I can’t think of a more scenic itinerary than Alaska when it comes to sea days. I suppose others might prefer tropical blue water and balmy breezes for miles, but I couldn’t get enough of the moody grey skies and forests so thick you had to wonder what was out there that had never seen a human footprint.
We passed Carnival Spirit, heading south on the last day of her weekly sailing.
See ya in Oz, Spirit!
I couldn’t find my highlighter, which I blamed on not having enough drawers to unpack and spread out all the little sundries, so I used a pen to mark items of interest on the Freestyle Daily.
I’m going to get a little cynical now, and I should warn any huffy NCL fans that I am not picking on Norwegian (this time). This is something that Carnival is just as guilty of, and I assume it’s an industry-wide practice, as we all know cruise ships need to a) get more money from you once you board, and b) appeal to a wide variety of interests, but mostly “a.”
So, above is the Freestyle Daily, which informs people of what’s happening when and where. Below is the same Freestyle Daily, but with all of the following blacked out:
- Passive features that are available all day, every day (bridge viewing room, sudoku sheets, golf clubs, etc.)
- Activities geared toward children
- Activities that carry an extra fee (not that I begrudge the fee)
- “Activities” which deserve “sarcastic air quotes” because they are really just very obvious sales pitches (50% Off Diamonds Event, Live Acupuncture Demo)
- Specialized get-togethers (singles mixer, Friends of Dorothy)
- Notifications of live music (I know this is subjective - for some it’s an actual event to plan for, but for others it’s just ambiance)
I should note that I accidentally blacked out the casino tour and, due to a $#@@!!! mouse issue, couldn’t easily fix it. That said, I think the “tour” of one big room bordered strongly on sales pitch territory, but I’m trying to play fair. See how I left in the “art history seminar” even though it’s really just a gateway pitch for the art auctions? (Don’t get me started on the art auctions. I know it’s possible to get things you like at a fair price.... but the tactics used by the art company representatives are just so slimy.)
I know I left journal making on there despite the fee, but I’ll explain why in a little bit.Back to the Daily. The in-laws were kind of disappointed in the number of actual free activities for adults planned for our only sea day. We were, too, but we’ve certainly seen Carnival mess up in this area, too. (You know, with nothing much happening all day except for six things between 11:30-1:30.... the same time as not only lunch but some specialty buffet.) Still, it was regrettable that the most general interest items were all happening at the same time around 9am and 3pm, without much general stuff in between.
We’ve been on some Carnival cruises where we hopped from trivia-style event to trivia-style event for three hours straight. I’m not saying Norwegian should do that, but a sea day with only two trivia games total?
(It doesn’t even have to be regular pencil-and-paper trivia. Carnival had a great game one cruise where the host, Pip, asked a question and gave two answers. You had to move to the left side or the right side of the stage, depending on what you thought the answer was. So, for every question, people were eliminated, until it came down to the Last Man Standing, which I think is what the game was called. It was great fun, easy and fast to play, interesting, and we got several games in within the half hour. It’s not like Norwegian even has to worry about running out of ships-on-a-stick or medallions.)
I do want to give praise for offering two dance classes in one day, but the second dance class was in Bliss Lounge, so that doesn’t count. I’ll get to “why” later.
But this is all Shari-a-few-months-later talking. The Shari standing on her balcony, waving to Carnival Spirit, and excited to be at sea hadn’t taken a hard look at the Freestyle Daily. She just starred some items of interest the night before and now wanted to return to the Summer Palace dining room for breakfast.
Norwegian does a good job of making the evening’s menu available. (The lunch and breakfast menus are also on hand, but these never change.) Hmmm, again nothing really appealed to Mike. We decided we’d try another specialty restaurant for dinner, perhaps the French place.
This time we were seated by the beautiful back windows. Warm but heatless sunshine made the room luminous; everything looked great. I especially approved of the salt and pepper grinders.
With the breakfast order only slightly mangled (they forgot Mike’s blueberries, and apparently pancakes only come in one size despite the menu), we enjoyed our meal. The omelette/egg portions were noticeably bigger than what we would get on Carnival. The food was also hotter and the juice was refilled in a timely manner, so for me, Norwegian wins the MDR breakfast round. (Mind you, Carnival may have improved and I just don’t know because we switched to the buffet for breakfast instead. Oh well; we can only report on what we know and assume the reader will provide their own grains of salt.)
