December 18, 2005

And Finally, The Cruise

Okay, now that I've got a few seconds to breathe, here's the cruise report. We spent a wonderful 6 nights aboard the Celebrity Infinity and visited Catalina Island (California), Cabo San Lucas, and Ensenada, with 2 full days at sea. It was easily the most relaxing vacation I've ever taken. I think there are 2 kinds of vacations--ones where you go see stuff (and return happy and enriched but exhausted) and ones where you do nothing and come back refreshed. Ours was the latter.

I was a 3-time winner on this trip! Unfortunately those wins did not include a slot machine jackpot, a Bingo game worth a cruise for 2 to Bermuda, or a big win at the roulette table. My first win came at the art auction preview. For those of you who have never cruised before, the ship has fine art available for auction. I'm not really sure who goes on a cruise and expects to come home with a fine painting, but amazingly, people do. Our art auctioneer was a British fellow named Duncan ("If anyone can, Dun-can!"). The first night they held a raffle and since I'm a sucker for free gifts, I dragged Kevin along. We did not, of course, win the raffle (probably a good thing since we'd be stuck with a piece of art "appraised at NINETY-FIVE DOLLARS!"), but then he asked "Who can tell me the name of the artist who started the movement known as cubism?" And that's where the liberal arts education paid off (thanks Pop!). "PICASSO!" I shouted out and Duncan threw me a t-shirt. Win # 1.

Another activity common on cruise ships is the Bingo game. It's an actual gambling Bingo and the jackpots vary. The first time we went, the jackpot was a free cruise to Bermuda. Kevin and I, being novice Bingo players, sat down with our shared card for a bit of fun. There were some seriously hard core players surrounding us. They had their daubers and were handling several cards at once (each card had 3 or 6 boards). They tended to get impatient with the slowpokes and knew all of the lingo--"It's the sexy legs--B 11!" "Michael Jordan's number, I 23! SWISHHHHHHH!" I was anxiously awaiting a comment for O 69 but none was forthcoming. One woman won not once, not twice, but three times including the trip to Bermuda. She was the most impassive winner I've ever seen. I'm serious--this woman barely cracked a smile. Our Bingo leader kept encouraging her to do the "Bingo Boogie" but, well, nothing. We did not win at Bingo, but there was a post-Bingo raffle, and we won that! Explanation of the prize to follow.

Onboard the ship there are several dining options ranging from the hamburger/hot dog/pizza buffet to the casual sit-down, to the formal dining room where you eat every night, and that is all included. There is also a specialty restaurant for an additional amount (in this case, $30) and you get an elegant 5 course dinner with all of the accoutrements. We had already made reservations and planned on eating one night there. Well for the Bingo raffle, I won a free dinner for two at the restaurant--a $60 value! I was screaming and jumping up and down and was generally more excited than the woman who won the cruise. Hell, I'm happy to win anything, although the cruise would have been really nice. Anyway, it turned out to be a great win because the first Bingo jackpot was only $200 and was shared by 4 people so we actually won more than we would have had we won the Bingo game.

More below...

My final win came the second to the last night of the cruise. The jewelry store held a "Spot the fake diamond" contest. As many of you know, I went through a period of having a deep obsession with diamonds. I mean a serious obsession. So the contest was ridiculously easy. Actually, I spotted the fake right away because all of the diamonds on the ship were of pretty low quality, so I picked the biggest and sparkliest of all and sure enough, that was the fake. Kevin threw in another number just to cover our bases. When the time came, you had to be present to win so we headed there. They put all of the correct guesses in a box and drew one--that person wasn't there. Then they drew ME! I was hoping to win an actual diamond but no such luck. But I did win a nice cubic zirconia earring and necklace set.

Of course, the amount of money we spent on Bingo, the slots, and roulette definitely outweighed the benefits of winning--but you know, it's the fun of the event.

So on to the actual cruise. We took the train down from Anaheim to San Diego where we boarded our boat. Our first stop was Catalina Island. This was hilarious for two reasons. One, it's about 20 miles off of the coast of Palos Verdes, which is the area where I grew up. The other reason was because both Kevin and I had been to Scout camp on different sides of the island. So it was strange to be approaching it as a tourist. Luckily Kevin had never been to Avalon, the main little town on the island. While there we took the Casino tour. The Casino is not actually a gambling casio, but rather a gathering place built in the 20s with a theater and a ballroom. It was very art deco and was quite nice.

