Monday, July 06, 2015

LOST AGAIN - Series Re-Watch - Season 1, Episode 2, "Pilot, Pt. 2"

(00:00) Second flashback of the series - it's pretty obvious that Charlie is an addict from the very beginning. What's less obvious is if he's a good guy or bad guy, judging from his appearance.

Charlie breezes by Jack from the previous flashback. Never ceases to amaze me how they got all these flashbacks to intersect.

I know there's a great video out there that shows the plane crash from all angles in real time, but I don't remember it taking this much time in Rose and Jack's flashback as it does in Charlie's before the plane starts to crash.

(04:07) I know part of Shannon's schtick is that she is vain and is deluding herself that rescue is coming. But again, they lay it on really thick as to her vanity and immaturity in the Pilot.

Just a sidenote, but Claire looks much better as a blonde that she does as a brunette in Once Upon a Time.

Sun really appears to hate Jin in the beginning. It's amazing where the two of them end up in their relationship.

It's not obvious from the very beginning that the dog is not a native of the island, but then you see Walt carrying the leash. Then Walt finds the pair of handcuffs that Kate got out of. You think they still be open unless she slipped her hands out while they were closed.

(08:03) Interestingly, Jack's first interaction with Locke was cooperation, but his first with Sawyer is conflict. Also, Sayid's Red herring of an Arab being involved in the plane crash is a sign of the brief time since 9/11 when the show first aired. I'm not sure if it was starting now if people would have the same paranoia. I guess that's a good thing. Kate reacts to the handcuffs - obvious in retrospect but not so much at that time.

Hurley is a peacemaker, a reconciler. Very much defining his character. We also hear Sawyer's first nickname insult, of course directed at Hurley.

Sayid extends his hand for Hurley to shake and his pinky is outstretched. Is that a Middle Eastern custom?  Also, the Republican Guard was a lot fresher in peoples minds in 2004 that it might be now.

Even I thought the cheesecake shot of Kate bathing in her underwear was gratuitous. Not that I'm complaining, mind. Also, knowing Sun speaks English this entire time it is interesting. 

(14:53) I really find Jin's Attitude towards Sun confusing and disturbing early on. We know Jin is a good guy and will ultimately prove himself to be a good person, but even cultural differences don't explain away cruelty and domination. You don't suddenly just become a good guy, you have to be a good guy all along but had trouble showing it. Doing cruel things even because it's part of your culture, makes it difficult to believe you can actually become good.

The polar bear in the comic book was a huge red hearing for a long time. There was much speculation that Walt was causing these things to appear on the island by power of thought. If that was the case why not superheroes as well? Speaking Spanish, of course. But we will see our polar bear very soon.

Shannon's first encounter with Sayid is, of course, very immature. Their being forced together as a couple even to the last episode, is still one of the shows greatest mysteries to this day.

We see Sawyer's first reaction to his letter. I still get a kick out of the fact that he lived in Knoxville Tennessee.

Waltz first encounter with Locke is filled with symbolism and foreshadowing, using the backgammon board to represent good and evil. Echoes from this scene are used throughout the entire series. Jacob and his brother, Locke and Jack, Ben, many other people are shown to have qualities of good and evil.

This is also Locke's first scene with dialogue and of course it's with Walt. Their destinies will coincide many times in the seasons to come.

Jin's Magic see urchin food seems to bring life back to Claire's baby. I don't recall this little scene from before. I don't think anything was made of the food having properties of magic.

Wow, Emilie de Ravin (Claire) looks really young. Of course this is 11 years ago and I've seen her in another recurring role for the past five years.

Claire guesses correctly that her baby is a he. Could it be magic? Could it be ESP? Or could she just have a 50-50 chance?

Sawyer is pretty dang fearless, even with a gun, in the face of a rampaging, white.... Whatever that is. Of course, it's a polar bear, but it's huge.

How did Boone know there was a pilot to be killed? I guess they shared the full story off camera. I think I recall that being a continuity error caused by a scene that was cut.

(27:36) Hurley as comic relief comes early and often.

Finding out that Kate is actually the prisoner in the man with the shrapnel is the US marshal is one of the small mysteries that sometimes get solved fairly quickly. The show does a good job wrapping the small mysteries inside the medium sized mysteries, inside the large mysteries. With a few exceptions, each mystery pays off just about what it should.

Off, I remember now that Kate remove the handcuffs on the plane so she can put the oxygen mask on. Two things: first, even though she's in custody we see she's not all bad because she saves the Air Marshall's life by putting his mask on. She didn't have to do that. Second, I'm not certain if she took the cuffs off both her hands completely. That still doesn't explain how they ended up in the jungle, re-closed.

Rousseaus's message is not given by the actress that plays her later on, I don't believe.

Knowing all that we know now, it's hard to build up any sense of real mystery, but at the end of the second episode we may have come to the point where there is no greater sense of that question of where are we...