”Okay, now look sad, like you’re going to be assassinated.”
”Let’s walk through the photo area and see if our very first embarkation photo is there. Oh, and we can look for stickers and scrapbooking supplies.”
(We didn’t find any stickers, but that was probably just us because we didn’t find our photo, either. Phil and Carol had to point it out to us later.)
”Now we need to get to Bar City for journal making!”
I assured Mike that I wasn’t going to pay for journal-making when I had my own groovy Smashbook going upstairs, so therefore we weren’t going to get sucked into doing arts and crafts (His real fear. I still hear him call out in his sleep sometimes, “I don’t want to decorate visors! No more glitter glue!”), but I just wanted to, you know, see what was happening. So I could, like, inform the world and stuff when I got around to writing about the cruise.
We hustled to Maltings and looked for the inevitable crowds of wimmenfolk.
All we saw was an athletic Fijian with a stack of cellophane-wrapped books in front of him.
”May I take a photo?”
”How much does it cost?” (Not because I cared. Again, this was all in the name of hardcore investigative journalism.)
Steven, the host sitting alone, said it was free. “What? But it says in the Freestyle Daily that there’s a fee.”
“No, there’s no charge.”
”Oh! Well, then...”
And that’s when I sat down and when Mike’s body began to shut down his systems one by one in the face of not just an arts and crafts class but a private arts and crafts class. The body has a way of protecting the owner from that much pain.
But luckily Steven was a cool chap. He said I could work on it back in the cabin, which was perfect. I’d already cast my eye on the included Norwegian/cruising stickers and couldn’t wait to add them to my Smashbook, not that I was going to mention that. Then, of course, I got greedy.
”Honey, you’ll do it with me, right?” And here I added the patented wife “spy-eye” that is meant to surreptitiously indicate that we are now on a covert mission and anything I say should just be agreed to, rolled with, and ideally embellished upon in the affirmative.
Alas, Mike’s marital communication receptors had yet to reboot from the recent terror. “Oh no,” he said, his arms waving in protest. “I don’t do arts and crafts.”
”Oh, come on, it will be fun.” TAKE THE PACKET, MIKE. MOMMA NEEDS THOSE EXTRA STICKERS. TAKE IT. TAKE IT NOW.
Mike, systems now coming online enough to pick up on my overly cheerful tone, partially recovered from his pre-fetal hunkering to politely say, “It’s just not my thing.”
For the remainder of the class time, we had a nice chat with Steven, especially about his time on Princess ships. This was periodically interrupted by my unwrapping the journal package and pointing out in a jokey-but-not-jokey-SPYEYE-SPYEYE way how we could use each of the different stickers, if only Mike would join me in some journaling back in the cabin later.
Poor Steven probably thought these were terrible euphemisms for sex.
About five minutes before "class" ended, someone else showed up. We’ll call her “Dimity” because I can’t remember her real name, and because I’ve been doing a lot of colonial genealogy lately. Dimity brings tour groups onto cruise ships. (Her husband goes on different cruise ships with his groups at the same time. What a life!) She did decide to do five rounds of how I’m pronouncing my name incorrectly, but otherwise she seemed to be nice. (I can think of solid linguistic arguments for at least six different pronunciations, so if I’m not forcing the Sharis of the world to unify on this, the non-Sharis can let it go already.)
This was enough distraction to madly gesture to Mike that I wanted him to take a book so I could have extra stickers. Then we noticed that it was time for trivia, so we all (all!) took our books to the other side of the bar, where a few people had already gathered.
(So, why wasn’t anyone at Journal Making? Was it because they wanted to see the History of Alaska presentation? Maybe. Was it because the Freestyle Daily said there’d be a fee. Maybe. Still, seemed odd, considering the Alaskan cruising demographic is supposed to skew to the older, more sedate side. Meanwhile, I’m sorry that I was such a piggy about the stickers and connived to get more than my share. But, if any scrap embellishments had been for sale during this cruise, I would’ve bought them all, so I’m not going to feel too bad about it. I later asked at the photography desk and they said, no, they only had the small photo albums.)
We waited for more people to come, and they trickled in throughout the game - I think many coming from the Alaska presentation. (See? See? This is why you don’t stack everything at once. I put “OnTimers” down on the paper as our team name, just because apparently I don’t have enough private moments of smugness.) Steven was easy to understand, so at least we didn’t spend most of the game on repeats like yesterday.
