Pittsburgh: Wednesday 25 March 2015

27 03 2015

I didn’t do much today, except relaxing and catching up with Char, wandering out to a local Rite Aid, having a light lunch (small soup and 1/2 sandwich) at Au Bon Pain at a downtown food court, and publishing some of my long-overdue blog posts and some photos! This evening there was a welcome reception for the freelance conference attendees upstairs at the Sharp Edge Bistro on Penn Ave, about 10 easy blocks from the hotel. We met a few people there. Everyone seems nice and welcoming, and Pittsburgh locals are equally nice and welcoming. Tomorrow the conference starts. I won’t post conference notes here — instead you can find them on my business website (http://cybertext.wordpress.com), though I may not add them for a few days. My flights back home to Australia begin again on Sunday, and this, I think my 23rd trip to the US, will be over.





Miami to Pittsburgh: Tuesday 24 March 2015

27 03 2015

My flight out of Miami was delayed 2.5 hours. I spent the time in the Admirals Club at MIA, arriving in Pittsburgh much later than expected. It’s about 45-minute cab ride to hotel downtown, and near the end you go through a tunnel that opens out to show the expanse of downtown Pittsburgh. A ‘wow!’ moment.

I met up with my great friend Char again – my room buddy for this conference, as she has been for many prior conferences. It was great to see her again (after three years). She’s looking terrific (she had a kidney transplant last June and this is her first foray back into travelling and conferences).

We went out to dinner with Alan and Nicky (two people we both know from past STC and WritersUA conferences) to a great downtown restaurant called ‘Meat and Potatoes’. Terrific food! Great company, lots of laughs.

34 oz rib eye steak (we did NOT have this dish -- I took the photo at another group's table)

34 oz rib eye steak (we did NOT have this dish — I took the photo at another group’s table)

'Pub' burger at Meat and Potatoes

‘Pub’ burger at Meat and Potatoes

After dinner they took us up to the top of Mt Washington (via the Duquesne Incline – an old funicular railway that I was glad I didn’t see in the daytime as it was very steep). The view from the top of Pittsburgh at night was just spectacular. Thanks Alan and Nicky!

Pittsburgh at night from Mt Washington. The red lights light the Duquesne Incline

Pittsburgh at night from Mt Washington. The red lights light the Duquesne Incline

More photos from Pittsburgh: https://www.flickr.com/photos/rhondamadeit/sets/72157651247017857/





Miami: Monday 23 March 2015

27 03 2015

We were up early this morning (as we have been every morning… even when we didn’t have to be) and on the road to the place where we were meeting the River of Grass representative for our Everglades airboat tour. Their advice was to do an earlier tour before the animals hide away from the airboats and/or it gets too hot for them to be out.

Bob was our very knowledgeable and competent driver who showed us some fantastic sights in the 90 exhilarating minutes we were on the airboat. We saw HEAPS of alligators and birds, and lots of various vegetation.

Wall to wall alligators

Wall to wall alligators

"Hello, breakfast!"

“Hello, breakfast!”This tour and the kayaking in the mangroves in Key West were the best nature-based highlights of this trip, and I would highly recommend both.

After the airboat tour, we drove further down Highway 41 to the Miccosukee Indian lands. We had a nice lunch at their restaurant (Indian tacos for me, and we split a Florida Orange Sunshine Cake), then wandered around in their gift shop where I saw some of their patchwork designs. The Miccosukee are part of the Seminole nation, thus many of their patchwork designs are what I would call ‘Seminole’ patterns.

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This evening we caught a cab to South Beach (which was much further than it looked on the map!), meeting the organiser (Marie, originally from Denmark) and the six others on the South Beach Culinary Tour.

Our first stop was Bolivar (on Washington Ave) to sample some Colombian cuisine (empanadas and a fish ceviche of some sort; the two vegetarians had suitable versions of these). By the way, Bolivar also does a very nice mojito!

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Next was Manolo, where we tasted Argentine-style churros filled with a caramel made from condensed milk. Yummy!

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At Larios on the Beach (Emilio Estevan’s restaurant on Ocean Drive), we were all taken with the clean and crisp interior design. There we were served a Cuban dish (can’t remember what it was called, but it translates as ‘old clothes’) of a slow-cooked beef mixture, with fried plantain strips. NOTE: All the dishes served were fairly small – the aim was to get a taste of the various cuisines available in South Beach.

