Category Archives: Reviews

Vacationing in Germany: Part 4 – Salzburg, Lake Chiemsee and Rosenheim

Our third day in Germany saw us heading out of the country, to Salzburg, Austria. Salzburg is where they filmed The Sound of Music and Rose read that it is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and wanted to see it.

Our rental car agent told us we would need to buy a toll pass sticker to drive on Austrian higways after Rose mentioned to her we would be going to Austria. Without the sticker, we could have faced hefty fines. On the way there we stopped at a convenience store. Since I didn’t know how to ask for it in German, I asked the clerk, “Sprechen Sie English?”

“Ein bissien” was her replay so I said “Toll pass?” She said, “Oh, vignette?” I said, “Ja bitte,” then added, “zehn Tage,” before she could ask how many days. The shortest option, a ten day pass, was about ten euros.

Before I left she asked if I wanted coffee or anything else. I said, “Ja, zwei Kaffee bitte und Eine pretzel.” I didn’t know how to say “pretzel” but she knew what I wanted. I added the only thing I could to the coffee, which was lowfat milk, and then dumped both cups into a Yeti mug. It tasted so bad neither one of us could drink it.

On the way to Salzburg we noticed a long traffic jam in the opposite direction. We hoped that by the time we drove back it wouldn’t be as bad.

I was expecting some type of border crossing. I thought they would stop us and perhaps check our passports but we didn’t see anything like that. In fact, if there was a sign announcing that we were entering Austria, we missed it. I think that when we entered Salzburg, I checked Google Maps to make sure that we actually crossed the border.

Even though Salzburg was said to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world, when we got there we couldn’t find any of that beauty. I thought maybe there was more than one Salzburg and we were in the wrong one. We drove around for awhile but if there was beauty to be found, it was hidden well.

I didn’t take many photos there, mostly because I didn’t see anything worth photographing. I’m sure if we looked harder we probably would have found something interesting but after a half hour of driving around we decided to head back to Munich. On the way back I tried to find places to go along the way But the phone signal was intermittent so it was time consuming to search the internet. 

On the way back we hit the traffic jam that we saw earlier. We noticed that drivers were inching along on the far side of their lanes, leaving a gap in the middle. I assumed there must be a law requiring drivers to leave space for emergency vehicles. If there is, it is a good idea because 30 seconds after Rose took the photo below, a police car with its lights and siren on cruised past us in the gap.

After we go out of the traffic jam, we stopped near a lake called Chiemsee where we parked and got out for some photos.

We then we drove around the area for a while and ended up at Aldi’s. I was hoping to get real heavy cream for our coffee but the didn’t have it. They also didn’t have light cream or half and half. We ended up buying some weird artificial liquid coffee creamer.

We then found a cute little town called Rosenheim. We drove around for a while admiring the small town charm.

I noticed corn fields, which we don’t see in Florida, but Rose was not impressed. She told me they are everywhere but I don’t pay attention. For that, I had to put up with her pointing out corn fields for the rest of our trip.

We then found a restaurant that was attached to a hotel. The place was called Hotel & Landgasthof Happinger Hof. This looked like real German food, which we had not yet had on our trip, so we decided to have lunch there. Our server asked us, in German, if we wanted to eat here or in the beer garden. The dining area we were in was covered but outside. The beer garden was nearby and also outside. We told her we wanted to eat here and sat at a table overlooking the beer garden and a small playground.

Our server did not speak English but we managed to communicate with her pretty well. I actually liked that she didn’t speak English because I needed to practice my German, but it was obvious that I needed more practice. Rose asked me about potato pancakes so I asked her, “Haben sie kartoffelpuffen?”

She laughed at that and quickly stopped laughing when she realized she was being rude and said, “kartoffelpuffer? Nein.”

I wasn’t offended buy her laughing at me. She was, after all, very nice. Who knows, maybe kartoffelpuffen is slang for “stupid tourist.” If that’s the case, that would have been very funny.

It was a very good meal, perhaps the best or at least one of the top three meals of the entire trip.

Our lunch was also reasonably priced. We paid 45 euros for two meals that included drinks and desert, and that was including a good tip.

When we got back to Munich, Rose wanted a real German pretzel from a vendor that made them fresh. So far, I could only find them in gas stations or small markets. We had a hard time finding pretzels, or any German food, within walking distance of our hotel. Not only could we not find a German restaurant, we also couldn’t find a stand that sold sausages or fresh pretzels. We walked to Karlsplatz looking for a place that Google said sold pretzels but it wasn’t there. We then walked past Karlsplatz until Rose’s foot started bothering her. She stopped to rest and I continued for a hundred yards or more but found nothing. We ended skipping the pretzels and went to a place called Ruff’s Burgers for dinner.

The next day we checked out of our hotel in Munich and checked into our hotel in Stuttgart. I will write about that next.

Vacationing in Germany: Part 3 – Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Oberammergau, and More

Rather than explore Munich on our first full day in Germany, we chose to take a road trip. My wife and I are not big fans of crowds and prefer quiet and peaceful over hustle and bustle. I suppose it was not very smart of us to book all of our hotel stays in large cities instead of small towns but that is a lesson learned for our next trip.

On this day, our plan was to head to a town called Garmisch-Partenkirchen at the base of the Bavarian Alps. At one time, this was two separate towns but they were combined in an effort to snag the 1936 winter Olympics, which they did.

We awoke at around 7:30, which was much later than I wanted to get up. We wanted to get in the car and explore so getting an early start was relatively important but I guess it didn’t hurt to sleep either.