Speaking of puffed chests, any smug buildup was hastily removed when I couldn’t remember the answer to the first question. I rarely repeat cruise trivia questions for the whole world to see, for what I hope are obvious reasons, so I’m going to play that policy card now and not reveal my utter, utter shame at screwing up the answer to something that I actually used to teach in my IT days. I mean, I wasn’t totally wrong - I got everything correct except the final syllable of the last word - but still. I shamed my ancestors.
And so, because of my brain blip, and because we didn’t think the “obvious” answer for another question could be right, we ended up tied at 18/20. I’d say I was showing off the score, but it was pretty much the easiest trivia ever, with plenty of hints from Steven, too. I know I said I wasn’t going to give the questions, but here are some answers: Teddy Bear, Libra, Wal-Mart, Mike Myers, Luke. Now guess the easiest questions to go with those answers, and you’ve got 25% right already.
We went into a tie-breaking question. Mike knew the rest of the question and the answer as soon as the host got to “How many Oscars did...”
Fortune and glory, that’s my husband. (Manifesting as an extra participation signature on our cards and a “Well done!” from me.)
Spa time! Our day was going well: yummy breakfast in a lovely location, a new friendly face in what yesterday hadn’t seemed like a very personable crew, a competitive round of trivia, and, let’s not forget, extra stickers.
We left a note in Phil and Carol’s “mailbox” saying where we were and that we were thinking about Le Bistro for dinner. Mike changed to his swim shorts and T-shirt, and I changed into a girl. I wore my swimsuit under my clothes, but it would be too wet to do this for the way back, so I put together a bag.
(I don’t even carry a purse, so this was foreign for me. On Carnival we book spa rooms, so I just trot back and forth between spa and cabin in my suit with my shirt over it, too blissful to mind the rare gawker along the back ways. Alas, no spa cabins here unless you’re getting a suite. So, I retreated from an opportunity to be a poster child for size acceptance and covered up. Fat-lady swim shorts and exploded-biscuit flesh draw enough stares in the water. No need to invite YouTube coverage while parading the length of the ship.)
Bouncing in anticipation, we skipped along to meet our new friend, NCL's thermal suite.
Our friend sure had a lot of other friends.
The thalasso pool was full. The heated recliners were full. The hot tub was not full. “Meet you back here in a few minutes,” I whispered, for despite all the people, the room was silent.
That impressed me actually, that people would follow the signs and keep the area restful. But at the same time, it was kind of depressing to have to mutter in each other’s ears all because Norwegian decided to put all of their co-ed facilities in one big room. A glass wall between the recliners and the thalasso pool and hot tub would do wonders here. No one would lose their view, and those using the pools wouldn’t find heads swinging their way every time they turned on a noisy jet spray.
I put my stuff in my assigned locker and gave the empty steam room a wistful glance. Too bad Mike and I couldn’t sit together in there while we waited for the thalasso pool to clear out a bit.
Mike was gamely waiting at the foot of the hot tub steps. Months before, I’d asked on Cruise Critic if the ladders in the thalasso pool were hard to climb if one was “fluffy” or had a knee injury. No, people assured me, “but watch out for the hot tub.”
They weren’t kidding. What coke-blown architectural mind designed this death trap? Bad enough that the thalassotherapy pool is off limits to anyone with accessibility issues, but the hot tub was just bizarre.
Here’s a glimpse of it again from the embarkation day tour (right, to the back):
Okay, so that’s three short (and slippery when wet, I’ll add) steps up.... and then you sit on the edge of the tub and raise your legs to clear all adjacent plumbing fixtures, and swing your body around. It’s ungainly, but the real challenge comes with getting your wet body back out, especially if you’re a short-legged soul like myself. (But at 5’6”, not actually short, so this is hardly a small problem, so to speak.)
To be honest, since my ankle injury after the cruise, I couldn’t see myself risking the scenario again. Too slippery, too chancey, and them leaving an ugly yellow “Caution: Wet Floor” marker next to the hot tub steps (you can see it in the photo) is just shoddy planning... if not a pathetic attempt to avoid litigation for a serious design flaw.