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After looking at some different architectural styles along Ocean Drive, our next stop was The Tides, a classic Art Deco building that is now a luxury hotel. There we had a lovely delicate Moroccan-style chicken curry dish on a bed of Israeli couscous.

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Next we turned away a little from the beachfront (we never did see the actual beach!), and stopped at Blocks Pizza Deli to sample one of their vegetarian pocket pizzas (sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, VERY salty feta, basil, etc.) made with their own sourdough crust. The crust was delicious as would the pocket pizza have been had the feta not been so salty.

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Our last stop was Milani Gelateria, where we had Italian gelato. I had the vanilla and it was lovely. My only concern was that the server did not wear food handling gloves or something over his hair as he reached in and scooped the gelato.

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Overall, I think this walking tour gave us a good taste of the various cuisines in South Beach, which is what it intended to do. As an Australian, almost all these cuisines were unfamiliar to me, so I got quite a bit out of it, as well as some delicious-tasting food! The company—Miami Culinary Tours—has several tours, including one for Little Havana, which would also be interesting.

More photos from today: https://www.flickr.com/photos/rhondamadeit/sets/72157649382177033/





Oceania Riviera: Miami: Sunday 22 March 2015

26 03 2015

The cruise was all over by 9am today. We arrived in port just after 6am, had our final breakfast delivered by Jemeesh, and after disembarking in groups to better manage the process of clearing Customs, it was about 9am.

Downtown Miami from the ship, while waiting to disembark

Downtown Miami from the ship, while waiting to disembark

We caught the shuttle to the rental car depot, found the hotel after a few shaky starts (luckily it was Sunday morning in downtown Miami!!), and dropped off our luggage in the room. Then we drove down to Key Largo. The traffic was horrendous so we didn’t go any further down the keys.

We had a late lunch at Key Largo Conch House (pronounced here as ‘konk’, not ‘conCH’ as many other parts of the world—including Australia—pronounce it). I had a conch fritter to try, but the conch meat was cut up very finely and, with the curry flavours, I couldn’t really taste anything except something like a deep-fried samosa. We ended up splitting a vegetarian wrap and a spinach and feta salad with a strawberry vinaigrette dressing, so I’m not really sure why we bothered going to this place. The wrap and salad were excellent, but this restaurant specialised in conch, which Sue, who’s a vegetarian, couldn’t eat.

Conch fritter

Conch fritter

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Once we got back to the hotel in equally horrendous traffic as going down to Key Largo, I felt very woozy and dizzy and lay down for a while (I had ‘sea legs’). We were going to go to Little Havana for a bite to eat, but I didn’t feel right—the room kept moving in odd discombobulating ways.

I watched the Oceania Riviera sail away about 6:30pm from the hotel room’s windows (Sue was at the waterfront watching the ship leave).

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More photos from today:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/rhondamadeit/sets/72157651297104448/





Oceania Riviera: Key West: Saturday 21 March 2015

26 03 2015

We arrived at the Navy pier in Key West, Florida, so had to be shuttled from there to Mallory Square, downtown. Our first task was to find a taxi to get us to Kayak Kings for our mangrove maze kayaking adventure. Pete was our taxi driver and he took a bit of a shine to Sue. We hired him to come back and pick us up and to take us around the main sites of Key West once our kayaking was over. Which he did. More on that later…

The mangrove maze kayaking was just AMAZING. AJ (the owner of Kayak Kings) was our leader (there were only two of us under his guidance). We left the Cow Key Marina and skirted some mangroves close by that were the roosting location for heaps of pelicans. After going under a road bridge and along a canal with waterfront homes on one side and mangrove thickets on the other, we split our paddles in half and entered a tiny channel using a half paddle ‘canoe style’. Inside the mangroves was just unbelievably beautiful and so far away from the sounds of ANY civilization (except when planes went overhead). It was a jungle in there, but with well-defined water channels. There were lots of little creatures in the water – star fish, various corals, thousands of small cassiopeia jellyfish (which swim right side up, but live in the algae upside down!), some tiny fish and fish that were up to 6” long. We didn’t see any manatees, but what we did see was pretty amazing.

I thought I heard banjos...

I thought I heard banjos…

Cassiopeia jellyfish look like small flowers when they are upside down

Cassiopeia jellyfish look like small flowers when they are upside down

After we got back and changed into dry clothes and shoes, Pete turned up to take us around town and show/stop at the highlights – Southernmost Point, Hemingway’s house and the rare polydactyl cats (6-toed cats), Kermit’s for key lime pie (OMG!!), and the port area for the yachts.

