Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Happy Thanksgiving!

Hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving! Morgan & Zachary did. They were both happier than they'd been all week, having just recovered from the Hand, Foot and Mouth virus. Aunt Beth, Uncle Todd and Aunt Tess were here to help us celebrate and eat lots of food. Here are some pictures.

We did lots of baking...

and made lots of pinecone turkeys.

We pouted some....

and smiled some.

We had delicious snacks....and a beautifully decorated dining room.
We hung out with the family....
and now we're ready for Christmas!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Cruise Review - Part 2 (finally!)

Day 7 – October 30
The worst thing about our next port – Zihuatenejo – was that we were only there 5 hours! It was an absolutely beautiful, tropical place and apparently a lovely little town – quieter than some of our other ports – with interesting shops, galleries and sights. But the kids aren’t really into sightseeing yet, so once again we decided to hit the beach. The ship has to dock in the harbor so we took a tender to the pier where we hired a water taxi who’s driver promised us “the best beach for kids” which turned out to be Playa Las Gatas. The water was warm, calm and clear so we decided to rent snorkels and see what we could see. Morgan wanted to try snorkeling too. We’d forgotten her floaties so weren’t sure if she’d be able to do much. But the water was sooooo salty that she discovered that she could float easily. She figured out how to use the snorkel in no time and swam all over the place seeing lots of colorful fish. Zachary was also able to see fish splashing around by the rocks. We spent hours, not just at the beach, but in the water. This was the one place that we’d really like to go back to someday!
After dinner, we took Morgan to the Kids Club and took Zach out for another show and dancing. Zachary was always happiest at the disco. By the end of the cruise all of the bands knew him by name. Many people commented on how both he and Morgan have a natural sense of rhythm. Sure didn’t get it from their parents!

Playa las Gatas

Ship from shore!

Snorkel girl!

Day 8 - October 31
After the natural beauty of Zihuatenejo, it was a bit of a letdown to see that the pier in Puerto Vallerta is basically in Wal-Mart’s parking lot. So we were glad that we chose this port to do our one ship sponsored (meaning: expensive!) shore excursion. We’d booked the “pirate boat adventure” where we would get breakfast, lunch and a show on a pirate ship as well as snorkeling, beach time, and an open bar. When we got off the ship we were greeted by Lucas our “personal pirate” and were escorted to the pirate boat for breakfast. Morgan was a little bit nervous at first, but soon got into it mugging and “Arrrrrrr-ing” with all the pirates. She was so enthusiastic that she was chosen to participate in one of the games. She went up on stage – by herself – and said her name and where she was from and then danced for everyone. Unfortunately, next thing I knew was that I had to join her on stage while she fed me baby food with us both in blindfolds. At least we got t-shirts out of it!
The pirate show itself was pretty silly and hard for Morgan to follow because it was bilingual and I don’t think she could keep track of when they switched between English and Spanish. But there was enough yelling and sword fighting and cannonballs (“candy-balls” as Zach says) to keep the kids entertained until we reached our snorkeling area. We snorkeled right from the boat and had to wear lifeboats so it was a little disappointing for Morgan & Zach. Their vests didn’t fit well and Morgan’s snorkel wasn’t the right size either. (We should have got Morgan some snorkel gear at home and brought it with us.) But Jon saw some great fish including a puffer fish!
After snorkeling we went to the beach and spent some time there. Zach & I splashed in the tide pools and Morgan & Jon took a banana boat ride. Then we went back to the pirate ship for lunch. Poor Zachary was sooo hungry because we didn’t bring any snacks to the beach and lunch wasn’t until after 1. But then he feel asleep before the food was served. Luckily, the pirates were nice enough to pack up his hot dog so he could have it as soon as he woke up.
Once back on the cruise ship it was time to get ready for HALLOWEEN! The kids club was going trick or treating and Morgan was so excited. She refused all week to tell anyone what her costume was because she wanted it to be a surprise. We got her a pink eye patch at the pirate gift shop to complete her “Princess Pirate” look. And Zach wore my old Oshkosh overalls with a matching hat to be a train engineer. He had no idea what he was supposed to be, but it was still cute. The kids club paraded all over the ship collecting candy. Morgan was very good about making sure she got some for Zachary who wouldn’t carry a bag. Zachary decided that he does not like Halloween. Even now almost a month later he tells us every day “Halloween SCAAAARY! No like Halloween!”. But Morgan loves it and was even brave enough to go through the haunted house that the teen club (there were maybe 4 or 5 teenagers on board) put together. Personally, I’m with Zach on the whole Halloween thing and was quite happy not to have to deal with school parties and trick-or-treating. I think I’d like to go on vacation every Halloween!

