Sail Away from Seattle

I remember planning this trip, I wanted to experience an Alaska cruise and Mom had been before with Dad before he died.  So I asked Mom to join Larry and I for a second time.  I thought she might enjoy reliving the experience.  She loves to travel and experience new things, but Dad not so much.  He enjoyed the comforts of home.

On an early Sunday morning in August we caught a flight to Seattle.  At the Seattle airport we stopped long enough to enjoy a steamy bowl of thick oatmeal before boarding the bus that would deliver us to the port.

After driving by the Space Needle we saw the first glimpse of our ship, the Star Princess.  She was docked proudly between a Norwegian Cruise Line and Holland America ship.

It has been quite some time since our last cruise on our honeymoon to the Mexican Riviera.  And boarding a ship has changed as much as boarding an airplane.  So after long lines in security and check-in at the port we arrived at another long meandering line up the gangplank to the ship.  My Mom is 81 and suffers from orthostatic tremors.  She can walk and still tends her garden, but standing is very difficult.  That is when the tremors start. She brought her walker along, but doesn’t like anyone to fuss over her. So we started up the gangplank using the walker, which allows her to stop and sit when she needs to.  But it eventually proved to be too much for her.  As we saw the porters bringing wheel chairs back down we flagged one and asked for a ride.  Wheeling Mom up proved to be a much better option and even allowed us to move ahead of the line. Once on board she returned to her walker.  We found our way to our staterooms with the help of a little map given to us at check-in.  Our luggage, which had gone ahead of us from the airport was waiting in our rooms.  We checked out our accommodations and then headed out to explore our ship.  We wandered the floors and poked our heads in the various venues on board.  The Horizon Court was open for dining and it was past lunchtime, we were hungry.  We soon found ourselves at the buffet.  Here I was pleasantly surprised by the wonderful service that Mom received.  As soon as she entered the buffet an attendant came over and offered to help with her plate. With her personal assistant, Mom was off to make her own selections without us.  We each made our own choices of fresh salads, fruit, cheeses and deli meats, soups, pasta, chicken beef and fish entrees, an assortment of desserts… the options were endless. I now know why many people gain weight while on a cruise.  Larry and I made sensible selections and were cautious as we had both completed several months of dieting, which had proved to be quite successful.  We didn’t want to lose ground now! Mom on the other hand surprised us when her assistant brought her generous plate and she ate every bit of it.  She is a little woman.

After lunch it was time to leave the port and the “Sail Away” party began.  We headed to the Sun Deck for the festivities.  Lots of people were on deck, but it didn’t feel crowded.  We watched as our Captain backed the ship out of port and steered her around to head out on our journey.  Just as a small boat would maneuver, this massive ship backed out and turned around with ease.  We headed out to sea via the Puget Sound.  The party started; music, Alaskan photos on the “Movies Under the Stars” outdoor theater, smiling waiters and waitresses handing out Mango Rum drinks.

Everyone, young and old was dancing or swaying to the music and enjoying the beautiful sunny weather.  Many had their cameras at the ready, and so too, the ship’s photographers.

Enjoying the moment I snapped a few shots of the photographers taking photos of guests enjoying the send off. All shapes and sizes of sailboats were navigating the Sound and colorful barges headed in to Port on this unusually pleasant Seattle day.

After all of the festivities, we decided to head back to our rooms and unpack.  This would give Mom some time to rest before dinner. We settled in to our rooms and later had Mom join us in ours for the view off the balcony.  We opened the door and enjoyed the fresh air as we contemplated our evening plans.  We decided on a dining room, as we had the option to choose anytime and anywhere to dine.

We arrived at the dining room to another long line.  We hadn’t called ahead for a dining time, so we were prepared.  We were given a buzzer and waited in the lounge for about 15 minutes.  While there we were entertained by an instrumental quartet.  Larry wandered while I sat with Mom.  We saw many familiar faces from our time boarding the ship. I love to people-watch, it is my favorite pastime. Here were people we met during the day; the cute little twins, the couple who boarded with us on the handicap side because they too had a mother in a wheelchair and the couple who talked to us the whole time from check-in to the gangway.