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Polydactyl cat at Hemingway’s House

Then we walked some of Duval St and had lunch at The Lazy Gecko (excellent Cuban sandwiches – Sue’s vegetarian, so she asked for hers without meat and with extra cheese [cheddar] to complement the provolone). Duval St was PACKED with people, many of whom were likely on Spring Break.

Cuban sandwich

Cuban sandwich

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We had to be back on board the ship in time for a 4:45pm sail away (all ships docking at Key West have to leave port before sunset so that the locals and visitors can view the sunset unimpeded!)

Our last dinner on board was at Red Ginger, the specialty Asian restaurant. We sat with Bill and Miriam (ex UK and Australia and other places), and Ed and Lil (also veteran cruisers). My meal comprised rice paper vegetarian spring rolls, crispy skin chicken, and a mango tapioca with ginger biscuit. All delicious.

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More photos from today:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/rhondamadeit/sets/72157649372320374/





Oceania Riviera: At sea: Friday 20 March 2015

26 03 2015

We had strong winds last night (~35 mph), so the boat rocked a little more than previously. But as we’d had so much heat, humidity, sun, and wind yesterday, I slept like a baby.

It was a relaxing day at sea today, cruising from Belize City late yesterday afternoon, to somewhere west of Cuba (I could see it in the distance!) by mid-afternoon. We are due into Key West, Florida tomorrow morning, where we will be processed by US Customs and Border Protection on board. As I’m not a US citizen, I have to get processed separately from the others, but Reception has said there aren’t too many non-US citizens on board so hopefully it will be quick.

We had a late breakfast in the Terrace Café, then I had a culinary class (Asian cuisine from the Red Ginger restaurant on board) from 10 am to almost noon. According to reports, this is the only cruise ship line with a culinary center on board its various ships.

The chef who took the class was Noelle Barille. She demonstrated some basic knife skills, talked about various Asian ingredients and sauces, and showed us how to make five different dishes. We created three of those dishes (two were for demo purposes only, but we got to try them)—Pomelo Banh Trang Rolls (rice paper rolls made with grapefruit instead of pomelo), Watermelon and Duck Confit Salad, and Lobster Pad Thai. All dishes tasted great, but as I’m not a big fan of grapefruit, duck, or lobster, I’d probably substitute other ingredients for each. We also tasted Tom Kha Gai (chicken and coconut soup), Chilean Sea Bass in Miso Plum Sauce, and some sort of yummy lemongrass and something else ice cream.

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After the cooking class, we hung out by the pool for a while (me in the shade, Sue in the sun) until the sun crept over to me, and I went back to the stateroom to start packing away all the stuff I know I don’t intend using/wearing before I get to Miami or Pittsburgh.

Tonight dinner  was at Jacques, the Jacques Pepin specialty French restaurant on this ship. Mine was absolutely delicious — duck foie gras with black cherries, onion soup with gruyere cheese, which was so rich and unctuous I didn’t eat it all as I wouldn’t have had room for the main course, which was the house special that night–a filet with foie gras and a truffle sauce (I think!).

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Tomorrow we have to be admitted back into the US, then we will disembark to spend the day kayaking and cycling in Key West. All bags have to be packed and outside our rooms by 10:30 tomorrow night, so I’m glad I spent some time packing today—and sorting out what to wear for the various activities tomorrow!

More photos from today:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/rhondamadeit/sets/72157649381862263/





Oceania Riviera: Belize City, Belize: Thursday 19 March 2015

26 03 2015

We arrived in Belize this morning and anchored quite some distance from shore. The tenders took about 15 minutes to go each way into the port at Belize City, but from the moment we stepped on board there was a different—and much friendlier—vibe than in Honduras. Don’t get me wrong, the Honduras people we met were lovely, but the Belizeans have a great sense of fun. They also speak English as their main language (Belize was called British Honduras from the 1700s to about the 1970s), with Spanish the secondary language.

Our ship-organised shore excursion was to the Lamanai Mayan ruins via a boat ride on the New River. This was a 7-hour round trip, starting with an hour-long bus ride to the place where we got onto the boat for the hour-long ride along the river to the ruins (the return journey was the same).