The parking garage is closed on Sundays so we needed a hotel employee to walk down there with us and let us in. We then walked down to the car where I eventually figured out how to get the navigation system to use English. It was British English but it was English.

When we got to the exit of the garage, we had to put our parking ticket in a machine where we could pay for the parking but it was having trouble reading my card and kept giving me an error message. After a few minutes of trying, the same hotel employee drove up behind us but we were blocking his exit. I asked if he could help and he tried but he could not figure out what was wrong so he went back to the hotel and got their pass to let us out. We just had to pay him 25 euros. I think the machine would have charged us 20 euros and he seemed apprehensive charging us more but we were just happy to be out of the garage and gave him 30 for his trouble.

Rose drove this time and we headed south. She stopped at a gas station and I was surprised to find out that the pumps don’t take credit cards and also that you pump your gas first and then pay. Apparently, people are more trustworthy in Germany. I put in less than eight euros. I thought she stopped because we needed gas but I think she didn’t understand the gas gauge. I also learned that gas station employees are less likely to understand English than hotel employees.

I have been learning German for a while but I probably understand only about 35-40 percent of what I read and less of what I hear, especially if they speak fast. Because of that I felt uncomfortable trying to communicate in German but surprisingly, I felt more comfortable speaking German to non English speakers. I don’t know why. Maybe I felt less judged.

As we got closer to our destination the landscape became very beautiful with rolling hills and lush green grass. We also came when the leaves were changing color which made it even more beautiful.

When we got to Garmisch-Partenkirchen we parked in a lot, paid the fee, and then went looking for a bathroom. The first place we went to was a little café. The guy said they were closed. It was 10:50 and they closed at 11 but Rose made the mistake of asking for a bathroom before ordering. Since it was Sunday, most businesses were closed and the only place nearby was a Pizza Hut so we ended up having pizza for lunch so we could use the bathroom even though we were not yet hungry and we were looking for German food.

We walked around town and found a small shop open where Rose bought some post cards and a couple of other little things. It was a very pretty town and I felt like we could have spent more time there if it wasn’t Sunday.

Many people that come here continue on to Zugspitze, Germany’s highest peak. I would have liked to do that but we had other plans for the day. Rose wanted to visit Neuschwanstein Castle but that wasn’t set in stone. We thought we would decide when we left Garmisch. Our decision was to go instead to the less extravagant but much closer Linderhof Palace. It was also on the way to Neuschwanstein Castle in case we wanted to go to both.

I assume many homes in the area are heated by fireplaces which would explain why we saw so many firewood storage areas like these as we were driving toward Linderhof Palace.

When we arrived, we paid four Euros to park and then walked up some stairs and then a short way to gift shops and a restaurant. From there it was a bit of a walk to the Palace, perhaps a quarter mile or more. That was tough on Rose because her foot pain flared up again on the way there but she held up like a real trooper. We rested a couple of times but made it there okay. At least it was a beautiful walk.

I didn’t notice it at the time but the map shows a much shorter route from the parking lot that avoids the restaurant and stores.

We didn’t pay to go inside. We just wanted to see the outside. Unfortunately, the palace was covered because of renovations or repairs so maybe paying to go in wasn’t an option anyway. We were able to see the bath house though.

On the way back to the car, on an area map posted by the washroom, I saw a town called Oberaumagau that I thought it would be interesting to see.

The town is famous for the Oberammergau Passion Play which has been performed once a decade since 1634. I had heard about this before but didn’t make the connection at the time. In 1633, the residents of the town asked God to spare them from the bubonic plague. If he did, they vowed to produce a play every 10 years for all time depicting the life and death of Jesus. The town was spared and the citizens have kept their vow for almost 400 years.

We decided to make the short side trip and we were glad we did. It was a very picturesque town, like we would expect of old world Germany.

Like many buildings in Germany with artistic paintings, we found one in Oberaumagau. This one was of Little Red Riding Hood.

We drove around for awhile admiring the town and the surrounding landscape.

We then stopped at a store and Rose went inside. She bought an Alpine hat for her son, Nick, and a few other things while I tried to figure out how to pay for parking. I had to download an app, register my car’s license plate number and the tell the app the parking lot number. There was no charge, perhaps because it was Sunday. I don’t know.

We then parked closer to the center of town near a cool looking fountain where Rose found another store that was open.

We went inside and I was impressed that they weren’t just selling tourist junk. They had a lot of stuff that I think was made by local artists. Rose bought some ornaments for Christmas. On the way out I noticed some hand carved canes and walking sticks. I looked into buying something like that online a month or two earlier without success. We found a nice one but they all had a pointy metal tip that would make a great weapon, which is why we couldn’t bring it on the plane. It was also too long to pack in a suitcase. We brought it inside and one of the clerk’s was able to remove the tip.

We then drove back to Munich and went out for dinner. It turned out that finding real German food in Munich was quite difficult so we got something at a Middle Eastern restaurant that slightly resembled a gyro but with a different kind of bread. The weather was nice and there were plenty of tables set up outside so we ate there. It was nice sitting outside and the food was actually quite good.

I will talk about our trip to Salzburg, Austria on my next post.

Vacationing in Germany: Part 1 – Tampa to Munich

My wife and I wanted to do something special for our twentieth anniversary so we decided to finally book the trip to Germany that we had been talking about for years. Now that we are back from that trip I decided to write about it in segments because there is just too much to tell for one blog post. I should mention that the first 24 hours did not go well but please stick with me because the story does get better.