Morgan and her personal pirate.

Dancing on stage.

Tired little matey.

Princess Pirate Morgan.

Engineer Zachary.

Day 9 – November 1
Our last port was Cabo San Lucas. It was easy to tell we were no longer in the tropical part of Mexico because the view from our stateroom looked a lot like San Diego! But in the other direction was the dramatic looking landscape of Land’s End, so that is where we decided to go. The water taxi drivers were skeptical because the beach over there has no facilities or restaurants or Burger Kings, but we insisted. We found one with a glass bottomed boat and negotiated a deal for a sightseeing tour, snorkel gear and a few hours at Lover’s Beach. He even directed us to a truck where we could get tacos to bring with us for lunch. (Though he, too, was surprised that we didn’t want hamburgers.) We saw the rock formation “el arco” and lots of fish and sea lions. Land’s End is where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean and as you get close to the pacific side, the water gets really rough! The Sea of Cortez side (that’s where the beach is) is better, but it was still too strong for Morgan to snorkel. But she had fun “body surfing” with her floaties on. Even Zachary figured out a way to body surf. He’d hold my hand and then when a wave hit us he’d lift up his feet and let his lower body get tossed around by the surf. It was a bit rough on my shoulder, but fun. Even the couple of times when the waves were stronger than I expected and we both went tumbling up the beach.
The kids both love the beach now. I don’t think we’ll be able to get away with not taking them to the beach for another summer. Morgan was so inexperienced in the ocean at first that her only point of reference was The Little Mermaid. She referred to the beach and the ocean as the “surface” and the “sea”. As in, when she was tired she’d say “I’m ready to go to the surface now” and after she’d rested she would say “now I want to return to the sea.” Morgan & Zachary were both so sad that this was their last day at the beach.
Back on the ship, the kids had another dinner with their kids club so Jon & I had a nice meal in the “fancy” dining room. The meals are long and leisurely with several courses and very nice service. Of course, that means that with the kids the meals were very stressful, so it was nice to go by ourselves and really enjoy it.
Late that night was something they were calling their “white hot ice ice” party or something like that. I guess you were supposed to wear white and have a party. Obviously we did not attend because as the parents of 2 kids under 5 we do not own anything white. I think it was all just a ploy to sell white clothes in the duty free. By this time we knew that NCL doesn’t miss an opportunity to sell you things. From the pictures in the photo gallery the next day it looked like about 30 people were at the party! It didn’t help that it was at 10:30 and I don’t think many of the passengers stay up that late. It wasn’t a very party oriented crowd. Every day the schedule would advertise DJ Tony “rocking the house” from 11:30 on. I think DJ Tony probably has the easiest job on the ship.

Land's End

El Arco

Morgan and the sea lions!

Zach on the beach!

Day 10 & 11 – November 2 & 3
Our last two days at sea were mostly uneventful. On the 2nd we took the kids for one last time in the pool since it was starting to get cooler as we sailed north. It was so windy that even sitting in the hot tub was uncomfortable because of the water being blown into your face. Then there was the family pizza making party which provided one of the better meals on the ship! The show that night was called “Cirque Pan” – a music/dancing/acrobatics extravaganza inspired by Peter Pan. Morgan went with the kids club and Jon & I took Zach who we knew would like it. He really did like it – except when some of the pirates ran through the aisles right past us. I think he’d had enough pirates on the trip already! The show itself was pretty good, except that I can’t remember the part in Peter Pan where Wendy sings “Lady Marmalade”. This was also the night of the midnight chocolate buffet, but we were too tired to check it out. By the time we went to bed, the ship was starting to rock pretty strongly and early the next morning we were woken up by a message from the Captain saying that they were helicoptoring a sick passenger off the ship so to stay inside. Too much excitement at the chocolate buffet, I guess.
By our last day onboard, we were ready to get home. Ten days was a good length of time, but I don’t think we would have lasted any longer. The ship was rocking like crazy all day. We took Morgan to Kids Club for an hour before lunch and she spent the rest of the day in bed totally seasick. I don’t think she was the only one because the ship was so quiet – very few people out and about. Zach felt fine, though, so we just took turns trying to entertain him and keep him out of the room so poor Morgan could rest. Unfortunately, on one of his outings he got his fingers caught in the elevator!!! It didn’t close on his hand, he just got it stuck on the side where the door slid open. So we almost went the whole trip without a visit to the medical center! Luckily, his hand was not broken, the doc did not charge us and Zachary got a latex glove blown up like a balloon. What a way to end a vacation!
Tuesday morning we sailed into San Francisco bay around 6am. We had chosen to disembark at 9:20 using the color-coded system that they had set up. They were supposed to call our color “orange” at 9:20 and then we would be able to get our luggage from the pier. Of course, they skipped orange (at this point we thought they were just trying to make us mad) but we left anyway and our bags were easy to find and we were on our way home. The kids both cried as we drove away, but once we got home I think they were glad to be back. Zachary kept shouting “Zach play with toys?!? Zach play with TOYS?!?” I think the boy thought he would never see his toys again.
So we survived. We even had a lot of fun. I think we’d definitely do a cruise again someday – probably when the kids are a little older. If Zachary were at least 4 I think it would be much easier. And next time we have to bring grandparents with us. (And aunts/uncles too!) It would be nice to spread the kids around a little more. We probably wouldn’t sail NCL again, though. Nothing major went wrong, but there were a whole bunch of little irritating incidents which, when put together, don’t point to a very well-run company and certainly not one with a customer-service focus. But we didn’t let that run our good time!