(Hmmm, I guess if the worst happened, then a lawsuit against a major corporation could pay off handsomely... but what if the settlement was free Norwegian cruises for life? Bleh! I kid, I kid...)
Otherwise, the hot tub was fine. We could have fit another person in there, and I think skinny people could manage four. (And skinny Californian swingers circa 1977 could perhaps press the limit to six, but that blonde pine look would have to be swapped for redwood.)
Having survived the climb out of the hot tub, we descended into the thalasso pool, now with fewer people. Being generally quiet people anyway, it wasn’t hard to remain silent, but we did indulge in plenty of facial expressions and head tilts and nods in our own little world in our own little corner... only to eventually realize that we were getting sideways looks from the other pool patrons.
As we noiselessly bobbed from the rail to the spray to the grill as our mood shifted, I began to notice that other people tended not to stay long. Get in, find a spot, stare dead-eyed at nothing for awhile, get back out.
This is why the pool needs to have slightly different quiet rules. Couples should be allowed to murmur without forming a breathy CPR dome over the other person’s ear. People should feel free to grunt in pleasure when the spray first hits their backs. When the bubbles stop, it shouldn’t turn into a game of panicked hot potato, everyone passing fast glances, trying to figure out without speaking who is going to turn on the bubbles again.
I’m exaggerating, but only a little. The vibe was very weird. Even over in the “active” end of the pool, with the circular rail and strong underwater jets (located at bidet level, if you catch my drift), when Mike and I were gently bouncing and stretching and smiling but otherwise not disrupting anyone, it felt like we were intruding upon a monk retreat. Sure, I may have pointed a little excitedly when the jet inevitably got under my swimsuit and blew my top into a balloon, but I kept my arm bent and close to my chest. I swear!
Mike leaned over to take my ear into his mouth. “I feel like even the other fat people are judging us.”
Aware of what seemed to be a really strict and sensitive environment, we didn’t even touch hands. So, it was great when the pool would be clear (see, nobody stayed long) and we could silently go nuts. Floating! Hands on submerged shoulders for a tow!
Then new people would come in and we’d retreat to demurely wait them out. One guy stayed, though, and kept staring at us. Mike made up a new word.
”That guy,” he breathed, “is a thalasshole.”
Not really, of course. The tone was set, and people helplessly perpetuated it. I never thought I’d say this - me, the person who can’t teach without a quiet classroom (reason #7625 why I’m not teaching this year) - but I think I’d rather people were making clueless, banal, top-volume chitchat than this, everyone taking their underwater pew and reflecting on their sins for up to five minutes.
Mike and I parted (grrr) to try the steam rooms. It was nice enough, for a generic white-tile steam room. I did the sauna a little, then the steam again. Nanoshower then I came out and snagged the double-wide recliner so Mike’s shirt could dry off a bit before the walk back. (Oh judgemental people, how we try to protect your frail eyes.)
The recliner was comfortable and the view looking out the front of the ship was amazing. I could see how even more amazing it must be when cruising through the glaciers.... and I could only guess how crowded. In fact, a woman in the locker room told me all eight members of her family bought spa passes, and they planned to be in the spa all day when we went through Glacier Bay.
The “one big crowded room of silence” method just isn’t pleasant, Norwegian. On Carnival, we would lament not being able to hit the spa twice a day. After this visit, we each carefully danced around the idea of how, of course we’d be back, but if for some reason - just saying! - we didn’t use the spa much - just a hypothesis! - well, it was worth it... mostly... to see what it was like... Um...
Still, trying new things is always fun, and now we were going to get to try a new place for lunch. We obviously wouldn’t be going back to the MDR after yesterday’s lackluster meal, and the buffet didn’t appeal after yesterday, either, so, hmm, how about the Blue Lagoon?
Mike ordered the wonton noodle soup.
It seems it isn’t called wonton noodles soup for a reason.
I started with the mozzarella sticks.
Really, Norwegian? Three sticks? “Oh, but your beloved Carnival only gives out two,” you may counter, with a really unattractive laugh of perceived triumph. Well, first, Carnival is not my beloved. We decided to try other lines for a reason. Second, this is what Carnival gives me when I order fried mozzarella:
And, for what it’s worth, the server doesn’t just put the plates down then turn and walk away, either. Yes, it happened again, just like yesterday, all throughout the meal. Is it the New Cruelty?