We got up early Friday morning, October 11th, and got ready for our trip. We booked an Uber because parking our car at the airport would have cost us around $180 but an Uber was only about $40 each way and that was with a tip. The driver picked us up a little after 8:00 a.m. He was a little older than us and moved here from Crete, Greece in the 70s. He also survived cancer by refusing chemotherapy and changing his diet. I know this because he was talkative. Very talkative.

Our American Airlines flight left for Charlotte just after noon. I sat in the middle seat next to a guy sitting at the window and Rose sat next to me on the isle. The guy had taken over the armrest so I felt squeezed in like a sardine. He also had both his windows closed, as did the people across the isle from us so I couldn’t see outside. That made me feel even more like I was in a sardine can. It was a very uncomfortable flight. Fortunately it was less than two hours. I don’t think I could have survived if the flight lasted much longer.

We arrived in Charlotte before 2:00 and our flight was scheduled to leave for Munich two hours later but it was delayed for two more hours because they found a dent in the plane and had to wait for another plane. Perhaps the pilot hit another plane while backing out and didn’t tell anyone. Whatever the reason, I don’t mind a little inconvenience in exchange for my safety.

The flight to Munich was a little better because we had bought the economy plus which had slightly wider seats, twice as much armrest room, and only two seats in our row. It was also a wide body plane so getting up to streath was a little easier but it didn’t have a lounge like a 747 so there was nowhere to go.

Every seat had a video screen but mine didn’t work right. I tried to watch a movie but had to restart it every two or three minutes because of an error that told me, “Where sorry. The channel is no longer available.” After restarting the movie more than ten times, I just gave up and turned it off.

The last few hours of the nine and a half hour flight were very tough. I was tired but couldn’t sleep and everything was hurting.

When we finally arrived in Munich I had to pee but everyone was blocking the isle and I didn’t want to wait until the line started moving out of the plan to use the washroom so I figured I would go when I got inside the airport. That was a mistake. Upon leaving the plane and exiting the jetway I noticed we were not connected to the airport. Instead, there were busses waiting for us. That did not please my bladder but I had to grin and bear it.

When we got inside the airport we were directed upstairs where there were no bathrooms in sight. First, we had to go through customs but there were no customs agents around. The room slowly filled with people and the ones in the front were waving trying to get the attention of someone on the other side.

Ten minutes went by before anyone came out but they were not customs people. Three or four walked past us pretending not to notice. Finally, after about fifteen minutes, someone said they were on the way but they didn’t say from where. I think a half hour went by before they started processing people. By then many people who came in late filtered around the line to the left and got ahead of us. By the time I got through and made it to the bathroom I was ready to explode.

We got our luggage and proceeded to look for the Avis car rental place. It was quite a long walk and when we got there and saw how long the line was we were not happy. Rose guessed we would be in line for a half hour but it was actually closer to 50 minutes before we got to the counter.

We preordered a Mercedes six months before but we were told they didn’t have any and we were given a Volkswagen SUV insted. They offered us insurance for $350 euros, which was more than the cost of the rental, but Rose said our insurance would cover it and didn’t buy it. We then had to walk what seemed like another mile to the Avis lot where we passed about 500 cars, including several Mercedes. When we got to the car Rose wondered if we shouldn’t have gotten the insurance. I suggested she call our insurance company, which she did, and they told her they did not cover cars outside of the United States. 

Now we needed to get the insurance but didn’t want to walk all the way back and stand in line again so we called them. The phone system put us in the queue but never answered. Since our phone company was charging 25 cents a minute we decided to hang up after almost ten minutes.

Rose said she would wait in the car and I could go back. She told me not to wait in line but go right up to the person who helped us. I felt uncomfortable pissing off everyone in line but I went. When I got there the woman was busy with a customer but another woman was off to the side talking to a customer. I decided to talk to her when she was finished so I waited behind the customer. When she was done she ignored me and walked away. I took that as a sign that they were not going to help people out of line so I walked back to the car. 

Rose’s was pissed at me for not doing what she said. I told her we should could call the Avis corporate customer service and we got right through to them but we were told only the desk agent could issue the insurance policy so Rose and I both walked back to the counter. When we got there Rose butted right in behind the agent’s customer and when she was done the lady took care of us. I guess I should have listened to her.

When we got back to the car we wanted to put the hotel address into the navigation system but it was in German. Despite all the German I learned, there is still more that I don’t know than I do know. I tried to figure out how to change the language but the solution was far from obvious so I put in the address in and hoped for the best.

Once on the road the navigation system seemed to contradict the road signs on two or three occasions. I wasn’t 100 percent sure I programmed the address right so I decided to trust the signs and ended up adding ten or fifteen minutes to our trip. Normally that wouldn’t be a problem but at that point we were both very tired and ready for the trip to be over.

At home, Rose drives because she claims that I am a terrible driver but really she is a terrible passenger. This time I drove because she knew I would understand the road signs better. It was a bit stressful, especially driving through Munich because there was so much traffic and so many pedestrians. Add to that the fact that I didn’t know where I was going and it made for a less than pleasant drive.

When we finally got to the Excelsior hotel, we saw we couldn’t drive to the front of the hotel like every other hotel I have ever seen. It was a pedestrian only area.

There was an area relatively close but there were cars parked there so I drove past and found a parking garage. I was under the impression that the parking lot was owned by the hotel but this was a city garage that charged by the hour.

