Final Sea Day on Serenity

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

It’s the last full day of our Crystal Serenity cruise. We’ve thawed out our Minnesota bones over the past two weeks, our blood now runs a bit thinner, and we dread the thought of returning to about a foot of snow. Will we drive through a snowstorm to get from the airport to our home? Will we get stuck in the driveway again? Will we even be able to drive home right away! I’m shivering already!

As if to prepare us for our return home, the day is markedly cooler and cloudy. Most daysDE4C6E35-AB67-4FB0-8829-5A4C1723DE5D have been sunny and warm up to now.

Every time we travel to warmer climes, we consider the possibility of buying a retirement home there. Wouldn’t it be nice to have hibiscus blooms year round? What about fresh mango and papaya? Maitais, margaritas, pina coladas, the list goes on.

My husband dreams of year-round gardens. At home, he starts annuals in the greenhouse around March, with the hope that we can transplant them in early May. Trees may start budding in late March. Perennials begin to emerge in April, and we have riots of color all summer and into the fall, but by October, we need to prepare for winter.

Truly, Minnesota is beautiful in the summer. Minnesotans come out of hibernation and start wearing shorts as soon as the temperature rises above 60°. The lakes and rivers encourage days of laziness on the patio or on a boat. That’s after the ice goes out of course, which can happen on the Mississippi River in mid-March, but many lakes will still have ice for a few more weeks.

Packing is always awful, but at least it goes quicker when you’re returning home. You don’t have to decide what to pack, you just have to find it! Whenever I think I’m Ii she’d, I find something else that has to be squeezed in. Or, worse yet, I need to dig something out from the bottom of the fullest bag.

We Listened to San Francisco based DJ Bob Ray talk about, and broadcast an interview C18D5AF4-0330-40F2-BB16-8BDE916C284Dwith, Tommy James and the Shondells, who came on the music scene in 1966 with their first big hit, Hanky Panky. Bob Ray does tell a good story.

The group was signed by Roulette Records which had ties to the Genovesa crime family. Although they had a couple dozen gold records, they never received any royalties, being cheated out of $40 million. For more about their story, you can read Tommy James’ book, Me, the Mob, and the Music: One Helluva Ride with Tommy James & The Shondells, or you can wait for the movie to come out.

We enjoyed listening to Dick Morgan one last time, as he spoke about the US invasion of Panama in 1989, “Operation Just Cause”. The two week war removed Manuel Noriega from power, something for which the Panamanians were very grateful.

Mr. Morgan’s experience was very personal, as he was #3 on a 32 person “hit list” complied by Noriega to protect his regime in case of attack by the US. The plan was to kidnap the people on the hit list, imprison them, and kill them as leverage against the United States attacking. Shortly after the invasion began, an eight person US military team showed up at Morgan’s home to let him know that one of Noriega’s hit squads was coming for him. Soon afterward, the hit squad, also eight people, arrived and were engaged by the “good guys,” who took them all out. Noriega’s team was outfitted with stolen US uniforms and equipment.

During the afternoon, Mark saw a helicopter flying fairly close to our ship. Normally, we don’t expect to see choppers over open seas since their range isn’t great, but we soon learned that it was coming from the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier, which was sailing about two miles off the starboard side. We could also hear jets screaming by, but by the time you hear them, they are already out of sight! Crystal knows how to put on a show.

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This afternoon, we got a personal tour of the stage sound and lighting engineering areas. Thank you, Cruise Director Rick Spath for arranging this. My electronics geek husband was delighted! I was too. Sound Engineer Sebastian Ostornol showed us the sound mixer, computers and screens he works with to create the best sound for the speakers and performers.

Lighting Engineer John Eigner took us into the lighting booth and spoke about how he can direct curtains, lights, screens and colors right down to the minutest detail. He can even direct a spot at an individual seat in the audience. The engineers start prepping 15-20 minutes before a show to make sure everything is in order.

The walls on either side of the stage are equipped with fiber optics used to create those “starry” nights. There are LED matrix screens in the back of the stage and on the sides that show videos and background.

