Florida and Bahamas 2010



Travelogue: Florida, Bahamas and a Cruise,
September & October 2010

By Roger W. Reini

By date:

13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17
18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28


This is a travelogue about my trip to Florida in September and October 2010.  This trip will involve travel by car, by rail, and by ship.  The rail portion is the Auto Train from south of Washington, DC to north of Orlando, Florida; the car portion is my driving around Florida and back to Detroit; and the ship portion is a 4-night cruise to the Bahamas on the Disney Cruise Line.

Why a cruise?  Simple: I’ve never been on one. Why a cruise to the Bahamas? It was a close-by destination, meaning a short duration cruise for my first time out. In case I didn’t care for the experience, I wouldn’t have to endure it for too long. Why the Disney Cruise Line? I’d heard good things about them from friends of mine who’d taken Disney cruises. Now would the Disney Cruise Line be the ideal experience for a single man without children traveling by himself?  I’d find out for myself in October.


Thursday September 23

I have started to pack for the trip.  Actually, I’d started packing a few days ago.  One suitcase is fully packed now and is ready to be put in the car.  The rear seats are folded down; nobody will be sitting in them, and I may need the space for stuff.  Of course, when I folded them down, I had to reposition some things that are normally in the back of the SUV, such as the shelf for my radio transceiver.  Today should have been my last day of mail before the trip; because I plan to leave for my first overnight stop in Ohio directly from work, not heading home in the process, I’d miss any mail delivered tomorrow.  Newspaper delivery should stop after tomorrow morning.

When I head out tomorrow, I will head down to Ohio and take the Ohio Turnpike to the Youngstown area -- specifically, North Lima, Ohio, which is nowhere near Lima, Ohio.  You might think it is, but it isn’t. North Lima is clear all the way across the state from Lima.  And tomorrow night, my destination is North Lima.

Unfortunately, during the day, I’ve been experiencing a funny sensation in my throat, one that may be warning of a cold about to start.  That is the last thing I need!  I have been sitting across from an individual at work who’s been suffering from a cold the last two weeks, and I sure hope he didn’t give it to me.


Friday September 24

I didn’t sleep that much overnight. One of my sinuses clogged up; whether because of an oncoming cold or the use of a Vicks Inhaler (or Vapoinhaler, they’re calling them nowadays), I couldn’t say. I ended up waking around 4 and taking a shower. I also watched last night’s 30 Rock, finished packing, and got ready for work.  Everything was locked; things were turned off that needed to be turned off. Around 6:30, I set off for the office.  As I made my way through the construction zone on Ford Road in Garden City, I participated in the normally-daily QSO (conversation) on the Tin Lizzy Club repeater (145.27 MHz, for you hams out there).  I was feeling a bit chilled, but turning off the air conditioning made me feel stuffy and warm, so back on it went.

At the office, there were times when I felt chilled and other times I felt comfortable. Having a ventilation duct near my desk didn’t help matters much.  As the morning progressed, I decided I was suffering from a minor cold and really didn’t want it to turn into a major one.  The co-worker who may have given me his cold was sorry to hear about it.  He wasn’t sorry to learn, though, that he and his wife were able to join up with a pilgrimage tour to Israel next year -- a tour that, being oriented to Christians, will be quite different from my Bahá’í pilgrimage in 2007.  I hope it will be as spiritually uplifiting to them as mine was to me.  But I digress....

I had lunch at the cafeteria and then went back to my desk to wrap up things.  Not everything could be wrapped up, of course, but by the end of the day, I had done what I’d set out to do today.  Now there was a time, very early in the day, when I felt like going back home to rest up for the trip.  That feeling passed.  However, I did leave a little early to pay a visit to the nearby drugstore, to stock up on some medicine and get a drink before hitting the road in earnest.   And so, sometime between 2:30 and 3, I was on the road, heading south towards Toledo.  It was windy today; I heard on the news about a light pole being blown down on the Southfield Freeway and causing a traffic jam, and I also heard about a dead tree being blown over on top of a man, crushing him.  He did not survive.

When I reached Toledo, I stopped at a Pilot truck stop to visit the restroom, to get a few munchies, and to make sure I hadn’t forgotten my second camera or important paperwork.  No, I hadn’t forgotten any of them.  There was one trip where I did have to head back home to get a camera I’d forgotten.  Back on the road I went, down I-75 to I-280 and the Ohio Turnpike.  As I drove, I listened mainly to the RadioClassics channel on Sirius, which was enjoyable as ever.  Later on, though, I found myself becoming very sleepy, not a good situation to be in when behind the wheel.  I pulled over at the next rest area and walked around for a bit, buying a bottle of Diet Dr Pepper for the road.  This would have been the rest area west of Elyria.  Onward I drove, enjoying the Westerns Hopalong Cassidy, Frontier Gentleman and Gunsmoke.  I can certainly remember Gunsmoke on TV during its original run, but I never really watched it then. I didn’t really like it then; I was too young to appreciate it.  But I do find myself enjoying the radio version of Gunsmoke (same with the radio version of Dragnet).

By the time 6 o’clock rolled around, I was around 35 miles away from my stopping point for the night.  I stopped for supper (Sbarro pizza) and gas (Valero gasoline) at a turnpike rest area, taking advantage of the opportunity to check e-mail.  Some 45 minutes after getting back on the road, I was in North Lima and in my ground-floor room at the Holiday Inn Express, intending to rest up after the rigors of the day and hoping that the cold wouldn’t be too bothersome.  I put on some football games on ESPN (one high school game, one college game - SMU vs. TCU), but I fell asleep during the games.


Saturday September 25

I did not get a good sleep overnight, thanks to nasal congestion.  I did get some sleep, but there were times when I was awake and unable to fall back asleep.  I turned on ESPN2 and happened to catch a game of Australian Rules football -- I think it was a league championship (it was the 2010 AFL Grand Final between Collingwood and St. Kilda, in fact).  An unusual game, Australian Rules football, and it probably seemed even more unusual at 3 in the morning.  And the game ended in a tie, so there will be a total replay in a few days (it was a week later, and Collingwood won).

I needed to hit the road early this morning so that I wouldn’t be late for the Auto Train.  My bogey was 3 PM.  If I didn’t check in by then, I’d miss the train. I had over 300 miles to travel, so I left at 6:12 AM, missing out on the hotel’s breakfast bar (it didn’t open until 7 this morning).  It was still dark outside when I left.  I saw something on the ground -- it looked to be a car cover for a convertible, perhaps removed from the convertible by someone who shouldn’t have.  It wasn’t long before I found myself in Pennsylvania, driving a route I’d been on three weeks before.

I listened to Sirius on the way down to Virginia, mainly the Radio Classics channel, at least until something went wrong and I started hearing two streams of programming at once.  In the background of a program featuring Orson Welles as Sherlock Holmes, I heard a George Burns and Gracie Allen show and an episode of The Lone Ranger, which is no longer heard on satellite radio.  It was too fatiguing to listen to for any length of time, so I changed to the music channels -- 60’s, 70’s, some 80’s.  As for the drive, I drove down Highway 522 through West Virginia and Virginia to Winchester, and then I took I-81 to I-66.  This was the back door into Northern Virginia, a way to get to Lorton without having to contend with the Beltway and I-95.  As I drove eastward, I noticed that I-66 had been widened since my last time in the area.  It was now 3 or 4 lanes wide with an HOV lane as far out as the turnoff to Culpeper.  Growth and progress!  I took the Fairfax County Parkway to Highway 123, and I took that down to Lorton Road.  By this time, Michigan State’s football game had begun, and so I turned that on.

Between 1 and 1:15, I arrived at the Lorton Auto Train station.  I drove to a check-in window, where I turned over my tickets, received a number for my car, and then drove up to the turn-in point at the front door.  I took my two bags, left the key, and went inside to complete check-in.  There, I received my boarding pass and my meal pass for seating number 1, at 5 PM.  Then after a trip to the restroom, I visit the gift shop and cafe, where I had a turkey croissant sandwich, a cup of yogurt, and a bottle of Diet Dr Pepper.  It wasn’t bad, although it seemed a bit overpriced to me.  I went outside to take some pictures of the station and the train at its siding.  Back inside, I went back to the gift shop for two papers, a Washington Post and a Wall Street Journal, found a seat in the terminal, and started to read the Post.  The TV’s in the station had a Virginia Tech game on, but they were too far away for me to watch.  No problem; Virginia Tech wasn’t one of my favorite teams, and I had the Post to read.

Around 2:30, boarding started.  I went out to the platform and went rearward to find my sleeping car.  The train used Superliner equipment, the equipment used out west, so I knew the layout of the train and of my sleeper.  Now it turned out that this train had a separate lounge car and dining car for coach and sleepers; there was a coach lounge car, and there was a sleeper lounge car; there was a dining car for coach, and there was one for sleepers.  That was unusual.  A newspaper was waiting for me in my room: a Washington Post.  If I’d have know that was going to be there, I wouldn’t have bought the Post in the gift shop.  From my window, I could see cars being driven onto the Auto Train cars for the trip to Florida.  At 3:25, the train started to roll.  We weren’t under way, not yet; we had to pull out to allow the car cars to be hooked up (“car cars” -- an interesting expression).

There was a wine & cheese party in the sleeper lounge car.  I went to it, but only for the cheese, for I don’t drink.  Unfortunately, there was no cheese, so I only had one cracker before heading back to my room.  I was feeling more or less OK, thanks to an inhaler of decongestant.  Still, I did ask for a box of tissues to be brought to my room, for I knew I’d want them with my cold.  The room itself was getting a draft from outside, which was OK for a while, but eventually I did close the door.

Around 3:40, the train started rolling again, and this time it didn’t stop.  We were under way a bit early.  356 passengers and 183 cars, according to the conductor.  The train rolled southward through Virginia, passing through Quantico Marine Base, Fredericksburg, Ashland, Richmond, etc.  I didn’t see any familiar sights in Fredericksburg, but I did take some pictures.  I figured I’d send them to my niece Heather (now attending the University of Mary Washington in F’burg) and see if she recognized anything.  She didn’t; those were not parts of F’burg she regularly visited.