It was a hot and humid day and expected to rain. Fortunately, we got no rain. And even more fortunately (for me anyway!), the bus was air-conditioned and the boat ride was mostly fast, so the wind blew away any hint of humidity. The tour guides were great, especially Dino who gave us a potted history of Belize for the first 20 minutes of the bus ride. Adrian, the other guide, was our nature guide for the boat ride, but we didn’t see a lot of animals, so there wasn’t a lot for him to do.

Some general facts and figures about Belize (summarised from what I remember of Dino’s talk):

  • approx 180 miles long and about 80 miles wide, with a total population of about 340,000 (7 sets of traffic lights in the entire country, with 4 sets working, one of which we went through twice!)
  • melting pot of colonisation and resulting cultures—first the Mayans, then the Spanish, then the British. In more recent times, the Chinese have made a name for themselves as the owners of the supermarkets, food shops, restaurants, etc. and there is quite an Asian population here. Mennonites and Amish settled here some time back after being hounded out of Mexico, and now provide most of the dairy products in the country.
  • main industry is tourism, employing about 20% of the population directly and indirectly; agriculture is next. Little mining, though some petroleum extraction industries.

Some of the animals we saw on the boat ride included these birds: white egrets, cormorants, jacana, kingfishers, osprey, and lesser nighthawk; and these mammals and reptiles: howler monkeys (not howling, thank goodness!), one crocodile, and two iguanas at the place where we caught and disembarked the boat.

The river has many many tributaries and diversions and deviations, but our boat captain was absolutely terrific and was able to negotiate his way through with ease and without the use of any navigational device other than his brain. (To show the global nature of world markets, the boat captain was wearing Billabong board shorts, an Australian brand!) The river is surrounded by thick vegetation, and many plants have epiphytes (‘air plants’) attached to them. And along the way, there’s a settlement of Amish whose farms we saw and some of whom we saw fishing in the river on the return journey.

We got to the ruins about noonish, and it was SOOOO hot and humid…. I discovered sweat glands in places where I never knew there were sweat glands. By the time we got to the first ruin (a couple of minutes easy walk), I was soaked with perspiration and feeling very heat stressed. This was the Jungle Temple and those feeling energetic could climb it. Not me! I was happy to keep my feet on terra firma and let others climb the steep stone staircases to the top! (no hand rails!!).

After another short walk through the incredibly lush vegetation on each side of the walking path (I would have appreciated it much more had I not been dying of heat and humidity!),we came to the Ball Court and the High Temple behind it. Again, those without a fear of heights and a game stomach and who weren’t dying in the humidity could climb it via a staircase at the side. The rest of the group remained behind on the benches!

The final stop was the Mask Temple, which you couldn’t climb. And then it was a 15-minute walk on the neat, clean and tidy walking paths back to the boat for the ride back to the drop-off place for a late (2pm) lunch (chicken with rice and beans cooked in coconut milk—really lovely).

Many people slept on the bus ride back into town—not me; I was more interested in what was going on in the slice of life I saw outside the bus windows.

After a quick stop at the duty free area at the port, it was back on the tender for the return trip to the ship.

Dinner tonight was at the Terrace Café . We were so tired we went to bed pretty much straight after (well, after I had processed my photos for the day and written this blog post that will be published after we return).

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Snake plant

Snake plant

Skechers Go Walk shoes (mesh). BEST. WALKING. SHOES. EVER.

Skechers Go Walk shoes (mesh). BEST. WALKING. SHOES. EVER.

Jaguar Temple

Jaguar Temple

High Temple

High Temple

Mask Temple

Mask Temple

More photos from today:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/rhondamadeit/sets/72157651698841771/





Oceania Riviera: Trujillo, Honduras: Wednesday 18 March 2015

26 03 2015

Overnight we cruised from Cozumel to Trujillo, Honduras, arriving there around 10am. The wind was up a bit, so there was some gentle rocking and rolling overnight, but nothing to be concerned about—sufficient to gently rock you to sleep.

We anchored offshore at Trujillo. This place has only been hosting cruise ships for the past six months (since October 2014), so there’s no pier for ships to dock at, and not a lot of tourist infrastructure beyond the port. We were tendered to shore on our lifeboats, and then, as we were on a ship-based shore excursion, we were directed to our tour bus for our trip to Campo del Mar Nature Park, which has only been open a few months too. The bus ride was over some very basic roads.