We pulled in and went down one level but there was nowhere to park so we went down another level and found a spot way in the back. Nearby there was an elevator and we took it up to the main level. When it opened we were looking at the inside of a department store. There we were standing there with two huge suitcases and back packs and needed to go through an entire department store. Rose was willing but I didn’t want to do it and talked her into going down one level and walking up the ramp. She was not happy with me, again, and complained that the garage smelled like piss.

We paid for a room that Friday night simply so we would be able to check in early Saturday morning because we knew we would be tired. By the time we got there it was so late that it wouldn’t have mattered. We got the keys to our room on the third floor and went upstairs with the sole purpose of going to sleep

We expected the beds might be weird but weird doesn’t begin to describe it. Essentially they were two single beds pushed together, each with a single fitted sheet, no top sheet, and two heavy comforters, one for each side. The pillows were also a bit weird with the main pillow being square instead of rectangular.

Our room also had a great view of more rooms.

The good news was that we had arrived and had many days of adventure ahead of us. Next I will write about our first day in Munich.

One Year Electric

It has been one year since I purchased my first electric vehicle and I want to share my experiences so far. The vehicle I purchased was a 2015 Nissan Leaf. Though used, it only had about 600 miles on it so it was like a new vehicle.

20170319 2015 Nissan Leaf

Before I write more about the car, let me back up and explain how I got here.

 

I first became interested in electric cars before I was even old enough to drive. I read about a small electric car that was being produced in the mid-70s called CitiCar. These were produced by a company called Sebring-Vanguard, Inc., which was based in Sebring, Florida. The car was very small and the range was limited to only about 40 miles but worse than that, the top speed was under 30 MPH. Still, I liked the idea of a car that required no gas and had far fewer maintenance requirements.

At that time, I figured the technology would improve and in ten or fifteen years time electric cars would have the speed and range of conventional gas engine cars. I’m glad I didn’t bet on that. Even my 2015 Leaf has a range of fewer than 100 miles but it does go quite fast.

A year ago I was driving a 2000 Dodge Dakota that got about twelve miles per gallon of gas. I started a new job in February that year that was twenty miles from home so the cost of gas was killing me. My wife had wanted me to buy a new car for quite some time because the cost of maintaining the truck was very high. I kept thinking the problems would stop because I had replaced just about every part in the truck but new problems kept coming.  I hated the idea of having a car payment but I slowly realized that it might be better than feeding a money pit.

I first started looking at fuel-efficient cars but the gas savings was not enough to justify the expense. Then my mind went back to the electric car and I did some research. I looked for used electric cars for sale in my area and the cost of most were too high considering the age and mileage they had on them. Eventually, I found several cars at a nearby dealer called Lokey Nissan that all had under 1000 miles and were very reasonably priced.

As I said, I found a 2015 Nissan Leaf for a little over $13,000. Considering that the original list price was $32,000, I thought that was a deal that was hard to pass up. In addition, it was much bigger than I expected for an electric car. The Leaf is a four-door hatchback that seats four comfortably and five uncomfortably. It also has rear folding seats and a pretty decent hauling ability.

20170321_055638 2015 Nissan Leaf milage report

The cost of electricity is a factor that I haven’t fully figured out but if the official estimate is correct then it is less than $50 per month and there are ways to reduce that further which I will talk about below.

The main problem with the car is the limited range of about 90 miles or so, although the 2018 Leaf has a much higher range. This has not been an issue for me because I almost never have a need to drive more than 50 miles in a day. If I do, there are options. The main option it to dive my wife’s Mustang. The other option is to charge the car at one of many charging stations in the area. These charging stations are not nearly as numerous as gas stations but their numbers are increasing every year.

There are three different types of chargers for my Leaf:

  • Level One – This is the charger that comes with the car and it plugs into a standard 110-volt outlet. This is the slowest form of charging and I estimate that it adds about ten percent per hour of charge. This is the only charger I use at home because I have not yet found a need to invest in a Level Two charger.
  • Level Two – This Charger runs on a 220-volt system and charges the car about three times faster than a Level One charger. The only drawback to this is it usually requires an electrition to hook up a special outlet.
  • Level Three – This charger uses direct current to quickly charge the battery. It also requires a different connector. Some cars don’t have both connectors. Mine does. I found it adds about three percent to the charge per minute. The drawback to this is that it is not available for home use and it can be damaging to the battery. For that reason, it is recommended never to charge the battery higher than 80%. I believe it has something to do with the heat generated and a fully charged battery that is hot will lessen its lifespan.

There are several different companies that operate charging stations and their fees vary. I have rarely paid for charging so I don’t have a good grasp of what those fees are but I think you can expect to pay about ten cents per minute for Level Three chargers and about one dollar per hour for Level Two Chargers. There may also be a small connection fee and some may charge by the kilowatt.

I almost always charge for free for a couple of reasons. There are many free chargers that are Level Two. Some of these are in city-owned parking areas like at the airport or near city hall. Some are run by businesses and are there to entice electric car owners to shop there. There is a Whole Foods near me that has a couple of free chargers as well as one or two Publix supermarkets.

20170322_07394620170322_181110

There is also a program from Nissan called “No Charge to Charge.” With that, you get free charging on certain Level Three chargers and, I suppose, Level Two as well for the first two years after purchasing a new vehicle. Since the original purchase date of my car was sometime in 2016, I have enjoyed free charging for the past year. When I need an extra charge, I usually charge at Level Three EVgo chargers that are located at several area Dunkin Donuts. I can then enjoy a nice coffee while I wait for my car to charge. I recently traveled outside my comfort zone to Lakeland, which is 52 miles from home. Once there I charged my car at a Dunkin Donuts so I could get home.