For supper, I had the first seating at 5 PM.  My tablemates (2 Virginians and a Baltimorean) noted that they didn’t get a choice for a 7 PM seating, only 5 or 9, and they didn’t want 9.  I had crab cakes for supper; so did the Virginians, while the Baltimorean had tenderloin.  The crab cakes were pretty good, I must admit; the Virginians though so, too.  Back in my room, I read eBooks on my iPad, mainly Bahá’í-related eBooks.  Between 8 and 8:30, the car attendant came by to make up the bed for the night.  Once I got in bed, I kept on reading for a while, and then I went to sleep.


Sunday September 26

Historically, I have had difficulty getting sound sleep on trains. Tonight was no exception, although I felt I had slept a bit more soundly.  I did need to get up to use the restroom a couple of times, although when I actually went, not much came out.  Guess I was receiving some false alarms, or exaggerated alarms.  When I visited the restroom on the way to breakfast, though, I did not have any problems.

Now the breakfast on board was limited compared to the western trains.  All that was available was cereal, a muffin or bagel, a banana, and orange juice.  “All that was available”, indeed!  That was a good spread.  I ate with three Floridians heading home: one to Daytona Beach, one to Jupiter, and one to Kissimmee. 

As the sun came up, I noticed how the scenery reminded me of back down home in Texas (“home” is now Michigan, but “down home” is and will always be Texas -- the upper Texas coast, to be more specific; League City, to be most specific) -- the flatness, the types of grass and trees that grow, etc. It reminded me of the transitional areas between East Texas and coastal Texas.

By 8:35, the train had arrived in Sanford, but it hadn’t officially arrived.  The train would have to be split into 3 parts first: the car cars, the coach section and the sleeper section.  The cars went to their own area, and the passenger sections went to the two platforms at the Sanford station.  We could not leave the train until 9; at that time, I went into the main station to use the restroom and get a map of the area around the station, as well as pick up some tourist literature.  The station was much smaller than the Lorton station but was in the process of being rebuilt.  For a time, I sat in the tent alongside the main station, but later I moved into the main station. The gift shop had an Arcadia history picture book on the Auto Train; it seemed interesting, but I didn’t pick it up. That could wait for later.  I did buy a pack of cookies to munch on while I waited for my car to be delivered.  That didn’t happen until 10.

I’d heard it could take up to two hours to get one’s vehicle offloaded from the train.  That would have the potential to affect my plans for today.  Would I be able to go where I wanted to go? Fortunately, the train was early, and it only took an hour for me to get my vehicle.  That meant I could consider making the trip to Weeki Wachee Springs that I had planned.  As I rolled on Highway 46 toward I-4, I programmed my GPS to guide me to the park.  But I thought the chosen route took me out of my way, so I asked it to try again.  I liked those results even less, and so I went back to the original route.  This had me driving south to Orlando, then taking two tollways to the west and northwest, then taking I-75 down to the turnoff for Weeki Wachee.  The only difficulty I had was in downtown Orlando, where there was a big traffic backup.  I took an exit onto surface streets and tried to make my way west.  I looped around an area before finally finding a way to access the East-West Tollway.

As I drove around Orlando and on the Florida’s Turnpike, I listened to an American Top 40 from September 1973.  The number 1 song that week was “Let’s Get It On” by Marvin Gaye.  And during the show, Casey Kasem mentioned the Houston station that carried AT40 back then, KRLY (now KKRW).  I used to listen to it on that station, and before that on KNUZ as well. When the show was over, I flipped over to the Underground Garage and caught the last part of Breakfast With The Beatles, which today paid tribute to the release of Abbey Road back in ’69.  It’s always worthy of a good listen. Onward I went, up the turnpike and over to I-75, and then down to Highway 50.  By this time, Breakfast With The Beatles had ended, and I turned on the Sunday Drive on NFL Radio.  This was a preview of all of today’s games.

It was 1 o’clock by the time I reached Weeki Wachee Springs; time for the early football games to begin.  Both Detroit and Houston would be playing at this time, but I wouldn’t be hearing them.  It cost $13 to enter the park.  After searching for and finding a restroom, it was time to go to the Mermaid Theater.  I had seen pictures of it before but thought it looked smaller in real life.  There were several rows of bench seats arranged in a circular arc in front of the curtains, behind which were the thick glass windows into the spring.  There was a music video played before the start of the show, a video that promoted the park.  Then the curtains rose, and the show began.  Fish Tales was a tribute to the history of the attraction, which was founded by a retired Navy frogman in 1947.  In the spring, the mermaids performed many of the acts done by their predecessors over the years -- feeding the fish, eating and drinking underwater, diving down to 175 ft below the surface at the effective bottom of the spring, and offering a tribute to America, unfurling the Wet, White and Blue.  I was taking pictures, but I had to change my batteries near the start of the show, so I missed out on some opportunities.  I did take pictures of a family of turtles that were swimming around, though.

The show lasted 30 minutes.  That was probably how long the mermaids could last in the spring without a warmup, as the water temperature was in the low-to-mid-70’s.  For water, that’s cold!  There were two shows being offered today; the next one would start in an hour.  So I wandered around the rest of the park for a while.  I thought about riding the wilderness river cruise, but I had just missed the latest boat.  The next one was due at 2:35, but with a ride of 25 minutes, that would put me in jeopardy of missing the next mermaid show, so I didn’t wait around for it.  Instead, I ended up following and taking pictures of a peacock family on the grounds.  None of the birds opened up its plumage, thus depriving me of a chance to open a presentation with a variant of NBC’s historic Living Color opening.  I popped into the gift shop for a time but didn’t see anything I really wanted.  I took a few more pictures around the area while waiting.  Some of those pictures involved the peacocks at the backstage entrance to the Mermaid Theater, apparently munching on something left on the stoop.  Would they enter the building?  No, they never did.

3 o’clock rolled around; time for the second show of the day, The Little Mermaid.  Actually, it was the third show overall for the day and the second performance of The Little Mermaid.  I decided to get a front row seat this time, which helped in terms of taking pictures and video.  The story was not the Disney version (of course not), but the basic story was the same: young mermaid yearns to live on the surface, meets a man, visits an evil witch who gives her legs at the cost of her voice, but things work out well at the end.

After the show concluded, I exited to the left, passing by a group of scuba divers who were preparing to dive the spring after the park closed for the day.  They were all outfitted in wetsuits against the cold.  Back in the car, I turned on the radio for scores of the football games.  The Lions were losing rather convincingly; so were the Texans.  So let me see -- did I make the right choice in visiting Weeki Wachee Springs and seeing several attractive women wearing mermaid tails swimming around underwater, as well as following the antics of the peacock brood, over listening to the Lions and/or Texans?  Yeah, I did!  To be honest, even if either team had won its game, I still made the right choice.  I programmed in Lakeland as the destination; the hotel I wanted was not offered as a choice.  And so I backtracked my route for a time.  I passed by a Carrabba’s on the left; it was too early to stop for dinner, I thought.

The GPS had me get onto the Suncoast Parkway, a tollway leading towards Tampa and St. Petersburg.  Alongside of it ran the Suncoast Trail, a bike trail that I wouldn’t have minded riding were I living in the area, or even if I were visiting and had a bike.  The trail reminded me of the trail running alongside I-275 back in Detroit, much of which has been under complete reconstruction this year.  The tollway took me to another highway which got me over to I-75.  Along the way, I passed by a second Carrabba’s.  Nope, still too early for supper.  I-75 got me down to I-4, which would take me to Lakeland.

Along I-4, traffic was heavy just east of I-75.  Perhaps it was football traffic, I thought to myself; the Pittsburgh-Tampa Bay game had recently ended.  But it thinned out and moved along well for a while. All of a sudden, traffic slowed and nearly stopped.  There was a commotion on the side of the road and off the road.  As I got closer, I saw that a car had overturned and was off the roadway.  People were swarming all around it, suggesting that it had just happened.  I debated whether I should stop.  I would not have been among the first to stop, and I didn’t think I had anything to offer, so I drove onward.  Postscript: I heard on a Tampa newscast the next morning of a fatal rollover accident in that area, but that had taken place early Sunday morning, not the same accident that I saw.

As I drove along, I saw a sign for yet a third Carrabba’s.  But by the time I saw where the restaurant was, I saw I had passed the exit for it by.  Fortunately, the next exit was right ahead, making it easy for me to loop back and go there.  Seeing that sign clinched it: I was meant to eat there tonight.  It wasn’t crowded at all when I arrived around 5:30.  For dinner, I had grilled chicken (they used to call it “chicken gratella”) with mashed potatoes and broccoli, along with a cup (most people might call it a bowl or dish) of lentil and sausage soup.  Yum, yum!  Before my meal, I used my iPad to check the location of the Hampton Inn in Lakeland.  It was a little tricky to get there, as it turned out, and I almost missed the exit for it when I got there, but I did get there.  There was an Applebee’s next door; if I hadn’t eaten at Carrabba’s, I would have eaten there.

In the hotel room, I downloaded and identified the pictures I’d taken this weekend; I worked on this travelogue; I took a shower; and I watched the Jets take on Miami on Sunday Night Football, which meant I could watch my “nephew”, Miami wide receiver Brandon Marshall, play. “Nephew” is in quotes because, although my nephew is indeed named Brandon Marshall, he’s not an NFL football player.  He’s still in school -- elementary school.


Monday September 27

I had fallen asleep to the TV, for when I popped awake a couple of times, overnight news was on -- Up To The Minute on CBS, I think.  I awoke for good after 5:30 and started to pack.  Breakfast wouldn’t open until 6, and sunrise wouldn’t be until after 7.  I was going to put on a pair of shorts today, but when I went to put them on, I couldn’t do them up.  There was no button to hold them closed!  That would explain the button I found in my washer earlier this week.  But until I found a way to repair or replace that button, those shorts were out of commission.  So I decided to put on another pair of pants.

The breakfast bar was in full operation downstairs by 6 AM.  I had some Special K, a muffin, a small omelet, some turkey sausage and some home fries, a decent way to start the day.  Back in the room, I watched the morning news out of the Tampa Fox station (I thought the traffic reporter was kinda cute) while waiting for the sun to rise.  I didn’t want to set off in the dark, not in this unfamiliar area.  I also called up the company that operated the catamaran ferry to the Dry Tortugas that I was planning to ride tomorrow; I called to cancel my trip.  I didn’t think I should go with a cold.  No problem, they said; I’d receive my refund shortly.

