Peter Reinhart’s new book, The Joy of Gluten Free, Sugar Free Baking, is out and he’s doing a tour promoting it. Heather and I found out about this class before we left on the cruise, and booked a couple seats at the Plano Central Market. We got over there a little early and snagged a couple front row seats and got to talk to Mr. Reinhart for a few minutes before class started. All of the recipes in the book are made using nut flours and splenda or other sweeteners, and some of them were really good. Neither of us are gluten intolerant or diabetic, but we’ve got friends who are, so it was a learning experience. Plus getting to meet Peter Reinhart was a real treat. Everyone who attended got a copy of the book, so we gave our other copy to the church library to help out some of our friends up there. Mr. Reinhart was open and entertaining, stopping throughout the demonstrations to answer questions and offer advice to people. After the class was over, we talked with him for a few minutes and got him to sign our copy of The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.
Heading home today, but we were able to get a later flight, so we could sleep in a little before we had to get to the airport. My niece and nephew stayed with us, which was nice since we got a little more time with them. But it was time to go, so everyone loaded up and we headed out to grab some lunch before they dropped us off at the airport.
Air travel is what it is, and it’s no secret that I prefer driving, motorcycling, or taking the train when possible. But there are a lot of times when that’s just not an option, and this was definitely one of them. So we got our bags checked, all under the weight limit, and waited for our flight. The flight home was uneventful, as was the drive back. We got in, dropped our luggage, got some snuggle time with the cats, and then turned early since we’ve got to be back at work tomorrow…
Our final day on the ship, and we’re up early again. We got up, got dressed, put the last of our stuff in the suitcases, and went up to the buffet for a final breakfast while the ship docked at the Galveston Cruise Terminal. It was a little hectic in the hallways, which is understandable as everyone’s getting ready to get off and the crew is trying to turn everything around for the next group of passengers. After eating we got a few more pictures of the ship and then headed back to the cabin. So, with full bellies, and a cup of coffee in me, we grabbed our luggage and headed for the elevators. Bad idea. They were completely packed and we didn’t have a prayer of catching one that could fit our bags. So I grabbed each one and ferried them down the two flights of stairs to our staging area for self disembarkation. When we got there, staff told us to just head off the ship, that there was no need to wait, so we did. It was more hurry up and wait, since we had to get in line to clear customs. That was a breeze, other than the wait in line, which really wasn’t that bad.
After a short wait for Darleen and Mitch to meet us, we loaded the luggage in the truck and headed for the house to do a little unpacking, sorting, and repacking so that we could ship some of our stuff back and still make the airline’s weight limits. Thankfully we’re flying Southwest, so there’s no checked bag fees. After that we headed out to get some lunch and stop by a UPS Store to ship the extras home, including the robes, picture frames, hot sauces, and chocolates. Once that was done, we ran a few errands and then met up with my sister-in-law and my niece and nephew for dinner. It was good seeing them, it’s been too long. They’re both great kids, and I’m hoping to get Reese down here this summer to spend some time with them. I think they’d all like that.
After a nice dinner, we headed back to the house to hang out for a little while before turning it. The flight home is tomorrow…
Our last full day on the ship, and a sea day heading back to Galveston and the real world. We grabbed some breakfast at the buffet, finally figuring out that if you go to Cafe Caribe instead of the main buffet, you get open tables and a more logical layout on the food line. After that we went down to the International Cafe and picked up some coffee before heading over to the Princess Theater for a cooking demonstration featuring the ship’s executive chef Giuseppe De Gennaro and maitre d’ Francesco Ciorfito. They did a full meal, including appetizer, entree, drinks, and dessert while we watched, spiced with some really funny humor. After the cooking demonstration was done we got a tour of one of the galleys. That was really cool, getting to see how well the workspaces are laid out and where our food came from. At the end of the tour we picked up a copy of the ship’s cookbook, and got it signed by Chef De Gennaro.
After we got done with the tour, we went down to the photo gallery and found our pictures from the various dinners and other things. We pared them down to a pair of formal portraits of the two of us and one each of us individually. We’ve got a serious lack of good pictures of ourselves, so it was nice to finally have some good ones to hang up. Those got dropped off at the cabin before we went to grab some lunch.
