Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Prairie Home Companion Cruise

3/13 - Nancy’ sister arrived from Chicago and we had dinner at Ybor Grille.

3/13 - Off to the Caribbean on the Prairie Home Companion Cruise! We had a local driver pick us up Sunday morning and take us to the Port of Tampa. A bit of a hassle getting onto the MS Ryndam. It looked like everyone decided to arrive at the same time! Long, long line for the port security check, same thing as at the airport. The Tampa Port Security would not let people take in water bottles! Even if they were empty! Barney Fife lives! Give someone a modicum of authority and they go off half-cocked, making up their own rules and making life miserable for everyone. After we got through security we had to stand in line again to check in and get our rom key/ID cards.

Once we cleared those hassles the rest of the week was smooth and relaxing, exactly what we were looking for. We had an outside cabin on the Norway cruise in 2007, but we opted for an inside cabin on a higher deck this time and it worked out well with a convenient location.

Sunday afternoon Nancy and Joan (her sister) took the tour of the ship’s public places (no more “behind the scences” tours for “security reasons”, another example of people taking advantage of 9/11 to make their lives easier!) while Dennis relaxed in the Ocean Lounge with a good book. As usual this was his favorite spot as it was comfortable and usually quiet. He spent a lot of time either here or in a deck chair with a book.

After the mandatory lifeboat drill we went to the early dinner seating (we had the late one for the rest of the cruise) as we wanted to be on deck to see the ship sail under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and out of Tampa Bay. Turns out that we had bad info and we went under the bridge sooner than we expected - fortunately we were seated right beside the rear windows in the dinning room, so we got to see the bridge from there.

After dinner we listened to Jearlyn and Billie Steele in the Ocean Bar for a while before retiring. The gentle motion of the ship at night made for good sleeping the entire week week! The first night back in the trailer Dennis laid there wide awake and realized the problem was that it was not moving!

3/15 - Monday morning the ship was still en route to Key West. We went to Fred Newman’s first show “We Don’t Have Earlids - The Anthropology of Sound”. Fred’s show were really the highlight of the cruise for us. He is a master of sound effects, the majority of which are done vocally, his imitation of the ship’s fire alarm, is uncanny, but his mimicry of the ship’s toilets is hilarious. Beyond that he is warm and friendly guy and a fabulous story teller. His stories are punctuated with hilarious sound effects and physical antics.

The ship arrived in Key West at Noon and tied up right at Mallory Square right downtown. After lunch we walked into town and toured the Little White House. Interesting, but a not a real wow. If you grew up in the fifties you saw a lot of houses that looked just like it inside. The big highlights seemed to be specific chairs that famous people sat in, the fact that Harry Truman played poker and stuff like that. Not too scintillating. We then walked over to Duvall St and had a drink in Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville. Lucked into a prime spot right in the open window on the sidewalk.

The we went through Mel Fisher’s Maritime Museum which has artifacts from a number of Spanish Galleon’s that have been recovered from waters around the Keys. A very interesting museum and you even get the chance to put your hand into an acrylic case and lift up a bar of solid gold.

The MS Rydam sailed at 6 PM. As we were leaving the pier the crowd was forming for the daily sunset celebration, and they were to have us leaving since we were blocking the west side of the square! The cruise is set up with an early and late primary show each evening along with early and late dinner seatings. The various performers then have individual shows in the ship’s lounges throughout the day and evening. We were signed up for the early show and the late dinner seating throughout the cruise. The main show Sunday evening was “Duets”

After dinner we went to Fred Newman’s second show, “Once Upon Some Time” (A tale of The Juggler, The Weaver , And The Star Thrower). accompanied by Andy Stein. It was a bit of an off-beat take on the creation of the universe.

3/16 - At sea all day today en-route to Belize. We all had a relaxing day, reading on deck and just walking around. We went to a naturalist lecture on “Reef Fish Behavior”. Nancy and Joan took the “Behind the Scenes Kitchen Tour” and then the three of us went to “Story Hour with Garrison And Jearyln”.

After lunch we went to Fred Newman’s show “Putting Your Best Voice Forward (with a few horns & honks)” Another hilarious (and quite educational) show! That was followed by John Sauke’s “Scotch Tasting” - always an enjoyable event in any venue!

The evening show was “A Prairie Home Companion”. They did two full radio shows during the cruise, and since they were doing two shows a night , that made four shows that they were able to edit into a single radio show that was broadcast on NPR on Saturday March 20.

I won’t go into any detail, suffice to say all of the shows throughout the cruise were excellent. And well they should be since that was the point of the cruise in the first place! As far as we were concerned the visits to Belize and Mexico were secondary to the entertainment on board.