By 7:45, I was checked out of the hotel and in my SUV, attempting to program a route to Key West.  Unfortunately, the routes it chose seemed to take me way out of my way, so I disregarded it and selected my own route from the road atlas.  This took me through downtown Lakeland, and it also took me right past Joker Marchant Stadium, spring training home to the Detroit Tigers.  It took me on Highway 98 to Highway 60 to Florida’s Turnpike.  There wasn’t a whole lot to see in this portion of the drive.

Driving down the turnpike toward Miami, I once again noted how the scenery really reminded me of down home.  I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised by that, since the climate and topography are similar.  I stopped at perhaps every other rest area/service plaza on the turnpike, either for a bathroom break or a stretch.  I remembered what happened a few weeks back when I drove to Fredericksburg, Virginia and had a leg cramp up due to insufficient stretch time on the road.  On one rural road, I saw a sign: Panther Crossing, Next 13 Miles.  That’s something you do not see every day! I stopped for lunch at a Steak & Shake near Sawgrass Mills mall in the northwestern part of the Miami area.  Then it was onward to pick up the turnpike again, and then a refueling stop before the Keys.  The turnpike came to an end at US 1; ahead for southbound drivers lay the Florida Keys.

The initial drive down US 1 was stop and go, most likely due to the construction zone I was traveling through.  But once through there, I didn’t have much difficulty.  I flipped around the radio dial, and in between the static, I could hear a lot of stations in Spanish.  A few of them, it turned out, were Cuban.  One of the stations that I could hear at multiple locations on the dial was Radio Reloj (Radio Clock), a Cuban news/propaganda station (depending on your point of view).  Each news item ran for one minute, with a clock ticking in the background.  The top of every minute was marked by a tone and “RR” sent in Morse code.

Finally I saw the sign for Key Largo.  I was in the Florida Keys!  I soaked in the sights as much as I could, pulling off at least once for some pictures.  One picture I wish I’d taken but didn’t was of a sign for a doctor named Lawyer: Steven Lawyer, DO (do a Google search if you don’t believe me). I also noticed a sign for Taylor Creek Village, which I found a little amusing and a little unusual, having grown up not very far from the city of Taylor LAKE Village in Texas.

Traffic wasn’t bad at all heading towards the end of the road in Key West.  Flipping around the dial, I could hear the Cuban stations more strongly, and as I passed through Marathon, I heard the US government’s response station, Radio Marti (I could also hear music underneath it, presumably a Cuban jammer).  But I mostly listened to NFL Radio, which among other topics covered the passing of George Blanda.  I remembered him from his days in Oakland, but he was an Oiler during the first few years of the team’s existence.  At one point I saw a blimp -- a blimp that didn’t seem to move.  It turned out to be a blimp-shaped balloon that, if I recalled correctly, was used by the US Government for border security operations.  It probably could detect smuggling vessels a long ways off.

At last, the end of my trip was in sight: Key West!  Traffic was on the heavier side here.  You wouldn’t think there would be a Sears store in Key West, but there was -- a smaller store than normal, to be sure.  No need for me to stop there, though, as I headed towards downtown or Old Town.  I navigated some back streets to position me for a right turn for the La Concha Hotel on Duval Street.

Once I saw the hotel, I saw where to turn for check-in and parking.  But I missed the turnoff, so I went around the block to try again.  This had me getting back on US 1 and encountering Mile Marker 0, the official start or end of US 1.  This time, I didn’t miss the turnoff, and so I parked behind a cab while I checked in.  After getting my key, I parked in the gated parking lot and unloaded my luggage for the trip up to room 543.  The room overlooked Duval Street, the main commercial drag in Old Town Key West.  I wouldn’t take a picture of it through the window, though; the windows were filthy.  Nor could they be accessed for cleaning; there was a non-removable interior window blocking access to the original windows.

What to do after unpacking? Set up the laptop and get my Internet access going, that’s what.  And then?  It was time to do some wandering.  So I put on some sunscreen, got my good camera, and went for a walk.  My first stop was the corner where I’d seen Mile Marker 0 signs.  Apparently, the signs are prime targets for thieves or souvenir collectors, but they were here today, firmly secured in my opinion. There also happened to be a sign saying this road was sponsored by the southernmost Parrothead club; that, too, rated a picture.  Nearby was a bicycle/scooter rental place, one of many in Key West.  With that being so close, I thought it would very very convenient to rent from in the next day or so.

Ahead of me, a rooster was walking along the sidewalk.  When he crossed the street, I saw a lot of roosters running around.  Free-range chickens, of a sort.  Up the street I went, passing the entrance to the Truman Little White House, until I came to the old Customs House, now home to the Key West Museum of Art and History.  One couldn’t miss the statues in front of the building, some life-size, two much larger than life (a dancing couple). One pair of statues featured a tourist photographer taking a picture of a statue of Ernest Hemingway (all sorts of references to him here, as you would expect with his having lived here).  I followed the example of the photog statue and took plenty of pictures.

Next, I made my way to Mallory Square, where already a crowd had gathered to witness  tonight’s sunset.  There were street musicians, artisans showing their wares, and other performers.  One man was drawing on a big white pad; it turned out to be a testimony for Jesus.  There was a guitarist stationed where I ended up standing, playing classic rock on his acoustic guitar.  He was doing an all-right job, so I tipped him a dollar.  Nearby was a scruffy street cat that seemed to be tolerant of the crowds.  At one point, when I looked over into the water, I could see fish swimming near the surface.  Out on the water, boats were passing back and forth. In the sky, clouds were gathering.  Would they make for a scenic sunset, or would they block the sun altogether at the critical moment?  It turned out it was the latter, although I did get some interesting pictures of the sky when the sun was higher, as well as the top of a cloud that was lit pink by the below-the-horizon sun.  It was time to go, and so I wandered through the area, taking a picture of a second street cat and watching a guy chase a chicken, having been promised $10 if he caught it (he didn’t catch it).

Heading down Duval Street, I saw the original and current locations of Sloppy Joe’s Bar, famous hangout of Hemingway’s.  Live music was pouring from both locations, as well as a few others in the area.  The evening street scene was in full swing. Meanwhile, I was looking for a place to eat.  There was the Hard Rock Cafe, but having just had a burger, I wasn’t in the mood for another.  I ended up eating at the hotel restaurant, with a light meal of cream of mushroom soup and a chicken Caesar salad.  It was light but good, and it turned out to be filling.

Back in the room, I turned on the TV for Monday Night Football.  ESPN was one of the few channels in HD in the room, and it made for some great game viewing.  Unfortunately, I started to cough during the game -- a lot.  Time to go down to my car to get cough drops.  As I sucked on them, I was wondering how I was going to fall asleep tonight.  I didn’t wonder that much until the end of the game, though, with Chicago beating Green Bay in a squeaker.  Somehow, I managed to fall asleep.


Tuesday September 28

My sleep was OK, I figure; I wasn’t awakened by coughing fits.  But I did start to cough shortly after getting up.  Yes, I made the right decision to cancel the Dry Tortugas cruise today.  Now what to do today in its place?  First, a shower.  Second, breakfast in the restaurant downstairs, where I had a Belgian waffle and some sausage of uncertain flavor and meat.  It was OK, whatever it was.

Now I had taken my computer and my camera out to the car before breakfast, as I saw no way to secure the computer in the room.  There was no in-room safe, and none of the furniture was suitable for looping a security cable around. The camera, I’d use later for my event of the day, or the early part thereof: renting a bike and riding around the island.  I rented it from a location right behind the hotel, four hours for $11.  The bike was a clunker: single-speed, coaster brakes.  I found the coaster brakes rather annoying during the ride; my instincts were to reach for the hand brakes I normally have, and I was unable to spin the pedals to my desired takeoff position from stops.  But I managed.  After all, I did learn to ride on a bike like that. I received a lock, in case I wanted to stop anywhere, and I requested a helmet.  From what I saw, most riders did not request helmets.

My first destination was the end of Whitehead Street, location of the famous marker for the Southernmost Point in the continental United States.  Now that wasn’t really the true southernmost point; that’s on a private key not accessible to the public.  The farthest south point on Key West itself is either a pier or is on Navy grounds and thus inaccessible to the public.  So maybe they should have painted on it, “This is as close as you’re going to get to the southernmost point in the continental United States”.  But there wasn’t enough room for it.  There was a line of people waiting to have their picture taken with the marker; I didn’t get in line, as I had no one who could take my picture.  Instead, I waited for a gap and took a picture of the marker by itself.

Next up, the Key West Lighthouse and Keeper’s House.  I thought I wanted to go up to the top of the lighthouse, but as I got a quarter of the way up the narrow, spiral staircase, I had second thoughts and went back down.  It would have been difficult for people to pass me on the stairs, I thought; no intermediate landings to step off and let others pass.  So I didn’t go up the stairs, but I did go through the keeper’s house, briefly.  Next, I set off on a tour around the edge of the island on bike paths and roadways.  This part of the ride was into the wind, for the most part (east), so I got a good workout.  The road curved north, and I saw where US 1 enters and leaves the island (I was just there yesterday!).  Now I rode on the north side of the island, stopping for a drink at McDonald’s as well as a wipe-off with lots of napkins; it was a real humid day, and I was really sweating.  I made my way back to Old Town and Mallory Square, where I noticed that a cruise ship had docked for the day: the Majesty Of The Seas of the Royal Caribbean line.  In a few days, God, tropical weather, and cold willing, I’d be on my cruise, albeit on the Disney Wonder.  I sat for a while, then maneuvered my way back onto the streets for more pedaling, including another journey to the southernmost point.

I had until 1:35 or so to turn in the bike, but I had had enough and seen enough by a little after 1, and so I dropped off the bike and went back to the hotel, where I had a Gatorade by the pool.  Then it was back to the car to retrieve my computer and back to the room to work on the travelogue, retrieve e-mail, and check the weather forecast.  The forecast turned out to be a bit concerning: a tropical depression had formed in the western Caribbean and was forecast to move northward towards Florida.  A tropical storm warning was now in effect.  I might not be doing too much tomorrow.... Nor might I be doing too much this afternoon, for thunderstorms were rolling through the area.  The only lunch I had was of the liquid variety, and I was debating heading out for a late lunch or early supper.  But with active lightning, I wouldn’t be heading anywhere.  My umbrella was out in the car, and I would want that if bad weather threatened.

