Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Impressions of the Norwegian Spirit

The Norwegian Cruise experience was better than we expected, and very new since we have not been on any cruise in 15 years, and never with NCL.

The cruise map is roughly this:

From At Sea Oink

The cabins are small, but not really a problem compared with the space available in Morty. The cabin staff was efficient and unobtrusive -- everything you ever hoped for. Each cabin has only one 110 volt outlet with another on the hairdryer in the bathroom. Some form of power splitter would be very useful.

The waiters are trained to move with military precision through every activity in the dining room. Take for example how the table is cleared, and a new white table cloth positioned and the places reset. No matter who is doing it, every action is a precisely choreographed dance step. The table cloth itself is always perfectly centered on the table.

The female wait staff are far better than their male counterparts. If your waiter is male the chance for poor service is about 30%. If female it drops to about 10%. There is a great advantage in identifying a good waiter, and then asking to be seated in his or her station at subsequent meals [e.g. Kimberly in the Garden].

The food is very good. If you prefer fish, there is a robust selection over the week, and no disappointments. Beef and lamb lovers also do extremely well.

The fitness center is better than on any cruise ship I have experienced. The aerobic and weight machines are all Precor, and in excellent condition. The AquaSwim pools are too great a challenge for most fitness enthusiasts, but I found them a lot better than I expected.

Hand sanitizing stations are placed every 50 or 100 feet in the ships public areas. Plus there are dedicated Washee-Washee attendants at each entry to the ship from the dock as well at each entry to the dining rooms. Probably a smart tactic to keeping down the threat of contact-born diseases.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Flying Back to Columbus

We were a little frustrated that the ship didn't allow us ashore in time to try for the 9:30 flight direct to Columbus, even though we seemed to be waiting for nothing from 8 AM to 9. At least we did better than the cruise line would allow by making a 12 noon flight with hours to spare. The recommendation was no flight earlier than 1 PM which would have had us arriving after dark.

The first leg from Boston to JFK in New York had almost nothing worth photographing except for the miserable cattle chutes that JFK uses to herd passengers on its commuter flights. I remember too well when a flight from Ohio to the East Coast merited a full-fledged airliner. The commuter flying experience that is today's reality really does nothing to make me want to repeat the experience soon.

The leg from JFK to Columbus did have some photo opportunites, so that is what is included here:

Friday, October 08, 2010

Portland, Maine

We are nearing the end of this trip in which the role of Morty has been played by the Norwegian Spirit cruise ship. Our cabin was about the same size as Morty's space with the kitchen and dining areas being replaced by the desk and easy chair. Also the shower was plenty large enough to be useful -- even though some say you need to soap up the walls and then enter and spin around.

Friday we make our last port of call, Portland, Maine. While we take our breakfast out on deck, I notice a few individuals, avidly engaged in cell-phone conversations. Ah, yes! We are back in the good ol’ US of A and thus have cellular data available, instead of ship’s WiFi that costs $.50 per minute! Wow, it hits me that we really need some cellular data plan if we are going to take Morty north of the border.

So, for the first time in many days, I have the luxury of being able to spend all the time I need on my option trades, and of course, since there is no sense of rushing, everything works like a charm.

After my workout and a leisurely lunch in the Windows Restaurant, we spend an hour or so strolling around the art galleries of the Portland harbor area. We even stumble across Stonewall Kitchens, from which we have received Christmas gift baskets in the past. So this evening we are headed back to Boston to mark the conclusion of two weeks, and too many calories. Now I plan to head up to the Internet Lounge and upload the last of these blog entries and pictures.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

At Sea for Halifax Revisited

Wednesday has us at sea, headed back to Halifax, Nova Scotia. As we rise, the sky is clear and the day fairly warm. Lots of folks are already claiming deck chairs, even though they remain fully clothed as they bask in the Sun's rays.

Around noon, the clouds begin to slowly thicken. Soon, they begin to blend into the flat but slowly rolling sea. The engines' sound seems to move off into the distance, and we enter a mystical state of floating and gliding through the atmosphere.

One of the more unusual aspects of our cruising experience is how we can experience many moments as though we are the only ones here. The rest of the 3,000 passengers and crew easily pass into the deep background as we are left alone on deck to enjoy the moving experience of passing sea and sky. Or maybe even the sensation of motion ceases and again we are floating quietly in the space of sky and sea.

Mind-altering without chemicals. Is this the real cruise experience? For us it is.

In port, we are again in the commercial and bulk dockage area. We watched the latter arriving Royal Caribbean and Princess ships take the passenger docks while we labored long and hard, with the help of a tug, to back into our spot.

As inconvenient as that is, worse is the strain that three large ships place on the Halifax transportation. The free bus that loops through the downtown and the port is packed to the gills, and still would-be passengers wait on line.

Yet another gripe, our sailing time was moved up an hour at the last minute, probably due to the fact that the entire ship must clear customs tomorrow morning, on arrival in Portland, Maine.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island

Yesterday, we sailed early and planned a late arrival today, meaning an extra long leg today. As we set sail yesterday we were headed East and watched the Sun set in a perfectly clear sky but there was no green flash. The green flash has some scientific basis but it sure makes for a great legend. During the night we curved South and West and we rose this morning to see the sun rising off the stern, just about where we watched it set last night.