There are several things I like about the car. It accelerates quicker than you would expect for a car like this. It is also faster than I expected. I recently tested how fast it would go and had it up to 92. It would have gone faster but I came upon traffic and I also didn’t want to get a ticket.

20180318_175106 dash

The dash is well laid out and I can see the important things like speed and miles left before empty very clearly. The radio is especially nice for me because I like to listen to my own recordings and it has USB plug as well as an audio in jack. The downside of that is that if a phone call comes in it mutes the sound but it does not pause the audio.

My favorite thing about the car is the lack of maintenance it requires. There is no engine so there is no spark plugs, timing belt, distributor, fuel injectors, alternator, or air filter to worry about.  There is no cooling system so the radiator is not an issue. There is no gasoline so you don’t have to worry about the fuel tank, fuel pump, fuel lines or filters. There is also no transmission that will cost a boatload of money to replace. I recently brought it in for an inspection and the only thing I needed was to have the tires rotated.

Of course, there are things like brakes and tires that need replacing and there is a 12-volt battery that runs the dash and other components that will need to be replaced. I think the biggest expense will come when the main 36-volt battery needs to be replaced. That could cost several thousand dollars. Fortunately, the batteries are more heat resistant than they were on the 2011-2012 models and there is a five-year warranty on the battery.

20180318_175031 shifter

One thing I don’t like is the shifter. It seems backward to me. Even after a year I still sometimes want to push it forward to go forward and pull it back to go backward but that never works out as planned.

Another thing I don’t like is the noise it makes when backing up. It sounds like a garbage truck. They say the sound is needed because the car is so quiet that people need more help noticing it but I think the volume could be cut in half. I didn’t notice how loud it was until I lent my car to my uncle-in-law recently and heard it for the first time from the outside.

All things considered, I would say this is the best car I have ever owned. I don’t know what I will do when the battery goes. Perhaps replace it or trade it in for a newer model. Either way, I can’t see going back to gas.

Caribbean Cruise on Carnival Liberty

Our fall vacation plans started early this year, I believe it was February when my wife suggested that we go on a cruise. We had been on several cruises and I was ready to do something different but had limited options.

Last year we planned on going to Germany but Rose’s place of employment went up for sale and her future employment in question so we put off our Germany plans until this year and went on a Disney cruise instead.

This year was not as questionable. Rose got a job with the new company and all was well except taking off two consecutive weeks while working for a new company is probably not the best idea. Instead she decided another cruise was our best option. We wanted to go near our anniversary in October so I did some searching and could find no reasonable alternative in our price range.

After many hours of searching we both decided that a Cruise on the Carnival Liberty, which sailed from Port Canaveral in Florida to Nassau, Bahamas and then to St. Thomas and St. Maarten in the Eastern Caribbean. We liked that because, even though we are not big fans of Nassau, the Virgin Islands and Eastern Caribbean is a place we have never been and we wanted to see somewhere new.

What I didn’t like was that it was a Carnival cruise. The last time we cruised on Carnival we had several issues that tarnished an otherwise fun time. I wrote Carnival about the problems and even included pictures as proof but was disappointed by their eventual response. I was hoping that they would at least offer us a discount on a future cruise to compensate us for the problems but instead I got what seemed like a form letter that just said “too bad for you” in a nice way (see here). We decided that the shorter cruises used older ships that were more in need of maintenance and a longer seven-day cruise would probably be better, so we booked it.

Once we booked it, it was my job to find a rental car. Our truck is a pig on gas so, to save a little money on fuel and avoid the wear and tear on our vehicle, renting seemed like a good option. The last time we rented a car for a cruise was with Enterprise. At that time I wanted to drop off the car and pick up another car for the return trip but the drop off fee was so unbelievably high that it was cheaper to rent it for a week and pay the high parking fee as well.

This time I found a good deal with Budget. I also accidentally discovered a trick for saving money. By scheduling my pickup time for 9:45 a.m. my cost was just over half of what it would have been if I wanted to pick it up at 8:30 a.m. So for just over $100 we booked a car for our trip over and our trip back and didn’t have a drop off fee.

It seemed like it took us a week to pack because we had to bring everything but the kitchen sink. I want to go on vacation to relax but a cruise requires you to dress up every evening for dinner and there was two formal nights which meant I had to bring a suit and tie, not exactly vacation attire. Worse, all that extra clothes meant we had to bring a boat-load of luggage… literally.

Picking up the rental car went anything but smoothly because the rental office was moving and they had no internet access. Since it was the first day of our vacation that minor hiccup did not bother us. We had booked a hotel on Cocoa Beach and left on a Friday, the day before the cruise departed, because we didn’t want the stress of driving across the state with no time for problems, should they occur. It was also a chance to visit Rose’s dad who lives thirty minutes from there.

That evening we received an automated call from Carnival saying the Liberty was delayed due to having to make an unscheduled stop due to a crew member’s illness. The message said not to arrive at the terminal before 1:30 p.m. That left us in a difficult predicament because we had to return the car by 9:45 and take the shuttle to the terminal.

 

Day One: Port Canaveral

The morning of the cruise we had breakfast at the hotel, picked up a few last-minute supplies, then headed to Budget to return the car. We decided to ignore Carnival’s recommendation and got on the first shuttle to Port Canaveral. Once there everything went very smoothly and we were on the ship before noon, well before Carnival told us to show up.