Finally the storm let up, and I felt like going out for a meal.  I decided to walk up to the Hard Rock Cafe and have one of their burgers, along with a Caesar salad as an appetizer and a piece of key lime pie as dessert (I couldn’t be in the Keys and not have key lime pie).  I brought along my iPad to check on a few things, and the waiter asked me how I liked it.  Many waiters have asked me how I like it over the months I’ve owned it.  Back at the room, I decided to upload photos as well as post a sunset picture to Facebook.  But I didn’t date it; I didn’t want to tip anyone who wasn’t a Facebook friend that I wasn’t home.  When I was tired of that, I lay down for a while and had some coughing fits (not bad, just annoying).  Later, I had to wash off everything in one of my front pockets because four cough drops had partially melted on me during the day.

When sunset time rolled around, I took a short visit to The Top, the rooftop lounge.  Noticing that the weather had improved and that there was the possibility of a good sunset, I went back to my room for my camera and returned to the Top.  I took several pictures around the hotel, as well as several of the sunset.  Once again, the actual sunset was obscured by clouds.  With the potential for tropical weather tomorrow, the chances of an excellent sunset seemed dim.  So back in the room, I downloaded tonight’s pictures, continued to work on the travelogue, and read for a little while.  I even fooled around with the radio for a bit, but there wasn’t anything I wanted to listen to.


Wednesday September 29

I think I had a reasonably good night’s sleep, given that I still had a cough.  Things were on the down side for the cold, it seemed.  That boded well for the cruise on Sunday.  But for those who were cruising today, they might have been in for some rough weather due to a tropical depression heading up to southeast Florida.  The forecast track had it crossing the Upper Keys, meaning Key West might escape unscathed.  Regardless, I was still glad I was in Key West rather than back home in Michigan, where the morning temperature was 50.

After taking a shower, I headed down to the hotel restaurant for breakfast.  Today, I chose to eat more lightly, just having a bagel and some bacon.  Then I went up to the room to brush, pick up my camera bag, and head to lower Duval.  I wanted to take one of the narrated tour rides around Key West that I’d seen yesterday.  But which one?  I ended up selecting the one whose depot I found first, the Conch Tour Train.  I bought my ticket shortly after 9, meaning I had a half-hour wait until the next train pulled out.  When I arrived at the boarding point, it turned out I was the only one who was going to be on the ride.  I asked the “engineer” (tour guide), Tommy, if he’d had that happen before.  Yes, it did happen occasionally.  And so it was that the two of us had the train to ourselves as we rode through the streets of Old Town Key West, seeing some of the sights I’d already seen, but also seeing some sights on side streets that I hadn’t seen.  It wasn’t always easy taking pictures due to bumpy streets and an inability of the train to come to a complete stop for photo opportunities (except if traffic lights or signs dictated a stop).

There were two stops on the tour, one at the depot and one at Flagler Station.  At the depot, I took a bathroom break and looked at the gifts but saw nothing that really caught my attention.  At Flagler Station, the train picked up two additional riders!  Shortly after that, the ride was over, and I’d gotten my money’s worth.  Next stop, a visit to a store to buy some things.  What I bought and for whom can’t be told at this time; the secret must remain until after Christmas 2010.  Purchase complete, I went back to the hotel and put what I bought in the back of my SUV.  I also retrieved one of the hats that I had in the car, the hat promoting KevinDegenIsMyHero.org.  Then it was off to the Hemingway House down the street.  The ticket clerk noticed my hat and asked about it.  I explained that Kevin Degen was a man born with cerebral palsy and partial paralysis who didn’t let that keep him from riding his bike for scores of miles at a stretch, or participating in cross-country bike tours.  He even carried the Olympic torch in 1996.  Sadly, though, he had died nearly two months before in August, not long after a serious accident on his trike. A foundation in his honor was starting up, and my hat was promoting it.

Back to the Hemingway House: This had been the home of Ernest Hemingway and his second wife Pauline during the 1930’s, and it was here that he wrote several of his most-famous novels, including A Farewell To Arms, For Whom The Bell Tolls, and To Have And Have Not.  The house was furnished like it was when he lived there, and we got to see nearly the entire house, as well as his writing studio.  We also saw a number of cats on the grounds and in the buildings; many of these cats had six toes on their paws.  Six-toed cats were said by sailors to be good luck, and Hemingway wanted to have as much good luck around him as possible.  The cats here were, for the most part, descended from the first six-toed cat brought to the house by his sons.

Our guide also took us through the yard, which contained the largest swimming pool in a private residence in Key West, built by his wife while he was in Spain covering the Spanish Civil War and thus unable to object to its construction.  His revenge: giving her his last cent (still buried and visible near the pool), and bringing a urinal from the old Sloppy Joe’s and putting it near the pool.  The urinal is now part of a cat water delivery system.  Speaking of the cats, Hemingway gave them names of famous people, a practice still continued today, for I saw Harry S. Truman (or should that be Hairy S. Truman?) and Olivia de Havilland, among others.  In a corner of the lawn was a cat cemetery (if this had been the Stephen King house, they could have called it a Pet Sematary), the final resting place for several kitties.

At the conclusion of the tour, I visited the bookstore and felt the urge to buy a Hemingway novel, preferably one written at the house.  I chose To Have And Have Not.  By this time, it was nearly time for lunch, and so I walked over to Duval Street and found a Mexican place I’d seen from the Conch Tour Train, Salsa Loca.  The combination dinner of one taco, two enchiladas, rice and beans was pretty good (filling, too).  As I ate, I was watching a replay of last night’s Orioles-Rays baseball game; Tampa Bay was winning.  Back at the hotel, I went to the room to drop off some stuff, but I didn’t stay long, for housekeeping had not yet been by.  I sat in the lobby for a while before heading to my next tourist destination, the Little White House.  This used to be the commander’s home on the Naval submarine base that used to be here, but President Truman came here on the suggestion of Admiral Nimitz and the advice of his doctors.  He liked it so much, he came here frequently during his terms in office, nearly 180 days in all.  The house was furnished as it was when he used it, so there were many items of his there, including the piano that he played and the poker table where he and his aides would play many a game.  Pictures were not allowed inside the building, unlike at the Hemingway House.  Perhaps that was because the building is still occasionally used by high government officials.  In 2001, Secretary of State Powell brought the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan here for peace negotiations.  More recently, Secretary of State Clinton visited and stayed with her husband, the former president.  The Truman grandchildren have been known to stay there, as well (there are VIP suites in non-public areas of the building).

After I left, I walked out through the grounds of the Westin resort that was next door, found my way to Mallory Square and eventually encountered the Blond Giraffe, purveyors of Key Lime pie.  Yes, I had a slice; yes, it was good.  Then it was a short walk back to the hotel.  By this time, housekeeping had been by, and I laid down to cool off and to rest for a bit.  I also decided to go for a swim.  Yes, I was feeling well enough to consider doing that, even though I still had the occasional cough.  The pool was on the warm side; it was definitely chilly out of the water with the breeze.  I think I swam for around 20 minutes before toweling off and going to the room to change.

It was 5 o’clock, and that meant a tropical storm advisory would be issued.  Earlier in the day, a nearby tropical depression had turned into Tropical Storm Nicole.  But according to this advisory, the storm had fizzled and had lost its tropical nature.  Southeastern Florida and the Upper Keys were getting rained on, but we in Key West hardly got anything out of it.  I got dressed and ready for a walk in the neighborhood.  I decided to walk to a building I’d seen during the Conch Tour Train ride, for there was some potentially interesting artwork there.  It was some nine blocks from the hotel.  When I got there, I found that the artwork wasn’t as interesting as it had seemed from the train.  So back to the hotel I went, but not without a detour into Fausto’s, a grocery store near the hotel.  It was a decent store, but there was nothing I needed or wanted from there.

Now it was nearly suppertime; what to do, and where to go?  I decided to go to Wendy’s and get a Baja salad, which was all right.  Back to the room I went.  As sunset approached, I looked out the window and saw that the city was lit up.  Perhaps there would be a good sunset tonight, I thought.  I got my camera and went to The Top.  It was more crowded up there tonight than last night, but I still had a good vantage point.  Everyone waited and waited.  Suddenly, a woman said that there was a double rainbow on the other side of the hotel.  Everyone dashed over to the east side.  Indeed there was a double rainbow.  What’s more, the main rainbow formed a full arc from ground to ground, something I’ve rarely experienced, and never from that high up.  I took a number of pictures, when I wasn’t wiping off the lens due to the rain that started up.  It got heavier, so most folks went inside the bar area for a while.  Closer to sunset, it let up, and I went back out.  Once again, though, clouds prevented a clear shot at sunset.  A woman next to me said she’d heard December was the best time to see clear sunsets and that September was the worst.

Back to the room I went.  It was time for me to start packing, for my next destination would be Orlando.  I’d have another long drive ahead of me tomorrow.


Thursday September 30

I woke up around 5 this morning; I wouldn’t have minded sleeping a little longer, but I couldn’t return to sleep.  So I turned on the Weather Channel to see what the day’s weather would bring.  I also checked my e-mail and did my final packing, for I would soon leave Key West.  By 7, I was out of the room and putting everything in the car.  I was sure I had checked everything and not left anything behind; in retrospect, I shouldn’t have been so sure.  More on that later.

I didn’t want to hit the road without breakfast, and I enjoyed yesterday’s breakfast of a toasted bagel and bacon, so I ordered that at the hotel again.  The bagel was still good, as was the bacon.  When I was finished, I went to the front desk to check out, and then I got into my car and hit the road.  I hadn’t moved the car since arriving on Monday night; I hadn’t had to.  I took US 1 all the way out of town, noticing that there was a traffic jam heading into town.  There wasn’t one heading out of town, though.