Our buzzer went off and soon we were seated at an intimate table.  Our waiter was from Mexico and his assistant was from Peru. The staff is from all over the world and their nametags tell from what country they hail.  We enjoyed chatting with the restaurant manager from Italy at lunchtime and now we had moved on to South America. A cruise ship has a very diverse population of both staff and vacationers. For dinner we chose the grilled Salmon and Larry chose a pork medallion with and apricot chutney. We each had a different appetizer, soup or salad, which of course we all tasted from each other’s plates. And since it was our first night on board we allowed ourselves to be tempted by the desserts; rich carrot cake and a chocolate mousse topped brownie!

After dinner we retired to our room to talk over our day and share the Princess Patter newsletter that gave us a glimpse of what tomorrow holds. Sweet dreams.

The Malecón comes alive night and day!

Day or night on the Malecon there are a variety of performing artists, plenty of vendors, refreshing drinks, delicious food, painters and other artists with their works on display. Children are out quite late at night on the malecon too, which surprised me. With most of the re-construction complete, there is plenty to see and experience day and night.  The vendors here are slightly higher priced than other places throughout the city, but the carnival atmosphere at night complete with twinkling colored lights is quite captivating.

This delightful stroll along the Malecon will lift your spirits. Aside from the magnificent sculptures that adorn the Malecon, one is endlessly surprised by the creativity of sand sculptors, who constantly reinvent the beachfront with unique creations.

And the artists who create the beach’s amazing sand sculptures will create again and again starting with fresh sand and an imagination. This is no picnic, it is back breaking work.

One of the new features of this unique public space design on the boardwalk is the Mosaic paving.

An iconic landmark that links back to the rest of Vallarta’s identity is present in every side walk and represents a local tradition of hand craftsmanship of pebble-pavement technique. A local native myth of creation as narrated through drawings by the Jalisco born artist Fidencio Benitez gave birth to the composition of the Mosaics pattern. Benitez’s drawings, a native-Mexican belonging to the Huichol group who has for decades mastered the art of the silhouette, were particularly suited for the pavement mosaic design. The original art-work will be exhibited in the City’s Museum when opened.

Be sure to visit this revitalized ocean front boardwalk on your next visit to Puerto Vallarta, you won’t want to miss it.

Whimsical Sculptures Return Along El Malecón

One of the highlights located along this oceanside boardwalk are the bronze sculptures reflecting Puerto Vallarta’s artsy culture. The Bay of Banderas provides a brilliant backdrop for these works of art. These sculptures are the creation of various sculptors from across the globe. The whimsical sculptures along the zone are reappearing with special lighting after a year long reconstruction of the Malecon.

The first sculpture, located in front of Hotel Rosita, “The Millenium” and was created by sculptor Mathis Lídice. It was dedicated November 2001 and symbolizes the passage of time through the millenniums. The lower portion suggests the millennium before Christ, linked by life that evolved from the sea with different symbols of Christ appearing farther up. The fist millennium is represented by Charlemagne, the Aztec king Nezahualcoyoti evokes the second millennium and finally the third millennium is symbolized by a woman holding a dove.

The whimsical sea inspired high back chairs are the work of Guadalajara native Alejandro Colunga. This installation made its debut on the Malecón in 1997.

One chair is crowned by an octopus and another by what may be a seahorse. Colungna studied various subjects in the university, but he is a self-taught artist. You will often see artists performing in this area. And the public, including us…

enjoying the mystical seating created by “La Rotunda del Mar.”

”El Sutil Comepiedras” The Subtle Rock-Eater by Guadalajara sculptor Jonas Gutiérrez is a surreal sculpture made of bronze and obsidian. It depicts a male figure whose clothes appear to be melting. With his right hand, the figure holds a few stones, and with his left, he’s about to drop an egg-shaped stone into his mouth.

Rafel Zamarripa’s “Cabalito del Mar” (“The Seahorse”) has become Puerto Vallarta’s iconic calling card.

The 9′ high bronze statue featuring a naked boy riding a larger than life sea creature first appeared on the scene in 1976. Newly restored the Cabalito is back! The original seahorse sculpture was located at the end of Los Muertos beach, but ended up in the bay after Hurricane Kenna. Zamarripa was commissioned to create the replica you see now.

