary. I’d considered going to Alaska for this cruise, but the E9 itineraries were too long and one-way. Next year they're doing a 7 day round-trip cruise out of Seattle. After the presentation Matt and I (okay, mainly me) were convinced that we wanted to go. Today was pretty sedate. The nice, cool breeze we're had the entire trip has been replaced with a hot, humid stillness that has limited my desire to be outdoors. We had pizza on the Lido deck, and sushi and coffee before the evening show. We also attended a screening of a Disney/Dali collaboration called Destino, and we once again enjoyed tea time. Tonight was the final formal night, so we had our pictures taken before dinner. I had chicken noodle soup, veggie lasagna, and apple pie. Before that was a musical revue show, which wasn't bad but not really our thing. We were going to go see the comedian’s R rated show, but the lounge was so full there wasn't even a place to stand.