3/17 - MS Ryndam anchored off Belize City at 7:48 AM. We did not actually go into Belize City since we had signed up for a snorkeling trip. They picked us up from the ship and took us to the reef, about 20 minutes away. We then had an hour for snorkeling. The weathers was overcast and spitting rain, only poor weather day of the trip, but who cares if you are swimming! Turned out Dennis did not do so well at the snorkeling - lots of sputtering and swallowing sea water! He had practiced in the pool at home before our trip to Australia a number of years ago and did pretty well there - not so hot in the Caribbean!

After the snorkeling they took us to a small, private island for lunch and beach time. Would have been better if it had been a hot sunny day, but it was nice anyway.

After we returned to the ship we all went to the spa for massages, courtesy of Dennis’ mom who treated us to the spa afternoon as a thank you. The Ryndam weighed anchor at 5:33 PM and headed north for Costa Maya. The evening show was an “All Request” show, which was very good as usual. After another great dinner (man, we really ate a lot on this cruise!) we relaxed until Fred Newman’s late show “Growing up Weird”. Another great show!

3/18 - Ms Ryndam docked in Costa Maya at 7:08 AM. We slept fairly late since we did not have any activities scheduled. We walked into town, what there was of it. The cruise port consists of a fairly new, medium sized shopping center with cheap souvenir shops, jewelry shops, a few bars and a small beach and swimming pool. Not much to see other than the folks on the pier who will take your picture with a monkey on your shoulder. The city itself appeared to be a few miles inland, but we did not do any exploring. Purchased a couple of pieces of jewelry and went back to the ship.

We spent the rest of the day relaxing on deck and enjoying the beautiful weather. We left Costa Maya at 6 PM. The evening show was A Prairie Home Companion again, a different show of course, and also very, very good. After dinner we listened to Jearlyn and Billie Steele in the Ocean Bar. Her shows were another highlight of the cruise.

3/19 - We docked at Cozumel at 7:39 AM. We were scheduled for a bicycling/snorkeling tour, so we headed into town to meet the tour, but had to wait in the gangway while another cruise ship came up alongside the pier opposite us. They apparently are concerned about a sudden movement of the ship causing a wave over the pier and the danger from loose mooring lines. The support crew from A Prairie Home Companion were chomping at the bit to get off the ship as they were carrying the tapes of the APHC show and had studio time scheduled in Cozumel to transmit them to Minnesota Public Radio.

We met our tour guide on the pier and climbed into taxis to go to get out of the center of town. Cozumel is a large city and a pretty bustling place whose main industry is tourism. Lots of traffic and lots of resort hotels along the beach. We were docked right downtown at the main pier and there were a number of very large cruise ships docked at the International Pier north of the city. In all we counted seven other cruise ships docked or anchored there.

The taxis took us to the bike tour headquarters, a dusty lot with a lean-to where they were doing car repairs. The bikes were fairly rough looking, but they were actually 10 speeds in pretty good shape. We then rode the bikes north along the coast about three miles to Chankanaab Nature Park. This was nice park with some reproductions of Maya and Inca ruins, tropical plants and apparently some animals, although all we saw were Iguanas. There was a really nice beach and we would have enjoyed relaxing on the beach longer as opposed to walking through the park. The snorkeling was pretty good with a fair number of fish, but the surf was a high which made it hard. Dennis did a little better this time, but did not last long. After a short rest on the beach it was back on the bikes and back into Cozumel.

Once again we did not do any real exploring, just browsed the shops by the pier a bit. We did find some bargains on scotch and Irish whiskey at a shop on the pier.

Back on the ship we stood at the rail to watch it pull away from the pier. We were supposed to leave at 4:30 PM, but there was apparently a passenger missing! They paged the lady several times and there were officers and crewmen talking with port officials. A couple came up by us at the rail and asked “Have they found Pattie yet?” Turns out they knew her from the Norway APHC cruise and they said she was always late for everything. We waited almost 45 minutes and eventually left her in Cozumel! Not a great way to finish up your vacation.

The main show tonight was a Lake Wobegon Q&A with Garrison answering questions about the characters and the creation of his fictional town of Lake Wobegon. After dinner we went to the chocolate extravaganza on the Lido deck and then Sue Scott and Tim Russell, with Vern Sutton, presented a one-act play about voice impersonators that was really good.

3/20 - Our last day of the cruise and a full day at sea. We pretty much relaxed most of the day. The Chief Engineer of the Ryndam presented a video tour of the engine room and propulsion system which was followed by a really interesting Q&A session.

We listened to Jearlyn Steele’s last evening in the Ocean Bar after dinner.

3/21 - Back in Tampa, an overcast, rainy day. As he did at the end of the Norway cruise in 2007, Garrison stood at the end of the gangway and thanked every passenger for coming! A nice end to a great and entertaining cruise. We are ready to sign up for the next one as soon as they announce it!

Nancy and Joan are of to Disney world for three days, while Dennis is headed back to looking after his Mom and finishing up the packing for her move.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Real Cowboys, In Florida?