Towel bunny!

Sick Morgan

Back home in the bay!

Friday, November 07, 2008

Cruise Review - Part 1

Norweigan Sun
11-Day Mexican Riviera Cruise
October 24, 2008-November 4, 2008

Day 1, Friday Oct 24:
One of the main reasons we chose this particular cruise was that it embarked from San Francisco meaning a minimum of travel for us. We were even able to send Morgan on her field trip Friday morning and drive up to SF afterwards. The check-in process was hugely frustrating (and over the next several days we found out that almost everything - from taking our ID photos to processing our credit card - was done incorrectly), but we made it on the ship with plenty of time to explore and start to unpack before the boat drill and sail away.
We had a balcony stateroom on the 9th deck with a queen sized bed and a double sofa bed (more like a futon) for the kids. It was small, but we all fit. I think without a balcony it would have been a more claustrophobic experience!
Around 4pm the ship left the pier and we sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a beautiful, clear (!), warm (!!) day in San Francisco and the view was amazing.
Once we were out on the ocean it was cold and windy so we changed into warmer clothes and decided to have a casual dinner in the buffet. Worst. Buffet. Ever. It was so poorly laid out that the line stretched all the way back to San Francisco and the food wasn't all that great either. It took so long to get through the line that we never got to eat together in the buffet. Jon or I would go through first to get the kids' food (it was too tall even for Morgan to do it herself) and then by the time we had our plates the kids were done and starting to get restless so we've have to shovel it down before they went crazy. Not a good dining experience and after the first couple of days we only used the buffet under extraordinary circumstances.
After dinner we got the kids ready for their first visit to the Kids Club. Morgan loved it right away, but Zachary wasn't too enthusiastic. He only cried a bit at the begining, though.

Our balcony, at the pier.

Sailing under the Golden Gate.

Day 2 - Saturday, October 25:

This was our first full day at sea. Unfortunately, it was still too cold most of the day to use the pool, but we spent our time exploring the ship in more detail and just relaxing. Since the dining options on board hadn’t wowed us yet, we decided to try one of the "specialty" restaurants (these have a cover charge). We made a 1pm reservation in the Teppanyakki room (think Benihana). The kids were in kids club so it was just Jon & I. It was very disappointing. We usually love this kind of food, but not this time. We got the shrimp & steak and it all tasted the same. Even the vegetables and rice. We were also the only ones there so it wasn’t as fun as it is with a full table. We were starting to think we’d actually lose weight on the cruise! That night we dropped by the show in the Stardust Lounge. It was a songs from various musicals. It was pretty cheesy, but Zachary absolutely LOVED it! He sat quietly and watched the whole thing completely mesmerized. Morgan wasn't so sure about it. During the Les Miserables section she seemed pretty confused about why anyone would want to watch such sad songs!

All-You-Can-Eat Ice Cream!

Waiting for it to warm up!Enjoying the view from the balcony.