LOST AGAIN - Series Re-Watch - Season 1, Episode 1, "Pilot, Pt. 1"

LOST was a revolutionary television show that aired on ABC from 2004-2010. Utilizing unique storytelling techniques, an extensive mythology and capitilizing on the burgeoning social media scene to boost popularity, the LOST experience can now be viewed as a whole. I will be attempting to re-watch the entire series episode by episode, and will comment on each episode in terms of the complete story - foreshadowing, recurring motifs and character growth. I hope you enjoy the commentary and watch along with me.

Season 1, Episode 1 - "Pilot, Pt. 1"

(00:00) Jack opens his eyes for the first time  - we see the very first instance of a very common recurring motif. Also Vincent's first appearance, a common supernatural--ish element.

Strange unidentified shoe hanging from tree. First odd out of place element. I believe it turns out to belong to Christian Shepherd.

Jack breaking through trees to get to beach and seeing entire devastation of plane crash one of series' finest visual elements, only a minute or so into the entire series. Really sets the tone of the show,  Demonstrated right off that this was no ordinary TV show. Very cinematic.

Jack as leader, Jack As doctor, Jack as savior established very early in series. Jack has the plan, Jack will carry it out and ask others to help him.

Charlie Pace wandering near engines is the first of the rest of the major characters seen. He will eventually drown in the underwater hatch. Next Jin is trying to get help for Sun. Michael yelling for Walt (of course). Shannon is wandering in a daze screaming her head off. Various secondary characters running around yelling to each other.

First time we see Locke he is, of course, ambulatory but at the time that means nothing to us. More importantly he and Jack are actually working together to save a passenger.

Next we have our first glimpse of Claire, very pregnant, calling for help.

Constant up-and-down whining of the engine is a huge tension builder. You kind of don't know what it is exactly or what it represents but it's a huge,menacing mechanical noise.  Huge, menacing mechanical noises will become a recurring motif.

Boone giving CPR to Rose.  Or trying to. 

First on screen death as a passenger is sucked into engine and engine explodes. Again extremely cinematic production values.

Hurley wanders aimlessly help Jack take care of Claire. Jack finally gives his name, becoming the first character to be named out loud.

Boone is an idiot. A bit of a buffoon. I think Boone got really short-changed on the show.

Charlie almost killed by falling debris. Almost as if he was charmed. So far Jack has been responsible for saving at least four lives, maybe more.

First Hurley, "Dude!."  First of many.

I realize that, except for Sawyer, Kate, Hurley, Claire and Rose, not a single person in this set of scenes survives the whole series. 

(7:37) When credits finally start, the action slows down into a more dreamlike state. Jack wanders in slow motion through the burning wreckage  We also begin to see passengers still in fuselage who never made it out. Calm moments can be more tragic than tense ones.

Only when immediate danger over does Jack start thinking of his own injuries. At this point we still have not seen Sawyer, Kate, Sayid, Walt, or Sun.

First shot of Jack's tattoos, and his injuries. His scene with Kate is his first real scene with anyone in the show and establishes the beginning of his series-long relationship with Kate from the very beginning. Kate wanders out of the jungle which sets up questions about her whereabouts later on. Note she is rubbing her wrists - she was in handcuffs until recently. Spare bottle of alcohol from plane comes in handy, we'll see why Jack has it also later on.

Sawyer a bad boy from the start. Stubble, cigarette, bad disposition. Pilot haircut an anomaly but we'll forgive that.  This is his only scene in the whole first episode.

Claire with her seemingly-18-month-old-yet-still-unborn baby stands staring into the surf at sunset. Hurley tries to be useful. Locke is no doubt wondering why he has his legs back. First appearance of Sayid helping with fire and striking up friendship with Charlie. Rose longs for Bernard.

Jack tells Kate the surgery story that will help later in the episode and seasons down the road. Not only to help Kate conquer fear, but to get them out of a jam. The incident affected Jack very deeply, but we don't know at this point his father's involvement.

Charlie writes "FATE" on his fingers. We know so far only that he is British.

Shannon is painting her toenails, talks to Boone. We don't know yet their relationship but it is antagonistic. 

Hurley and Claire friendship established early. Also Hurley's general good nature and helpfulness. And generosity, as we don't know anything yet about his lottery winnings or belief that he's unlucky.

Young Walt sleeps under Michaels supervision. Walt is so small compared to where he ends up! Michael suggested as doting father.

Jin's domineering attitude over Sun is a character trait that just sort of goes away as the series progresses. But it's laid on thick early on. I'll be interested to pinpoint where and why his attitude shifts. 

We know the seriously injured man in the suit that Jack is tending to is the FBI agent that was with Kate. But it isn't hinted at yet that Kate was with him, only that she was sitting next to him.

