The Gift of Planning (Keeps on Giving)

Horrendous week at work - you don't even want to know - but it seems to have had a happy ending, so who's complaining? Not I, butterflies.

Somewhere in the midst of the "I AM GOING TO QUIT" texts and the "HA! VINDICATED BEYOND BELIEF" texts, and the cursing at certain parties for being indirectly responsible for me only having 21 anytime minutes left of my cell plan for the next 10 days, we booked a cruise for later this year.

Now, I know this sounds like sulk shopping, which is meant to be a thing of the past in these uncertain times. And it was a bit sulky to seize the moment in the middle of a week full of drama (which also saw Mike put on three new medications - but he's fine, so no complaints - and Mike's grandmother passed away, which deserves far more than an aside, but some things just don't easily translate to blog content), but the deal was in the price range we'd been waiting for (love those Past Guest rates) with all the other chinks in place, and I chose to take this as a sign to book.

"That's the signpost, up ahead. Your next stop, the HAPPY ZONE!"

Except the signpost is more "down the road" than "up ahead," but that's not going to stop me from jabbering on with cruise planning blabber in the interim.

(A more specific sign might have been Carnival's press release that summer fares would be going up on March 22. That, and the shareholder letter specifying the need to recoup the losses experienced due to the swine flu/recession/depression in 2009.)

(Yep, we're sticking with Carnival. I know some people hate the "fun ships," sometimes just on principle, and sometimes due to legitimate complaints, but we were so impressed with the first two cruises, and the price/itinerary/time is right, so why switch? Plus, as sworn cruising converts, getting to platinum status - 10 cruises - is becoming a bright gleam in the eye.)

Our cruise will take us to the more southern parts of Mexico's west coast than we visited before, specifically Acapulco, Manzanillo, and Zihuatanejo and Ixtapa. As always, for us it's not about the ports. (If it were, it would be more sensible to fly there and really immerse ourselves in the culture.) However, the ports are fun diversions, like we get to stay in a giant hotel in the middle of the ocean, and new sights are delivered to the door like sci-fi room service. Oooo.

Mike and I were giggling yesterday over some of the planning excitements we had for our epic Disney World trip in 2001. Like, we thought DisneyQuest was going to be this amazing experience, on par with the parks themselves, like live-action Tron roleplay with catering from the Cheesecake Factory, and of course it was laughably sucky. Emphasis on laugh - we still had more fun on the trip than we expected.

So, as we plan for the cruise, and I torture myself with reading all of the cruise boards and blogs that I'd been denying myself since July (the longing was just too much), I thought I'd note the things we're looking forward to or worried about. Later, maybe it will be funny to reread and provide some updated comments.

Pasta station. We will be on a Spirit-class ship (Spirit herself, actually), which apparently means there is a pasta station at the 24-hour pizza bar. (Elation had very decent pizza; Splendor's was a bit weird but not bad. Something about how the cheese tasted/held.) Yip-yip!

Pasta stations have become a refreshing addition to many of the Las Vegas buffets since I moved here. Pick the "mix-ins" (I like garlic, black olives, onions, mushrooms, and sometimes tomatoes), watch the chef saute it all nicely, pick the fresh pasta, and pick the sauce (Mike and I both usually get "pink" sauce - a combo of alfredo and the American version of marinara). The chef does it all up in front of you, nom at will.

Boards say that what Spirit offers is a three-sauce, three-pasta type deal, with the mix-ins, and I know I'm risking jinxing it by saying "how badly could they mess this up?", but this is exciting news, especially if it's available around the clock like the pizza. Not that there isn't plenty of other food, but by the third day, variety gets a little slim at times for vegetarians when not in the main dining room.

Saying om-PEER. So, the restaurant aboard Spirit (you're forgiving me for not italicizing the ship names, right?) is called "Empire," but apparently is pronounced the French way because it was named for a style of architecture. I learned about this on someone's excellent trip report. But don't look, because the photos are wonderful and drooling can lead to chapped lips.

Releasing baby sea turtles. I hear this can be highly underwhelming. I also hear it can change your life. Having nothing better to do (one cannot slurp pasta all day) while on vacation, we have decided to risk enjoying a life-changing experience.

All along the coast, people are looking out for the sea turtles. Some are looking out for their well-being and trying to improve the 1-in-100 survival rate, and others are looking out for the eggs, hoping to sell them for top-pesos to men who are insecure about their own virility. For those who wish to join the former camp, there are several locations (hotels, sanctuaries) that gather the eggs and later release the turtles to the sea at sunset, when predatory birds are less likely to gobble them. (If the turtles survive, they will come back in five years to mate. Aww. And yet, I'm so glad this instinct isn't found in humans. The sisters at the hospital where I was born might find their patience tried.)

On our cruise, we have three options if we want to participate in a sea turtle release: 1. Arrange transportation to a hotel down the coast that is doing it on a day we're in port. 2. Arrange transportation to a sea turtle sanctuary - I hear the one near Manzanillo is excellent. 3. Take the "Birds, Turtles, and City" tour in Acapulco for a higher cost, albeit for more sightseeing.

If I were of braver stock, I would go for Option #2. It would take less time than a tour, leaving us more time to explore the Fort in Acapulco. The cruise boards are full of good advice on how to get great deals from reputable tour and taxi operators in port.

But Option #2 is never going to happen with us. (I still can't believe we simply hopped on a tour bus in Ensenada with nothing but a general sense of trust because other cruisemates were doing it. Such newbs.) The boards are also filled with "almost didn't make it back to port in time" horror stories. True, those stories are the minority of cruising tales, but the thought of literally missing the boat because we wanted to save thirty bucks (it's just the two of us, after all) makes my breath hitch. If you take your tour with the cruise line, they will wait for you if your (air-conditioned, bathroomed) tour bus throws a shoe on a jungle backroad. Sold.

Extended balcony. Feh, it was only 10 bucks more. Not even kidding. So, we look down at the lifeboats instead of the sea when standing at the rail, but we'll never notice when sitting in the chairs with 50% more balcony for legroom. (Or at least that's my hope.)

Volcanoes! The city of Colima has its own diorama of snow miser (Nevado de Colima) and heat miser (Fuego de Colima) in the form of two volcanoes, one inactive, one not. (Thank you, Wikipedia, for teaching me that the Greek roots "pyro" and "clast" make a word.) We won't be going up to the volcanoes themselves, but if we're lucky, it won't be too hazy to see them when visiting Colima and La Campana pyramid on our Manzanillo "Colonial Tour." (And if we're really lucky, maybe the active one will blow us some smoke rings.)

Having visited Chichen Itza and Uxmal, my hopes for the pyramids on this tour are scaled down considerably, but I think it will be interesting. As tour name suggests, we'll also visit a colonial village (Comala, 500 years old, not to be confused with the Copala of our last "colonial" tour) and see some museums and architecture in Colima. This tour makes zero mention of being made to spend an hour at Diamonds International, unlike last time, so we're already ahead of the game.

Free crap. But if we do end up in any tourist shopping area, I'm snagging every "come inside for a free bracelet/charm/earring/geegaw" deal they offer. Smiling, asking for the gift, and shamelessly leaving despite the following echoes of hard sells is worth a hundred bucks in assertiveness training.

Somehow it's 5 p.m. on a Sunday and I'm still thinking in the back of my mind about sorting out what I'll get up and make for breakfast "soon." Oops. Planning is just so tasty. More later!

08 March 2010 |






Carnival Elation (2009)
Carnival Splendor (2009)
Carnival Spirit (2010)
Carnival Spirit (2011)
Carnival Splendor (2011)
Norwegian Pearl to Alaska (2012)