At the nature park (which is very well manicured), we went on a 2+ hour guided walking tour of the main tropical food plants (jackfruit, cashews, mangos, papaya, bananas and plantains, pineapple, and many more) and the ‘sort of’ botanic gardens. After that, we saw the cages where they keep some rescued animals and birds. Our guide was at pains to emphasise that these cages were NOT a zoo, but were only a place to keep rescued animals until they could be released into the wild (if that was possible—some animals were rescued from private situations and would never survive in the wild). They had some different varieties of monkeys (white-faced capuchins, howlers, and spider monkeys), some other mammals (coati, 2-toed sloths [unable to be seen]), and some tropical parrots, including the scarlet macaws that are native to Honduras and are the country’s bird. The macaws, especially, were just beautiful. Almost none of the plants were currently in season, and some of the newer and smaller plants were looking a bit straggly. Our guide was very informative and spoke very good English. The headsets he gave us to use to listen to him speak were brilliant as we could wander off a bit and still hear every word he said to the group. They sure saved him shouting, and/or gathering together 50 or so people to listen at once.

After we were dropped back at the pier, many people went back to the ship, but we stayed and grabbed a taxi to take us to the central market square. Well, that was an exercise in communication. Fortunately, Sue speaks a little Spanish, and the driver spoke a little English, so we were able to communicate to a degree. We saw plenty of the back streets, and went past the market three times before he stopped and we got out to check out the wares of the local artisans. I never felt in any danger, but I was concerned that we seemed to be going around in circles because of the communication issues.

The back streets of the town showed how ill-prepared the town is for cruise ship tourism. Roads are in a bad state of disrepair (big holes in the middle of some roads; chassis-twisting lumps and bumps in many others; detours; etc.), and there are few paved roads in this town of some 50,000 people. Electricity supplies look very basic, and there are few hotels and restaurants. Taxis are plentiful near the port, but the state of the vehicles leaves a lot to be desired. English—the language of much tourism—is not spoken by many people. In many ways this is a third-world country trying hard to make a go of it with cruise ship passenger dollars.

No doubt the nature of this town will change dramatically over the next 12 months or so with the influx of tourism. This sort of change is a double-edged sword—those in the tourism industry will prosper, while those outside it will battle to make minimum wage (currently about US$60 a week, with the average wage about US$100 per week, according to our guide). Hotels and restaurants will pop up, bringing with them western values and goods and services. Homes along narrow roads may well be resumed to make way for wider, 2-lane paved roads, with subsequent displacement of those who live in those homes. The infrastructure will try to keep up with the demands made on it (roads, water supply, waste disposal, electricity, telecommunications, etc.), and likely have problems doing so. People who have livestock (we saw pigs, goats, sheep, horses, and cattle) roaming in their yards may well be asked to keep the livestock away from the front of the house if it is on a tourist route.

And after all this money is spent on infrastructure, if the cruise ships decide not to come here any more, it will all be for nothing. Trujillo is not on the main tourist map. According to our guide, it’s three hours to the nearest airport that services other parts of the Caribbean and eight hours to the nearest airport that takes people to international destinations. (I assume those times are based on how long it takes to drive, and, based on our experience of the local roads, a short journey by western standards [e.g. 30 minutes] may well take three hours in this part of Honduras.)

I was cognisant that just being tourists here, gawking into people’s homes and yards from the air-conditioned comfort of a tour bus and waving at the children waving to us, we are contributing to the problem—and possibly the solution too. Every tourist dollar spent in the local community hopefully goes back into that community and ultimately does good for the people who live there. But I’m not so naïve to think that that is the case, or will always be the case even if it is now.

Back to the cruise…

Once back on board ship, we relaxed for a bit, had our afternoon canapes on the balcony of our stateroom while watching the Trujillo town start to light up for the evening, then had dinner for the first time in the Grand Dining Room. And very grand it is too! Full-on service and superb food (the sweet barbecued pork chop I had was the second best pork chop I’ve ever had in my life!). The surroundings were opulent and sumptuous, as was the food. Just brilliant.

We had no room for dessert!

We reset the clocks again tonight (this is the third clock reset we’ve had in as many days, with another one to come at least—some places are on daylight saving time and some aren’t, and there’s at least one time zone change between the places we’re visiting.

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This is a ‘candy’ mango tree — it’s MASSIVE!

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The Oceania Riviera, a 1250-person (max.) cruise ship

The Oceania Riviera, a 1250-person (max.) cruise ship

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More photos from today:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/rhondamadeit/sets/72157651698032381/





Oceania Riviera: Cozumel, Mexico: Tuesday 17 March 2015

26 03 2015

Before dawn, we spotted several other cruise ships nearby, all heading for Cozumel. Eventually, there were six in port for the day.