The sculptures create an open-air art exhibit that is appreciated every year by throngs of visitors to Puerto Vallarta.

The New Decked Out Celebrity Millennium

Today Larry & I headed to San Francisco’s Pier 35 to tour the newly refurbished Celebrity Millennium along with 50 other travel professionals.  We passed through Vallejo under overcast skies. As we neared the Bay the clouds parted to reveal an exceptionally beautiful day in the city.  As we crossed the Bay Bridge we could see the Millennium docked in the Port. She was gleaming as this was only her second voyage after coming out of a three-week drydock for the renovation. This was part of Celebrity’s massive $140 Million “Solsticizing” initiative. What is Solsticizing?  Well, it’s incorporating venues and experiences that guests love most on Celebrity’s Solstice Class ships. The Millennium was the fourth and final ship to complete this process.

We were greeted by Linda Kay Barber, our Celebrity representative. Checking  in just like passengers on board the cruise; we provided id’s and went through security. Once on board we went to the Sky Observation Lounge to hear a presentation.  We couldn’t help owing and awing the great views we had of San Francisco from this vantage point.  We received a short presentation and had a chance to hear from Scott Steenrod, Food and Beverage Manager. Scott shared with us Celebrity’s commitment to the dining experience, a perfect marriage of flavors and the artful presentation of cuisine.  The globally influenced classic and contemporary menus are created by the James Beard-featured culinary team. Scott also talked about the various dining options that we would tour today; Qsine, Blu, Murano, The Olympic, Café al Bacio, Tuscan Grille and Bistro on Five.

We heard a presentation about the updated staterooms and the various amenities offered in Concierge Class and Aqua Class. Next stop on the tour, we strolled through the special area designed just for kids with programs tailored to five different age groups.

On to the Spa area and Aqua Class staterooms. This is one of the many Solstice features. Aqua Class guests have exclusive access to the stylish restaurant, Blu; complimentary access to the Persian Garden and Relaxation Room in the AquaSpa. We walked through the gym; no excuses here for gaining weight on a cruise.  This was a fully loaded gym with a myriad of weight machines and room for classes. The Spa area contains a Solarium complete with an indoor pool reserved for adults only. Can you say Ahhh…

Now to the pool area!  Larry & I wanted to drop our bags right there and grab a lounge.  What a wonderful space, new lounges and plenty of sun.  You don’t have to wander too far for food and drink either, with the Pool Grill nearby.

View of Alcatraz from Aft Deck

Next we toured the Oceanview Café.  This is the place where you can get all the food you need or want for casual dining. We strolled through Café al Bachio, Bistro on Five, Cellar Masters where they have the most unique wine tasting delivery system that I have ever seen.  You can select a 1 oz, 2.5 or 5 oz pour from the state-of-the-art Enomatic wine-by-the-glass dispensing system.

The Theatre is amazing. Three stories of lavish curtains and plush seats where you’ll be entertained with high energy custom productions that rival Broadway.

New on the ship is Michael’s Club, a country club décor and over 64 international craft beer is the draw to this lounge.From there we cruised through the newly remodeled Casino, very opulent with Roman statues decorating every corner.In fact one of the things that impressed me most was the artwork on the entire ship.  Walls and open space provide the backdrop for a rich display of art.

We headed back through the Martini Bar, too bad it was too early in the day.  The bar top is actually ice!  You can carve your name in it.

At the Metropolitan Restaurant we enjoyed a delectable lunch.  We dined on Blue Cheese stuffed Raviolis, my favorite; Arugula salad and tasty pork chop with citrus glaze. Our waiters were attentive and worked hard to meet everyone’s desires. We finished with coffee, dessert and Celebrity petit fours.

We didn’t want to leave the ship. I‘m ready for a cruise how about you?

Puerto Vallarta’s El Malecón gets a facelift!

In Puerto Vallarta one of my favorite places to explore is the Malecón that stretches along impressive Bandaras Bay. This is one of the best places in the city to stroll and enjoy spectacular views of the sand, surf, and magnificent sunsets on the Bay. The Malecón is a mile-long oceanfront boardwalk that follows the beach and the main street in downtown Puerto Vallarta.The entire look of Puerto Vallarta has been redrawn by a major dismantling and redesign to the legendary boardwalk. This ambitious project to widen the seaside Malecón in the heart of the city provides a more public-friendly space for residents and visitors. Started in May 2011, the reconstruction was completed by the end of the year.