Tonight’s sunset was beautiful again, and…we saw the GREEN FLASH! Mark has claimed to have seen it in the past, but I was skeptical until tonight. It really does happen! Unfortunately, I don’t have proof, my camera is pretty good, but the photographer is only so so.

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Laziness Wins the Day

Monday, January 20, 2020

I try to get to the gym each morning, so I can work off the many calories consumed each day. This morning, though, I gave in to laziness after about five minutes. I don’t want to do anything more strenuous that turn the pages of a good book. I brought five along, and have donated four to the library already. I do have a few on my IPad as well, so I don’t run out.

We did take time to listen to Ian MacLachlan talk this morning about “Putting the Panama Canal in Context: Geography and Politics.” Canals have been around for ages. The precursor for the Suez Canal was the Canal of the Pharaohs, constructed in ancient times, and following a different route.  It linked the Nile to the Red Sea. It’s not known exactly when it was completed, but work did start under the pharaohs, perhaps in the 1800’s BCE. The problem of salt water leaking into the Nile wasn’t solved until around 274 BCE when engineers under Ptolemy II invented the water lock. It seems to have been in use until the mid 700s AD.

The next speaker, Jim Brochu, actor and playwright spoke about Lucille Ball, whom he had befriended in her later years. It was an opportunity to learn more about this multi-talented actress and her career.

On the first formal night, we noticed people going into the Stardust Club at dinner. One other passenger mentioned to us that it only happens on formal nights and that we really should do it – it is wonderful. We weren’t even aware of this, as it wasn’t an option on our last cruise two years ago. Yesterday, we received an invitation to the Stardust Supper Club. It looks to me like the ‘supper club” can accommodate about 200 people. The Crystal Show Band played throughout the evening, accompanying a lovely singer with a beautiful voice (I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t know her name). The Crystal Dance Ensemble also performed. It was a lovely evening, reminiscent of the days when supper clubs were the venue of choice for an elegant evening. Several couples took advantage of the opportunity to dance, including us. It was a very romantic evening.

 

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Todos Santos, Baja California

Saturday, January 18, 2020

We sailed most of today, anchoring at Cabo San Lucas (Saint Luke Cape) around 4:00 this afternoon. In the morning, we listened to Roberto D’Alimonte speak on political challenges around the world. The primary challenges he addressed were technology, globalism, and changing demographics. He did apologize both in advance and at the end for causing us to become depressed.

The Arch of Cabo San Lucas, or Land’s End is the point where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean. After the ship laid anchor, we tendered into town to check it out. It’s a very busy port town that relies heavily on tourism. The focus appears to be on partying, hence the noise.

Sunday, January 19

BD795BF5-5073-49A6-8B32-B566E4AAD78CToday’s weather back home: high temperature of 1° F at our house, with wind chill projected at 24 below. Yesterday, we had about six inches of snow. SO HAPPY TO BE HERE!!!

The Village of Todos Santos (All Saints) was designated a Pueblo Mágico (Magical Town) by the Mexican government in 2006. This designation has been given to only about 100 small towns known for natural beauty, cultural riches, or historical relevance. One historical tidbit: the last battle of the Mexican American War was fought near here in 1848.

We had views of the Sierra de la Laguna mountains and the Pacific Ocean on our drive to Todos Santos, and even saw whale blows along the way. Gray whales migrate here every year from the Arctic Ocean to birth and nurse their young. We also saw cacti that look much like saguaro, and are related, but are actually cardon cacti. They grow many more arms than the saguaro, and the woody interior is used by many artists in their craft. By the way, this is the southern end of the Sonoran Desert, a 100,000 square mile desert, extending into California and Arizona.

Established as Misión Santa Rosa de las Palmas in 1723, this village was also known as Todos Santos Mission. This area became a major sugar cane producer in the1800s lasting until about 1950, when the town’s freshwater spring dried up. Now, it is a Mecca for artists, who flock here for several months each year to work on their crafts.

The coastal village of Todos Santos is about an hour north of Cabo San Lucas, and has a normal population of about 10,000 people.