Today we are visiting the capital of Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown. This is perfectly lovely little hamlet situated right on the harbor. Amazingly the Spirit has the choice dockage today, with a competitor who is yet to be identified tendering in its passengers right along side us. We stroll the town and observe some awesome artists in the many local galleries. We also do a bit of shopping in the local drug store. As we sit in the welcome hall, with ample WiFi, we are entertained by a group of young girl step dancers, close to the Irish variety, but with a distinctive flair all their own.

NCL Latitude Club

Now that we have technically experienced one NCL cruise, we are members of the Latitudes, and are eligible for the captain’s cocktail party. This is an experience of the utmost. We received a couple of cocktails and tiny sandwiches while the captain allowed his direct reports to introduce themselves. There were some nice door prizes for the lucky few winners.

This was the night for lobster and beef Wellington at dinner, and we enjoyed them both reprising our eating performance of last Monday. Except that tonight our waiter offered me as many supplemental lobster tails as I might want. I thought I might enjoy a second, but somehow it seemed not nearly as good as the regular one. Sometimes we learn only with great difficulty.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Sept Iles, Quebec

Monday has us enjoying the small town of Sept Iles, Quebec where we walk the boardwalk and enjoy the perfect autumn day. The locals thank us for bringing the Sun since they have had several days of solid rain and fog. For us, the temperature is only in the 50s, but there is autumnal color in the trees, and we are having a great time.

We have an early sailing though and have to be back on board by 2:30. We are using the welcome committee's free wireless to catch up on our uploading while a very talented acordianist plays some super arcadian polkas -- really getting the dancers out of all of us.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Sanguenay Fjord

On Sunday we sail the Sanguenay Fjord. The cruise director promised the possibility of seeing the white beluga whales at the entrance around 7 AM and sure enough, the captain saw them on starboard. Lots of us were standing and shivering for an hour or more to see them, and the best we could come up with was one little old lady who saw three of them in the distance but could not get a photo. As far as I could determine, the best the rest of us could do was squinting at the white caps and foam trying to imagine how similar are the beluga.

The villages along the fjord seem improbably tiny -- hardly any evidence of roads or other infrastructure other than high-tension cross-country electrical lines. Yet, mid-morning the ship slows and puts a tender in the water to make a medical evacuation to one of those tiny towns. We are just hoping that that represents a medical improvement – with the horror stories of Canadian health care and all. It is truly amazing how many of our cruises have had a medical evacuation or unscheduled stop in the first 24 hours of a cruise. We are so accustomed to having trip insurance to facilitate making a no-go decision in such circumstances, that we wonder what influences so many people to make the decision to go with serious health issues.

A little before lunch we stop at the large statue of the Virgin Mary as the ships sound system play several renditions of Ave Maria. They put a tender in the water with the official photographers to capture the magic of the moment – big ship meets big statue.

Another beautiful day, with a magnificent sunset as we turn eastward back into the St Lawrence. A stark contrast from Fridays trip West through these same waters when we were ensconced in fog the whole day.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Quebec City

After a day of complete fog and rain cruising up the St. Lawrence Saturday dawns in Quebec, crisp and clear. Sure enough, the trees are predominately resplendent in fall plumage. We reconnoiter from the top deck, and decide our explorations will take us in search of the funicular up to Chateau Frontenac.

There is a shuttle service from the ship to the lower part of the old city. On the ride we go past ships including the Costa Atlantica and Ardrana which are docked much cleser to town. NCL does an adequate fob of providing shuttle service – heaven knows they need it since every port except Cornerbrook has had lesser docking position compared to all the other ships in port. Of course that could include Cornerbrook since we were the only ship there.

Quebec is abuzz with fan support and an outdoor rock concert in support of the Nordiques hockey team. Vibrancy without bound.

NCL Spirit aka Superstar Leo

The Thursday late evening buffet features all things chocolate and whatever goes with chocolate. After a warm greeting from our adopted head waiter Kimberly, we sample a few favorites.

At sea on Friday, we are traveling northwest toward the St. Lawrence but we spend most on the day in rain, fog and cold. As you would expect, the indoor public areas and restaurants are chock a lock with passengers seeking diversions – quite a contrast from all the other days in port when the ship seemed ghostly.

The cruise ends tomorrow for some passengers, but we will re-board the ship after exploring Quebec.

This ship began life as the Superstar Leo and called at ports in India and Asia. The murals in our cabins still have that name on the life preserver in the view of a Fiji beach from the ship. Many of the plaques and photos from its early life are still in the Captain’s Bridge room from which passengers can watch the activity or more correctly lack of same on the bridge.

Friday, October 01, 2010

At [Chocolate] Sea

The Thursday late evening buffet features all things chocolate and whatever goes with chocolate. After a warm greeting from our adopted head waiter Kimberly, we sample a few favorites.

At sea on Friday, we are traveling northwest toward the St. Lawrence but we spend most on the day in rain, fog and cold. As you would expect, the indoor public areas and restaurants are chock a lock with passengers seeking diversions – quite a contrast from all the other days in port when the ship seemed ghostly.