First indication the tail section and nose section broke off and landed somewhere else on the island.  We will find the nose section before the end of the episode, but the Tailies are still a season away.

Crashing and roaring of smoke monster in jungle first sign that something supernatural is on the island. I know I thought for a long time it was going to be some kind of mechanical creature, but of course i was proven wrong.  Falling trees is red herring, we never really see a need for the smoke monster to shake or topple trees, being insubstantial. Fear of loud noise is what draws the main cast together for the first time looking in to the jungle, united in their sense of danger.

(21:16) First flashback of the series - Jack on the plane. Jack flirts with Cindy gets the extra alcohol. It's pretty obvious it's a flashback.  Flight attendants rushing by synchs with Charlie's time on the plane. We find out Rose's husband has gotten out of his seat. When playing really starts shaking for real even though we know what his happened on the ground in the hatch, it's interesting to watch passengers reactions who have no idea what's coming. This flashback sequence is seen numerous times from other peoples perspectives throughout the series, especially the first two seasons.  You can also pinpoint this moment as establishing a  storytelling technique that will dominate televised media for the next 10+ years.

Locke's "mouth orange" trick to Kate early indicator he is a strange person. Although he doesn't end up as strange as he is portrayed early in the show. He comes off as almost a wise mystic in the first couple of episodes but that's not really true. Of course he is supremely blissful about his newly healed legs.

Return of monster sounds in jungle, along with Jack, Kate, and Charlie on a rescue mission set up Jurassic Park like adventure.

(30:13) Still living Seth the pilot is necessary to provide some exposition that other characters would have no way of knowing.  It's still a mystery how the plane could have been blown 1000 miles off course. Even with all the explanations of what happened on the island in the hatch, this still makes no real sense. 1000 miles is still a long, long distance.

Charlie disappears to look for his heroin, although we don't know that yet of course. First of many incidents when someone's actions make no sense at the time, but are explained later.

Poor pilot. Even though we find out later a lot about the smoke monster's motivations and evil nature - although that's debatable - I still don't quite understand its need to kill. Hopefully that will be made more clear in the rewatch. The pilots abduction through the windshield continues to suggest Jurassic Park like monster, as well as the run through the rain soaked jungle.

Jack can't help but be a hero coming back to rescue Charlie.

Kate seems to be a bit of a screamer early on. She is shown to be very tough in subsequent episodes but seems to be pretty needy in the pilot. First visit to our favorite Banyan tree locale. Kate seems to spend a lot of time there in the future. Here Jack's lessons in fear management come in handy to Kate. 

(39:04) Kate says, "We have to go back for him." Foreshadowing of Jack's famous line to Kate three seasons later.

I'll never understand how a Hawaiian jungle can look just like a hike in the Smokies. It's real, they're actually they're in Hawaii. But it's still a little jarring when you're used to Gilligans Island.

Quick focus on the water reflection of the pilots body in the trees above is a great reveal. Pilots dead and bloody body is still really graphic for television. Even in 2004. Even in 2015.

We know that Desmond is below ground in the hatch. Ben, Juliet and The Others in their full post-Dharma village just watched the plane crash and sent Ethan to infiltrate the survivors. Danielle Rousseau watches for strangers and two workers live below the water in the Looking Glass station.   It's odd to think all these other people are all on the island and we have no clue the survivors are not alone.

Next: "Pilot, Pt. 2"

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Cruising on the Carnival Glory


DEC 27th – JAN 3rd (New Year’s sailing)


My wife and I decided to take our fourth cruise with Carnival, this time on the Carnival Glory over New Year’s 2014/2015. The big difference this time being that we were able to take our teenage children along with us: 18-yr-old college freshman son and 15-yr-old high school sophomore daughter.  We actually didn’t tell the kids until Christmas Day.  “Pack your bags, we leave tomorrow!”

Kids open their "cruise" presents, including new flip-flops!

Day 0, Dec 26 (pre-cruise)

We left Knoxville, TN by car at 9am on Friday, December 26th headed to Miami, FL. Our intent was to drive the 9 hours to Orlando, visit some of the public Disney or Universal attractions like Downtown Disney or CityWalk but massive construction traffic south of Atlanta (Walking Dead country) kept our schedule tight. We did make it to our pre-arranged hotel in Orlando but only had time for a quick bite and then to bed, ready to make it the rest of the way tomorrow.

Day 1, Dec 27 (Embarkation)

We made the 3-1/2 hour drive from Orlando to Miami without incident, and parked in the Port of Miami parking garages. There was a lot of back and forth between us on whether to use off-site, cheaper port parking, but due to many negative reviews online we decided to go the safer and more convenient route of parking at the port.