Once aboard I noticed the windows were quite dirty, just like they were on our last cruise on the Carnival Destiny, but the rest of the ship seemed to be in good shape. We had a room on the spa deck, #11-06 on the port side, third room from the front. It was the highest room level on the ship and our section only had a few rooms. Rose thought it was a good choice because it would be quiet and it would be easy for us to workout because the fitness center was connected to the spa. She was right about it being quiet.

The ship left port on time and shortly after we were out to sea we headed down for dinner. Getting there was complicated, at least until we learned the trick. We were on deck eleven forward and our dining room, The Silver Olympian , was on deck three aft. Our deck did not go all the way across the ship and deck three was blocked by The Golden Olympian Restaurant and the galley. So to get to dinner we went down to deck five, walked past the shops, casino and bars, and then went down to deck three.

After we checked in, we were brought to a small booth where two elderly women were sitting. Rose hates sitting at booths but there wasn’t much we could do without making a scene so she just accepted the situation and we sat down. It wasn’t that bad. The women were sisters and were quite nice and we were relatively close to the large aft window that eventually framed a beautiful sunset.

Silver Olympian dining room, Carnival Liberty

The food was also pretty good. The menu changes everyday but has some items that stay the same. I was told years ago the food on cruise ships is world-class. I have not found that to be true but I am not that picky and have always been happy with the quality. It is the quantity that I am not used to. The portions are always smaller than you would find at your local restaurant, which is probably not a bad thing since I usually overeat and feel miserable when I go to restaurants.

towel animalAfter dinner we went to the casino. I am not a big fan of gambling because I have a medical condition called “bad luck,” but Rose likes to play the video slot machines so I will play video poker while I wait for her. I play the video poker because I have found it to be the slowest way to lose money. I have tried the slot machines but find them no more enjoyable, or profitable, then throwing quarters into the ocean.

There was no show the first night so we went back to our room. The room steward came to our room during dinner, turned down the bed, left us chocolates, the next day’s schedule and, of course, a towel animal. We expect all that but we never know what towel animal he will make so it is always a surprise.

Day Two: Nassau, Bahamas

We got to Nassau early and had the breakfast buffet on the Lido deck. I try to eat healthy so I just loaded my plate with several different fruits, a small amount of eggs and a little cottage cheese that I mixed with peaches. That was my breakfast almost everyday.

We were off the ship at around 8:30 that morning. We have been to Nassau several times and it is our least favorite port. The Straw Market is a popular place for people to shop but it is filled with hundreds of high pressure vendors all trying to sell you the same crap. In fact, the entire area around the port is like that.

Carnival Liberty docked at Nassau, Bahamas

Carnival Liberty docked at Nassau, Bahamas

Horse and Buggy in NassauWe chose not to do a ship excursion. We just got off to see what looked interesting. The walkway is like a gauntlet, loaded with people trying to push you to spend money with them. We chose to go on a horse and buggy ride for $40.

After we got on the buggy a woman took my camera and snapped a picture of us and then asked for a tip. The ride around town was somewhat interesting but shorter than expected, about twenty minutes. We paid $49 with the tips, which was not worth it, but few things are when you are on vacation.

After the ride we did a little shopping in town. Rose had some gifts to buy and I was looking for coffee mugs with covers because bringing two coffee cups half-way across the ship every morning was not easy to do. I could only find one store that had them but they were $10 each for cheap plastic mugs. I guess the word “Bahama’s” somehow made them valuable. We went back to the ship before 10:00 a.m. where I was able to get two nice, stainless-steel mugs, with a specialty coffee, for $8 each. I think it would have been better to stay on the ship that morning.

Early that afternoon the captain announced that because of Hurricane Gonzalo, we would not be going to our scheduled ports but would instead divert to Grand Cayman and Cozumel, Mexico. We were not happy about that since we booked a more expensive cruise to avoid going to the same places but there was not much we could do about the weather.

Rose didn’t like eating at a small booth so she got our table changed for dinner that Sunday evening and for the rest of the cruise. We were led upstairs to the second floor and sat almost directly over were we sat the night before. This time it was a large circular table with nine other people. I felt a little bad about abandoning the sisters but I’m glad we did because every person on that table was very likable.

We went to the theater that night and saw a show that involved a lot of singing and dancing. It wasn’t really my thing but Rose likes stuff like that so I put up with it. It was the only show we saw that trip except for Friday night, which I will get to later.

Day Three and Four: Days at Sea

We spent the next two days relaxing. We wanted to go to the pool but it seemed all the pool chairs were always taken. I think many people go up before breakfast, put a towel or other belongings on a few chairs, then go back to their rooms or to breakfast. There are rules against that but they are not enforced so the only people allowed to enjoy the pool are the rule breakers or the lucky few who get there at the right time.  We did find some out-of-the-way chairs on Monday and spent a little time in the small adult pool but that was the only time during the entire cruse that we did that.

We also spent a little time on our balcony, at least I did, and I was able to get a pretty close look at what I think was Havana, Cuba. Other than that, our balcony went unused for most of the trip.

Possibly Havana Cuba

This might be Havana. If anyone can confirm or deny that, please leave a comment.

That night, and the next, we watched karaoke after dinner because two of our table mates were singing. Those two also got picked for the talent show that Friday night. I’ve never been to karaoke before and I always imagined a bunch of very bad singers but most were very good and some were great.

