Aboard the Crown Princess – Day 3

Day three was much better than day two. There were two big highlights of the day. The first was the backstage tour of the boat we were given. What was original supposed to be a three hour tour of the ship ended up being a five and a half hour tour. We visited backstage of the theater, the galley and food storage areas, the environmental and engine control rooms, the laundry (which was surprisingly large), the smoke stacks and finally the bridge where we got to meet the captain and sit in his chair.

I’ve always been fascinated more by the behind the scenes stuff than I have the public face of things. I took the backstage tour at EPCOT center and thought it was equally as fascinating. The level of organization necessary for a ship with over 3,000 passengers and crew, with all the food, laundry, machinery, and people pooping, is really impressive. It all seems to run like clockwork.

I have a ton of photos I took on the tour, but there is no way I’m going to be able to upload them from the ship. While we are given complimentary internet access (which other wise very expensive), all the data has to go to a satellite so it is very slow. Text is OK, but big images are a different story.

The other big event was dinner. We had dinner in the on board steakhouse, the Crown Grill. I know I’ve been harping on this point the last several days, but this meal was exceptional even by land standards. I had fois gras with scallops for a first course, tomato soup with prawns, lobster tail for the seafood course and then a porterhouse steak for the main course. All with a great bottle of wine. It was really exceptional. So far, the highlight of the cruise has been the food, which I never would have guessed would be the case.

Today we are in Grand Cayman were I will go SCUBA diving and swimming with sting rays. I will also get to eat dinner at the Chef’s Table, which should be fun. I am now looking forward to dinners on the boat. The bar has been set pretty high now.

Aboard the Crown Princess – Day 2

Our cruise itinerary was changed because of a hurricane in the Caribbean. What was to be our last stop ended up becoming our first stop. It was the place I was looking forward to the least. In the previous post I mentioned that Princess owns a private island in the Bahamas. It turns out that isn’t quite true. They own a small spit of land which is connected to a much larger island via a mangrove swamp. I suppose in a technical sense it might be an island, but it is really just a hunk of beach on the much larger island.

According to the sailing schedule, this was the day I was least interested in for the entire cruise. I’m just not a big beach guy. Especially crowded beaches which is what this was. None of the activities which were available really appealed to me: snorkeling, kayaking and banana boat riding. The snorkel area was a small roped off area and you had to wear a life jacket.

Brett also didn’t want to sit on the beach, so we left the area and headed inland. We probably walked for over and hour round trip and only saw a few houses, most of them abandoned. Most of the houses were painted in the aqua or pink colors you so often see in the Bahamas. We even found an abandoned church and what I presume is the new church a few minutes up the road. In the end, we didn’t find the village we were looking for. We very well might have taken a wrong turn. I later found out there was a bus trip to the village, but I didn’t know about it.

We walked back to the beach and parked ourselves at a bar and waited to find other people who were in our Twitter group. Mostly I drank which I felt was acceptable because it was after noon.

Getting back on the boat I mostly wandered around. I ran into an art auction (they have an art gallery on board the ship) with some pieces selling for over $200,000.

As I said before, the food on board has been above my expectations. We had dinner at the Italian restaurant which was one of the places on board you needed a reservation for. The meal took three hours for all the courses to come out. We started at 8pm and ended at 11pm. Given how long it took to eat, I didn’t feel full by the end of the meal.

We’ve also been moving through rough seas, so several people in the group ended up getting sea sick. Surprisingly, I was not one of them. Given my history of motion sickness, I was sure I’d be one of the first. The restaurant was also on the 16th floor in the starboard aft part of the ship, one of the worst places to be to experience motion.

Today looks to be better. We get a behind the scenes tour of the ship and I get to have dinner with the captain tonight.

Aboard the Crown Princess – Day 1


This was written in The Bahamas at 24 35.9107′ N, 76 02.5875′ W

The first day aboard my first cruise has come and gone. Somethings surprised me and some totally met my expectations.