Mike followed his broth with Buffalo wings:
And I had the lone vegetarian entree, the “vegetable lasagne”:
The menu doesn’t specify the vegetables, probably because they change depending on what’s available. It certainly did meet the description of “Parmesan Cheese, Tomato Sauce.” That’s the nicest thing I can say.
(I’m biting back a comment on the plating. I really don’t want to be so negative that people write off my experiences and maybe think I have an anti-NCL agenda. Here, let me say one good thing about Norwegian before the head-shaking continues: it’s great that Blue Lagoon is open 24 hours. In theory. Oh dear, another story for later. Argh. Let me try again, without having to dip into spoilers: Norwegian Pearl has many spots where you can sit indoors and look out at the sea, including here at the Blue Lagoon.)
The desserts we chose to have wordlessly thumped down on the table before us were a chocolate brownie and the cheesecake with pineapple sauce:
We did manage to engage our server in conversation just before leaving. We asked about the limited after-hours menu, and Mike pointed out that it doesn’t have a single vegetarian option. I didn’t want to say anything, but Mike wanted to solve the problem, and he wondered how “strict” the late-night menu really was. Could I get an improvisation of some sort? Was there really nothing?
”The menu is limited because there are so many other dining options,” the server replied.
”But there aren’t really any dining options after 10 p.m. for vegetarians.”
“There are so many other restaurants. This is just meant to be snacks.”
We gave up. She either couldn’t parse our English or she was too disinterested to at least say she would pass along our comments, let alone offer to ask the chef. Seriously, they couldn’t nuke up another sad Stouffer’s lasagne as soon as the hour hand settled on 10? Not that I wanted to ever eat it again, but having a 10 p.m. curfew on your dining options isn’t great cruising.
(Don’t even mention room service. Apparently the room service menu suffered a downsizing between when we looked it up online and when our ship sailed. We found a misaligned sticker covering the old options, but the only change that seemed to be made was that they removed the vegetarian sandwich. It was shitty pizza or the kids’ menu for vegetarians, unless you count a salad or fruit plate. Later in the cruise I considered asking for an existing sandwich to be made without meat, but I was so soured on the poor attitude from Norwegian staff that just thinking about trying to wrangle an accommodation depressed me. Then I’d think about that joke of a table in our cabin and just give up.)
As we exited, we noticed that the cooking demonstration was going on down in the atrium below. We found a spot at the rail to watch for a bit.
The demonstration wasn’t of how to cook a signature dish from the ship, like I expected, but rather a demonstration of the knife skills used by the chefs in the Teppanyaki restaurant. (Think Benihana.)
Here’s a hint: don’t watch this demo from above. Squeeze into one of the folding chairs in the atrium’s small space between the bar/coffee station/short excursions desk/purser’s desk/reservations desk/future cruise desk/gift shop, or take a fancier chair behind the pillars, and watch it there.
Because, if you watch from above, you may be distracted by all the smashed eggs and other crap that accumulates on the floor behind the chef, while the audience thinks he’s pulling the same egg out of his hat (a post-modern Easter basket when viewed from above).
Back to the room for us to maybe enjoy the balcony a bit. Goodness, were the carts still cluttering the halls?
Norwegian, raise the price and hire some more staff.
We came back to a reply from Phil and Carol. Le Bistro sounded great to them, and they’d already booked it. This was taking some adjusting, traveling with others, but we did want to try it, so no harm done. I can’t imagine what it’s like trying to coordinate activities if some in the party are higher maintenance, so we all got lucky there. I can finally see why traditional cruise dining appeals to people. If you’re in a group, you don’t have to negotiate everyone’s whims and hurts. Dinner is at X time, deal with it. But as I said, we managed without fuss. Good thing, too, since you can’t cancel a reservation within 24 hours of the dining time without paying a penalty.
We left a new note saying that we’d hopefully see them at the Weakest Link game and retired to our room.
MIke, alas, does not dance. Unlike crafts, where now and again I can coax some grudging participation (as I understand it, other wives use the same pleas to ask for diamonds), dancing is off the table. I got him to do some fitness stuff almost resembling dance twice, and one time I got him to shuffle his feet enough to help me go over a lesson plan for teaching courtly dancing when my freshies were doing Romeo and Juliet, and the bellyaching just isn’t worth it. Better to ask for diamonds and dance with them.