Being accustomed to the process, plus carrying all our luggage and backpacks ourselves made getting on board the ship very easy. We were lucky enough to have received a very low-cost cabin upgrade to a Promenade deck balcony cabin just behind the bridge which was a big bonus.
We have a balcony?  We have a balcony!!
View From the Bridge.  Or View OF the Bridge, rather, from the balcony of our cabin on Deck 8, Forward Starboard (8211)
Our daughter gazes at the water from our balcony, as the wind and setting sun catch her hair in a frenzy.
Beautiful Miami shoreline

Sunset behind us and the trailing Celebrity Reflection

A Sail-away drink!
What have we gotten ourselves into?

After a couple hours relaxing on the deck and enjoying the sail-away from Miami, we had our first early seating dinner in the Platinum Dining Room.  I’ll go ahead at this point and make a few remarks about the main dining room experience.  I was a bit disappointed to have a table for four by ourselves – not that our family doesn’t enjoy eating together (our meals can become legendary for their comedy, music and general silliness) but that a big highlight of our previous cruises was the novelty of having great tablemates from around the country and world to share each evening’s stories with, as well as have familiar faces in the various ports and friends to keep in contact with after the cruise is over.  We would have gladly shared a large table with other couples or families, but were never given that option when choosing our dinner time and location. However, other than that the dinner meals were quite good and there was a nice variety of dishes to satisfy our generally picky family.  Ok, I’m the picky one, but we never wanted for a good meal to end the day. Our waiter and his staff were warm and pleasant (and learned each of our names from the very beginning). The main waiter was from the Philippines and was looking forward to returning there in a few weeks for a visit.  The opportunity to meet and get to know people from all over the world has always been an enjoyable part of our cruises.
Sometimes the dinners on-board ship...

...can get a little raucous!

We visited the Piano Bar briefly, and enjoyed a little sing-a-long with the pianist, but everyone was tired so we moved back to the cabin for the night.

Oh, I almost forgot the bane of every cruiser’s experience: the safety briefing. Mind-numbingly boring typically, although I’ll just say on this trip we got to view the aftereffects of those fine gentlemen who waste no time plunging into the alcohol the moment they come on board.  One in particular made the normally low-key necessary event quite tedious with his raucous and disrespectful attitude toward the well-meaning crew assistants.  My daughter in particular was very tempted to whack the guy on the back of the head after one of his (too him and his buddies only) hilariously inebriated comments, but cooler heads prevailed.  I told her our only consolation was if the ship did go down, we’d be safe in the lifeboats and he’d still plastered to a barstool somewhere, wondering what happened to the bartender and why was it getting so wet?

Day 2, Dec 28 (First Sea Day)

The day began a little rough, as my wife who was battling the trailing edge of a chest cold was affected by the motion of the ship more than usual and needed some down time to adjust.  My daughter, as well, needed some time to get her sea legs so the morning and afternoon was spent by them adjusting while my son and I explored the ship.

I’d like to give a big shout-out to “Guy’s Burger Joint” onboard the Glory – actually one of the best burgers I’ve ever had, especially without all the spicy fixings that were offered as options on the menu. The décor of the corner eatery on the Lido deck was Guy Fieri-California surfer chic, which quite fits the Food Network Star’s persona.  It was a big hit once we all got our stomachs under control, and I looked forward to having another in a few days.

Each Carnival ship has a “theme” that sets it apart from the other ships in the fleet, reflected in the décor, lounge and club names and other aspects of the interior design.  Glory’s was “color” and each of the main areas of the ship had a “colorful” name, such as the Amber Palace Theatre, the Ebony Lounge, Ivory Club, Blue Room (smoking bar), Gold and Platinum Dining Rooms, the White Heat Dance Club, and more.  Many were connected by the “Kaleidoscope Way”, a long promenade below decks that was the main commercial and social thoroughfare of the ship.  Our last cruise on the Carnival Valor had patriotic themes, and I enjoy the way Carnival decides how to differentiate its ships and make each cruise experience unique.

It was interesting cruising with an 18-yr-old – he was old enough to get into any of the 18+ areas or activities, such as the casino or the Adult Comedy shows, but too young to drink and there weren’t too many people his own age on board.  But he’s adaptable and not one who feels lost without constant social activity so he was fine.  In fact, he met up with a couple of young ladies near his age during the course of the trip and enjoyed himself in that regard.

Similarly, cruising with a 15-yr-old girl has its own challenges in making sure she is occupied and finds interesting things to do.  Carnival has a lounge for 15-17 yr-olds but after checking them out a couple of times she declined to participate.  It would be nice for Carnival to spend as much energy providing activities for teens as they do for children, but I suppose you can’t have everything!

Most of the rest of the day was spent relaxing on deck. My wife and I camped out in a hammock on the Serenity (21+) Deck, and enjoyed some hot tub time. I understand the reasoning behind an adults-only sunning area, as it’s nice to have an area with no kids running around screaming, but I think 21 is maybe too old a cut-off. Neither of our kids could enjoy it, but I guess I understand it.