Our first towel animal gets a kiss.
Day 3 - Sunday, October 26:
Finally it was warm enough to go to the pool. The ship has 2 large pools (one is adults-only) but never even went in them. We stuck to the kids pool which is very small, but Morgan & Zach thought it was great. There is also a kids "hot tub" adjacent which was nice for Jon & I to hang out it while the kids played on the little slide. Morgan had already made friends so she really liked splashing around with all the kids.
Unfortunately, the kids pool was also a bit dangerous. It was clearly an afterthought on the ship. The surface around the pool structure was slick – more so than around the regular pools, and the grate surrounding the hot tub had several gaps just large enough to trap a small foot. Jon also found a drain cover left open in the middle of the pool. If it had been more crowded and harder to keep a close eye on the kids there very likely could have been an accident. Once again, we were not impressed with NCL.


Basking in the sun on the Sun.

She's not really strangling him.

Too tired to finish his hot dog.
Day 4 - Monday, October 27:
We got to our first port - Mazatlan - around 1pm. I'd heard from many people that the city was kind of dumpy, but I thought it was very pleasant. We took a "pulmonia" - an open-air golf-cartish taxi - to the beach in the Zona Dorado. We asked our taxi driver about places to eat and he kept pointing out Burger King, McDonalds, El Pollo Loco, etc. He seemed surprised that we wanted to eat Mexican food in Mexico! But we ended up not eating there at all because we had so little time.
The beach was great. Morgan & Zach haven't been to the beach since 2006 (Z was just 7 weeks old at the time) so it was a completely new experience for them. We couldn't have picked a better beach. It was not crowded - maybe 3 or 4 other families - and we got drinks and nachos from the nearby hotel so we could use their tables and umbrellas. The water was so warm it hardly even felt refreshing and the waves were gentle. The kids jumped in the waves, collected shells and built sandcastles until they were worn out.
Zachary fell asleep on the way back to the ship. Even though we'd been on board for 4 days, he still didn't realize that we were on a ship. I think its because he was asleep when we boarded in SF too. He would still ask "Go on boat today?" all the time. It wasn't until the next day that he actually experienced walking onto the ship. Poor kid thought we were on a 6 day cruise!

Day 5 – October 28:
Another sea day. This night the kids club took the kids to dinner so Jon & I made reservations at the steakhouse (another specialty restaurant) still in search of a great meal. We got what we were looking for here. The steak was great and the desserts were excellent (we ordered 3). It cost us about $100 including a bottle of wine, but we left full and satisfied! This was also the ships “monte carlo night” with optional formal night. It was fun to dress up and we got some good family pictures taken. Morgan particularly liked taking a picture with the Captain. After he explained to her that there was still a reliable person driving the ship while he was out meeting the passengers. She was a bit worried for a minute.

Day 6 – October 29:
We pulled into Acapulco early in the morning for our longest port visit. We were the 2nd cruise ship on the pier and a 3rd docked out in the harbor. “What happened?” Morgan asked. “Did their captain just give up?”
We waited long enough to get off the ship that we were able to avoid having our picture taken with fake Mexicans. In each port, crew members from the photography department dressed up in costumes and tried to get everyone to pose for a picture. In Mazatlan they were a parrot and a bald eagle. Here they were in stereotypical Mexican garb. One was in a full plush costume with a giant plastic head. Kind of like a bobble head doll. Very, very strange. And irritating because it made the line slow down getting off the ship.
Acapulco is a big city so I’m sure it is always pretty crowded, but 3 cruise ships in port just made it worse. It was also blazing hot. First we went to visit the fort (Fuerte de San Diego) which is right across the street from the pier. It was slightly more interesting the Sutter’s Fort for the kids (this one had pirates) and the exhibit rooms were air conditioned.
After that we hired a taxi to take us to lunch, and the market and the cliff divers. We had a good Mexican lunch and then browses the Mercado and managed to only buy 2 sets of maracas for Morgan & Zachary. The cliff divers put on a good shoe, but Zach had fallen asleep so I tried to keep him in the shade and it was hard to see. I did get to see several senior citizens get into fights over who was standing where first so at least I got some entertainment for my money.
We went back to the ship to rest and change and then found our way to the beach. The waves were quite rough here so we didn’t go in the water much. Luckily, a vendor selling sand toys came by so we made some great sand castles.
We went back to the ship around dinnertime although we did not leave the pier until after midnight.
This was definitely our busiest port day of the trip.



Run away!
Beach Bum.

More to come!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

We're Back!

A long post complete with pictures will be up soon, but here is the short version:
We had a great time (though with some mixed feelings about the ship and cruiseline). The kids were troopers. Mexico was beautiful. We're glad to be home.