The new Malecon incorporates traditional tribal designs in the walkway while adding a new seawall.

The new seawall was built along a 12-block zone and the pedestrian promenade was widened. Palm trees adorn circular planters, providing much-needed shade. The improvements originate at Hotel Rosita, the oldest downtown hotel. Long neglected, this section faces Parque Hidalgo, one of downtown’s most active plazas, though often overlooked by tourists. If you find yourself here at night you will likely see a variety of public performances: local musicians, folkloric dancers, clowns and artists selling their wares. Local vendors have a variety of tasty food and drink for your pleasure.

Construction culminates at the beautiful, open-air theater “Aquiles Serdán Ampitheatre” also known as los arcos, or the arches. The rock arches are located across from Parque Lazaro Cardenas, the main plaza in front of La Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe.

Intricate pebble designs in the pavement catch the eye and give the whole project an artistic flair. The patterns were created by artist Fidencio Benitez, a member of the fascinating Huichol group whose gorgeous beaded artwork appears in galleries all over town. Benitez drew mosaic patterns depicting the native myth of creation and workers meticulously followed his sketches with pebbles and volcanic stone. Swirling designs appear along the walkway, representing Puerto Vallarta’s origins and devotion to the arts.

I can’t wait to see all these changes to one of my favorite places!

Cancun, saying goodbye to a week in Paradise…

It was our last full day at the resort and we planned to relax.  We took our books down to the pool and spent the first half of the day soaking up the sun and reading.

After noon we decided to explore the beaches.  We walked south on the beach until we had explored as much as we wanted.  As typical in the afternoons here, we felt a few raindrops on the way back.  

We decided to explore some areas of the resort that we hadn’t yet ventured into. The kids area:

Now it’s time to say goodbye and the rain is pouring today.  We had heard from other guests that they experienced rainy days before we arrived. We sat on our patio looking longingly at the pool through the raindrops, I guess this was our day for rain.  Still it was a comfortable 81 degrees.  The temperature never varies in paradise.

The rain cleared for a moment and we rushed downstairs for a final dip in the pool and a chance to dry in the sun before we head for the airport. As we made our way back to the room we photographed all the flowers that we had been enjoying this week.

We said goodbye to our hammock which we enjoyed all week on the balcony:

All in all it has been a very wonderful vacation with a good mix of exploring and relaxing.  Thank you Cancun, for sharing your delights with us.

We said adios, and stepped on our plane back to the States as the rain poured down on the Cancun airport.

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Chateau Lake Louise teemed with History

As we approach Lake Louise the clouds gather like fog hugging the mountains. The mountains are capped with snow and we can’t stop “oohing” and “aweing” around every turn. A sign announces Lake Louise hamlet and we head up the hill to the Chateau. We turn in and on cue, “gasp”. The lake is stunning, complete with a glacier backdrop and a hotel that looks like a castle. We have arrived! We check out our room, the 8th floor, center of the hotel with a stunning view of the Lake and the promenade below. We can’t wait to explore our surroundings, so we drop our things and head out to the Lake.

Lake Louise is the most azure shade of blue you have ever seen. Yeah, we saw the pictures… have awed the Lake and the Chateau over a lifetime, but this view is what always drew us to this destination. The Lake is BLUE; kind of turquoise blue and emerald green. We check out the grounds behind the hotel and take a short hike along the lake. There are trails all around the lake. This is going to be fun to explore!

The original Chalet Lake Louise was built in 1890 as a hotel for the outdoor adventurist; just a log cabin, with a veranda, sitting room and a few bedrooms. After a fire the second Chalet was built in 1894 by the Canadian Pacific Railway. Later a second story was added to accommodate more guests. Lake Louise was becoming a popular destination in the Rockies. Mountaineers from all over the world came to climb the mountains. Soon the Swiss mountaineering guides appeared on the scene to lead climbing parties and keep people safe. To this day the Chateau continues the Mountain Heritage Program with professional guides who lead half day or full day hikes to discover the unique trail system surrounding Lake Louise.