We all attended the evening “Playlist Productions” show in the Amber Palace Theatre, a Motown revue performed by eight talented entertainers.  This evening’s show was enjoyable, but I’ll have more to say about this aspect of the cruise’s entertainment later on.

Gotta love the towel animals....

Day 3, Dec 29 (Second Sea Day)

December in the Caribbean is something new to us, the weather is not quite as hot but the humidity is still evident.  Nevertheless, the 2nd day at sea was hit or miss with the sun and a few squalls came through during the evening hours. Nothing too terrible.

I must say I enjoy the Trivia Contests and always seem to place fairly high in Star Wars Trivia. Yet another solid gold plastic ship-on-a-stick to add to my collection!

It was spa day for my wife and daughter – facials, massages, exfoliations, dishing about guys – whatever women do in the spas.

The evening’s entertainment was “Hasbro, The Game Show” which was decent if a little juvenile.  I was able to get up on stage and participate after answering a trivia question (thank you, Superman and the Daily Planet!) and got to play a Skee-ball type game based on the kid’s game, “Operation.” I won an electronic Simon game!

I have started to wish that Carnival would put their collective heads together and think up some new on-board activities that didn’t involve either, a) trivia, b) drinking and carousing, or c) an interest in self-improvement lectures like acupuncture and yoga. Other than these things and wandering about the ship/laying out on deck, there’s not much to do on a sea day when you’re on a ship that doesn’t have a skydive simulator, interactive video scavenger hunts or water skiing off the back of the ship (my kids’ idea).

Day 4, Dec 30 (Saint Martin)


Five different ships in the Saint Martin Philipsburg port that day.  That's a lot of ship.

Ah, the meat of the trip finally arrives – the ports and excursions!  On the Valor, my wife and I participated in the America’s Cup yacht race when we were in “Sint Maartin” (which is my all-time favorite shore excursion) but this trip we opted to give the kids their first ocean-based snorkeling experience.  There’s truly nothing like sailing through the Philipsburg, SM’s Great Bay in a catamaran on a beautiful Caribbean day that makes you want to move there forever…  After the cruise was over, both kids proclaimed the snorkeling in Little Bay, our first destination that day, to be their favorite part of the cruise.  Unfortunately for me, even though this day happened to also be my birthday, my luck didn’t prevent me from carving several gashes in my lower right leg on some of the rocks while I tried to clean out my diving mask.  Only when I got back to the boat and my wife noticed me about to bleed all over the deck did I notice anything amiss. However, the good folks crewing the catamaran patched me up and I was none the worse.  After snorkeling was finished, they continued on around the southern tip of the island past Cay Bay to Cole Bay for some beach time.

Great Bay of Philipsburg, Saint Martin.  Or is that Little Bay?  Hard to tell.

I'm going to buy one of these someday and live here.  Just you watch me...

....if the rocks and coral don't kill me first.
Man, those planes land....

...and fly really, really close to you.

Beach respite

Vantage point from my resting spot on the catamaran.  Not too shabby for what would have been a workday, huh?

After returning to the marina, we took a water taxi over to Philipsburg proper for a little exploration of the town-front area.  The MAC store was a hit with our 15 year old daughter!  Sadly, time was short and it was time to return to the Glory.   I love wandering Philipsburg and wish we had had more time there.  We were told the noon excursion was about 2-1/2 hours, so we figured we’d have plenty of time afterward before having to head back, but in reality it lasted almost 3-1/2 hours, so the rest was cut short.
Just another colorful day on the island!
Philipsburg Courthouse

Map of the island.  I think I may see some Dharma Stations...

Even Santa likes a nice island break after the holidays.

One thing we noticed during each of our port visits, was that during the months after the time returns to Standard Time in the US, most ports stay on Daylight Savings Time (or the local equivalent). We were never really told to make sure we stayed on “ship time”, the time all excursions were based on. It was consistently different than the actual local time on the islands.  While my son did wear a watch on occasion, cell phones synch to local time and we were never quite sure what the real, true ship time was. When you have a constant fear of stranding your family in a strange island country while sadly waving goodbye as your cruise ship sails away without you, this can be a nagging worry… Luckily we never actually had that problem.

Back on the ship, one of the highlights of the cruise was “Superstar Live,” the live band karaoke in the Ebony Lounge. Both my son and daughter, who are excellent singers, made their parents proud by performing for an extremely appreciative audience.  Karaoke is a cruise ship standard entertainment, and I’m very glad Carnival chooses to use this unique live style of musical performance rather than standard recorded tunes.