Day Five: Grand Cayman

We arrived at Grand Cayman on Wednesday morning, which was our fifteenth wedding anniversary. Since a coral reef surrounds the area, ships are not allowed to pass a certain point, so there were several tender boats on hand to ferry passengers to shore. We had breakfast first and then got on one of the boats and headed to shore.

Grand Cayman

The last time we were in Grand Cayman we went on a Marineland Tours amphibious bus, which we really enjoyed. It took us for a tour around the island and then went into the water where we got a chance to do some snorkeling. This time the tour wasn’t available, probably because we were not scheduled to be there, so we picked an excursion that went to a sandbar referred to as Stingray City and then to the Cayman Turtle Farm.

Stingray City

We got on a bus which took us to a boat for a thirty minute ride to the sand bar. As we approached, we saw several other boats along with many people in the water. We then all got a mask and snorkel and got into the water. The water was between three and four feet deep and crystal clear. At first I saw nothing but soon there were stingrays swimming all around us. These stingrays were larger than the ones I have seen on the beaches near my home in Florida.

Stingray City, Grand Cayman

Rose and I did a bit of snorkeling even though the water was clear enough to see the stingrays while above water. It just seemed more enjoyable to be swimming with them. I had my GoPro camera with me and took videos while I swam with the stingrays.

Stingray City, Grand Cayman Stingray City, Grand Cayman

DCIM100GOPROAfter a short time the first-mate “caught” a large stingray and was bringing it to people to hold and kiss. Supposedly, kissing a stingray is good luck. Rose was able to kiss the stingray and the mate took our picture while she held it.

Later, he brought out some food which really attracted the stingrays to our group. A few large ones were swimming through the crowd causing screams from several young women. They must have been used to people because they had no problem squeezing through the dense group of humans.

Stingray City, Grand Cayman Stingray City, Grand Cayman

When it was over, we hated to leave, but we had turtles to see.

Cayman Turtle Farm

Once back on shore, our bus took us to the Cayman Turtle Farm. The farm breeds sea turtles and has a large, artificial “lagoon” that allows visitors to swim with the turtles. We were given the option of going on the full tour or skipping it and the entire group elected to skip it. Instead we went to where several tanks housed adolescent turtles of various ages.

Cayman Turtle Farm

We were hungry at this time so we decided to buy lunch at the café. We sat outside where a rooster, hen and two or three chicks wandered around the tables looking for scraps. The table overlooked the lagoon where several people were snorkeling. When we finished eating, we headed to the lagoon and picked up snorkeling gear for ourselves.

20141015_Grand Cayman_177420141015_Grand Cayman_1776
As we waded into the water I could tell this wasn’t going to be as pleasant as I had hoped. The ground seemed slippery and there was what looked like chucks of algae floating in the water. I put my mask on and reluctantly started snorkeling. It seemed like I was swimming through a green snowstorm. I just assured myself that there was a shower waiting for me on the other end.

At first I saw nothing but then a swimming turtle came into view. I swam toward it and saw him eat a couple of pieces of the algae so I assumed it belonged there. On the bottom were two more turtles resting on top of a large grate. Our time was short so after a short swim we headed back.

We immediately took showers and then headed into the gift store where we didn’t find anything worth buying but did so anyway. Rose bought a couple of Christmas ornaments and I got a shirt without looking at the price first.

Day Six: Cozumel

The next morning we were in Cozumel. I went to the Lido deck to get coffee and saw that someone was up all night making towel animals and putting them on chairs all around the pool. I thought that was a nice little surprise for people.

Carnival Liberty Towel Animals

The last two time we were in Cozumel, we took a cab to Chankanaab National Park for snorkeling, but this time we decided to do something on dry land so we booked an excursion called “Salsa and Salsa.”

We were given a ride ten minutes up the road to Hotel Cozumel. There we were led into a large room and everyone was given a margarita as we entered. This was a drinker’s paradise because the margaritas kept coming.

Salsa and Salsa, Cozumel, Mexico

We started out by making our own margarita to go with the one we already had. The two young women who were hosting the event kept us entertained as we learned how to make several different kinds of salsa as well as guacamole.

Salsa and Salsa, Cozumel, Mexico

When the food making was over, the tables and chairs were removed and it was suddenly a dance studio. The plan was to teach us how to salsa dance. It was a fun experience but I only saw one couple who really seemed to pick up on it. We decided they must had done this before.

Day Seven: Day at Sea

We spent our last day aboard the Liberty just relaxing. We cashed in what was left on our player cards at the casino and were pleased to have lost no more than $60 for the entire trip, which was great because we each spent about thirty minutes a day gambling. That means it cost us less than ten dollars per hour to gamble.

That evening we had our final dinner with our new friends and then most of us went to see Carnival’s amateur show which I believe was called “Legends.” Two of our new friends were performing in the show. One was Madonna and the other Ricky Martin. I enjoyed their performances when I saw them at karaoke but both stepped it up a notch for the show. The other performers did a great job too and we really enjoyed our last night on the ship.

Day Eight: Debarkation

Port Canaveral

We arrived at Port Canaveral early Saturday morning, and since we brought too much crap to carry off ourselves, we had plenty of time to relax and enjoy breakfast.  This trip was the first time in over ten years that we did not carry our luggage off the ship. When our vacations are over, we like to hurry up and get home, so it was discouraging to see people walking off the ship at least an hour before us.

