Monthly Archives: November 2014

Quarantine on the Norwegian Star

This was not my first time getting sick on a cruise ship. In 2007, I got seasick my first day at sea and had to leave the dining room and go to bed just as my lobster tail arrived. Jim dutifully stayed behind to consume my portion. Fortunately, I got a patch from a friend and within 24 hours I was fine. In 2011, I came down with an abscessed tooth in Barcelona, Spain, before boarding the ship for a Mediterranean cruise which resulted in my first trip to the medical department on board for an antibiotic and pain medication. The experience cost around $250 since neither medical or dental insurance would cover it as it was a dental event and I saw a medical doctor because there wasn’t a dentist on board.

This time I came down with gastroenteritis. I’ll spare you the details of my symptoms because you really don’t want to know. (Trust me on this.) I will tell you, however, that I am a constant hand washer while on a cruise ship. In addition, ship staff, standing sentinel outside every restaurant onboard, proclaim, “Washy, washy” while they spray passenger hands with antibacterial sanitizer and I am always cooperative. I assume I must have touched something that was contaminated and then touched my mouth without washy washy in between which allowed me to contract this scourge. Or maybe I ate or drank something off the ship in Mexico that contained the organism that took me down.

I waited to report my illness thinking and hoping it would pass.  My symptoms started about 10 am and by 4 pm I was still getting worse rather than better and finally decided it was time to seek medical attention. The nurse asked a number of questions before the doctor examined me, including whether I had used any of the public restrooms. I now have an idea how the doctor who rode the subway and went to a bowling alley before he showed symptoms of Ebola must have felt. Believe me, I felt like a pariah when they dispatched a team to sanitize the public bathroom after I confessed to using it.

The paperwork that had to be completed in the medical department was voluminous. My husband, who takes paperwork very seriously, interrogated me as I lay in the intensive care room of the sick bay. Jim recorded my every movement on and off the ship and every morsel of food that went into my mouth. Fortunately, I’m a creature of habit and follow pretty much the same routine in both food and movement (no pun intended) so even in my delirium I was able to recreate my previous 4 days fairly accurately. (The word delirium is an exaggeration but when someone is badgering me when I’m VERY sick, some degree of hyperbole should be allowed.)

The worst part is that I missed the second most important event of the cruise. Obviously, the most important thing on a Panama Canal cruise is seeing the Panama Canal. The only excursion we signed up for, however, was the aerial tram and zip line through the rain forest in Costa Rica. I’ve always said I don’t have a bucket list because if I want to do something, I get right on it. But if I had a bucket list, the one thing that would be on it is zip lining. As a recovering acrophobe, this is something I think I can now do with a high level of enjoyment. Another excursion option was the swinging bridge but I didn’t think I could handle height combined with swaying on a rope bridge.

I ended up being quarantined in my room for 24 hours upon discharge from sick bay that evening and the only view from my window was of another ship rather than Costa Rica.  The meds I got from the doctor worked quickly and I felt much better the next morning so I called the medical department to see if I could be released early to go on the excursion but they said 4 pm was the earliest I could leave my room. Meanwhile, my husband and my friend were living my dream. Lori wasn’t originally sure she really wanted to zip line but she was game to join us. Jim had no hesitation at all. Rick recently had shoulder surgery so he declined early on. So, off Jim and Lori went while I stayed behind feeling sorry for myself.

I also missed a meet-up with friends who were in this port on the ship my window faced. We’d met a couple from Kentucky while we were in South Africa in February, 2014 and discovered we would be on cruise ships going opposite directions with a common stop in Puntarenas, Costa Rica. We planned to meet up after our zip lining excursion, hopefully around 4 pm. The doctor called to check on me in the morning and said I was quarantined until 5 pm.  NOoooo!  Passengers had to be back on board at 4:30 for our departure. I explained my plan to meet friends on the other ship with no way to communicate and begged for an early release. The doctor agreed to call back at 3 pm to reassess my situation.

At 3:00, the doctor called to explain that I couldn’t get off the ship at all because it would expose the other ship to gastroenteritis. They would call at 5 pm to release me after we set sail. I had to remain in quarantine which was a bitter pill to swallow… although totally understandable.

When the doctor called soon after 5 and asked, “Have you been waiting by the phone?,” I replied, “Wherever I go in my room, I’m by the phone.”  She released me.   I checked with my sources on the ship that evening and learned there were 13 other people on board with gastroenteritis.

If you’re interested in the numbers of GI illnesses reported on cruise ships, the CDC tracks this data and you can find it here. Have you been on a cruise ship hit by gastroenteritis or norovirus?  Have you personally had either one?  If so, please share your story in comments.