After lunch we went back to the Princess Theater to meet up with the group for the ship’s tour. There were nine of us in the group, plus Jorge, our guide, and a photographer. Our first stop was the theater, where we got to get up on stage, see how the lighting and sound systems worked, as well as meet a couple of the dancers and see the dressing rooms. From there we went over to the forward anchor room where we met the second officer and learned a little about the mooring systems the ship uses. The anchors are huge, and the chain is pretty massive as well. In addition there were the forward mooring lines and their electric winches. After that we went over to one of the galleys for a more in depth tour of it than we had after the cooking demonstration. Chef De Gennaro was there, talking to us about kitchen operations and answering questions, as well as serving us some fruit drinks and delicious chocolates. We learned that everything served is made from scratch, they do not have any pre-made food, including the bread. Watching them make the rolls for tonight’s dinner was fascinating. Next on the tour was to head down the M1, the long open passage the crew uses to move fore and aft, to check out food storage areas, the print shop, and the photo lab. Next we went a little further down, to check out the ship’s laundry. That was pretty incredible, there’s an amazing amount of automation, especially machines to fold towels, napkins, and sheets. We were treated to one of the crew modeling the bathrobe that we’d each be getting as one of the tour perks. He was really hamming it up, which made all of us laugh quite a bit. After that we went to check out the main engineering control room and met the chief engineer. Getting to hear about the power output, and consumption, of the ship was neat. It makes enough power to light a decent sized town, with most of that being used to move the ship. We got to see the control systems screens, with the status of everything on the ship, down to individual valves. We also got to visit the medical center and talk to the doctor on staff. He was a really interesting guy, from England, who has been working for Princess for a few years now. They’re capable of handling most medical issues, up to very minor surgery, and can stabilize patients until they can be evacuated to a hospital on land. I’m glad we got to visit it under these circumstances instead of as a customer. Our next stop was, for me, the highlight of the tour: the bridge. The view from there is fantastic, it’s got to be the best view on the ship, especially from the wings on either side. There are no obstructions, and if I could have stayed there for a few hours, I would have been really happy. We got an introduction into the ship’s controls, how it’s steered, the radars, digital charts, and more, plus got to meet the staff captain because the captain was busy elsewhere. After the bridge tour was done, the second officer took us up to the ship’s funnels, where we got a final group shot before heading back down to one of the lounges for some champagne. We all hung out for a few, enjoying a few glasses and talking about the tour before taking our leave. It was neat getting outside of the passenger areas of the ship and in to the working sections. I’m not sure we’ll do this again, but it’s definitely something that you should consider doing at least once. It definitely puts things in perspective and gives you a lot of insight into what’s going on behind the scenes while you’re enjoying the resort-like atmosphere in the rest of the ship.
When we got back to our cabin, we had a pair of bathrobes and aprons waiting for us. The robes are super fluffy, and will be much appreciated for lounging around the house. The aprons are really nice as well, and were a pleasant surprise, because we thought that we’d be getting chefs jackets based on the on-line discussions. These are going to be much more useful than chefs jackets, so we’re not disappointed. We set about packing the stuff in our suitcases, and managed to get it all to fit. And then the other shoe dropped when Antonio showed up with our photos and two large boxed photo frames. We knew there were photos coming, but the frames were totally unexpected, and really messed up our packing. We spent some time moving things around so that we could get them in Heather’s big suitcase, but it’s going to be tight, and now we’re going to have to hit a UPS Store when we get back to Galveston.
Our last dinner on board was excellent, and we stayed a little later talking with the other couples at our table before heading back to the room and crashing out a little early so that we’d be up and moving in time to get off the ship in the morning.
We had to get up early again this morning to get breakfast and get off the ship to meet up with our group for our excursion to the Coba Mayan ruins, over on the mainland. Our shoes were pretty much completely dry, our hats were totally dry, and our electronics were still functioning, so all was good. We checked out of the ship and headed down the pier to find our ferry. The first leg of the excursion was a high speed ferry from Cozumel to Playa del Carmen, about 45 minutes away. Heather didn’t do so well on the ferry thanks to the rough seas. She wasn’t exactly seasick, but had some motion issues due to the pitching and rolling. We’re going to try to sit on the lower level, closer to the center of the ferry on the trip back. Once we arrived, we went over to our tour bus and met Raul, our guide for the day. Once everyone was loaded up, we headed out down the highway for Coba. The first stop was about 30 minutes out, at a gift shop they’ve got a deal with, so that we could spend some money where they’d make a little more off of us. We nosed around and found a few things that we liked, so it wasn’t a wasted stop. Plus it was the last restroom break until we got on site. After that we got back on the bus and continued down the road to Coba.