Superstar #1

Superstar #2

My son and I stayed for the adult comedy show later that evening at George Lopez’s Punchliner Comedy Club, which was another step in my transition of parent of a kid to parent of a young adult. Not to get too much into personal family dynamics, but he’s been through a lot of changes in his relationship to his mom and me over the past year, and sharing adult humor with him was an interesting step I hadn’t thought to take.  Regardless, the comedian was a self-proclaimed “nerd/rap” comedian named who used numerous pop culture and kid game references in his act.  Being an “adult” act, the language got raw at times but not too bad.  However, as is the case with most comic acts out there, the language often gets in the way of the comedy and prevents a normally great show from being accessible to all ages. That’s a long-standing rant of mine and has nothing to do with Carnival, really, although I suppose from a marketing standpoint, “adult” shows draw bigger, older crowds and sell more drinks than family-friendly shows, so take that as you will.

Day 5, Dec 31 (San Juan, Puerto Rico)

Today there were at least six ships in port, not to mention one that left and another that docked while we were there.  Busy, busy, busy....

This was a day of good intentions gone slightly bad. In 2012 on the Valor, we were in San Juan during early October, which seems to be a fairly low key time of year for visitors. Visiting the old city of San Juan was a breeze, as the free trolleys came along every 5-10 minutes and could whisk you away to wherever you wanted to go.  We thought it might be fun for the kids to show them some of the same sights and save money on a short excursion. However, it wasn’t exactly the same situation this time on New Year’s Eve.  There were six – count’em, six! – other cruise ships in port with us, including the Carnival Sunshine and the Disney Fantasy,  traffic was jammed up all over and people were everywhere.  While the day wasn’t terribly hot, walking the length and breadth of Old San Juan is not for the faint of heart.  After exploring a bit of Fort San Cristobal in the northeast corner, visiting with some sunning iguanas in an old walled area, and trying to walk to the Fort Felipe del Morro and the old cemetery, we did finally catch a free trolley and rode it for a visual tour of the town.  Heavy traffic and New Year’s Eve revelers kept progress slow and we eventually made it to Senor Frog’s near the cruise port.  Senor Frog’s is a Margaritaville-wannabe restaurant that is family-friendly with balloon animals for the kiddies in the front, and loud, drunken frat party in the back.  Guess where we were seated?

Beautiful battlements and other fort relics in Old San Juan

Me, wife and son why daughter takes the photo...

Christmas decorations still up in many locations.

A scaly native suns himself on a battlement.

I kid you not, we overheard someone on a cell phone walk by and tell the other person this was some "chick with a baby and three weird looking guys."

Nonetheless, after a visit with numerous street vendors we returned to the Glory for New Year’s Eve fun.  While the visit to Old San Juan wasn’t a total loss, it was probably the low point of our trip.
Panoramic shot of several of the ships in port together

These poor folks' friend apparently got raptured and they never even noticed...

Life-size bobblehead guy.  Apparently they were all over town that day.  This one kept putting on and taking off his head as he walked. Very disconcerting....

Don't you have a giant seahorse statue in your town?

The city is very colorful.

Backside of the Disney Fantasy, with Dumbo and Timothy.  Ah...someday.

The night’s show in the Amber Theatre was “Divas”, of which the less said, the better.  Again, more on that later.

A few words about the ship band, The Regulators.  As mentioned before, they played for Superstar Live twice during the trip as well as playing numerous times on the Casino stage in a variety of styles and genres.  I thought they were a decent cover band, not too remarkable, although I wasn’t a big fan of the female vocalist.  That evening they started playing for the New Year’s Eve celebration at 8:30 and apparently played straight until almost 11:45 on the Lido Deck stage as more and more passengers poured onto the deck for the coming celebration.  My daughter elected to bypass the festivities and turn in early but my son and wife and I found a spot on deck and enjoyed the excitement.  The poor girl singer’s voice was obviously about shot by that time of the evening and I felt bad for her – as a vocalist and sometimes vocal coach, I hate to see someone pushing themselves too hard.    

One of the trip highlights for me was seeing all the seemingly thousands of passengers crammed on Lido and all the surrounding open areas of the Glory, celebrating, drinking champagne, and toasting as the countdown reached 2015. 

Mr. Towel Froggy is ready for New Year's revelries.

But my son decided to appropriate the glasses for himself.  Ok, actually I did, and I put them on him myself.


Happy New Year 2015!

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Day 6, Jan 1 (Grand Turk)

Another familiar port, Grand Turk in the Turks and Caicos was a lot of fun.  We arranged beforehand to rent a golf cart so the four of us could tool around the island at our leisure.  Being a relatively small island, and having visited there before, we were easily able to navigate and find our way around. Even driving on the left-hand side of the road was much easier in a golf cart!  In fact, I would recommend taking a golf cart rather than a regular tour if you’ve been to the island before, as it truly does have a good bit of charm when you view the historic spots up close and in person rather than from a bus window.

These little fellows were everywhere we went, and seem to roam free around the island.  They were quite tame and friendly.

Waters were several different amazing shades of blue...