In the early 20th century, major additions were made to the Chalet. But in 1924 a fire consumed the Chalet yet again, and a whole wing was destroyed. One new wing was added in 1925 and with this addition the hotel was renamed Chateau Lake Louise. The last wing was added in 1987. The newer wings boast paintings with historical references to the history of this area and its mountaineering history.

Cancun, a week in paradise…

Another early morning, we rented a car and left for Playa del Carmen about 60 miles south of Cancun.  It was another beautiful day in paradise with the bluest of skies and white fluffy clouds. After stopping for a Starbuck’s (yes, even in Cancun), we arrived at Playa at about 10am. Strolling the streets made of pavers and listening to the venders hawking their wares we soon worked up an appetite.

We decided to get some lunch.  We walked the beach for a while looking for restaurants overlooking the ocean.  Hotels took up all the beachfront property. It’s no wonder, the sand is a beautiful white powder covered with bathing beauties. So we headed back to the cobblestones and looked for a restaurant that looked out to the ocean.  We soon found one, and it served up delicious fare.  We ordered guacamole, made tableside, ceviche and Mayan tortilla soup.  Everything was wonderful and we stuffed ourselves.  Good thing we had a long walk back to the car.  We were anxious to head back to our resort and get in some pool time.

For the evening we decided to continue the backgammon championships that we had started and order room service on our patio.  That turned out to be a great decision.  The weather here is changing constantly. The temperature stays a constant 80 degrees, but the sun may be shining or you may experience a downpour.  Tonight we were treated to an amazing light show of thunder and lightning. I guess that provided a perfect atmosphere for Larry to conquer the backgammon board.  I had won the night before, but now Larry had the lead.

Sand, Sea, Rain and Shamrock Day

Larry and I headed over to Monterey for a conference this weekend.  The conference was held at the Monterey Plaza Hotel and Spa.  We got in just in time to have lunch before the conference.

We had a table for two overlooking the ocean. The tide was in and ocean swelled with waves.  We watched a couple of kayakers maneuver in the bay.  The bright orange kayaks were highlighted against the grey backdrop of the ocean and the sky.

Late afternoon when the conference ended, we settled into the piano bar in the lobby. While listening to the piano music we checked out the views from the balcony of the hotel, enjoying the ocean and the potted cyclamens showing off their colors.

We were waiting for the traffic to diminish before we ventured over to San Jose to visit our friends Rob and Jeanne.  The rain was miserable, but gave us beautiful lights and scenery for the night drive to San Jose.

We awoke to a foggy view of downtown San Jose from Rob and Jeanne’s deck perched in the hills overlooking the city.  Our hosts prepared a delicious cheese soufflé with coffee, scones and fresh squeezed orange juice from their yard.

We headed out to explore the quaint tiny town of Half Moon Bay.  Wandering in and out of little shops, conversing with the shopkeepers kept us captivated most of the day. The sun was out but it was a blustery coastal day. We ducked in and out of the shops between raindrops and wind gusts. We enjoyed looking at jewelry, artwork, items for the home… the possibilities were endless. Our friends were in the market for dining room chairs and by chance found just what they were looking for in one of the local shops. Now that’s a find! The luck of the Irish.

We discovered this cute little garden area behind a bar where revelers were celebrating St. Patty’s Day.

We were anxious to explore the Ritz Carlton Hotel located on the ocean’s edge. Let’s have a drink in the bar! Pear martinis, a Ritz Carlton Sunset and a Guinness, this is the life of Riley. We enjoyed a bird’s eye view of the ocean and the golf course. From the warmth of the bar we could look out at the grey ocean and the edge of the course that reminded us of coastal Scotland. The flag on the green whipped around so hard that it was difficult to capture in a photo. Eventually we braved the weather to go out and look over the edge of the coast as the sun was setting.  What was this… a lone bagpiper in full regalia. Seriously? Yep, he was playing an enchanting Scottish dirge for the hotel guests.  What a treat. We only listened for a short time though as it was very cold and we rushed back to our car.

We hurried home to have hot fondue with veggies, apples and pears with crusty bread and a bottle of wine. That warmed us up after a cold damp day of exploring.