When we got to the site, it was more crowded with other buses and cars than I’d expected, and the range of languages spoken was fascinating. I heard French, German, Portuguese, and something Slavic sounding. Raul had our tickets, so we got to jump ahead of the large line and head in. The weather cooperated nicely today, with sun and the occasional cloud for a little shade, so the hike to the first structure was fun. We stopped at a small palace, got to climb up on it, and look around, while Raul gave us some more information on the site and Mayan life in general. From there we hiked to a smaller pyramid, one that climbing was prohibited, and learned some more about the layout of the city and the road were were about to see. Like the Romans, the Mayans built roads between their cities, though few of them remain intact. We got to walk over part of one there, and I managed to get some pictures of it in spite of the mob of French tourists blocking the shots. Sometimes it’s good to be the ugly American.
After that we hiked over to the high point of the tour, the Nohoch Mul pyramid. Since the weather was good, we had an opportunity to climb it. If you go, and you’re able, please do not pass this up. Climbing up was challenging, but not terribly hard. The sides are steep enough that it was easier to do a low crawl up, hands and feet on steps, and just head up. Upon reaching the top, I was more than a little freaked out due to my fear of falling. I had to force myself to not hug the walls and take in the view. You’re so far above the canopy that you can see for miles. There was one other temple sticking out of the forest below, but other than that it was a sea of green. Heather made it up as well, and we took some pictures of each other as well as asking a fellow climber to take one of the two of us. Then it was time to head down. I let Heather go first, and she did the whole thing standing up. I, on the other hand, did most of it sitting down, until I was far enough down that I was pretty sure I’d survive the fall. This was probably the coolest thing we did on the trip, and I’m glad I didn’t chicken out.
From there we went over to one of the ball courts on the site and got to learn a little more about how the game was played. Our final stop, after that, was at another pyramid, which I think was the one we could see through the trees when we were on top of Nohoch Mul. This one was closed to climbing because it has gotten a little unstable, but we got some good pictures of it. After that, we hiked back out, and did a little shopping at the stores on site. I picked up a few things for Reese and Heather, after a suitable amount of haggling with the store owners. And then we got back on the bus for a boxed lunch and the drive back to Playa del Carmen. The sandwich was delicious, and we got the recipe for the spread they used on them. It turns out it was a lot more simple than we’d thought, being made with media crema, cilantro, and garlic. When we got to Playa del Carmen, our guides herded us back on to the ferries for the ride back to Cozumel, but not before we got a few pictures on the beach. It just seemed to be wrong to be at Playa del Carmen and not actually set foot on the playa.
The ferry ride back was a lot better for Heather because we were able to get seats low and in the middle. She was actually able to look around instead of just keeping her head down. Once back in Cozumel, we did a little more shopping, picking up hot sauces and other gifts for friends, as well as looking for somewhere to mail a postcard to Reese. We totally struck out on that one, so it’ll be mailed once we get home. Finally, sadly, it was time to get back on the ship and enjoy the last formal dinner night.
Dinner was great, as usual, and we took advantage of a few more of the ship’s photographers to get some good couples shots of us. We did not do any laps around the ship tonight, because we hiked around 5 km during our tour. Our bright point was that we were notified that we were on the ship’s tour, scheduled for tomorrow just after lunch. We’ve been looking forward to doing that all week, and it was nice to find out that it was going to happen.