We were welcomed for lunch at the Hotel California. It was a lovely place. No, this is not the Hotel California of The Eagles fame. In fact, The Eagles sued the hotel in 2017, after the hotel applied for a US Trademark, for falsely leading customers to believe there is a connection. The suit was settled in 2018 when the hotel withdrew its trademark application.

In fact, the hotel was established in 1947 by a Chinese immigrant, a Mr. Wong. It was purchased by a Canadian couple in 2001, and is enjoying a lively business. The hotel’s website includes a disclaimer about the song: ‘The song ‘Hotel California’ by the Eagles was not in any way inspired by the Hotel California in Todos Santos. The hotel wishes to inform its guests that there is no past or present connection between the hotel and the Eagles, any of its members, or their song. Any rumors or innuendo suggesting that the song is associated with or inspired by the hotel are untrue.”

In any case, the lunch was delicious.

Dinner was as well. We dined at the Italian restaurant, Prego, then enjoyed a performance by ventriloquist, Mark Merchant. He had us rolling in the aisles!

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Food Coma!

Friday, January 17, 2020

Sometimes it pays to get up early. I woke up around 4:30 and couldn’t get back to sleep, so went to the gym. Afterwards, I stopped at the Bistro for a cup of coffee. While there, I had the good fortune to run into Roberto D’Alimonte, our political affairs speaker. I thanked him for his presentations, which I found to be very informative. Learning more about Brexit gave me new insights into the political environment in the US. We had a nice conversation about some global issues. One of the benefits of cruising with Crystal is the quality of speakers we are exposed to.

We attended Ian MacLachlan’s lecture about the Mexican Riviera & Los Cabos. The US sends more tourists to Mexico than other country, distantly followed by Canada, over 8 million from the US, and about 1.7 million from Canada. Some areas of Mexico have suffered loss of tourism due to the drug cartel and gang warfare. In fact, we have been hesitant to travel here ourselves. However, there are many safe areas, we needn’t paint the entire country with the same brush.

The Baja California Peninsula is almost 800 miles long, from Mexicali in the north to Cabo San Lucas in the south. The Peninsula separates the Pacific Ocean from the Gulf of California. The area is popular with ecotourists who enjoy its natural environment. We will be docking at Cabo San Lucas tomorrow evening.

Another highlight of the day, indeed of every Crystal cruise, was the Grand Gala Buffet over the noon hour. It’s a good opportunity to sample many new foods. My favorite display was of the “egg” penguins. Top a hard boiled egg with a grape, insert almond sliver for the beak, wrap with thin carrot slice for a vest, add clove buttons down the front, place coffee beans for feet, and set atop a thick slice of zucchini. Voila! An adorable penguin.

All of the food was good. We had to return to our cabins for a nap after this extravaganza. Thank goodness I worked out this morning! The food coma lasted so long that we skipped dinner tonight.

We did, however, attend a couple of shows. The first was Lou Gazzara, who covered several artists, then channeled Elvis Presley for a while,  and ended with several Frankie Valli songs. I can remember first hearing “Sherry” when I was in the womb, and immediately became a fan of the Four Seasons. I have seen “Jersey Boys” on Broadway, in Minneapolis, and have watched the movie several times.

After the show, we enjoyed the style and energy of the Crystal Dancers as they performed their “Latin Explosion” in the Stardust Club.

 

 

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The Zapotec Dream, Huatulco, Oaxaca

Thursday, January 16, 2020

We docked early this morning at Huatulco, Oaxaca, Mexico. Again, the skies were clear, promising a beautiful day in this little bit of paradise.

As we left the ship this morning, the crew was in the midst of a fire drill, so they were all B8A4C008-A195-4D07-B931-7CECBEDC8642lined up at various muster stations. We preferred to think they were simply there to wish well as we left for shore.

Crystal’s “You Care. We Care.” Program offers volunteer-focused excursions. We participated in one a few years ago in Alaska, where we helped clean shelves and learned more about the salmon industry at Sitka Sound Science Center.