For your enjoyment, I’m including some of Lori and Jim’s photos from the aerial tram and zip lining.

Zip lining, Costa Rica, 2014

Lori ready to zip line. Jim’s finger in the photo illustrates why I’m normally the photographer.



Zip line, 11/2014

Jim ready to zip line

Costa Rica, 11/2014

Lori, zip lining

Zip lining, 11/2014

Jim zip lining, Costa Rica

Costa Rica Rain Forest, 2014

Jim, zip lining in the rain forest


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Margaritas, Chips, Pico de Gallo, and WIFI in Mexico

After a stop on Medano Beach in Cabo San Lucas at a place called the Office for margaritas and chips with pico de gallo and wi-fi, we decided it would be fun to try these items at each port in Mexico.  Then we would compare each stop and pick our favorites.

Cabo is beautiful and I would absolutely return there.  All items in our test passed with flying colors and became the standard we used compare offerings on our future stops.  Our table on the beach at the Office provided amazing views of the water with a relaxing vibe.  Although they are still cleaning up from the recent hurricane, we didn’t see a lot of damage but then we hadn’t been there before Hurricane Odile.

Our next port was Puerto Vallarta. The margaritas seemed a little low on alcohol and the wi-fi didn’t work at all at the restaurant where we stopped. We thoroughly enjoyed our walk along the renovated mile-long Malecon (boardwalk) in Old Town taking pictures of many of the incredible sculptures and watching the colorful aerial show of the Voladores de Papantla.  Accompanied by a flutist playing at the top of the 50 foot pole, the four flyers representing earth, water, fire, and air, fall head first from and circle the pole 13 times before reaching the ground in a religious ritual dating back 1500 years (Puerto Vallarta Official Website).  After our visit to Old Town including Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, we stopped at Starbucks right on the central square to use their excellent wi-fi, then took the local bus back to the cruise port.  I’m ashamed to admit we also popped into the Wal-Mart by the cruise port for some supplies.

After a day at sea, we arrived in Huatulco, my favorite of the Mexican ports on this itinerary. The beach is located directly next to the dock for cruise ships with restaurants lining the beach. This time we knew to try the wi-fi before ordering anything and then we all settled in to catch up on email and Facebook. We quickly discovered that the wi-fi was intermittent and very slow so frustration ensued. After our margaritas, we checked out the beach, determined to get into the Pacific Ocean at least once.  The water was comfortable but the sun on the beach was so intensely hot that common sense soon prevailed sending all of us in search of shade.

The following day, we arrived in Puerto Chiapas to learn that the city of Tapachula was 45 minutes by shuttle with no wi-fi until we got there. Off we went to Tapachula in search of Mexican culture to accompany our margaritas, chips with pico de gallo, and wi-fi. A city of over 300,000 inhabitants, I’m sorry to report that not much about Tapachula impressed me.  The wi-fi was again unreliable; the restaurant were we stopped didn’t serve margaritas; the city was crowded, loud, and dirty; and the next day I had gastroenteritis. Enough said.

When we got back to the port at Puerto Chiapas, we were surprised to discover a restaurant with good margaritas, chips and pico de gallo, and although there was no wi-fi, there was good music with a performance by local dancers and even a swimming pool.  Had we known, we’d have stayed right there and not ventured into Tapachula at all.

Hands down, the voting members of our group agreed that we had the best margaritas in Cabo San Lucas.  The best wi-fi was, without a doubt, at Starbucks in Puerto Vallarta.  First place for chips and pico de gallo goes to the restaurant at Huatulco.  Puerto Chiapas didn’t get first place in any category but if we had included entertainment as a category, I think we would all agree the local dancers were outstanding.

Next time:  Quarantine!



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High Seas Adventure at Cabo San Lucas

When we boarded the boat and noted the boat operator had the cover off the outboard motor, we should have expected adventure. In fact, Jim commented that it wasn’t a good sign. A fisherman with some experience with motor problems, it was an omen to him.

Instead of taking the cruise line’s excursion to Land’s End for 1 hour at a cost of $29 per person, we hired one of the water taxis on the dock for $20 each when we got off our tender at Cabo.  We were joined by our friends, Lori and Rick, and a mother and her adult daughter from our cruise ship.  (We later found out the mother and daughter negotiated a $15 rate.)  This is billed as a glass bottom boat tour but that’s a bit of a stretch.  The boat would seat 12 persons at most and the glass bottom is a glass insert on the floor of the boat providing a murky view at best.  We donned well-worn, somewhat grungy life vests and away we went.