Still in the Christmas spirit

We visited the lighthouse on the northern point, the History Museum which was a kick because the lady working there was an ex-pat from the States.  Also the John Glenn Friendship 7 memorial and the Grand Turk Inn were all charming.  The architecture and street design reminded me a lot of some of the Florida Gulf Coastal communities that I’ve visited (accounting for a difference in income levels).

Recreation of John Glenn's Friendship 7 capsule that splashed down just off shore in 1962
The island's History Museum houses a working model of the lighthouse searchlight
Lighthouse at the northern edge of the island.

One of the beaches features this rusting shipwreck hulk. Is it haunted?  Could be!

The Grand Turk cruise port was built specifically by and for Carnival, and includes a giant Margaritaville restaurant that features a pool and swim-up bar as well as large outdoor dining area.  We relaxed, grabbed a couple Cheeseburgers in Paradise and swam in the beach area near the ship before returning onboard.

So close to shore you could just grab it.

The Carnival Sunshine followed us from San Juan, and was parked right across the pier from the Glory. Walking between two hulking cruise ships makes you feel like you’re walking down a street in Manhattan sometimes, but as Glory pulled away before the Sunshine, it was fun watching the large sister ship slip by and their passengers wave at us.
Carnival Glory and Carnival Sunshine, sister ships. No fighting, ladies...

The show in the Amber Palace Theatre that night had an unremarkable theme (we’re almost there! Be patient!) so we decided to visit the Punchliner Comedy Club again, this time for the family show from a Paula Deen-like comedienne whose name escapes me.  She was funny, but some of her material, while not actually lifted from other comedians, was of the “old groaner” type variety.  I mean, I don’t know who first said it – maybe it was her! – but I’ve heard the bit about how “in the South, you can say anything you want about someone as long as you follow it up with, ‘ bless their heart’”.  It’s an overused comedy cliché nowadays, and I’m surprised it’s being used in current material. It’s the modern equivalent of “Take my wife, please” and “A guy walked up to me and said he hadn’t had a belt in days. So I hit him.”  My wife decided to turn in early, and my daughter used her magic daughter powers to talk me into letting her attend the next “Adults Only 18+” comedy show with her brother.  Ah, the things we do for our kids….  That comedian’s language was very blue, but he was really funny and definitely the best of the three we saw that week.  After he was finished, she went back to the room, my son went exploring and I stayed and heard the Paula Deen clone do her adult set.  It was better than her family act, actually, and while her language wasn’t quite as salty the subject matter was definitely more adult.  Overall I would rate the comics I saw onboard the Glory as about a B.

After her act was over, I joined my son at the Seaside Theatre on the Lido Deck to watch the second half of the Ohio State-Alabama playoff game. Being a Tennessee fan first and a fan of the SEC, it nonetheless was great fun watching the Tide get bumped off by the Buckeyes.

Snail Towel animal

Day 7, Jan 2 (Third Sea Day)

This was a day of mostly sunning on the Lido Deck and general relaxation. Not a whole lot remarkable to report on this final full day on the Carnival Glory, although I did get another Guy’s Burger Joint meal.  Here’s a tip, don’t outsmart yourself and get one with all the fixing’s, like BBQ sauce, onion rings and five heads of lettuce worth of shavings.  Go for the basics and let the burger taste shine through with a minimum of toppings.  (I never did figure out what the “donkey sauce” they offered was, and I’m not sure I wanted to).

Very, very, very good middle of the day as we all watched my beloved Tennessee Volunteer football team demolish the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Gator Bowl/Taxslayer Bowl. We watched with a number of other UT fans in the EA Sports Bar, which I hadn’t been in before to that point.  About halfway through the game, a crew girl came in and abruptly changed the big screens to a Sports Trivia game that had been ongoing throughout the week.  We were able to continue watching the game on one of the big screens after asking the bartender to switch one of them back, but it would have been nice if she had come in and at least acknowledged people were watching a game.  But it’s funny, because she was probably the last crew member who should have been hosting Sports Trivia.  Let’s just say she didn’t know how to pronounce “Lasorda” and leave it at that.

Ok, the final Amber Palace show was “Epic Rock” and we all actually enjoyed this one a good deal.  Here’s my gripe about this semi-nightly entertainment venue.  Carnival has installed an amazing, state-of-the-art video projection screen that moves on and off stage, and displays a number of gorgeous backgrounds that support the singers onstage.  The special effects, combined with the lighting, that they were able to create was fantastic.  Unfortunately, the overall vocal talent of the eight singers was really nothing to write home about.  There were four guys and four ladies, two of each had the bulk of the solo works and the other four were mostly back-up.  Maybe it was the sound mix (the instrumental music was often way too hot), maybe it was the song selection – especially in the truly bad “Divas” show, maybe it was the excessive choreography and over-the-top staging, maybe it was a number of other factors, but when I go to see a show, and especially a revue, I want to hear top-notch singing.  Everything else (unless there’s a live band) should be secondary.  But for the three shows we saw, it was more about the spectacle and less about the actual performance.  I want to be fair and give them every chance, and truly the final Epic Rock show was above average, but the others were average or below, and I don’t pay for that kind of entertainment on a cruise ship.