  • The moment people get on board the ship they enter into vacation mode. Just walking around after I put my bags away, I saw the pool area already full and guys were already half way through a bucket of beer bottles. There is no need to wait for the ship to pull away. I sat next to one guy in a bar who wanted to try all 52 martinis on the menu before the cruise was over.
  • I’d say at least half of the people on the cruise are of retirement age. The rest is a mix. I saw one guy during the mandatory fire drill which took place before we left, who said he was 89 years old. This part pretty much met my expectations.
  • I sort of assumed I’d be eating at buffets most of the time which sort of scared me. I enjoy a buffet as much as the next guy, but eating them all the time didn’t appeal to me. The first dining area I found walking around the ship was the buffet which had the smell of buffet in the air. Thankfully, the dinner I had was at a sit down restaurant and was actually pretty good meal. I think I can totally avoid the buffet while I’m here. In fact, given that you can eat for free anywhere, I don’t get why you even need to have a buffet on the ship. The whole ship is a buffet.
  • This cruise is sponsored by Princess Cruise lines and is their attempt at reaching out to the social media world. I’ve never felt so much like a rock star. In reality, at least the check in procedure was the same as what you’d get if you were a member of their “frequent cruiser” program.
  • The staff-to-passenger ratio seems high. The restaurant was crawling with staff. They seem to be everywhere. It is also extremely international. Since I got on board I’ve been keeping a list on my iPhone of the home countries where the crew members I’ve met live:
    • Philippines
    • India
    • Mexico
    • Ukraine
    • Macedonia
    • Germany
    • Scotland
    • England
    • Portugal
    • Serbia
    • Hungary
    • Romania
    • Thailand
    • Italy
    • Turkey

    I suspect that list will grow over the next few days.

  • The ship moves and the fact that you are on a moving vessel is obvious, but it is not enough to make you sick….at least not me. I get motion sickness very easy. I puked on a boat in the Great Barrier Reef and another in the Red Sea. So far nothing here. The ship is just too big.
  • Speaking of big, I’ve never even been on a boat close to this size. It is enormous. You can easily get lost on it.
  • Today the boat stops at Princess’s private island in the Bahamas. The agenda today is just sitting on the beach, which is something I usually don’t do very well.

    I Don’t Give A Damn How You Travel

    Because new readers discover my site all the time, I’ve lately taken up the habit of posting what I was doing one and two years ago on Twitter. That way they can catch up on things they might not have been around for when I was originally blogging about it.

    A few days ago sent out a link to a post I made two years ago during my visit to Taiwan. Someone left the following comment (two years after the fact mind you).

    So you only stayed in Taipei? You didn’t visit anywhere else here? I’ve been in Taiwan for five years and have been to Taipei probably less than a dozen times. You have no idea what you missed. There’s seems to be little point in travelling if you’re only going to hop from big city to big city.

    I was going to write an email to respond to him, but I figure why write an email when I can make a blog post about it?

    Putting aside for a moment the fact that this guy managed to extrapolate almost three years of my life from my visit to a single location and clearly didn’t bother to read about any of the other places I’ve been. What struck me about the comment is:

    1. The implication that he was doing it right.
    2. The implication that I was doing it wrong.
    3. That he felt it was important enough to tell me that he was doing it right and I was doing it wrong

    I’ve noticed this same attitude pop up in other articles, most recently in a Boots N All article about how flashpacking (a term I loathe) is hurting backpacking. There was also a user on Twitter who felt the need to tell everyone else going on a cruise, not only how unethical they were for going on a cruise, but also how ethical she was for not going on cruises. I could only roll my eyeballs.

    I would like to go on record to say that I do not give a rats ass how anyone else travels. I really don’t. I don’t care if you like to go on cruises, I don’t care if you like to visit spas, I don’t care if you like to drive around in an RV. None of those are really my cup of tea, but I don’t care if you do it.

    Likewise, I’d ask you extend a similar courtesy to others. Just because someone doesn’t travel the way you like doesn’t mean you have to tell them. It is extremely tacky behavior. Just because something isn’t your cup of tea doesn’t mean you have to go on a jihad.

    There is no wrong way to travel. Do I think you might get more out of a visit to a country if you left the Hyatt? Yes I do, but at least you are visiting. Do I think you might enjoy a trip more if it wasn’t a packaged tour? Sure, but any tour is better than no tour.

    The following video clip succinctly summarizes my views on the matter:

    Deep in the heart of Texas

    Here is what has been happening on my US road trip the last few days and other odds and ends:

      Inside Carlsbad Caverns
      Inside Carlsbad Caverns

    • With today’s daily photo, I have now caught up with my most recent World Heritage site. Carlsbad Caverns was my 106th World Heritage site and it only took 35 days to go from Italy to New Mexico. You can view the complete list of all 106 World Heritage sites I’ve visited with links to all the daily photos corresponding to each location. I hope to do a day trip to the Everglades on Friday and visit three more on the way back to Wisconsin for Thanksgiving: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Mammoth Cave, and Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in Illinois.
    • The cruise I’ll be going on next week is sponsored by Princess Cruise Lines. They are picking up the whole tab, so if you think I’ve become a shill for the cruise industry, now you know why. This will not only be the first cruise I’ve ever been on, but the first time I’ve ever been on a press trip. Given how I travel, cruising never really appealed to me. If I had to spend my own money, it probably isn’t something I would do on my own. Getting eight hours to visit a port is like having an extended layover in an airport. Nonetheless, I am not anti cruising and am open minded enough to give it a try. I’ll try to do a few updates while on board the ship and will be using Twitter during the cruise. You can follow all the Tweets from the cruise at #followmeatsea.
    • Claire at the Botanical Garden
      Claire at the Botanical Garden
      I’ve been staying with my friend Amy in Fort Worth. She has two kids, 3 years and 14 months old. It has been very different being around little kids. Her daughter Claire is adorable and is at that age where she is speaking complete sentences, but still learning how the world works. Luke is walking but not yet talking. He interacts with people by picking stuff up and giving it to them. On Sunday I went with Amy and the kids to the Fort Worth botanical gardens and yesterday we took the kids and her husband James to the Fort Worth Stockyards.
      It has been a nice break from sitting in a car all day.
    • I’ve also had a great time hanging out with my friend, cartoonist Scott Kurtz. Even though a travel blog has nothing to do with drawing a cartoon, there is a lot that I’ve learned from Scott over the years that I’ve incorporated into my blog . Scott normally does a live stream of him drawing his strip every day, and on Monday we took calls from his fans on Skype while he was drawing. We had calls from Germany, Poland, UK, Canada and the US. I think it is important to have friends that are totally outside of what you do, lest you never get a perspective from the outside of the bubble you live in.
    • The winners of the Lonely Planet book, Extreme Cuisine are Bev F, Bob, Jessie, Chaiaket, and Steph. You will be contacted by email.

    If you are in the Fort Lauderdale/Miami area and would like to meet during my brief stay on either end of the cruise, contact me and we can try to arrange it.

    Carlsbad Caverns National Park

    World Heritage Site #106: Carlsbad Caverns National Park
    Carlsbad Caverns National Park: My 106th UNESCO World Heritage Site and my 13th US National Park

    From the World Heritage inscription for Carlsbad Caverns National Park:

    The more than 100 limestone caves within Carlsbad Caverns National Park are outstanding and notable worldwide because of their size, mode of origin, and the abundance, diversity, and beauty of the speleothems (decorative rock formations) within. On-going geologic processes continue to form rare and unique speleothems, particularly in Lechuguilla Cave. Carlsbad Caverns and Lechuguilla Cave are well known for their great natural beauty, exceptional geologic features, and unique reef and rock formations. The Permian-aged Capitan Reef complex (in which Carlsbad Caverns, Lechuguilla and other caves formed) is one of the best preserved and most accessible complexes available for scientific study in the world.

    Carlsbad is one of several World Heritage caves which I’ve visited. I love visiting caves and Carlsbad is one of the best. Unlike my other caves I’ve visited, I was allowed to take my tripod into the cave, so the photos are much better than I’ve taken in other sites. I’d like to return to Carlsbad someday and explore Lechugilla, but it isn’t open to the public. Carlsbad Caverns National Park also borders Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas.

    Overview

    Carlsbad Caverns National Park

    Carlsbad Cavern National Park is a unit of the US National Park Service and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park is located in Carlsbad, New Mexico and was established in 1930 as a national park. In 1995, it was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

    The park is part of the Chihuahuan Desert of New Mexico at the base of the Guadalupe Mountains. Within the park are 83 individual caves that include the park’s namesake, Carlsbad Cavern.

    Tourist Information

    Carlsbad Caverns National Park

    Since 2007 to 2016, the number of annual visitors to Carlsbad Cavern National Park has reached 410,000 in average. The number of tourists is at their highest during Memorial Day Weekend or Fourth of July. There is free admission available for tourists who wish to visit the park during important holidays so be sure to check that out before you go if you want to take advantage of the free entry.

    If you would like to camp in the back country portion of the park, you can do so. But you must secure the necessary permit at the visitor center before you are allowed to.

    There are also several programs offered at the site to provide more opportunities to learn more about what the site can offer. One of them is the bat flight viewing. This program is typically held early evening in the amphitheater (located near the main entrance). For optimal viewing experience, you can visit the park sometime in July to August.

    About Carlsbad Cavern National Park

    Carlsbad Caverns National Park

    Carlsbad Cavern National Park is a massive cave system that is situated on a bed of limestone. It has had a long history of geologic formation that started 250 million years ago, which is the same time wherein the area where the park is in was once a coast land for an inland sea. Over the years, tectonic movement lifted the reef above the ground.

    There are 119 caves that are included within the park’s protected area. Out of 119 caves, only 3 are accessible to the public via tours. Carlsbad Cavern is the most famous of these caves, which is why the park was named after it. It is also the most developed of all the caves with paved trails, electric lights and elevators to make it easy for tourists to access and explore. The two other caves that are open for tours are Spider Cave and Slaughter Canyon Cave. These two are underdeveloped but they do have designated paths for adventure caving tours.