Located at the end of the Baja Peninsula where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean, the rock formations found off the coast of Mexico at Cabo San Lucas are collectively called Land’s End. It’s a short boat ride and the photo opportunities were excellent.  The boat operator kept up a steady description of the area although some of his English was difficult to understand over the competing motor noise.  We saw the iconic landmark, El Arco (The Arch); caves in the rocks, and Lover’s Beach in the bay while hearing that Divorce Beach is located through the rocks on the Pacific side.  We even spied Pedro, the sea lion of youtube fame who was captured on film stealing a fish.

Land's End

Land’s End, Cabo San Lucas

The Arch

The Arch, Land’s End, Cabo

Lover's Beach

Lover’s Beach, Cabo San Lucas

The Arch

The Arch, Land’s End

Pacific Ocean, Land's End

Land’s End from the Pacific Side

Land's End

Opening in the rocks from the Sea of Cortez to the Pacific Ocean


Pedro, the Sea Lion

Pedro, the Sea Lion

As we reached the other side of the outcropping, where the bay meets the Pacific Ocean, the engine died. The water was considerably rougher out in the open ocean and the operator pulled the the cord repeatedly to start the engine as the bigger waves bounced us farther away from the coast.  The motor fired then died, fired, then died again, about five or six times.

boat, Land's End

Our boat operator trying to start motor, note orange rubber glove

This is when the adult daughter began to hyperventilate, indicating a panic attack. I sort of expected it. When I saw her put on orange rubber gloves earlier in the trip, I thought she might have some issues. Her mother tried to comfort her and the others of us weren’t sure whether we should ignore the situation to give her privacy or add our two cents worth. I finally said, “With all these boats out here any one of them can tow us in.” Sure enough, the operator used his cell phone, called someone, and another boat approached. Of course, about that time, the engine fired and finally stayed running so a tow was no longer needed.

All’s well that ends well, but it was, nevertheless, an adventure worth recording. The juxtaposition of feeling very vulnerable on a small boat compared to the security we felt on our huge cruise ship merits contemplation. Then when I compared these experiences with the events I was currently reading in the book, Unbroken, in which three airmen from a B24 crashed into the Pacific during WW2,  surviving for 47 days in a 2 man rubber raft with no food or water while surrounded by sharks, it gave me additional pause for thought.  Like, thank goodness for cell phones.

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Packing for a 2 week cruise

Seriously, I can’t believe what fits into a 22 x 14 x 9 carry on suitcase.  For a 2 week cruise through the Panama canal, this is what I packed.

10 tops

10 tops

3 hats

3 hats

2 swim suits, 1 cover up

2 swim suits, 1 cover up

2 dresses, 1 skirt, 1 pair leggings

2 dresses, 1 skirt, 1 pair leggings

2 sets workout clothes

2 sets workout clothes

3 sweaters, wind jacket

3 sweaters, 1 wind jacket

3 shorts, zip off pants, skort

3 shorts, 1 zip off pants, 1 skort

5 pairs shoes

5 pairs shoes

So how does all of this fit in a 22X 14 X 9 suitcase?  2 tips: select lightweight, super thin garments (except for the denim shorts) and roll everything. Rolled items can fit into nooks and crannies in the suitcase and rolling minimizes wrinkling as well.

rolled clothes

rolled clothes in my suitcase

I also have 8 panties, 2 bras. 2 light scarves, and 4 pairs of socks tucked in here.  I plan to wash underwear at some point and there’s a line in the shower on most cruise ships to hang them. (TMI?) Make sure anything you plan to wash is lightweight and dries quickly.  Honestly, this is WAY more than I normally take on any trip of any length. Ordinarily, I would take half this much.  On a cruise, however, you don’t have to keep carting your stuff around. You board the ship and your bags stay put for the duration. It’s also dressier than most of our travels. We dress for dinner and a 2 week cruise includes a lot of dinners. Because all my clothes essentially mix and match, I have nearly limitless combinations.

In my personal item which is a lightweight back pack, I have:

1 ipad + keyboard

1 kindle

1 small purse

bag of toiletries

bag of meds

empty water bottle

deflated blow up neck pillow

Additional advice:  wear your heaviest and bulkiest items.  I’m wearing yoga pants, shirt, jacket, scarf, and tennis shoes on the plane.  I often get chilly while flying and it’s good to dress in layers so you can put on and take off clothes as needed in flight.

Happy Cruising!