We got up at an ungodly hour so that we could get our stuff together and get some food before heading over to the Princess Theater for our tour rendezvous. We were early, but that’s fine by us. Since Belize City does not have a deep water port, the cruise ships have to anchor a few miles off shore, which means you have to take a tender in to the port. Since we had tours booked through Princess, we got priority for the first tenders. At the theater, they had each tour seated in a different section in order to keep everything organized. There were more people in our tour than I’d expected, which was nice, since it was definitely one of the off the beaten path ones. Once the tender arrived, we were escorted out to deck 4 and had to hop over to it, which was interesting considering the weather and the rough seas. The ride in was a little bumpy, but it was quick. The weather was definitely a problem, with overcast skies, wind, and rain. Things were not looking good for our tour. I brought my SPOT personal locator beacon, and turned it on as soon as we were off the ship. Hopefully we’ll get some good position reports on the website for later.
When we arrived at the port, we hopped off and queued up to get on the bus for the first leg out to the Lamanai Mayan ruins. We met our guide, Bul, on the bus, and got a good lecture that covered some of Belize’s history as well as the history of the Maya and the Lamanai site. We got to see a good chunk of Belize City on the way out, then we cruised down the highway for about an hour, heading to the river site where we were to start the next leg, via speed boat. Part way down the highway, it started raining, and didn’t stop. When we got to the boat dock, it was raining pretty steadily, and some of our fellow travelers were regretting not having packed ponchos or other rain gear. They especially regretted it because they were for sale at the dock, just off the tender, for $1. By the time we were at the speedboat dock, the price had gone up to $5. We had picked some up before we left for Houston, and now seemed like the best time to put them on. We got on the speedboat for our hour long trip down the New River to Lamanai. The rain let up a little, but it was still coming down, and we definitely got wet, even with the ponchos. The river ride was a lot of fun, though it would have been much more enjoyable had it been sunny out. We saw some wildlife, mostly birds, on the way down, though we didn’t see any alligators. We had one bit of excitement, when we took on some passengers due to one of the other boats having lost one of their props. Other than that it was an uneventful cruise down river. After a damp hour, we arrived at Lamanai.
When we got to Lamanai, we got off the boat and headed for one of the pavilions to get some lunch. The food was traditional Belizean dishes, including a delicious coconut rice and beans dish that we got the recipe for. After filling our bellies, we headed over to the small museum on site to look over some of the artifacts and read up on more of the history of the site. Finally, it was our turn to head out on the tour. Bul was a great guide, leading us through the jungle paths, telling us about the different plants we were seeing, as well as some more of the history of the site. Our first stop was at the Mask Temple, which was pretty cool. This was the first Mayan structure either of us have been up close and personal with, and it was really cool! We were asked not to climb due to how slick the limestone was thanks to the rain, but I snuck around the back of the temple and took that staircase up to the top for a brief peek. It turns out that the pyramids are just a base for the temple, which is the structure at the top. After that we came back down and took some pictures in front of the masks.
From there we moved on to one of the ball courts, where they played pok ta pok, and then on to the Jaguar Temple where we finished off the tour. Due to the distance from Belize City and the ship, we didn’t have as much time as we would have liked, but we did get to see some really interesting structures while we were there. Before leaving, I hit one of the souvenir shops and picked up a few things for Reese. As the weather had been steadily worsening, we weren’t looking forward to the ride back up river, but what can you do when you’re a couple hours away from the ship, with no other means of getting back but suck it up and get going. So we enjoyed a cold and wet ride back, getting poured on and pelted with pieces of the cheaper ponchos other passengers had been wearing. By the end of the boat ride back, we were soaked and cold, and ready to get on the bus for the ride back to Belize City. The ride back was warmer, and I had time to fill out the post card before we got back. Bul graciously offered to mail it for me, so we’ll see if it gets up to Reese. We were pretty late in getting back, but still had a few minutes to do some shopping before catching the last tender back to the ship. I found the hot sauce I’d been looking for, one that Aunt Patti had recommended, called Marie Sharp’s. I picked up a few different flavors and heat levels, then we hustled over to the tender to head back to the ship.
Once back on the ship, we dropped our packages, changed out of our wet clothes, showered, and headed to dinner. Afterwards, I had to run my shoes through the dryer in the self-serve laundromat due to how wet they were. There was no chance of them being dry by tomorrow morning, and we have another set of Mayan ruins to tour then.