Today’s excursion took us to Tangolunda, where there is an arts crafts display and workshop, supported by the Bacaanda Foundation, represented in Huatulco by El Sueño Zapoteco (The Zapotec Dream.) Bacaanda means dream in Zapoteco. This organization, certified in both the US and Mexico, states that their “DREAM is to make a difference, and we believe the best means to do so is through EDUCATION.” They do this by working with local communities to assess their needs, and together with them develop a solution. They have built 24 new schools, and renovated or remodeled 8 existing schools, plus they’ve built libraries, playgrounds, community kitchens and more. They have also brought internet access to several communities.

Local children are taught how to make crafts, using natural resources such as seeds, grasses, and gourds, that can be sold in the center. A centerpiece of the shop here is a large replica of Noah’s Ark with pairs of animals that represent the handicraft here. BTW, there are 119 pairs of animals in this ark.

After learning about the organization and its focus – establishing rural schools in remote villages in the region – we participated in a craft activity, similar to what the local children might do. You can see from the photo below that Mark is the one with artistic talent in our household.

We dined tonight at the Churrascaria, which is a carnivore’s dream. You begin with salads, vegetables, relishes, breads, etc., then wait as waiters come by with grilled meats. Selections include chicken, sausage, pork medallions, short ribs, lamb chops, shrimp (I’m sure I’ve missed something), on a spit from which they will slice whatever you want, as much as you want. The highlight tonight, though, was the grilled pineapple with cinnamon, served with vanilla ice cream. I want that for breakfast!!

Tonight’s show was fabulous, as we’ve come to expect on these cruises. Filip Wojciechowski is a classically trained pianist from Poland, who has won many awards at piano competitions. His love for jazz has inspired him to write jazz arrangements for several classical pieces, including compositions by Bach, Liszt, Mozart, and even Gershwin. Watching his fingers fly across the keyboard was almost as entertaining as the music itself. The Crystal Band did an outstanding job of accompanying Wojciechowski.

This evening, Crystal Serenity hosted a White Extravaganza, with dancing and music. Guests were encouraged to dress in white for the event. We didn’t bring white outfits, and didn’t think bathrobes would be appropriate, so we skipped it. We did enjoy the decorations in the Crystal Plaza though.

 

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Serene Sea Day on Serenity

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

It’s another sea day, and we listened to lectures by Ian MacLachlan about our next stop, Huatulco, Oaxaca, and by Roberto D’Alimonte about the upcoming US Presidential election.

I will refrain from discussing D’Alimonte’s presentation, although I believe it was very informative and non-biased. I’m aware that not everyone reading this will have the same point of view (hurray for freedom of thought!), and I choose not to inflict my opinions on my readers. I will talk about Huatulco, though.

Huatulco is a planned tourist resort in Oaxaca, Mexico, with development to that end beginning in 1987. There is an emphasis on lower environmental impact and more tourism experiences. Residents are encouraged to treat tourists fairly and with kindness.

Interestingly, a dry canal, intended to compete with the Panama Canal, is being considered south of Huatulco, where a ship’s load would be transferred to railroad on one side, shipped cross-country, and then loaded onto another ship and be on its way.

The sun is shining today, and the seas are not choppy, so we feel confident that we will actually stop in Huatulco tomorrow. We were told that the waters are usually calm here. We’ll know in the morning!

While enjoying lunch today, we observed several dolphins fishing off the side of our ship. Mark even saw a swordfish swim by. It’s difficult to get good shots of the sea life as it’s far below, plus they move so fast. We usually have lunch in the Trident Grill, with its blend of open air and shelter. There are several “living walls” with fresh greenery to enhance the feeling of being outside. Also, we can get our daily fix of Ben & Jerry’s (Cherry Garcia for Mark and Coffee Buzz Buzz! for me.)

In the afternoon, we wasted two hours watching a movie, Long Shot, which wasn’t the worst movie I’ve ever seen, but it was close. I will say that it was timely since it is political, and involved a presidential election, and it was very realistic (hah!) Had we been at home, we probably would have changed the channel within ten minutes. There were some laughs, though, so it wasn’t a total waste.