When we finally did get off the ship, we stood at the luggage carousel for a very long time. It started to seem like our luggage was the last two pieces to leave the ship. We then had to wait around for budget to pick us up and bring us to their car rental location. Once there, things went pretty smoothly and we were on our way home.

Final Thoughts

It would be hard to rate this cruise fairly because it did not go to the ports that we chose. If I assume that the ports we went to were part of the plan, I would say that I was pretty satisfied with the experience. My biggest problem would not be with the ship or crew but with the fact that we could have taken a similar cruise out of Tampa (near our home) and saved a ton of money.

We did have a good time, and that is the important thing. We very much enjoyed going to Stingray City and we met so many nice people on this cruise. Perhaps next time we will make it to the Virgin Islands.

If I were to do something different, I would pack less. Rose convinced me I needed to dress up every night for dinner so I had to bring several dress pants and shirts. In addition, I had to bring a suit for the formal nights. That was half my luggage in dress clothes and it wasn’t necessary. Formal night exists just so the cruise lines can sell you pictures and you are not punished for dressing like you are on vacation. In addition, many people went to dinner wearing a decent pair of shorts and a Polo shirt or something similar. All our extra luggage meant that we had to let Carnival remove it from the ship and ended up with a broken suitcase because of it.

I also would get a room with a window but skip the balcony unless the prices are very close. We spent very little time on the balcony during our cruise. Smokers might think a balcony is worth the extra money but smoking is no longer permitted anywhere except certain designated areas of the ship.

Let me know what you think Please leave a comment if you have any thoughts or tips for other travelers.

Note: I have videos that I have not had time to process but will try to add them to this post within the next few weeks, so check back again.

My Smoothie Fiasco

When I was I child I decided the two worst foods in the world were spinach and coconut. This, of course, was before I discovered lentils. I pretty much avoided those two foods until after I met Rose. She made a spinach pie, which I ate out of out of courtesy at first, but then realized that it was quite good. I then discovered that raw spinach was good too and not the horrible toxin that I remember from childhood. Now I will actually order a spinach salad in a restaurant because it is the best salad on the menu.

I think my dislike for spinach goes back to when I was little and my grandmother gave us a bowl of cooked spinach, probably from a can, and told us we had to finish it before we could leave the table. I must have been at the table for an hour before I finally forced it down. I then got up and puked. I think the trauma made me more sick than the spinach. It’s funny how events from childhood can affect us long into adulthood.

Coconut was another story. I didn’t have any trauma connected to coconut, I just didn’t like it. I was well into my forties before I discovered that coconut did not actually taste bad, I just didn’t like the texture. It is like chewing on ground cockroaches.

Ladybug

For those of you grossed out by that statement, let me rephrase it. It is like chewing on ground ladybugs. They are much cuter unless you see them close up.

Ninja BlenderThere is a point to all this, so here we go. Recently Rose and I bought a Ninja Blender. We wanted something better than our old blender for making fruit smoothies and other healthy drinks. This one has 1100 watts and blends much quicker and quieter than I am used to. The first time I used it I was afraid a vortex was going to open up in my kitchen and my brand new blender would be sucked into another dimension. Fortunately that didn’t happen.

Naturally, I looked through the big book of recipes that came with the blender but I could find nothing that I would want to make. Most of the recipes involved opening a can of something or putting perfectly good fruit in the microwave. I’m glad I didn’t pay extra for the book.

I ended up looking on YouTube for some smoothie ideas. I find YouTube to be a great source when you need to learn something and I found plenty of videos on how to make various kinds of smoothies. I saw a few recipes that used coconut and I learned that the fresh, raw, coconut water is very healthy for you. I also knew Rose liked coconut  and I believed that if I could blend it up well enough with other fruits then I could drink it with no problem, as long as I didn’t have to chew it.

The next day I bought a coconut on my way home from work and the following morning I got started on my experimental smoothie. I had watched some videos on the proper way to open a coconut, which all happened to be different, and I thought I was ready. I was wrong.

It seemed so easy. A couple wacks with the back of a meat cleaver and BAM! Of course that didn’t work. The only thing I accomlished was to get Rose yelling at me that it was too early and I was going to wake the neighbors. It didn’t matter that the neighbors moved out days before. So now I had a coconut AND Rose to contend with. How do you quietly pound  the crap out of a coconut? Hmmm…

I decided that I needed to open it fast and to hell with the noise so I got a hammer and screwdriver and pounded until it opened. Even then it took several hits and more yells from upstairs. After it finally opened and I put the water in the blender and then had the delema of breaking the two halves ito smaller pieses, again without making noise.

Once I finally broke the halves into smaller pieses, I then pried the “meat” out of the shell. Unfortunately there is a skin that needs to be removed as well so I had to scrape it off with a potato peeler. When I was finally done I put the pieces in the blender with bananas and other fruit and blended. It came out pretty thick so I added some more almond milk and blended again, this time leaving it on high for a consideable amount of time. I wanted to make sure the coconut was blended smooth.

Finally. After almost forty five minutes I was ready to taste my creation. I poured it in a glass, took a drink and…Yuck! It was like drinking a cat litter smoothie. I had to dump the whole thing down the drain and to top it off, I had to hurry up so I wouldn’t be late for work because I wasted so much time.

I don’t get it. How is it that so many people put coconut in their smoothies? Is it just me that is bothered by it or did I do something wrong? If anyone knows how to make this drink so it is actually drinkable plese let me know. In the meantime, coconut is back on my most hated food list.