But Mike is willing to sit and watch the dance classes with me (if I insist), so we got to the Bliss Lounge a little early so I could see the end of the swing dance class and so we could secure our seats.
Here’s how the Bliss Lounge looks during a dance class:
Not enough room to swing a pre-pubescent mouse, let alone your partner. It looked frustrating.
We dipped and wove as people stood around, trying to hunt for some seats not belonging to the standing dancers, finally finding two a bit out of the way.
The dancers were dismissed without further instruction, and the host came around and asked us to move our seats to a spot in front of a long sofa since he was going to set up his podium where we were. Oh, okay.
The people who’d been sitting on the long sofa came back, now not so thrilled that the seats that had been in front of the big bed (Bliss is styled as an ultralounge) were now in front of them. We tried to scrunch out of their way, but they (and most of the lounge) couldn’t really see the stage from the seated area because of the pillars anyway. Others were pulling chairs forward. I genuinely felt for the people on the long sofa, but the law of the land seemed to be shifting, and it seemed they’d misanticipated the future when choosing anchored furniture.
A new row formed behind us with a couple we’d met in trivia earlier. (Sorry, sofa people.) While Mike was up putting our names in the hat (“Not mine!” I squealed to him - I don’t do performance trivia), the couple said maybe we could team up. I didn't know the rules, but I couldn’t fathom team play for this game, plus we sort of expected Phil and Carol to come. Erm.
I tried to soften the rejection with bright conversation and a light joke about how I didn’t know my in-laws well enough to kick them off our team yet, but it turned into one of those things where the people just end up staring at me while I talk faster and faster to try to get them to say something, anything, to show that they understand that my intentions are good. (I should never have warned them that we weren’t allowed to sit near the bed.... which they didn’t believe until the host told them as well.)
And then Phil and Carol came, pulling up chairs to take some of the last spaces in these new rows... and the sofa people got even madder and made comments, and everyone was uncomfortable, and Phil ended up putting one chair back and sort of crouching on an ottoman.
It was all so pleasant.
Too bad there wasn’t some other, larger, yet still intimate venue for the dance classes and this Weakest Link activity. Like, say, the Spinnaker Lounge which had its last activity four hours earlier. (Check the Freestyle Daily. Pardon my French and my scornful gaze and my Gallic shrug, Norwegian, but WTF?)
So, here’s how cruise-style Weakest Link goes: six or so people are selected from the names in the jar. They step up to the microphone one at a time to answer questions. They are told if they are right or wrong. When everyone has had a turn, these six decide who to vote off. (No points or banking of them, etc.) Eventually it comes down to two people who answer questions until one gets it wrong.
Richard hosted this game and he seemed nice enough, furrowed brow and long-suffering demeanor aside. (It could just be a British thing.) So, I felt bad when I gasped “That’s wrong!” pretty loudly after he read an incorrect “correct” answer off the sheet, but others joined in, and he was good about taking our word for it. (Aquarius is the water-bearer, not Pisces.)
Funny bit (that will hopefully make up for the display of ego in the last paragraph): Mike and I are both Beatles fans. A question came up that was something like “How many Beatles go by their real names?” We all looked at each other and nodded, and Mike and I surreptitiously mouthed “three” to each other.
The contestant of course guessed “three,” and the host said, “That’s right: John, George, and Paul. “Ringo” is just a nickname for Richard.”
Mike and I immediately looked at each other. We hadn’t been thinking about Ringo at all! We were feeling very clever, thinking, “Oh, Paul is actually a James, aha!” and we both overlooked the obvious. Duuuuuhhhh.
And no, we didn’t try to make a case for the answer actually being two, but mostly because we couldn’t remember exactly how the question had been phrased. Had the host said “real names” or “real first names” or “first names” or....? The point is, it was funny that we’d ignored Ringo. Most of the questions were this easy (in fact, many had been in the previous two trivia games), although some were disproportionately difficult. Luck of the draw.
Speaking of luck of the draw, when Richard drew the names for the contestants, he drew a father and a son. So, guess who whispered to each other after each round to make sure they wrote down the same person to kick off the team? People in the audience repeatedly made polite but increasingly pointed remarks about colluding, but it wasn’t until nearly the end that Richard told the father and son to stop double-teaming the other players. I know it’s just a game, but it’s not as fun to watch when you’re just waiting for the inevitable.