Tonight’s show was “Icons in Concert,” put on by Serenity’s own vocalists, dancers and 379F2E76-57D6-4CA4-AF62-C547A4579793show band. These performers are all top notch, and put on a show that left us cheering, ending with a tribute to Queen.

A few years ago, we got to take a backstage tour to see the costumes and costume conveyor (like the conveyor at the dry cleaners,) and learn about the work involved in creating the many shows on board. Our tour guide at the time also spoke about life on board (small staterooms and busy schedules.) Mark asked about how they were able to land on their feet with the rolling stage, and our guide said that it was a lot of practice, gauging which way the boat would move, and planning the landing accordingly – split second decisions. By the way, that guide is on our current cruise. We were happy to see that he is still performing for Crystal.

28CF7756-2575-4833-B14C-2789A1405034After the show, we stopped at the Crystal Cove for drinks, and were thrilled by a duet performance of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah by violin and trumpet, hauntingly beautiful.

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No, No, Nicaragua!

Monday, January 13, 2020

C740120B-07F5-4694-AB13-7D46431FC170It’s a sea day, with a morning lectures by Ian MacLachlan about Nicaraguan history. San Juan del Sur was once considered in the 1800s for the western end of a Nicaraguan canal, before the current site was chosen. The idea was proposed by Alexander von Humboldt. Cornelius Vanderbilt was a well known proponent of the Nicaragua option, and had negotiated exclusive rights to construct a waterway. Passengers would board a river boat on the Atlantic Ocean, sail through Lake Nicaragua, then a train the rest of the way. The US briefly considered this location before settling on Panama.

The idea of a canal at this location wasn’t completely abandoned, though. In 2013, Nicaragua’s National Assembly approved a bill to grant a 50 year concession to a Chinese Billionaire, Wang Jing, and his Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Company (HKND). However, his fortunes took a hit during the Chinese Stock Market crash of 2015-2016, the company was liquidated in 2018, and the project is now considered defunct.

For Survivor fans, four seasons were filmed here in San Juan del Sur. The beaches are beautiful, and San Juan del Sur is a popular destination for surfers.

Later, Robert D’Alimonte gave the second half of his Brexit lecture. Brexit takes 17B72A21-5AD3-440A-83E3-BCF8A4A13209place at the end of this month, with many details agreed to, including customs arrangements for Northern Ireland. However, a trade deal has not yet been negotiated, and Scotland remains opposed. The whole issue is very complicated, but Professor D’Alimonte did a very good job of making it a little easier for the layperson to understand. I’m sure we haven’t heard the end of this story.

Tonight’s comedy show was delightful. Darrell Joyce is a standup comedian who had no difficulty connecting with this audience. He has appeared on BET, Comedy Central, and several TV shows. He also performs frequently in Las Vegas. We ended the evening laughing!

Tuesday, January 14

We were scheduled to stop at San Juan del Sur today, tendering to shore. This would have been the maiden stop for Crystal Serenity. However, the winds were very strong, unsafe for tendering, and projected to increase throughout the day. I did step out onto the back deck for a couple of minutes, but quickly left when I saw chairs begin blown across the deck. So, we have another sea day. Crystal wasted no time scheduling some additional lectures and activities for the day.

Although we’re a little disappointed at not being able to visit Nicaragua, I always welcome “free” time, with nothing scheduled. We took advantage of this by getting massages (so relaxing!) after breakfast, and just enjoying the beautiful day. In spite of the wind this morning, the water was calmer as we sailed north.

Tonight’s show was an Aretha Franklin tribute by Charity Lockhart, a versatile singer who can rock a room with pop, R&B, gospel or jazz. This was a family affair, with her daughter, Yasmine(?), singing backup, and her brother, Jermaine Lockhart, on saxophone. I do love sax! Charity had the entire audience on their feet by the end of the concert.

Charity said that their luggage didn’t make it, so Crystal dug into their costume supply to provide clothing changes for her as well as for her daughter and brother. They looked pretty good to us. This was yet another example of the quality of entertainment and service provided on a Crystal cruise.

 

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