The drive up the Overseas Highway was uneventful, apart from the occasional school zone.  I stopped for gas in Marathon; I stopped for a bathroom break at a waterfront park a few miles east, at the place where I’d stopped to take pictures on Monday, in fact (or on the other side of the road from there).  I flipped around the radio dial, at times listening to KONK-AM, at other times listening to the 60’s on 6 on satellite radio.

Some three hours after I left the hotel, I was out of the Keys and heading north on Florida’s Turnpike.  The drive there was uneventful, other than the huge numbers of lovebugs that smashed themselves on my windshield the farther north I drove.  There were hardly any around Miami, but there were a lot between West Palm Beach and Orlando.  They were so bad, the service plazas had special windshield washers for cars and trucks.  I took advantage of those on a couple of occasions.  Around noon, I stopped for lunch and had a couple of slices of pizza.  By 4 o’clock, I had arrived in Orlando and checked in at the Hampton Inn.

The room seemed to be nice at first, and it was, for the most part.  But there were problems.  The bathroom was optimized for someone in a wheelchair, thus there wasn’t a big counter where I could put my toiletry bag with all of my medicines.  I had to put that bag on the toilet, not the optimum location.  The top drawer on the dresser didn’t want to stay closed; I eventually had to tape it closed.  One of the lamps appeared to have a burned-out bulb.  The deadbolt on the door wouldn’t fully engage unless I lifted the door.

Now my nephew’s birthday was coming up, and I still needed to get his birthday present.  So I drove up a few blocks to the Florida Mall.  Fortunately, the Toys R Us had just what I was looking for.  And when I drove around the mall and saw a nearby Target, that had what I was looking for in the way of mailing materials.  By this time, I was hungry, so I stopped for dinner at Carrabba’s.  Unlike on Sunday, I had chicken marsala instead of chicken gratella, and I didn’t have any soup (they weren’t offering the lentil and sausage soup, else I would have had some of that).  On the way back to the hotel, I stopped at a small strip mall that contained a Best Buy and a Barnes & Noble.  The Best Buy didn’t have what I was looking for; the Barnes & Noble had quite a bit of what I was looking for, and a few things I didn’t know I was looking for.  Some of what I got would make good reading material on the cruise, while some of it would be left in the car at the terminal.

Back in my hotel room, I dug out my toilet bag to get the medicines I needed to take at that time of day.  But there was a problem: one of my medicines was missing!  I had to have left it back in Key West.  It was too far away to consider driving back to retrieve it myself.  I called the hotel, but the lost & found manager was gone for the day.  I left a message for him or her to call me tomorrow on my cell phone.  Now would they be able to ship the medicine to me here in Orlando -- assuming of course that they did have it? If they couldn’t get it to me by Saturday, then it would miss me, for I’d be on the cruise.  Might as well mail it home.  Fortunately, I did have a few days’ supply at home.  But I was looking at up to a week of being off of the medicine. Now if I had not been going on the cruise in a few days, some more options would have been available to me. I could have a relative mail me the medicine from home, or I could have called my doctor in Michigan and asked for an emergency prescription.  And if I’d inspected my bags more closely and not confused one container for another, I’d have realized my error before I ever checked out.


Friday October 1

I was still waking up around 5:30 for the day.  I took my time getting started, watching the Weather Channel, reading some from the latest installment of The Complete Peanuts (the volume I got last night was 1977-78; the clerk at the store said he once had a family from Brazil come in and buy all of the available volumes at a single time), and taking my medicine -- well, except for the one that was left in Key West.  I turned on the phone to await a message from the hotel lost and found manager.

Around 7:30, I went out to the lobby for breakfast.  The Hampton Inn breakfast bar was pretty popular this morning.  I had a mix of items - cereal, yogurt, toasted bagel, and a danish.  The TV in the lobby had on the local cable news channel, but I wasn’t paying attention to it; instead, I was reading the USA Today that had been left at my door.  That paper would help stuff the box I was about to mail overseas to my sister (my nephew’s birthday present).  Back in the room, I found where the nearest post office was; it wasn’t very far from the hotel at all, as it turned out, maybe 2 miles or so.  I also wrote down the address of AES, an amateur radio dealer in town (actually, they’re a national vendor, and Orlando has one of their four stores).

Around 9, I set off for the post office.  It wasn’t the easiest to find because it wasn’t well marked from the outside - no sign on the street, and the building signs faced the direction opposite of the way I was going.  But I found it, found out which customs declaration form I could use for the package (the small and simple green one) and mailed it.  Then I used my TomTom GPS to direct me to the AES store.  One route it suggested involved a tollway; I didn’t want that, so it gave me a way that didn’t need one.  As I drove along, I thought that the neighborhoods of Orlando I was going through reminded me of Pasadena, Texas to some extent; I wasn’t sure why.  Later on, I drove through an area with a lot of Vietnamese stores; that definitely did not remind me of Pasadena.  The AES store was located near the Orlando Executive Airport, a small airfield close to downtown.  Much of the stock was locked up, but antennas and books were accessible.  I found an antenna that had tri-band capability: 2 meters, 220 MHz and 440 MHz.  Such an antenna would be useful on my car because the Ford Amateur Radio League operates repeaters on all three bands (my current antenna lacks 220 MHz capability).  I bought that antenna.  A few minutes later, I was visiting a Barnes & Noble down the street and found a couple of more books there that I didn’t see last night, including one on paved bike trails in Florida.  Perhaps on a future visit, I will bring a bike or trike of my own down.  Then it was off to Downtown Disney.  As I drove, I passed by the new Amway Center downtown, which officially opened today.  The Orlando Magic will play there when the NBA season begins in a few weeks.

It turned out that Disney World was quite some distance from downtown Orlando; no wonder I never remembered seeing downtown Orlando on my first visit to the area in 2000.  But there was a lot that seemed familiar as I drove onto WDW grounds and found my way to Downtown Disney, parking near the World of Disney.  I didn’t go into that store right away; I wanted to save it for later, for the end of my visit.  And so I walked around and saw several different stores and restaurants.  Some seemed familiar from 10 years ago, but others were new.  By this time, the sun was out, it was warm out, and I was getting hungry, and so I stopped for lunch at Portobello.  You might think it strange for me to be eating at an Italian restaurant again so soon (Carrabba’s last night), but I had had chicken there, no pasta.  Today, I would have pasta, spaghetti with meatballs to be exact, a very good house salad, and bread with roasted garlic.  Yum yum!

Now I was ready to visit the World of Disney.  My main goal was to find some shirts, preferable Hawaiian-style.  I’d brought a couple down with me that turned out not to fit as well as I thought.  Unfortunately, this was the wrong time of the year for Hawaiian shirts, as what was on display tended to be a bit heavier -- great for back home, not so great for cruising in a couple of days.  I did get a couple of hats, though, including a gag hat of Donald Duck’s bottom half: all white with two webbed feet at the top.  The DA haircut was the rage in the 50’s, and now here I was about to wear a DA of a slightly different sort.  As I left the World of Disney, there was a parade taking place: the Disney Princess Parade, where several young girls dressed in varying levels of princess apparel were being led down the main “street” of Downtown.  It would be a great photo opportunity if your daughter or relative were part of the parade.

On the way out of Downtown Disney, I noticed an outlet mall right off the freeway.  This would have been the Orlando Premium Outlets.  Perhaps I could find some Hawaiian-style shirts there, I thought.  So after a stop at a 7-Eleven for a bottle of Diet Dr Pepper Cherry, I made my way to that outlet mall.  The route had me passing by Sea World and its associated parks.  The outlet mall was doing a good business today; I didn’t find the shirts, but I did find a new pair of Crocs sandals to potentially replace the ones I was wearing.  Then it was back to the hotel to drop things off and rest up.

Now all through the day, I’d kept my phone turned on for a call back from the Key West hotel lost and found manager.  I never heard back from them, so I called back and left a message.  Well, I still never heard back from them.  That’s poor service.  When I left a book in a California hotel earlier this year, they responded and mailed back the book right away.  Now there is a possibility that the hotel has or will mail the prescription back to my home address, which they have on file; I wouldn’t know until I got home.

In the late afternoon, I went back out again, taking the opportunity to wear my new Crocs sandals.  My first destination was Clear Lake Park, several miles north of the hotel.  Yes, there is a Clear Lake in Orlando, and there is a Clear Lake Park.  As I drove up toward the park, I noticed that the neighborhood appeared to be lower-middle-class economically, and its residents were minorities, for the most part.  I saw no need to get out of the car at the park; all I wanted was a picture of the sign.  It was obvious that this Clear Lake Park was nothing like the Clear Lake Park I grew up with.  The same was true with the lake.  But I did notice a Seabrook Street near the park.

Then I drove back down to the Florida Mall to wander around, have dinner, and see what there was to see.  I did get a button repair kit from the As Seen On TV store; the kit would help with the shorts that lost a button.  I visited the Apple Store but saw nothing I needed to get right away.  I saw some Tommy Bahama shirts at Nordstorm that were too high in price and too small in fit.  I had an unorthodox meal at Ruby Tuesday: an appetizer sampler plate and the salad bar, for I wasn’t in the mood for a regular meal (and I still couldn’t finish it all).  I went inside the Florida Hotel that was attached to the mall, seeing if it would be worthy of a stay in the future (maybe).  Unfortunately, I also aggravated a sore spot on my left foot where something had been rubbing.  The new sandals didn’t cause the sore, but they were aggravating it.  I ended up taking a handkerchief from my pocket and sticking it between the shoe and my foot.  It had to look funny, but I wasn’t feeling pain with every step.  The hotel was a short drive away, fortunately.


Saturday October 2

Once again, I woke around 5:30 and took my time getting ready.  This morning, I took a shower to get ready for the day ahead.  By 7:30, I was out in the lobby having breakfast; today, I made a waffle and had some yogurt with it.  Now when I grabbed a container of syrup and opened it, I found I had actually taken a container of peanut butter.  I didn’t know how that would be on a waffle, nor did I care to find out, and so I went back for syrup -- not too much, just enough.

Because of the sore on my foot, I decided to wear the nicest pair of shoes I had -- the only closed shoes I had, for I needed to wear socks.  I may have been a tad overdressed for vacation, but so what?  I didn’t want my feet to hurt.  Now what was I going to do today?  I really wanted to go back to Weeki Wachee Springs to ride on the river cruise, which I was unable to do last Sunday, and to improve on my pictures from the mermaid theater shows, as too many of those were out of focus for my liking.  And so I made the 2-hour drive back to the west side of the state following the same route I had on Sunday, slightly modified to account for my different starting location.