Back on the ship we sailed down to Cabo San Lucas. Cabo was very nice and we spent out day wandering the streets. There were several jewelry stores and I had my heart set on getting a new pair of earrings, so we went to Diamonds International, a store with several locations and heavily endorsed by the cruise ship. We visited the one that was right off of the boat first and spotted a pair of ruby earrings we both liked. The price was too steep so we held off, figuring that we would look around some more. We wandered down to the end of the strip and went into a mall. This mall wasn't a tourist mall, but rather a regular mall for the locals. They happened to have a Diamonds International so we went in there and saw the exact same pair of earrings. Out of curiousity I asked how much they were...and they were less than half the price of the other Diamonds International! We thought the price was fair for the earrings so we got them. However, let this be a lesson! Shop around--don't just take the first store you come across.

Another day at sea brought us to Ensenada. Here we decided to take a "wine tasting tour." Our travel agent (hi Mom!) had never sent anyone on that tour and so charged us with reporting back fully as to how it went. It was, well, interesting. We visited L.A. Cetto, the first winery (out of two). We started with a winery tour that was actually mildly interesting. I've seen wineries a bunch of times, but all the ones I've seen were very small productions, doing things like punching down the grapes by hand. This winery was very much on a large scale with giant stainless steel tanks and pump systems to carry the juice around. After the tour we were brought into the tasting room and they said "Normally we open 4 wines but for you we're opening our special reserve wines." Just for us? Yeah, right. Anyway, the first wine was a Vigonier, a wine Kevin generally likes, so I wondered how this was going to be. I took my sip and looked at Kevin for confirmation of how I felt. "They're trying to poison us!" he said. Yep. The following wines weren't any good either. In fact, awful might be a good word. After the wines were poured, they broke out the tequila and that was free-flowing, which had its intended effecting of opening up people's pocketbooks. We bought a t-shirt, but many other people were buying wine in droves. And it wasn't cheap! The regular wines were around $7 and the reserve were $15. Trader Joe's "Two-buck Chuck" (a wine called Charles Shaw priced at $1.99" was much better than some of this stuff. And Trader Joe's other great deal, Stump Jump, at $5 a bottle, completely beat out L.A. Cetto's "reserve" wines. Despite this, multiple people boarded the bus carrying cases (12 bottles).

The second winery, Domecq, was significantly better. There was definitely a reason they took us there second, and it was because nobody would have purchased wine at the first one if they'd brought us to Domecq first. We toured Domecq's cave--nothing exciting if you've seen a wine cave before, interesting if you haven't. They poured their wine and there was one bottle we liked. It had won some kind of award somewhere and was quite drinkable. Nothing I'd write home about but worth it for a nice souvenir. And it was 5 bucks. The folks who bought cases of the $15 wines looked rather crestfallen after tasting Domencq's wines. Following the wine tour we headed back to the boat, skipping Ensenada proper. It didn't look that exciting and we were rather tired.

Other highlights on the boat were the live shows. They had a very talented performing cast--something I very much appreciated from my many years of singing and dancing--and we watched 2 of the shows. Kevin fell asleep during both, but I found them quite enjoyable. We did feel the need to skip the comedy of "Noodles Levenstein." I'm sure he was probably very funny but I couldn't get past the idea of someone voluntarily calling himself "Noodles."

Dinners were lovely. We were seated at an 8 person table but there were only 5 of us. We met Marco from Fresno, who was our age and traveling alone following a business trip in San Diego, and Jacques and Sylvie, a French Canadian couple from Montreal. Jacques and Sylvie were celebrating Sylvie's 50th birthday, which was really fun. They were very interesting to talk to and Jacques seriously knew more about California politics than I did!

I think that about covers it, if you read this far! I highly recommend cruising to anyone looking for a relaxing vacation--and I know a great travel agent-- Shirley Rosiak at The Travel Door in Palos Verdes: . I also would highly recommend the Celebrity line. The ship was immaculate, food was fantastic, and the crew were very friendly and helpful.

Posted by Shelby at December 18, 2005 02:11 PM

Thanks for the great review of your cruise vacation. I happen to agree that cruising is a good way relax and have fun too! Thanks for the recommendation. Love, Mom :-)

Posted by: Shirley Rosik at December 19, 2005 01:06 PM
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