So, it came down to the father, the son, and.... one of the sofa people. It was hard to know who to root for. The father and son, despite their taking advantage of a disinterested host, both seemed very nice and very bright. The sofa woman also seemed nice, but she had missed almost every question. (So of course no one wanted to vote her off.)
(She’s hidden in this photo, which is probably just as well since I’m not sure what constitutes public space and allowable photography, especially if you're pointing out, er, weak links.)
Since, gee, the father and son weren’t going to vote each other off, the whole game was a matter of biding time until one of them won (the father got a particularly hard question and the son took the honors), but I like all trivia events, so it wasn’t a bad way to spend time in the end. Could’ve been much more fun for all, but by this point we were learning that we were going to have to set the bar quite a bit lower for this cruise.
Our dinner reservation was for 5:45, just after Le Bistro opened. After a bit of a wander with Phil and Carol, we returned to the cabin to relax before meeting them downstairs. Carol joked that she wanted to get “blinged up” and put on the dog a bit, and I had to tell her my concession would be black slacks instead of my usual jeans. We were definitely glad of the near-lack of dress code on Norwegian, not that Carnival’s west coast cruises are very demanding in this regard. (You can wear jeans in the Carnival Steakhouse, people, and this has been the policy for years.) Thankfully Carol didn’t care what other people were wearing; she just wanted to dress up herself. I really did get lucky in the in-law department.
We were dainty enough to use our travel lint rollers, though:
Ah, that photo reminds me of something. It’s been two paragraphs without any NCL bashing, so let’s get back to it. (Don’t worry; dinner at Le Bistro will balance out this latest rant.)
See Mike’s soda sticker on his room key? You probably think I’m mad about the Pepsi, having been raised in the Coca-Cola faith. It’s true; I don’t really like Pepsi, but many people do, so I understand that sometimes the coin won’t flip my way when it comes to beverages. Besides, I really commend Pepsi for its “Throwback” line made with actual sugar, not high fructose corn syrup, while Coke keeps its head in the sand and claims that people drink Mexican Coke with sugar for the nostalgia factor of the glass bottles, not because it tastes any different. (So why do so many non-Jewish people seek out seasonal Kosher Coke in 2-litre bottles?)
Norwegian offers water, tea, and coffee to drink for free if you don’t have a soda sticker. I try to avoid caffeine (and don’t like coffee), so it looked like it would be water or my first soda sticker. (I didn’t want to bring on soda since that would mean finding a store then wrangling more luggage.) Carnival offers lemonade, which is a refreshing option (although sometimes they don’t dilute it enough, but that’s easily fixed). I like water, but drinking it exclusively during the cruise seemed kind of depressing. I decided to get a soda sticker.
However, like I said, I don’t really like Pepsi or Mountain Dew. Sierra Mist is okay, but I didn’t know if it was really appealing enough to buy a sticker. Ginger ale I do love, but I’ve become a total snob about ginger drinks and can’t go back to the wan mixer stuff. Again, I needed more incentive.
I know! I’m very forgiving about root beer and most Pepsi product places serve Mug. Was root beer an option?
No root beer? Rats.
Oh! I can see it! There! In the soft drink display on the bar. Orange soda! I do like orange soda! Yay!
Orange soda isn’t included?
But... it’s there. It’s there to buy. It’s a soft drink. It’s right there next to all the included soft drinks. Why isn’t it included?
It “just isn’t.” I see. That seems odd, don’t you think? (Oh, by the way you’ve moved away, Mr. Bartender, I guess the conversation is over.)
We were actually a bit tenacious on this, not taking one bartender’s word for it. We asked around. Nope, orange soda isn’t included. Why? “It just isn’t.”
If you know me at all, I no longer cared that orange soda wasn’t included. That’s the policy. But why was it the policy? Why could no one tell me? (And why did no one seem to care? You can tell this happened on the first day, because by the second day we’d come to understand that pretending to care was a rare skill among Norwegian staff.)
So, I didn’t get a soda sticker. I’d been on the fence, thinking it would be a nice treat to sometimes break things up with ginger ale or Sierra Mist, but being shrugged off made me think, “Nah, I don’t need to give these guys any more money. Water will do.”