As I drove up the Florida Turnpike, down I-75 and over on Highway 50, I was listening to the Underground Garage on Sirius XM, and the music was great today.  To be honest, it almost always is great on that channel.  By 10:45, I was back at Weeki Wachee, in time for the first show of the day.  For this show, I sat on the opposite of the theater from where I had sat on Sunday.  Then, I was stage left; today, I was stage right.  I was still in the front row, though. There was a couple sitting next to me today, there as part of a seniors group, possibly a seniors singles group; we had a bit of a talk before the show began.

Since this was earlier in the morning than on my previous visit, there were times when I could see the sun shining through the very top of the window, where there was a slight gap between the waterline and the window top.  The sun was bright and could be a bit annoying, but it didn’t take long for it to rise and be blocked by an awning.  It didn’t bother me during the mermaid show, which was The Little Mermaid again.  The performers were not the same ones that I saw last Sunday, but that didn’t matter in the least.  What did matter to me was trying to figure out how to keep pictures in focus.  Did temporarily going to manual focus work?  Not very well.  What seemed to work well was setting the camera on continuous mode, where it would take pictures for as long as I kept the shutter button down.  That mode worked well for getting dolphin pictures in California, and it ended up working well for getting mermaid pictures in Florida.

When the show ended, many of the attendees headed for the landing for the river cruise.  I was one of them, for I’d missed my opportunity last Sunday.  I wouldn’t miss it today, though, as there was a boat waiting at the dock, and there was plenty of room on board.  Maximum capacity was 35, and it soon filled up.  The trip took us fifteen minutes downriver from the spring, leading to a 30-minute round trip.  The water was nearly crystal-clear, making it easy to see the sandy bottom, the plants growing on the bottom, and the fish that darted here and there.  At one point, we saw a heron and a raccoon together on the riverbank; the raccoon seemed to have designs on whatever the heron was looking for.  Off in the distance, we could see a bald eagle nest.  As we headed back to the dock, we encountered a number of kayakers, some of whom came close to running into the boat.  Fortunately, everyone was alert, and there were no disasters.

When the cruise was over, it was ten after noon.  According to the schedule handed out at the ticket booth, the second mermaid show started at 12:30, so I made my way over to the entrance.  Quite a group had gathered by 12:30 when one of the mermaid hostesses came over and told us the next show would actually start at 1, a half-hour later than what the schedule said.  Not wanting to stand around in the sun for another half-hour, we went elsewhere.  I went over to the snack bar and had lunch, a reasonable thing to do at 12:30 in the afternoon.  I got a burger, which was edible.  Of course, you didn’t go there for the food.

The meal had lasted a half-hour, and when I finished, I headed back over to the theater for the second show.  I sat on stage left, second row.  Why not front row? I would have been too close to pillars or posts blocking my view, that’s why.  While I waited for the show to begin, I couldn’t help but notice the cute cat video playing on the iPhone belong to the folks in the front row.  At 1, the show began.  It was Fish Tales again, the historical spectacular.  Once again, I used continuous mode to capture several photographs with one press of the shutter.

When the show ended, I went out by the doors that led to the spring view area.  As I looked out over the spring, I saw one of the mermaid performers exiting the spring by one of the two ladders in the spring.  Normally, they exit via a tube that lets them swim to their dressing area.  This one was not wearing a tail, otherwise it wouldn’t have been possible for her to use the ladder.  The Buccaneer Bay recreation area on the other side of the spring was quiet today, unlike last Sunday.  That was because its season had ended last Sunday.  Perhaps I might like to visit in the summer when Buccaneer Bay was open.

Driving back to Orlando, I decided to stay on Highway 50 most of the way, wondering if there was a reason why the GPS directed me away from this route.  It was a usable route, but it did go through a few towns, which helped slow me up a bit.  It took around two hours to get back to Orlando, I figure. Once Highway 50 reached the Turnpike, I got onto it and headed back to the hotel, but not before stopping at a service plaza for a bag of popcorn and a bottle of pop for later snacking.  The Michigan State-Wisconsin game was about to begin; I had it on the radio, but I got back to the hotel shortly after kickoff.  ESPN was carrying the game, so I put that on the TV as I downloaded my pictures.  I’d taken close to 700 pictures today!  Some were better than others, to be sure.  As for the game, that was a close one for most of the day.  Michigan State ended up winning by 10 points -- hurray!

With the game over, what did I want to do for supper?  I had a desire to go to Fuddrucker’s, for I’d seen one yesterday.  The location closest to me was not the one I saw yesterday, though; that was down by Disney, whereas the closer one was over by Universal.  I set off for that one, but along the way, I noticed a Sweet Tomatoes on a corner.  That’s the salad bar buffet popular in California and Illinois.  Now I could go to Fuddruckers any time I wanted in Michigan; not so with Sweet Tomatoes, though, so I changed my plans and went to Sweet Tomatoes instead.  I took full advantage of the food selection: the salad bar, the soup bar, breads, pasta, etc. Back at the hotel, I watched Alabama soundly thrash Florida, read some more of the Complete Peanuts 1977-78 and called it a night.


Sunday October 3

My sleep was interrupted by noises outside around 3 or so; I don’t know if they were outside in the hall or outside in the pool area.  Then I saw an occasional flash from a light.  It was the lamp next to the right side of the bed, the one that hasn’t worked.  I guess the bulb wasn’t burned out after all; the plug was behind the bed, and the mattress must have been pushing it and making for a bad connection.

When I got up for good, it was after 6.  It was time to pack in earnest, for today I would be leaving Orlando.  Today I would be heading for Port Canaveral.  Today I would be taking my first cruise!  My carryon bag would serve as my day bag, carrying the essentials until my suitcase was delivered to my stateroom.  It had the potential to be a heavy bag, because among those essentials would be MacBook, iPad and camera, along with some clothes.  At 7:15, I went for breakfast and had a mixture of items: cereal, yogurt, a small quantity of scrambled eggs, two sausages (turkey, I think) and a muffin.  Next meal, on board the Disney Wonder!

The hotel Internet access was getting flaky for some reason, and so I switched over to my MiFi access.  It got the job done.  And so, I continued to pack and prepare, while mostly waiting for my chance to depart in a not-too-early manner.  I finished reading the Complete Peanuts 1977-78; that could stay in the car and not go with me on the cruise.  So could a number of books I’d picked up, in fact.  I took one of my jackets that I’d put inside the suitcase and put it back in the car; I didn’t think I’d need it on board.  I had two others, a yellow windbreaker and my nice sport jacket.  By 9:20, I was ready to leave. But I didn’t actually leave until after 9:30, at which time I drove to Target to look for small travel sizes of deodorant and sunscreen, thinking I’d have to comply with airline security rules.  I also looked for bandages or something for my feet, but I didn’t see anything that was suitable.  Then I hit the road for Port Canaveral.

As I drove along, I noticed a funny feeling in my mouth or throat.  I wasn’t getting another sore throat, was I?  I hoped not.  It didn’t seem too bad, not then.  And so I wasn’t very concerned.  In retrospect, though, I should have been quite concerned.

The Beachline (formerly Beeline) Expressway wasn’t busy at all and by 10:30, I was in the Port Canaveral area.  But it was too early to check in, so I continued onward.  I’d been listening to Breakfast with the Beatles and a little bit of American Top 40 on the way in, and I continued to do so as I drove onward on Highway 528.  Off in the distance to the north, I could see the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center.  Eventually, I could see three cruise ships in port, and one of them was the Disney Wonder.  I’d be boarding her real soon -- but not yet.  No, I continued driving south to Cocoa Beach.  Since I had the time, I wanted to visit the famous Ron Jon Surf Shop.  I also wanted to look for a pair of swimming goggles, which might prove useful in the ship’s pools and elsewhere.  It took me a little while, but I found where the goggles were (upstairs) and bought a pair.  That business taken care of, I took a couple of pictures out front, and then I started north, back toward the port.

After a rather circuitous route where I had to keep aware of which cruise line I was heading for, I found my way to the parking lot for Disney.  I got my card/ticket and found a spot close to the terminal.  When I made my way to the entry, there apparently was a place to check in luggage -- but I didn’t see it, and so I went through the security with a full-sized suitcase.  What’s more, it did fit in the scanner -- just barely, but it fit!  It turned out that I didn’t need to limit my liquid volumes or put them in a clear bag.  I took the elevator up and checked in.  When I checked in, I had to sign a form confirming that within the last 72 hours, I had not had cold symptoms in conjunction with a fever.  And that was true, to my knowledge; any fever I’d had was several days ago, and so I had no qualms signing it. I got my Key to the World card (my ship ID), my boarding pass (group 15), today’s Personal Navigator (what was taking place every day on board), and an invitation to have a seat while I waited to board.  My having the suitcase wouldn’t be much of a problem; I could just leave it outside of my stateroom until the stateroom was ready at 1:30.  And so, after a trip to the restroom, I sat down near a TV monitor showing Mickey Mouse cartoons (of course) and waited.  There was a photo opportunity with Mickey and (later on) Minnie that drew quite a line.

My Key to the World card explained that I’d be eating at the second seating, at 8:15 PM every night.  That would be a bit later than normal for me, but I understood that that was the seating more oriented toward those traveling without children.  There was a code APPT that I surmised was the sequence of restaurants in which I’d be eating: Animator’s Palate, Parrot Cay twice, then Triton’s.

While I waited, I looked over the Personal Navigator to see what was on tap for today. There was quite a bit on tap, including the Adventures Away departure ceremony, The Golden Mickeys show in the Walt Disney Theater, football in the Diversions sports bar, etc.  I filed it away for later use and took out my MacBook to work on the travelogue.  Every few minutes, I heard the boarding announcements: those with boarding pass numbers 2 through 7 may proceed to boarding.  My pass number was 15, so I had a while to wait.  Eventually, though, my number was called, and I proceeded to board.  There was an opportunity to take a pre-departure picture, but I passed on it.  A turn to the right, and I was on board.  I was even announced on board (with reluctance on my part; they didn’t really need to bother).  When I boarded, I was on deck 3, midship.  Now I had started toward my stateroom, thinking about leaving my suitcase outside of it, but I ended up going to the 9th deck and Beach Blanket Buffet.