We got up early this morning and headed up to the buffet for breakfast. We got to watch the ship back in to its mooring while we ate, which was really cool. It’s pretty impressive to see how fine a degree of control the captain has over such a large ship. Once we finished eating, we went down to deck 4 and lined up to get off the ship. Disembarking was interesting. They scanned our cruise cards, in effect checking us out, so that they could keep track of who’s on and off the ship. From there we walked up to the Mahogany Bay cruise terminal/shopping center to find our tour guide. We were early, so we wandered around, snickering at the overpriced jewelry and picking up souvenirs.
We returned to our queueing area and met up with our guide, who took us to the mini bus that would be our transportation around the island. Our first stop was the Carambola Botanical Gardens, where we were guided through some rain forest, learning about many of the plants we’ve used, such as allspice, coffee, and cacao. At the end of the tour, we had a light snack of some fresh local fruit. Once back on the bus we went on to Roatan Butterfly Garden. Even though the weather was not cooperating, with some light showers, we weren’t disappointed because they had a number of parrots and other birds there. We actually got to handle a few of them, or more accurately, we got to be perches for a few of them. There weren’t many butterflies to be seen due to the weather though. But it was still really cool. Next up was a stop at the West End village to see a cultural show, put on by some members of one of the local tribes, and some shopping. I picked up a post card for Reese and some cashew wine vinegar. Heather found a nice wooden bowl at one of the stores. We then got back on the bus and headed to our last stop, a cameo factory where we got to watch cameos being made. It was very interesting, and they’re definitely works of art. We then boarded the bus to head back to the port.
My head had been a little wonky yesterday, and was in full on sinus infection meltdown today, so I was really thankful to have a pharmacy and over the counter antibiotics available. Hopefully a course of azithromycin will knock it down. If not, I’ll be seeing the inside of the ship’s medical center soon. Since we had some free time before the ship sailed, we went back on board to drop off our loot, get some lunch, and pick up our passports to get them stamped. When we got back on the ship, they again scanned our cruise cards and then compared our faces to the pictures they took when we boarded. It was nice to see the security in operation. So, with free hands, we went back to the stores, did a little more shopping, got our passports stamped, and then mailed Reese first post card off. On the way back to the ship for the final time, I picked up a liter of The Macallan scotch in the duty free.
We hung out on the promenade and watched the sailaway, then went forward and got some great pictures of the sunset as we were heading out towards Belize. Tonight is going to be another early night because we’ve got to be up before 6:00 AM to get dressed, eat, and meet up in the theater for our excursion by 6:45 AM.
Today was another sea day, and the weather has been steadily improving. We did the breakfast buffet again this morning, then I snagged a cup of coffee while we waited for the vegetable carving demonstration to start in the Piazza. It was really interesting to watch, and he worked a lot faster than I thought. From what they said, the ship has two carvers, a junior and a senior, who do all of the fruit carving, ice sculptures, and more.
We did some more exploring and laps around the promenade in before lunch, and then went up to the buffet to have some sushi. After lunch, since the weather was so nice, we grabbed some fruit smoothies and a couple lounge chairs and sat out, enjoying the sun, for a little while. After that, we went down to our cabin and got dressed for dinner.
When we got in to our cabin on Saturday, there was some paperwork waiting for us, including our excursion tickets and a card to present to the head waiter for our honeymoon surprise. We decided to do it tonight, and got a table for two instead of sharing a larger table. After dinner was done, our waiter and a few of his accomplices came out and sang happy anniversary to us, set to the tune of happy birthday. They also brought us a piece of chocolate chocolate cake, which was rich and delicious. Due to the cake, we did a few extra laps around the ship after dinner and then turned in early. We’ll be in Roatan tomorrow and have a shore excursion booked, so we need to be up and moving pretty early.
After an extremely restful night’s sleep, we got up and got moving. First thing on the agenda was to head up to the buffet for breakfast. I’m a little worried about my waistline, because the food is good, and while portions are small, there is nothing stopping you from going back for more.
With full bellies, we decided to walk off some of that food and do some more exploring. From our cabin, out the exit at the end of the passageway, we came out on the upper promenade, almost completely forward, on deck 8. There were some great views dead ahead, with no obstructions, and since the weather was improving, we decided to stay out for a little while longer. We ended up making a complete circuit of the ship, stopping at the aft section for some wake pictures. There was a little rain ahead of us, but we didn’t see any actual drops while we were out and about. We’ll see what the weather has in store for us during the excursions. Hopefully things stay nice.
