Thursday, February 28, 2008

Cruise control

Yes, we’re back. Actually got back a week ago but I’ve been too lazy to report.

In case you’ve missed it, the Spouse and I embarked on a 5-day cruise to Mexico. Wonderful trip, despite an unusual set-back. We’re ready to go again. Hell, we’re already recruiting folks to go with us on our next one.

But, anyway, a few notes on this, our first cruise:

1. The drive from Loserville to Mobile, AL, is a long one, no matter how fast you drive. 10 hours. But most of the scenery is nice... well, except for Alabama. Alabama is one flat, boring state, scenic-wise. Nothing but pine trees and the occasional trailer park/shanty house. But the roadsigns are priceless. As seen in Kentucky: “Used Cows.” Also, “HELL IS REAL!” conveniently located on the opposite side of the interstate from Lion’s Den Adult Superstore. And, as seen in Alabama (along that same theme) “Go to church! Or the devil will GET YOU!” This sign was nicely adorned with a little red figure menacingly holding a pitchfork.

2. I was surprised at how efficiently they get your butt on board. Yeah, there was some line-waiting, but still, all went smoothly. And you get this nifty credit card that you use instead of cash (the only place you need actual real money is at the casino - yes, they have a casino, too - and on any of your ports-of-call). You use this card for duty-free shop purchases and alcohol. Imagine, no need to carry a purse or wallet wherever you go.

3. Speaking of drinks, you can really get one of those foo foo cocktails the moment you get on board. When you’re out on deck there’s always a few waiters/waitresses hustling the drink of the day. They are very damn tempting but very tasty. And can get pricey, especially the ones that come in overly decorative containers. I got ass-raped for one that came in a coconut shell with a flip-top lid and not one but TWO cocktail umbrellas.

4. The food at the buffet was average but the food at the nightly dinner was exquisite: escargot, gespacho, lobster... And it’s unlimited. You’ve already paid for it with your initial cruise purchase. Go ahead, get TWO lobster entrees if you want. Our two waiters we had very night were fantastic. We loved them. The fine dining restaurants also have a nightly Midnight Buffet. We tried the Chocolate Buffet one night and left stuffed. The first half of the buffet contained some beautiful ice sculptures and lots of finger foods. The second half had desserts that were so beautiful you didn’t want to eat them. But my, they were damn good.

5. There is always a photographer or videographer bouncing around the ship (as soon as you get on board, every night at dinner, when you get at your port-of-call, etc.). Your photo will be taken A LOT. And, if you enter any embarrassing contests it will be filmed. And shown over and over and over and over on the cruise ship’s access channel on your stateroom TV. The Spouse entered the Men’s Hairy Chest contest and came in 2nd (the old, flabby guy who got 1st place won because of sympathy vote). For the rest of the cruise we couldn’t go anywhere without several strangers coming up to the Spouse and saying, “Dude, you shoulda won that contest!” Oh well, he got a plastic trophy out of it.

6. Some people have trouble with motion sickness. I am usually one of those dizzy freaks who gets queasy but surprisingly, I found the rocking motion of the ship the exact opposite. Every night I fell asleep instantly while being gently rocked. I wish there was a way to incorporate that kind of mechanism into our bed at home (without that sounding perverted).

7. Speaking of the ship rocking, it’s taken me a while to get my land legs back. For several days after returning, I found myself slightly swaying back and forth, trying to compensate for the ship’s movement even tho we weren’t on the ship anymore.

8. We encountered some very nice people and a few weird ones. You’ll meet every type of human on a cruise ship.

9. No matter how healthy you may try to be, there’s always the chance for a weird medical emergency. We left Mobile Saturday at 4pm. During the middle of the night the ship did a 180 and headed back to Mobile due to one poor bastard with a medical emergency. Unfortunately this caused us to lose time and one of our ports-of-call. We encountered one passenger who somehow found out that the medical-emergency person had an aneurysm. (Hope they had travel insurance. Hope they survived.)

10. Cozumel, Mexico, is very pretty, but a bit over-commercialized. If you’re looking for inexpensive gold, silver, diamonds or tanzanite, this is your place. And the locals are very friendly and very aggressive because they want your American dollars (yes, they take American moolah - 1$=10.50 Pesos). You’ll hear, “Hello! Welcome! Come in! Come in!” a lot. The shops that carry more traditional Mexican stuff had sales gals dressed in the traditional white cotton dresses with colorful embroidery who will act like your personal shopper. If you pick something up they will gladly carry all of your stuff to the counter.

11. Ok, this is slightly embarrassing, but I’ve never done a tequila shot. Honest. So what better place to get my cherry popped than at Pancho’s Backyard Cafe and Tequila Bar. Mexican shot glasses are scary. They are twice the height of ordinary shot glasses and they fill them to the rim. The stuff we had was very clear and had a light, clean taste. And it burned like hell. But the margaritas chased them down with no problem.

12. Sunscreen. Even if you think you don’t need it. Don’t be fooled by heavy clouds. I’m still molting. I’m leaving a cloud of white dust everywhere I go.

13. Can you afford this? Absolutely. I’m still amazed at how cheap this whole thing was. For a small but very nice stateroom, unlimited food, all kinds of activities on board (trivia, bingo, various nightclubs, casino, main theatre entertainment, multiple decks, pools, mini golf...) and very pleasant crew and staff, you can’t beat it.

So, anybody interested? We’re talking about doing another cruise this time next year...

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Random thoughts and links, part 109

See? See right there? I'm NOT crazy. There really IS such a thing as Chocolate Pasta.

Way back in 1996, while on a trip to Atlanta for a piping and drumming workshop, my pals and I grabbed some dinner at a mall food court near our hotel. In this same mall was a candy shop that, along with the usual crappy, run-of-the-mill candy, had not only gourmet chocolate (like Godiva and Joseph Schmidt) but chocolate pasta.

Blown away by the concept of chocolate pasta, I bought a package to take home. I cooked it and, although I can't remember what I topped it with, I remember being impressed with it.

I've been looking for it for almost 12 years. I've checked chocolatiers and candy shops, international groceries and gourmet food markets. Most of the time I get a strange look when I ask for Chocolate Pasta. One time in a Kansas City gourmet shop I actually go the answer, "Oh, we stopped carrying that a while back." Oh, well, at least they had heard of it.

So a couple of weeks ago, just out of the blue, my brain brought up the old memories of chocolate pasta. So I sat myself down in front of the Mac and googled it. Now mind you, I've done this several times in the pst and come up with nothing.

But this time I struck gold. I found it. The same stuff I had found all those years ago. And Amazon was selling it. (Have I mentioned lately how much I love the internet?)

Viola! Two packages land on my doorstep a couple of days ago. And I now have a contact to get more!

I am most happy.

Speaking of travel, the Spouse and I will be hitting the road Friday down to Mobile where we'll catch us a big-ass boat on its way to a couple spots in Mexico. So while we're getting away from the ice and snow, here's some things to keep yall busy:

Who said dog shit isn't funny?

The holidays may be over, but there's always next year.

I can has day job?

Just in time for Valentine's Day... if you honestly, seriously, cannot bare the thought of being separated from your one true love...

Or, ladies, if you want to really surprise your sweetie, your "carpet" can now match your "drapes." (Stolen from Kim ;) )

But if Valentine's Day has you lonely and bitter, you can always sit around and contemplate your own mortality, artistically any way.

Or, let's say, you've been jilted recently. You could send your false love a gift that says how you really feel.

And for those poor gals who keep ending up the bridesmaid and never the bride, sister, we have a place for you.