A suggestion to Carnival: use your video projections to create beautiful vistas, stunning backgrounds and effects that supplement the performers, not overshadow them, and make sure you have top-notch arrangers and singers with adequate rehearsal to really make the songs shine.  Ok, off my performer’s soap box!

My son and I revisited the Piano Bar for a while.  I think the performer’s name was Kyle.  The Piano Bar, a staple on board cruise ships, is called the Cinn-a-Bar on the Glory (I supposed cinnamon is a color?).  Kyle was much more upbeat and personable than the pianist on the Valor two years ago - he was a bit of a grouch and it looked like that was the last place in the world he wanted to be…

I took my customary last walk around the deck of the ship, came back to the cabin and packed and went to bed.

One last thing before the end of the day – there were probably about five other cruise ships in the waters around us all day, and at night with lights blazing it was a magnificent sight.


Day 8, Jan 3 (Debarkation Day)

Getting off the Glory in Miami was even easier than getting onboard.  If you can at all carry your own luggage, and don’t have to wait for a transfer to the airport or another type of non-personal transportation, I would highly recommend it.  We got into Miami overnight, and they actually started letting people debark around 7:30.  We got up, had a light breakfast, and blew the multi-colored popsicle stand to return to our car, unscathed, by around 8:30.

The 12-hour drive from Miami to Knoxville – non-stop this time – was marred once again by inexplicable construction traffic slowdowns south of Atlanta and some torrential rain, and we didn’t end up making it back in town until 12:30 am the next morning.  But it was worth it!

Some Final Random Observations and Stuff I Forgot:

· The Cruise Director was a fun guy named Dr. E.  I often wonder how much the Cruise Director really does except to be the entertainment face and voice on the ship, as he was a good singer and even better partier with the guests.  I’d love to see an interview with one of these guys sometime and learn how much they’re actually like Julie from The Love Boat.
· It’s very odd how Carnival can be so efficient with their serving lines and other food services, and yet there’s always a line ten people deep for the 24-hour-a-day pizza and the popcorn at the Seaside Theatre on movie nights.  Here’s a hint: put more than one or two guys making pizzas, or maybe install more ovens so I don’t have to wait 20 minutes for a slice of pepperoni, and fill up the popcorn popper with popcorn before you start serving it out, so people don’t always have to wait in line for each separate batch to pop.  I know, I know, first world problems…
· How fun would it have been to have a live band on New Year’s Eve that was maybe not a headliner, or one that might show up on one of the Carnival Live! cruises, but is still fairly well known.  How about Paul Shaffer and the CBS Orchestra or the Tonight Show band?  Or the Tower of Power horns?  Ok, I’m dreaming, but it’s such a big special occasion it might even sell more cabins for a NYE cruise.
· Can’t say enough about the friendliness of the cabin stewards (who also learned our first names), the waiters and the restaurant staff, and all the folks working hard to keep the ship clean and safe the whole week.  And the day we debark, they get to do it all over again for another week.
· I miss the midnight buffets, and the big end-of-the-cruise dessert buffets with the decorative pastries and ice carvings L  Whatever happened to those?  Also whatever happened to the Bridge Tours?  Maybe I missed it, but I never saw it offered like it used to be…
· The balcony outside the cabin is el primo and was greatly enjoyed at all hours of the day and evening.  It is so choice….if you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.
· One of the movies shown during movie night at the Seaside Theatre was the tearjerker, “The Fault in Our Stars”.  Half the audience was sniffling and sobbing and I decided to leave early because (*SPOILER*) once they guy’s cancer came back and his girlfriend didn’t have much longer to live, I knew it wasn’t going to turn out well.  But was that really a great choice for a happy cruise movie?  *sniff*
· Speaking of happy, I finally learned all about the song, “Happy”, and we determined what everyone knows, that “YMCA” is played w-a-a-a-a-y too much.

Final Thoughts

The dynamic is very different cruising with two kids when you’re used to cruising with just your spouse.  It wasn’t bad at all, and I wouldn’t have changed the experience for anything, but it’s just different.  You have to start thinking what’s best for everyone, and as a dad I feel it’s my responsibility to make sure everyone is happy, well fed, well rested, and all with a minimum of bloodshed (including my own).  Less opportunity for spontaneity, and with two kids who are young adults you aren’t able to just tell them where we’re all going next, you have to have buy-in to keep a respectful attitude.  Again, not bad at all, just different.

Overall, the cruise was a lot of fun and although my wife and I visited all ports we’d been to before everything was new and different in its own way.

Carnival continues to give us pretty much everything we could hope for and at an overall great price.  We’re looking forward to our next trip, whenever that may be.