While we were walking around, we found out that the ship’s pub lunch was being held today in the Wheelhouse Bar. It’s usually done on one, or maybe two, sea days, and they serve traditional English food such as fish and chips and steak and kidney pie. It’s pretty popular, so we got there a little early just in case and got in on the first group. I had the fish and chips, which were really, really good. Some of the best I’ve had outside of England. Heather had the plowman’s lunch, which wasn’t as good. It’s not that the food was bad, it was great, but the dish included paté, which she found out that she doesn’t care for. I tried it and it was pretty good, so it’s not a case of bad paté, just personal preference. We went up to the buffet to get her a little more food later, and then back to the room to take a nap.
Tonight was the first of two formal nights, meaning we had a great excuse to get dressed up. The ship’s formal night dress code is a dark suit or black tie for men and evening wear for women. I packed one of my kilts, along with the prince charlie jacket, so I was good to go. Heather picked up some knock your socks off dresses before we left and packed the best looking of them. I think we did ok, though she did have to do a little guard duty because the kilt was a bit of an attention getter. I got lots of comments, and a few pictures taken with other passengers. Dinner was delicious, and the desserts were really tasty. After dinner, we went back to the room, changed up, and did a few laps around the ship to work off some of the extra calories.
We got an early start and headed out for breakfast on Galveston Island before going over to the Galveston Cruise Terminal for boarding. On the way over, we stopped at Wal Mart to pick up a few things we’d forgotten or intended to pick up down there. After we were dropped off, we got our luggage checked and proceeded to queue up for security screening and passenger check-in. The security screening was what I fondly remember as a pre-9/11 process, with just baggage x-ray and metal detector. We were through that in no time flat and in line to get checked in. After receiving our cruise cards and a packet of information about the ship, we queued up again to await boarding. Once we were called, boarding was pretty quick, though the elevator traffic on the ship was pretty crazy. We opted for the stairs, as we are planning to do throughout the cruise and headed for our stateroom.
We’re on the Crown Princess, one of Princess Cruises‘ ships, staying in an ocean view stateroom on deck 8. It’s all the way forward, on the starboard side, above and behind the theater, which is on decks 6 and 7. We’re a little concerned about noise from the shows, but we’ll see how things go. We bumped in to Antonio, our cabin steward, while getting settled, and introduced ourselves. The cabin is nice, larger than our initial cabin, which was an interior on deck 15. Thanks to a last minute upgrade from Princess, we got this one, which is nice because having that window and some natural light is more enjoyable. After dropping our stuff, we went down to the passenger services desk and signed up for the ship’s tour, and then up to deck 15 for some lunch. Hopefully we’ll get on the tour, but that depends on how many people sign up.
Following all of that, we nosed around the ship, familiarizing ourselves with the layout and features. It’s really nice, bigger than I would have thought, and we don’t feel crowded, even though there are about 3,000 people on board, plus crew. From there, we went back up to deck 15 to watch the sail away. It was a bit chilly, but fun. We met two couples from Canada and talked with them while we sailed away. Finally, after getting out of Galveston Bay and into the Gulf of Mexico, we went back down stairs to our cabin, where our luggage, including the case of bottled water we’d slapped a luggage tag on, were waiting for us. Everything arrived intact, and there was plenty of storage for all of our clothing, casual and formal, for the entire week.
After unpacking, we got dressed up and headed down to do our first dinner. Since we chose flexible seating instead of a fixed dining time, there was a little bit of a wait. But it wasn’t any different than heading out to eat at a normal restaurant. In fact, the wait was shorter than many places we’ve been. We told the hostesses that we didn’t mind being seated with other people, and ended up at a table with three other couples. The service was great, the food was excellent, and the company was enjoyable. We spent some time getting to know each other, and enjoyed a delicious meal.
Since we were pretty worn out, we headed back to the cabin and crashed out for the evening. It was a busy day and we really just didn’t have it in us to party all night. It’s not really our thing anyways, so it’s all good. Tomorrow is the first full sea day, which should be interesting, since Heather’s never been out of sight of land for as long as we’re going to be.
Here’s a shot of the cabin and one of us at sailaway.