    Carlsbad Caverns National Park

    Aside from the caves, the bats are another popular tourist attraction in the national park. There are 17 species of bats that call this national park their home. The Mexican free-tailed bat is the most prominent of these species although experts claim that the number of these bats have declined significantly.

    Other activities that you can enjoy during your visit to the Carlsbad Cavern National Park include hiking or driving through the desert scenery and ecosystem that surround the park. There is a developed Caverns Historic District outside the cave entrance that tourists can explore. Meanwhile, there is also the Rattlesnake Springs Picnic Area that is filled with picnic tables and natural oasis with landscaping for you to enjoy.


    View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the United States.

    View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.

    Last updated: Jul 22, 2017 @ 4:46 pm

    Taos Pueblo

    World Heritage Site #105: Taos Pueblo
    Taos Pueblo: My 105th UNESCO World Heritage Site

    From the World Heritage inscription for Taos Pueblo:

    Situated in the valley of a small tributary of the Rio Grande, this Pueblo Indian settlement, consisting of adobe dwellings and ceremonial buildings, exemplifies the enduring culture of a group of the present-day Pueblo Indians. It is one of a group of settlements established in the late 13th and early 14th centuries in the valleys of the Rio Grande and its tributaries that have survived to the present day and constitutes a significant stage in the history of urban, community and cultural life and development in this region. Pueblo de Taos is similar to the settlements in the Four Corners area of the Anasazi, or ancient Pueblo people at such places as Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde, and continues to be a thriving community with a living culture.

    Taos Pueblo is by far one of the most unique World Heritage sites I’ve ever visited and perhaps the most unique in the world. Unlike most cultural attractions it is not a historical ruin; it is a living community. The people who live in the pueblos forgo plumbing and electricity and cook in traditional mud ovens. The adobe is resurfaced every year to combat the damage done by the elements.

    Overview

    Taos Pueblo

    Pueblo de Taos, also known as Taos Pueblo, is a unit of the US National Register of Historic Places and the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It also belongs to the New Mexico Register of Cultural Properties. In 1992, it was designated as a cultural site by UNESCO.

    The site lies 1 mile from the modern city of Taos in New Mexico. The pueblo ruins at the site are deemed as the oldest continuously inhabited community in the country. It is also one of the 8 Northern Pueblos, although the Taos community is considered as the most private and conservative of these communities. The entire site measures at about 95,00 acres in land area and was inhabited by about 4,500 people. Today, there are still about 150 people that call this community their home. To preserve the tradition of the pueblo, there is no running water and electricity at these homes.

    About Taos Pueblo

    Taos Pueblo

    During the initial contact with the Taos community, the Spanish invaders described the architectural structures in Pueblo de Taos as adobe houses that were built closely next to each other. Some of these structures go as high as 5 to 6 stories high. The original structures had very few windows and no traditional doorways. Instead, there were square holes in the roof that can be used to access other floors in the building.

    As for the materials used, these were suited for the rigors of the environment and the needs of the people that inhabit the land. They use wooden ladders, cedar logs, grass, mud, plaster, and layers of branches. It was in the late 16th century when the first Spanish-influenced architectural structures were built among the Taos Pueblo community.

    The north side structure in the Taos Pueblo is the most notable of the structures within this UNESCO site. It is the largest multi-storied Pueblo structure that continues to exist until today. The adobe walls that make up this structure measure at several inches thick and was built primarily for defensive purposes. It is also the most photographed out of all the other buildings within this community.

    How to Get Here

    The Taos Pueblo is located around a mile from out of town of Taos, New Mexico. You can therefore drive yourself to the pueblo from Taos. If you are traveling to Pueblo de Taos from outside of New Mexico or the US, you should book a flight to the nearest airport at the park: Albuquerque. The airport is located 135 miles south of Taos.

    Tips for Visiting

    Taos Pueblo

    If you want to visit the Taos Pueblo in New Mexico, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

    • The pueblo is open daily. However, it closes on a periodic basis to make way for tribal rituals. Make sure to check this schedule prior to your visit.
    • The pueblo is close for a 10-week period in late winter and then opens again in early spring.
    • When you explore the structures and buildings in Pueblo de Taos, you have to remember that this is an important sacred and cultural site. This is the Puebloan’s community. When there are signs that indicate “Restricted Area”, do abide by those signs. Avoid wandering into areas that are not open for public as some of these could be private homes.
    • If you are going to take photos, it is recommended that you ask for permission. Some locals will agree to a photo while others could charge a fee.

    View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the United States.

    View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.

    Last updated: Aug 1, 2017 @ 8:56 pm

    Dallas Meetup

    My friend Scott Kurtz and I will be at the Fox and Hound on Midway Road in Dallas, Tuesday night at 7pm to meet with friends and fans. Come on by if you love traveling, cartooning or any combination of the two.