It wasn’t easy to go through a buffet line with a rolling suitcase and a carryon, but I did.  I selected a few items - salad, a little pasta, a little rice, some grilled salmon, etc. and tried to find a seat.  Outside on the deck looked appealing, but there was a problem: raised barriers near the doors, making it hard to navigate with both suitcases and food tray.  A server saw my difficulty and offered to take my tray, an offer I graciously accepted.  And so it was that I sat at the stern and had my first onboard meal -- and a good meal it was!

By this time, it was after 1:30; my stateroom would be ready.  So I went down to deck 5 and found stateroom 5626.  Compared to other hotel rooms I’ve been in, it was on the small side (although I’d say Microtel rooms were smaller), but there was a decent amount of room for myself.  I started to unpack everything, putting shirts and jackets in the closet, other items in the dressers, etc.  I got out my Canon camera and my camera bag and prepared to tour the ship.  With the nice weather, there would be plenty of photo opportunities all over, especially of the surrounding area from deck 10, the highest deck accessible by adults (deck 11 featured a club for teens).  The Kennedy Space Center and some of the Cape Canaveral range were easily visible; I could see the Vehicle Assembly Building and one of the Shuttle pads.  I could see Cocoa Beach and the Beachline Expressway.  I could see the two other ships in port, the Carnival Sensation and Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas.  After walking around deck 10, I found my way to Diversions, the sports bar on Deck 3.  It was part of the Route 66 entertainment area.  This afternoon, it would be carrying NFL football.  The main games on in there turned out to be Denver at Tennesee and Cincinnati vs. Cleveland.  The Lions were playing Green Bay and were losing every time I saw the score (they ended up losing by 2 points).  I nibbled on some of the snack food they had there, knowing that  my dinner seating would be late.

It was nearing 3:30.  At 4 o’clock, there would be a mandatory safety drill, where everyone was to don their life jackets and assemble at their designated area.  For my cabin, the designated area was area Q, inside the Animator’s Palate restaurant.  The drill went off well with little trouble, and I went back to my cabin at its conclusion.  But before I took off the life jacket, I took a picture of me wearing it, using the mirror to help out.  With the life jacket returned to the closet, I went to deck 9 for the Adventures Away celebration, our sendoff party and the official start of the cruise.

There was already a big crowd there when I arrived.  The emcee encouraged everyone to sing along and dance along; many did, but not everyone (I didn’t).  Eventually, Mickey, Minnie, Chip & Dale, Goofy, Pluto and Donald made appearances; of course, they were well-received.  And during the celebration, we were asked to count down: 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1-hooray!  With streamers flying, the cruise had officially begun.  And a few minutes later, I thought I could see and feel a little bit of motion.  I didn’t stay for the whole celebration; I went off toward the stern.  We weren’t moving at that point, but while I was back there, I did notice some definite forward motion.  We were definitely under way!

Ahead of us in the channel was the Royal Caribbean ship Freedom of the Seas.  They were leading us out into the ocean, it seemed.  As we passed by the banks of the shore, we waved to those out there, and for the most part they waved back.  Soon we passed the end of the channel, and we were in the ocean.  I was busy with my camera as we headed out.  The ship ahead of us made a nice subject, as did the Carnival ship as it followed us out of the channel.

After a trip down to Diversions and the retail stores, I went back up to deck 10 to try to take pictures of the sunset.  Unlike down in Key West, there was hardly a cloud in the sky to interfere with the sunset, and I got the entire sunset, from first contact to last.  This, I would have to post to Facebook.  Back in the room, I downloaded all of the pictures I’d taken today to iPhoto and started to identify them.  That took me to 8 o’clock.  And now it was time for dinner.

There was a long line outside the Animator’s Palate, where my dinner would be tonight.  Once the restaurant opened, though, the line moved fairly quickly, and I was soon taken to my table, #42.  There would be one other diner at my table, Lynn or Lynne from east of Cleveland.  Like me, she was a solo traveler, and so we’d been paired up for dinners.  This wasn’t her first cruise altogether, unlike me; she’d been on a couple on the west coast. Now the dinner arrangements were unusual: we would rotate among the restaurants during the cruise, visiting all of them.  We’d sit with the same individuals, and we’d be served by the same waiters.  Dinner for me this evening was a mushroom risotto, baked potato and cheese soup, and pennette pasta, with apple crumble for dessert.  Everything was good.

I haven’t mentioned anything about the restaurant itself. As one might expect from the name “Animator’s Palate”, the theme of the restaurant was animation.  Initially, the decor of the restaurant was black and white.  As the meal progressed, some of the drawings became fully realized in color.

After dinner, I went back up to deck 10 to see what stars could be seen.  Quite a few could be seen, although the deck lights were a bit bright for my liking.  Perhaps I should have brought some star charts on my iPad; I’d have to remember that for future nights.  As I walked around, I saw that the Chicago-New York Giants game was being carried on the big screen TV at the midship pool, and I watched it there for a while, at least until the display malfunctioned.  Then I went back to the room and worked on this travelogue while also watching the game.  ESPN was carrying it (must have been an international ESPN, because this was NBC’s game in the US).

As I walked through the ship, and as I sat in my stateroom, I could definitely detect a slight rolling motion to the ship.  It made it hard sometimes to keep a straight line.  Seas were fairly smooth, which meant the rocking would not have been too bad, and it wasn’t.  That was all right by me.


Monday October 4

It seemed my cold returned with a vengeance, for I had a terrible night.  I was really goopy, and there were times I felt like I would barf from post-nasal drip.  Fortunately, it never got to that point.  But I had a very hard time falling asleep.  At one point, I pulled out a jacket from my closet and put that on, as the covers on the bed didn’t keep me warm enough.  I turned on the TV and flipped around the channels, finally settling on the Pixar channel, where I caught the last half of Cars.  It is still a good movie, and Cars 2 is supposed to be arriving next summer.  In retrospect, if this had happened 24 hours earlier, then I don’t believe I would have been allowed to board the ship.  Also in retrospect, it seemed like I’d actually come down with a second cold before being completely over the first one.

Eventually, I believe I did get some sleep, and I got up for good around 6.  Now I felt I was in dire need of a shower, and so I took one this morning.  There were no signs encouraging one to take the shower in the style of the Navy (i.e., run the water briefly, lather up all over, then rinse), and so I didn’t.  The soap and shampoo were rather upscale, coming from H2O+.  So what, as long as I got clean.  And as I dried off, I decided that I would bite the bullet and buy some Internet access.  With my cold flaring up again, I thought I’d use more than I might otherwise, and so I got 200 minutes of access for $75.  That is not cheap!  But it might be for satellite rates.  And thus I checked e-mails, wrote one of my own to relatives, and sent out one of my sunset pictures from last night.  I uploaded that one to Facebook, as well.

There would be no corresponding opportunity for sunrise pictures this morning, for it was overcast as we approached Nassau.  When 7:30 rolled around, I went up to Beach Blanket Buffet for breakfast, bringing along my iPad to read some eBooks.  Mickey Waffles were on the menu today, but I passed on those.  I did have some oatmeal, yogurt, smoked salmon, some cheese, a breakfast burrito, and a croissant.  The buffet reminded me a little bit of the breakfast buffets in Israel, but there was one big difference: this buffet served bacon and sausage, definitely not kosher.  I ate inside this morning, not feeling like eating on the deck.  One of the waitstaff noticed my iPad and asked me about it.  Many waiters have asked me about the iPad, in fact.

Back in the room, I collected my laundry (actually, I’d already put it in a laundry bag) and set out for the launderette (British for laundromat) on the 6th deck.  I ended up going down the wrong aisle to get there, but I eventually found it.  Now I was washing mainly underwear, handkerchiefs, a pair of pants, some pairs of socks, and at least one shirt.  Detergent, fabric softener and bleach cost a dollar each; a wash was $2, and a dry was also $2.  I got some detergent, loaded up a washer, and went back to my room for 25 minutes, the length of a cycle.  While there, I did some travelogue work.  Turned out I went back to the laundry room a little early, and so I had to wait while the cycle ended.  Once it did, though, I loaded the dryer, paid for it, started it up, and then wandered around for 25 minutes or so (the full cycle was 45 minutes).  We were pulling into Nassau around this time, and so I went up to deck 9 to watch the process.  I’d seen some of our arrival from my verandah; one of the hotels I noticed was the Nassau Hilton.  Not the Nassau Bay Hilton, the Nassau Hilton.  The two hotels looked nothing alike.  Back to our berthing: ahead, I could see the famous Atlantis resort standing apart from the main city.  I could see dock workers pulling in the lines that would hold the ship to the dock.

Around 25 minutes after I’d started the dryer, I went back to check on my clothes.  They were, in fact, quite dry, and so I folded them and brought them back to my stateroom, which was in the process of being cleaned.  The attendant, Ron, had no problem with my dropping off the clothes.

By this time, the gangway had been brought up, and people could leave the ship.  Everyone leaving the ship had to go to level 1 forward.  There, you had to show your Key to the World card and (for adults) photo ID to leave.  I did so, and I was officially on the ground in the Bahamas.  Now I didn’t have anything planned for today, nor did I really want to do anything, not with the cold coming back in force.  So all I did was stay at the dock area, not even adventuring past the welcoming center.  Many folks wanted to offer me a cab ride somewhere; I declined all offers.  All I did was to take some pictures from the dock area, including a cute setting on the stern: Donald Duck is painting the boat, while one of his nephews (no way to tell if it was Huey, Dewey or Louie) was going to cut one of the ropes holding Uncle Donald up.  Bad idea, boys!

When I boarded again, I had to show my Key to the World pass and photo ID, and I also had to pass through a metal detector as well as empty my pockets.  Once I did that, I was back on board.  I made my way back to my cabin, which was where I figured to spend a good chunk of the day.  I didn’t think I was contagious again, unless the flareup of the cold was actually a separate one from the first.  Still, I didn’t really feel like doing much else at that time.  And so I stayed in the room, doing a bit of reading, doing a bit of computer work, doing too much of blowing my nose.  I could hear the wind really kicking up outside.  Those hoping for a sunny day at the beach were bound to be disappointed.