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After seeing the dawn break over the ocean, breakfast was served in our room by Jemeesh at 6:30am. We were due to arrive in Cozumel at 8:00am, anchor for the day, departing at 5:00pm.

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We were right on time, and those departing the ship met in the Riviera Lounge to get our tickets for the tenders. It all went very smoothly, and we grabbed a cab once we were onshore to take us to Nachi Cocom, a private beach resort some 20 km south of Cozumel.

Supposedly Nachi Cocom only takes 100 guests, but just after 9am, I did a quick head count of just those on the beach under the palapas (thatched shade structures) and in the water and there were already more than 60 people (they open at 9am and it’s not a hotel, so no-one can stay there overnight). More came over the next hour or so, so I think they lied about the ‘maximum 100 guests’. The US$55 rate is an all-inclusive rate, except it’s not. It includes all drinks (including alcoholic drinks) and food, use of the pool, beach palapas, and lounges, but not the water activities or the mats you can put on a sun lounge to protect your butt (US$7 per mat per day). We had no intention of drinking much or any alcohol, so that part was a bit wasted on us – not so on other guests, many of whom were well and truly getting into the booze in the hot sun at 9am…

When our lunch came (we ordered off a menu), it was a MASSIVE amount of food. And it all came at once, so we got everything we ordered served on one tray. The food was good, and the salsa was exceptional. However, the cheese enchiladas Sue ordered were actually chicken, so she couldn’t eat them.

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Our waiter, Carlos, was serving too many people so we got missed for drinks (fruit juice and bottled water) several times, and our food remnants weren’t picked up as they were for others. If you were into drinking alcohol and eating LOTS of food, this place would be good value. While the location was perfect, I felt the lack of service and the possible exceedance of the 100-person limit detracted from the day.

The palapa we were under offered plenty of shade for this pale body.

As far as the beach goes, it was very clean, as was the crystal clear water—a picture-postcard perfect Caribbean beach.

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On our return to the ship, we were served our afternoon canapes as we were leaving port (5pm), and then had dinner with two other ladies in Toscana, the specialty Italian restaurant. The food was excellent and the service was amazing. Similarly to the Polo Grill, Toscana offered a quintet selection of their desserts, which was a great way to have a taste of various delicious dessert offerings.

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The ship was less smooth this evening – a small amount of rocking and rolling, but you get used to it. It’s very gentle for rocking you to sleep at night 😉

More photos from today:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/rhondamadeit/sets/72157651710870545/





Oceania Riviera: Miami to somewhere near Cuba: Sunday and Monday 15 and 16 March 2015

25 03 2015

After we’d had some lunch at the Terrace Café (the buffet restaurant), we were allowed into our staterooms some two hours after boarding. And what a stateroom it was!!! A full 424 square feet of space, including a large balcony, and massive walk-in-wardrobe, a living area, and HEAPS of storage space, which only revealed itself as we opened more doors and drawers.



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We departed Miami about 30 minutes later than the scheduled time, I expect because of a lack of tug boats. There was a big container ship coming into port and two tugs were pushing it into its berth. When they’d nearly finished, one of the tugs beetled over to our ship and helped us move out. And we were off by 6:30pm.

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We had dinner reservations for the first night at the Polo Grill (steakhouse). We had opted for shared seating, so we had others at our table. Of the seven meant to be there, only two had turned up on time, so we had our meal with them (Alan and Betsy from Worcester, Mass.). The service and food was impeccable, as I’d been told when this ship was recommended to us.

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After a very comfy night’s sleep (little noise and vibration from the ship and no swell to speak of), we awoke to a free day at sea. Much of it was spent exploring the ship, checking out things, relaxing on the balcony, relaxing on the spa deck, etc. Somewhere in there was a culinary demonstration by two of the head chefs, who introduced all the other head chefs on board. Of the 800 staff on board, 200 are involved in food preparation – 160 chefs (of various levels, descriptions, and specialties), and 40 helpers.

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We had lunch at the Terrace Café and sat out on the deck at the stern of the ship to enjoy it.

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Late in the afternoon, canapes were served in our room by our butler, Jemeesh.

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I did some sketching on the balcony in the balmy late afternoon (we passed several freighters), and watched the sun go down over the ocean.

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Dinner that night was also in the Terrace Café, and it was MUCH quieter than the lunch. Again, the food and service was impeccable.

More photos from these two days: