Sunday, March 29, 2009

Birch Bay Beachcombing

No sand dollars today but we found a few little treasures at the beach a couple of blocks from our house. We'll be back another day with Jake and Taegan, and we hope with our other grandkids as well.
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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Caveat Emptor!

Let The Buyer Beware. Yes, the Romans got that one right.

We did some research because of an anonymous comment, probably automated, to our earlier post about the Cruise Critic gathering on the Regatta cruise.

It seems RCCL marketing contacted Cruise Critic, obtained from them the contacts of "enthusiastic" RCCL cruisers" and offered some of them "pre-inaugural cruises" "so that they can provide their independent opinions in the online spaces they are participating in..." This story was brought to light by a columnist for MSNBC earlier in March.

We frequently consult CC and recommend it to others. At the least, it's a reminder to always consider the source, as this CC thread comment from the RCCL associate vice-president of marketing reveals:

We engaged a company called Nielsen Buzz Metrics to go out and, using a general profile (with criteria that, as already noted, included being passionate about cruising in general), but that also included experienced Royal Caribbean travelers, and, in general, people who were helpful in sharing online their experiences, insights and advice with fellow passengers. Nielsen Buzz Metrics came back with a list. The list was not limited to Cruise Critic by any stretch; it included folks who post frequently in other communities and who write blogs. We didn’t pick Cruise Critic -- the data showed us where to go. Other sites included TripAdvisor and various Usenet boards.

What we did then with the various communities was, in respect for peoples’ privacy, ask community managers if they’d mind asking the posters and bloggers that were discovered by Nielsen Buzz Metrics if we could contact them.

In summary, if you read to the end of the heated and now-locked thread, RCCL's statement reads in part:

Royal Champions are a small group of passionate travel enthusiasts and prolific individuals, who were identified by an independent third party on behalf of Royal Caribbean International, as frequently engaging in online discussions and sharing information about cruising on the internet. With the proliferation of online social networks, blogs and discussion boards on the internet – many of which serve as forums where vacationers visit consistently in search for travel information and advice – Royal Caribbean decided to engage these enthusiasts knowing that they would be a valuable source of information for our current and prospective customers. Thus in early 2007, in keeping with our legacy of innovation, we initiated a program in which the Royal Champions were invited to learn more about our brand, our ships and our amenities.

We have provided the Royal Champions with the opportunity to experience our product during pre-inaugural sailings so that they can provide their independent opinions in the online spaces they are participating in.

The Cruise Critic official statement reads, in part:

At this time, we have decided that it is not in Cruise Critic’s best interest going forward to contact members on behalf of Royal Caribbean or any other cruise line.

Maybe CC has learned their lesson here. In the meantime, it's still Caveat Emptor! N.B. As Fredd, we've posted this also in the FlyerTalk Cruise Forum as a public service.

Friday, March 27, 2009

La Triviata and the (un)Lucky 8

The Lucky 8 Pictured Left to Right in Regatta Lounge: Brian,Kathy,Bud,Jessie,Elizabeth,Earl,Naomi,Stanley

It seems like a long time since we posted this about our upcoming cruise. Along with dining well and striving to bridge the gaps in our bridge knowledge on our Regatta Transatlantic cruise, we enjoyed Team Trivia nearly every afternoon, hosted by our genial cruise director, David Shermet.

The Lucky 8 (Naomi's suggestion) finished in a respectable third place two or three times early on, and remained fairly competitive until the last few days before the roof fell in. Even David, like a sympathetic teacher, quietly returned our final 9/21 score to us privately rather than posting it publicly!

We learned (and promptly forgot) many new obscure facts, but the best part was enjoying each others' company and having fun in our trivial pursuits for an hour every afternoon.

And besides, where else could you learn that the country with the lowest birthrate is the Vatican, or that spermology is the study of trivia?

Touring The Alhambra Part 2

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Tubing at Heathrow Airport

No, Heathrow hasn't opened a waterslide. We just noticed that we've traversed a lot of tubing to arrive here at our Star Alliance Lounge. The first walk was several hundred meters in the tube connecting the Hilton to the terminal. We then made our way down in the elevator and walked along another tube to the Heathrow Express and rode to the stop for terminals 1, 2, and 3.

We then tubed another 300 meters to terminal 1. In a few minutes we're going to board another tube and spend today flying LHR-ORD-PDX-SEA. That would be London Heathrow to Chicago O'Hare to Portland to Seattle. A long day but a lot more miles in the bank - and we actually enjoyed our walk.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Touring The Alhambra Part 1

The Alhambra

The Alhambra of Granada

According to Wikipedia, The Alhambra (from Arabic الْحَمْرَاء = Al-Ħamrā', literally "the red one"; the complete name was الْقَلْعَةُ ٱلْحَمْرَاءُ = al-Qal'at al-Ħamrā' = "the red fortress") is a palace and fortress complex of the Moorish rulers of Granada in southern Spain (known as Al-Andalus when the fortress was constructed during the mid 14th century), occupying a hilly terrace on the southeastern border of the city of Granada.

Here are some views of the Alhambra taken from the next hill. The taxi trips up and down the hill to get to this vantage point were as exciting as a carnival ride.


Our third and final port on this cruise: Malaga. We joined a private tour arranged by Mura, a fellow Cruise Critic contributor. The tour took us to Grenada, about a two-hour drive inland, to see the Alhambra . An air-conditioned bus, a pleasant British expatriate tour guide, a stop for a beer and some people-watching including two weddings and a christening.

Al-Dar-Al-Beydha, or as we say in (heh) English - Casablanca

It was a French protectorate until the 1950s, so it's probably not surprising to see a lot of French-Arabic signs, and to find out that French is still the second language in the schools. Humphrey Bogart's Hollywood back-lot version of Casablanca was fairly flattering, but our little group enjoyed a half-day tour with the added excitement of trying to cross streets without getting run down.

Fine Dining

From tea-time in Horizons to whole Maine Lobster in the Polo specialty restaurant, Oceania offers wonderful dining experiences, and our waistlines confirm that.

Fun at Funchal

It was great to stand on solid ground after a mainly bumpy 8-9 sea days. We decided to take it easy and ride the gondola up Mount Funchal before walking down. Unfortunately, people on top snickered at us when we asked directions to the path down, and then it started to rain, so we rode the gondola back down and enjoyed the view both ways.

Cruise Critic Crawl

Even through bumpy weather and our other activities, we enjoyed the opportunity one evening for a get-together with fellow contributors to Cruise Critic. We subsequently took a couple of private tours arranged by other Cruise Critic posters.

Bon Voyage

As we sailed out of Miami, even the dolphins waved good-bye. We enjoyed the view from our balcony right at the aft of the ship on Deck 6 and renewed acquaintances with our fellow beginning-bridge-fanatics from Toronto, Bud and Jessie.

Journey to Iberia on Regatta

To paraphrase Confucius, our 4000-nautical-journey from Miami to Barcelona began at the Seattle Airport (SEA) with a ride on the subway to the N Terminal, a quick visit to the UA RCC (Red Carpet Club) for a shot of coffee at 5:00 a.m., and a ride up the escalator to our flights SEA-ORD-IAD-MIA.

Hop to The Heathrow Hilton

We disembarked this morning in Barcelona and took a taxi to the airport. We'd spent a few dollars to check in for our BA flight in the Regatta's Internet Cafe yesterday and it paid off with seats 6D and 6F right behind First Class in a 757.

Interesting idea BA has. They fed us a sandwich and a small candy bar on the two-hour-plus flight, a novel experience for those of us who fly domestic on United Airlines. Half of the sandwich was a ham sandwich and half was a tuna sandwich. Okay, it was two half-sandwiches to be precise. The tuna lovers are happy, the ham lovers are happy, and the casual vegetarians can place the ham in the seat pocket and also be happy. As for us, after 14 days of cruise dining, yes, we ate it all.

We landed just a little late and by the time we walked through that strangely long tube from Terminal 4 to the Hilton it was 3:30 p.m. or so. We may get around to posting some pictures from our cruise here fairly soon, or it may be a couple of days. Check this space for future developments.

In summary, it was a terrific cruise and we're already looking forward to the next one. We're also looking forward to seeing our grandchildren back on the other side of the Big Pond.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

We're on bus to Regatta after touring the Alhambra in Grenada. Sultans knew how to live.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Finally Funchal!

Here we are in an Internet cafe in Funchal on the island of Madeira, wading through 250 emails each. As our cryptic text messages indicate, we were heading the same direction as a low pressure system from about one day out of Miami up until yesterday, and we could not really outrun it. Still, our seasick medication kept us happy and not missing a meal.

We have spent several hours daily learning beginning bridge and practicing with Bud and Jessie, our Toronto friends. We have stayed around for the intermediate classes and sometimes we gain glimmers of understanding here and there. Whether or not we proceed further with bridge, it has been a lot of fun and excellent mental exercise.

What a nice group of people aboard Regatta. The kinds of folks who sign up for Transatlantic cruises obviously enjoy the shipboard experience and we have had a lot of fun.We enjoyed our "Cruise Critic" get together and will be taking privately organized tours in Morocco and Spain with a number of them.

Another sea day tomorrow, stops at Casablanca and then Malaga before docking in Barcelona, and we then fly home after an overnight in London, straight to a few days of vegetable soup and long walks!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

3100 nautical miles from Miami, 270 to Funchal. Calm day, terra firma tomorrow!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Finally! Sea is calm again day 8 and sun shining-hurray!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Even rockier day 7 but having fun and dining well.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Still going same way as low pressure-rocky and we hope tomorrow is better.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Still bumpy day 5 but we may outrun low pressure by tomorrow. Lots of bridge, great food!

Monday, March 9, 2009


We're packing in our Miami hotel room and will soon board Regatta to begin our Transatlantic cruise. The only blogging we'll be doing in the next two weeks will be short text messages - yes, we tested it out and we can do it! - if we come within range of a cellular tower in Morocco or Portugal or Spain.

If the writing looks more garbled than usual, that's why.

Bon voyage to us!

*Text message language for "See you later - thanks in advance

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Please don't pass the pepper

Up in Chilliwack B.C. to have some fun with Jake and Taegan while their parents have a rare night off. Great fun watching the kids in their Saturday-morning YMCA activities.

We'll be leaving here mid-afternoon, dropping off at Birch Bay to pick our cruise luggage, stop the mail, and water the plants before driving to Seattle and checking in at our airport hotel after dropping off birthday presents in Issaquah for Lily and Peyton.

We just realized that tomorrow is the start of Daylight Savings Time - ugh, we'll be getting up at 3:00 a.m. to catch that flight. Oh well...

Now that Brian has his shiny new passport, we'll be sure not to act like retired school teachers and demand of the border authorities that they preface any requests with "please," lest we end up, er, delayed, like this fellow.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Face to Face?

We both just signed up for Facebook. We usually manage to position ourselves well behind the curve and our embrace of Facebook probably indicates the cool people are about to abandon it for Twitter. We're just getting around to watching Seinfeld in reruns, after all.

Our timing is also off since we're flying to our Transatlantic cruise at the end of the week, just after we jam in a visit with the grandkids in B.C., and we'll be heave-hoing on the Atlantic (hopefully without too much heaving) for close to two weeks without touching land or Internet.

People will be writing on our Facebook Wall and sending us cute personal messages and wondering what happened to us. All this high-tech stuff can be not only demanding but fatiguing in its own way, can't it?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

And Now for Some Unobscured Pictures of Cairo

Here’s “Us” at ------ Ugh!

One of our children, Kim, mentioned that she liked the picture we’ve recently placed at the top of the blog. Hmmm…

We had to scour our modest collection of digital photos to find us standing in front of a famous site – in this case Darling Harbour and the Sydney Opera House.

Why? We enthusiatically despise the practice of ruining a picture of one of the wonders of the world by placing our own mugs in the foreground. That reminds us of a story – our visit to Cairo a couple of years ago.

We stayed at the Nile Hilton and engaged a relatively expensive guide through the on-site American Express office. She proved to be a very, er, interesting person who claimed to have been a pediatrician before she grew tired of "seeing babies die" and changed her profession to that of “guide.” She also proclaimed herself a Coptic Christian, the “original” Egyptians before the Muslims took over Egypt.

Finally, she continued to press Brian repeatedly and to insist from his physiognomy that he’s Jewish (he’s not, unless the Welsh that’s a quarter of his blood truly constitutes one of the Lost Tribes of Israel). So many people stuck in the past...

Anyhow, she insisted we pose for the pictures that she claimed all tourists love when they visit the pyramids and the Sphinx.

Need we say more about tourist pictures? See for yourself.