Again, I’m not demanding orange soda. (And I think I should get bonus points for using parentheses when mentioning that certain other cruise lines do offer orange soda.) I just wanted to be treated well. I wanted the bartender to look me in the eye, say that he’s sorry, and then maybe say something light that takes the sting out of the situation. Offer me an umbrella, try to sell me a fun cocktail, ask how my day is going otherwise - show that you care about me even though you regretfully can’t offer this one particular service.
Later that week, Mike found a bartender at the aft bar who was able to explain why orange soda isn’t available: it’s not loaded into the nozzle. They don’t open cans for the soda sticker people. This makes absolute sense, and I have no problem with this logic. Post-mix is cheaper than cans, and there is only so much you can hook up to the nozzle. (Why do they even have cans? I still remember the cruise when Carnival ran out of cans of Dr Pepper. Needless to say, no Dr Pepper on Norwegian, even though that's a drink that swings both ways.)
And then this bartender said he would make Mike an orange soda on the sly. So, we’d discovered the rebel camp, but it was too late for me.
Lint-free and ready to have a nice meal, we arrived at Le Bistro right on time, which was a bit impressive since it was only as we were leaving our cabin that we realized we weren’t entirely sure where it was. (Le Bistro is easy to overlook, being tucked behind a door near the bar with the grand piano.)
I’m a terrible person who can’t remember what everyone ordered. (That’s what happens when you are trying to be discreet about taking photos of the meal.) I’m also terrible because I’m going to sneak in one little criticism of what was otherwise a terrific meal. This was our table:
With the arrival of the bread (the basket and the plate with I-forget-what, something non-vegetarian), water glasses ended up in precarious spots, and reaching for objects even inches away felt a little dangerous. Here’s a pre-peopled table:
Do you see what I mean about it being on the small side?
But that’s it! Now I will say nice things! Such nice things that I won’t even mention how Mike asked a question about the menu then accidentally started to order before the ladies, horrifying Mihaela, our server.
Oops, mentioned it.
I started with grilled asparagus with shiitake mushrooms and orange hollandaise. I don’t actually like asparagus, but I had some once in the mid-nineties that was tolerable, and I’ve stayed open-minded about maybe someday finding some that rises to the level of “certainly tolerable.”
This was only tolerable, but that’s still high praise. Twice in twenty years now I’ve had acceptable asparagus. Kudos, Norwegian!
I made myself eat every bite because I hate when people worry that I’m not enjoying a meal. (And I don’t like explaining that being a vegetarian doesn’t mean liking every vegetable. When you’re this fat, people assume that if you don’t like a vegetable, this is proof that you must live on ice cream sandwiches and Cheetos.) Finishing the asparagus wasn’t hard, though, because the deliciousness of the mushrooms and the interestingness of the orange hollandaise raised the entire dish to “certainly tolerable” after all.
For the main course, the vegetarian dish at Le Bistro is a Napoleon of vegetables, puff pastry, and red pepper:
(Do you capitalize “Napoleon” when referring to the food? Bah, I can’t be bothered to look it up.)
My photo doesn’t do it justice. The hostess brought the chef to our table later, and I raved and raved. So juicy! So flavourful! So delicate.
I must learn to cook French food. I would eat tolerable asparagus by the fistful if I could have dishes as complex and singing as this.
And for dessert, a chocolate Napoleon: flourless chocolate cake with hazelnut crunch and Gianduja cream:
I had this. Mike had this. Phil had this. And Carol had regrets because she went with the caramel, lemon, and vanilla profiteroles instead.
Look at those glossy ribbons. Why can’t I cook this? Because there are too many boxes distracting me. Someday this packing will end.
Dinner was long and lovely. Karaoke had already started, so we decided to see what Deal or No Deal was about.
I walked up to the guy manning the table outside the Stardust Lounge.
”Ah, Deal or No Deal.” (I suddenly realized it cost money to play. D’oh! Missed that asterisk. Still, I was willing to pay if it sounded fun.) “How does this work?”
The man looked up at me. “Do you want to play?”
”I don’t know. How does it work.”
”You buy cards.” He shrugged and went back to looking down at his piece of paper.
He ignored me.
I turned to Mike and spoke loudly. “I don’t understand how it works. I guess we won’t bother, then?”
”I guess not.”
The guy continued to ignore us.
We went back to our cabin, where life was less challenging.
09 December 2012 | Permalink