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Cruising from the Port of Los Angeles

We always arrive a day early for a cruise departure, just to ensure that we have extra time in case of travel delays. This was our first departure from the Port of Los Angeles and we wanted a hotel near the cruise port with a shuttle to deliver us to the port. If you need a hotel, I suggest you book it when you book your cruise. I waited for several months after booking our cruise and the hotel I wanted was full so I settled on the Hilton Doubletree in San Pedro, as my second choice. I also arranged a deal with a breakfast buffet so we wouldn’t arrive hungry (don’t ask me why!) to our cruise ship, the Norwegian Star, for our 14 day cruise through the Panama Canal.

With an early flight out of Des Moines, Iowa, and a two-hour time change to the earlier, we arrived by 9 AM in California at LAX. The taxi ride early on a Sunday morning to San Pedro took only about 40 minutes with little traffic. Our hotel rooms weren’t available yet so we left our bags there and took the hotel shuttle to downtown San Pedro. Not a lot was going so early but we stopped by the visitor’s center which was open, surprisingly, and with advice from a helpful staff person, quickly decided that a foursome from Iowa should check out the Battleship Iowa at the LA Waterfront.

Jim and I toured this ship in Norfolk, Virginia, back in the 80’s before it was decommissioned but we were game to see it again. We were delighted to discover that Iowa residents can now tour the ship for free because the State of Iowa contributed funds for its refurbishment and preservation.

Iowa Battleship

Iowa Battleship, San Pedro, CA

Iowa Battleship

Iowa Battleship Admission Prices

Recognition Plaque

Plaque Recognizing Contribution of the State of Iowa

The Big Stick (the Iowa’s nickname) was launched in 1942 as the lead ship of four ships in the Iowa class of battleships. The others are the Wisconsin, the Missouri, and the New Jersey. If Jim had a blog, he would tell you all about the 16 inch guns on the ship and other details that you may find fascinating about battle ships in general and the Iowa class specifically.

!6 inch guns on Iowa Battleship

Rick, Lori, and Jim in front of the 16 inch guns on the Battleship Iowa

I, however, prefer social history over military history. To me, the most interesting part of the ship was a tour of the rooms used by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt while in transit to Tehran for the conference with Churchill and Stalin to plan the D-Day invasion of WWII. Doors had to be widened to accommodate FDR’s wheelchair; a kitchen was installed for his personal meal preparation; and the only bathtub on any ship in the fleet was installed for the President’s daily soak.

FDR's Rooms on the Iowa

Rooms Used by President FD Roosevelt While Aboard the Iowa

Volunteer aboard the Iowa Battleship

Volunteer Telling about President Roosevelt’s Journey to Africa on the Iowa

Another interesting tidbit involved the ship’s mascot, a dog called Vicky, short for Victory. The captain’s dog occasionally went AWOL from the ship but always seemed to turn up in time to set sail. One time she went missing in Long Beach, CA, and a call went out in the newspaper to help find her. Apparently it worked because a later report indicated she was back on board.

Mascot Vicky

Ship Mascot, Victory, during WW2

The walk along the waterfront in San Pedro is pleasant with a shopping area and locally significant sculptures to experience.

Jacob's Ladder

Statue of 2 Merchant Marines climbing a Jacob’s Ladder after a rescue at sea

Harry Bridges

Statue of Harry Bridges in San Pedro, CA, founder of International Longshore and Warehouse Union

Fishing Industry Memorial, San Pedro, CA

Fishing Industry Memorial, San Pedro, CA

Before heading back to the hotel, we ducked into The Whale and Ale, a local pub also recommended at the tourist information, for a late lunch. The owner was authentically British judging by his accent and the quality of the food was definitely above typical pub fare. We were all satisfied and ready to return to the hotel.

Local Pub, The Whale and Ale

Local Pub, The Whale and Ale, in San Pedro, CA

The Doubletree by Hilton is in a great location for cruising from the Port of Los Angeles. Overlooking the marina, the hotel is attractive and comfortable with a great breakfast. Our room was upgraded unbeknownst to us and we had a patio with a view of the marina. Some of the staff were a little wanting but most were topnotch. The carpet in the halls and stairways begs for replacement but overall, I would give this hotel high marks. The area is attractive with a long pedestrian walkway along the marina and my friend, Lori, and I felt quite safe walking without the men.

Hilton Doubletree, San Pedro, CA

View from our room to our patio at the Hilton Doubletree, San Pedro, CA

Hilton Doubletree, San Pedro, CA

Hilton Doubletree Pool and Hot Tub

Hilton Doubletree, San Pedro, CA

Pedestrian Walkway in front of the Hilton Doubletree

San Pedro, CA

Vestiges of Halloween at the Marina, San Pedro, CA


The following day we were delivered promptly to the cruise port to begin our adventure through the Panama Canal with stops in Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, Huatulco, and Puerto Chiapas, Mexico; Costa Rica; and Columbia; ending in Miami.


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