3/7 to 3/12 - We spent the week packing up Dennis’ mothers apartment and getting things ready for her to move into her new place on the assisted living side of the Courtyards. We have long distance movers lined up to take some furniture to her niece’s in upstate NY, local movers to move her across to her new apartment, and a Our Lady of Guadalupe Thrift Shop set up to take all of the things she cannot take with her. It has been a busy week and Nancy has been doing more than her share of the work. We both need a good week of RR on the PHC cruise.

We have managed to get out for a good dinner a couple of times. We had dinner at the Ybor Grille again, and also made it to Anna’s in Wimoma FL for some authentic Mexican fare. We also had lunch at Danny Boys a couple of times.

We had lunch at Anna’s on Thursday and actually ran into a group of real cowboys! Yup, we spent almost two months in Arizona and then we run into a group of cowboys in Florida. When we pulled into Anna’s lot there were several trucks with horse trailers, saddled horses in the them with blanket rolls! Inside were five cowboys - yes, battered hats, scuffed boots with spurs, the whole works! Go figure!

Friday it rained, and it rained. Started during the night and poured rain for several hours, then just a steady light rain all morning. We are getting ready for the PHC cruise. Getting our luggage packed, etc. We leave on Sunday and return on Sunday the 21st. We will have a post then to tell about the trip.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

More Good Food

3/3 - We took a ride down to Bradenton to check out the Red Barn Flea Market. What a mob scene and this was Wednesday! Cannot imagine what it is like on weekends. The market is huge with a wide variety of stuff - we picked up a pizza cutter, some fishing tackle boxes for Dennis’ Mom’s costume jewelry, and a phone charger. After the flea market we back to Haslem’s bookstore int St Petersburg to pick up a book Nancy had ordered. Naturally Dennis bought a couple more books! We had lunch at Island Seafood right down the block. Outstanding seafood - don’t miss the Philly Fish Cheese Sandwich. Back in Sun City Center we stopped at Wal-Mart. We were looking at an inexpensive table for Dennis’ Mom’s new apartment since her table is to large. A lady approached us and said she had a small table and two chairs for sale. Turns out she has a cherry drop leaf table with two chairs that will be perfect for $100! Serendipity.

3/4 - Thursday morning we went to Brandon and shopped for a new twin bed and bedding for the new apartment. Had lunch at La Septima Cafe, just as good as last time. We had not expected to be back here, so it was a pleasant treat.

3/5 - We drove into Ybor City in the morning just to look around. Not much to see or do there, seems to be more of a nightlife area, lots of bars and a few historic buildings, but not much left of the real old Ybor City. Lunch at the Green Iguana, then back home.

3/6 - The Tampa Bay office of the National Weather Service is less than a mile down the road from Sun Lake RV. These are the folks that produce the NOAA weather reports for this area that you hear on your weather radio. They had an open house today, so we rode our bikes down there and took the tour. Pretty interesting stuff. They showed us the weather computers and told how they go about creating a forecast. They also demonstrated a launch of a weather balloon. They launch a balloon each day at 6 AM and & 7 PM (noon and midnight Greenwich Mean Time - now called Zulu Time.

Speaking of bikes, we have not gotten as much use out of them on this trip as we had thought. It turned out that there were no good places to ride near our campground in Tucson (same thing applies here in Florida) so we will most likely leave them at home next winter. Even with the cover on them on the rack they have gotten wet and rusty, Dennis’ more than Nancy’s for some reason. Do not recall if we mentioned it earlier in the blog, but we liked Desert Trails RV Park in Tucson so much that we have reserved the same spot for next winter, starting the 1st of December and running through the end of March. We will take the trailer down there after Thanksgiving and then fly home for Christmas. Hopefully that way we will avoid the snow and bad weather that we ran into by leaving after Christmas this winter.

In between our touristy activities we have been working on cleaning out Dennis’ Mom’s apartment and getting her ready to move into a smaller place. She is doing incredibly well in rehab and we are hoping to get her back into her own place by the end of March.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Doing a Bit of Sightseeing

On Sunday the 28th we took a walk on the beach in Simmons County Park. We had lunch at Ybor Grille, still our favorite place in the area, and then dinner at home after visiting with Dennis' Mom.

March 1st was a really nice day, close to 70 with a bit of a breeze. We stopped at Canoe Outpost to check out renting canoe on the Litttle Manatee River, we are planning on doing Trip 1 the first nice day we can get away. In the evening we drove down to Palmetto and had dinner at the Crab Trap II.

March 2nd we looked at the facilities for Assisted Living at the Courtyards where Dennis' Mom lives. She had been living in the Independent Living area, but she has decided it is time to move to Assisted Living. We were able to reserve a room for her as they had one vacancy coming up. We will be moving some of her furniture and her personal things over there in the next few weeks so she will have a good place to come home to after rehabilitation.

More to come and our cruise with Garrison Keillor and the cast of A Prairie Home Companion will be coming up in two weeks.