For a change, I decided to go to the fitness center in the spa area and ride an exercise bike.  I got four miles in before calling it; I could certainly do far more than that, but exercise biking is not as exciting as real biking.  The fitness center had some good equipment and a great view from the deck 9 bow.  There weren’t too many people using it at that time, which was all right with me.  After I was done there, I went back to my cabin for a while, and then I went back to Beach Blanket Buffet for lunch.  It seems like I had a little bit of everything today (no soup, though), leading to a very crowded plate.  I went outside to sit, but it started to rain.  Even with a roof over my head, enough rain was blown in underneath it that I was getting soaked, and so I scurried inside and found a table.

As I was about to go for some dessert, somebody sitting in an adjacent table asked me about my iPad.  I was telling him about it, but as I did so, a server started to clear my table.  I didn’t have a lot of food left on my plate, but I was by no means done.  I stopped her, and then I continued talking about my iPad.  I went over to the dessert area and picked up a chocolate chip cookie.  When I got back to my table, though, I found that someone else had cleared my food away.  I was not happy about that, and I let a server know in no uncertain terms.  Then it was back to the room to more or less take it easy for the afternoon.

As evening approached, I felt a little chilled (sure hope that wasn’t a fever!), so I decided to take another shower.  That warm water felt good on me.  It was dress-up night tonight on board, and so I put on fancier clothes.  They weren’t much different than my regular work clothes except that I wore my sport jacket as well.  I went down to Diversions briefly, mainly to get a hot dog (I needed a little something to tide me over before late dinner).  After that, I was feeling a bit warm, so I did go back to the room briefly.  The lobby was set up with camera stations for families to have their pictures taken; they were in between sessions at the moment I went past.  It seemed to me that most people had taken the suggested attire recommendations.  It wasn’t designated formal night, so I didn’t see anyone in tuxes or elaborate evening gowns.

8 o’clock rolled around: time to get in line for 8:15 dinner at Parrot Cay, the Caribbean-themed restaurant on board.  I was closer to the front of the line this evening.  The restaurant opened slightly early, and the big rush started to get inside.  When I arrived, my tablemate Lynn(e) was already there.  She’d briefly gone into Nassau to see some of the shops but wasn’t impressed; they broke down into two categories, the T-shirt shops and the Rolex shops, and she wasn’t into either.  Her pocketbook stayed closed.  She made it farther out than I did, for as I’d said earlier, I didn’t even leave the port terminal.  Back to dinner: Everything on the menu was supposed to have a Caribbean theme, and I guess you could say that it did.  I had as an appetizer some Martinique crab meat dip, a cold soup of mango and papaya (good, as was the crab meat dip) and a ribeye steak.  The servings of corn on the cob were cut so that you could hold them between your thumb and index finger on one hand -- a bite wide, effectively.  I didn’t recall seeing that presentation before.  It was rather convenient, actually.

Parrot Cay seemed to be a noisier restaurant than Animator’s Palate; I wasn’t sure why that was.  One of the contributors came toward the end of the meal, as a very noticeable vibration and rattle started.  The engines had started, it seemed.  And eventually, we were moving forward, out of the channel and away from Nassau, towards Castaway Cay.  Now there were a number of activities that one could still participate in during the evening hours, but with my nose clogged as it was, I thought I should head back to my room.  Monday Night Football awaited, as did another attempt to check e-mail via the satellite connection.  Once again, I could not log on.  I felt myself falling asleep waiting for the login to proceed.  That wasn’t a good sign, so I closed up the laptop for the evening.  I didn’t want to burn up all of my time while I snoozed.

An Aside: On-Board Television

Yes, one could indeed watch television in the staterooms on board ship.  The channels seemed to be grouped into various natural categories.  First came the status channels and news channels.  The Program Guide channel listed all of the channels and carried all shipboard announcements.  One channel had a fixed view from the bridge; watchers could see what the captain saw off the bow.  At least they could during the day; at night, it would be pitch black, and so the channel went to a loop of astronomical artwork and classical music.  One channel had a continual report from the bridge, giving key information such as shipboard time, position, distance sailed from home port and last port visited, distance to next port, windspeed, direction, and relative direction to the ship, and wave height.  A related channel had the ship’s projected and actual course plotted on a map.  Next came HLN and CNN, followed by a special event channel.  This channel carried key sports events on international versions of ESPN that were not on ESPN in the US.

Next came the Disney Channel (of course), WABC-TV for ABC network programming (the remainder of its schedule was blacked out), ESPN and ESPN2.  There were several channels that promoted port adventures, the Disney Vacation Club, Disney Adventures, etc.  A number of channels aired movies that had been in theaters a few months back; on this cruise, the movies included the remake of “The Karate Kid”, the latest in the Shrek series, “Iron Man 2”, and “Nanny McPhee Returns”.

One channel had a loop of classic Disney shorts, for those who needed a Mickey fix, a Donald fix, etc.  I saw that one of the Goofy shorts was made within the last few years; it dealt with setting up your home theater, in the vein of classic Goofy cartoons on how to ski, how to play baseball, etc. One channel ran classic Disney animated films, while another aired more recent Disney animated films.  There was a separate channel for Pixar’s films and yet another channel for Disney live-action films.  Sitcoms had their own channel, as did older ABC programs (whenever I tuned in, it always seemed to carry “Lost”) and ABC Family shows.  Oh, yes, there was also a channel that aired whatever was taking place in the Walt Disney Theater, the main place for large-scale live entertainment.


Tuesday October 5

My sleep this evening was better than last night’s, although I did wake up a couple of times.  When I woke up for good, I tried an e-mail check again.  This time, I got in.  I doubt there were many people using it at that time of the morning.  I retrieved my e-mail, sent a message out, and then logged into my credit union’s online banking service to transfer my house payment into the savings account  That couldn’t wait until I returned to Florida.

Speculation: the dwarf Sneezy is named that way due to allergies.  If he had a cold, I bet he’d have the name Goopy.  Well, for the last few days, I have felt like Goopy. I have marveled at how much can be blown from a nose.

As I got dressed this morning, the ship was arriving at Castaway Cay.  It slowed down and turned about to back into its berth.  That gave those on the starboard side (including me) a great view of the whole island.  It would still be a while before folks could get off the ship, so I had my breakfast at Triton’s.  It was a fairly light breakfast, consisting of some oatmeal and a toasted bagel with cream cheese.  My waiter Arlan happened to be the waiter who was serving Lynn(e) and me during all of our dinners (small world - “it’s a small world after all”).  By the time I was done, I was ready to hit the island.

As I got off the vessel, the first thing I noted was the station for an island survival pack (bottled water, bag, etc.) as well as beach towels.  I had my own bottle of water, so I just picked up a beach towel and headed in.  The post office was nearby along the path; this was a real Bahamian post office, where folks could mail letters and postcards.  In the harbor with us was the Flying Dutchman of Pirates of the Caribbean fame.  I took some pictures along the way, using my Olympus camera instead of my Canon, which I’d left aboard the ship.

When I got to the main beach that served as a snorkeling lagoon, I was still not sure if I felt well enough to attempt the water activities I’d paid for, meaning the stingray adventure and the snorkel rental.  So I decided to try it out by wading into the lagoon. The water was reasonably warm, and I didn’t feel too uncomfortable.  I had my Olympus camera with me today, which was capable of going underwater.  And here, I tried it out for the first time in salt water.  So close in to the beach, there wasn’t a whole lot to see, but it worked, and I worked.  Yes, I thought, I could at least try the other activities.  As I got out, someone said they saw a stingray in the water.  I could see they were right, there was a stingray there.  I took a picture, but it didn’t turn out the best.  I’d have more opportunities to see stingrays later.

I put on my shorts and shirt and shoes and continued walking around.  There were a couple of stores on the island, but I didn’t visit them.  As I walked, it started to rain -- a light rain indeed, but still rain.  Would that keep the numbers of visitors down today?  Maybe for a while, but there were plenty of people on the island later on.  A little before 10, I made my way to the Stingray Encounter, checked in, received my equipment and was directed to go to the meeting area.  I took off my clothes (other than the swimsuit, of course and put on the flotation vest, mask and snorkel.  I’d used mask and snorkel before, of course, but the flotation vest was new to me.  I wasn’t sure how to use it at first until I heard someone else describe how to blow air into it to inflate it.  After a 10-minute introduction, we were told to put our stuff into one of 4 storage bins, then head to one of the feeding areas.  The 55 stingrays in the enclosure -- 53 females, two males (“26 1/2 girls for every boy” to paraphrase Jan & Dean) had been trained to come up to the stations and look for a target shaped like Mickey Mouse.  There, if you had food held between your fingers, the ray would come up and grab it.  You needed to pull your hand away quickly lest it get confused and try to nibble on you (no teeth, though).  There was a little girl in my group who insisted she didn’t want to feed the stingrays.  Then she wavered, and eventually she did feed the rays.  I fed them three or four times myself -- calamari, other fish, and “stingray Jello”.  I also petted a couple in the feeding station, and I did have a couple brush up against my legs.  Feeding done, we proceeded to swim with them in the lagoon.  I had my camera with me, of course.  The floatation vest kept me on the surface with a minimum of effort as I swam around.  I got some pictures of a ray burying itself in the sand, as rays tend to do.  I got a picture of two rays together on at least one opportunity.

By 10:52, it was over; time to return the gear and head on to the next adventure.  That turned out to be a bicycle rental.  The bikes were beach cruisers, but unlike ones I’ve encountered elsewhere, these were in very good condition.  I needed to top off the air in one of the tires and adjust the seat height, but once I did that, I set off on the trail.  Part of the trail involved a disused airstrip.  Another branch (5000 feet long, according to the signs) took riders and walkers to an observation tower where one could get a view of the whole island.  I rode that trail but didn’t stop the first time around.  Another part of the trail went to the western part of the island, another scenic vantage point.  I took some pictures, but not as many as I wanted to, for I began to receive reports of low battery.  I had a spare, but not on me; I’d left it back aboard ship.  I pedaled back to the observation tower and climbed to the second level; from there, I could easily see the ship, and I took a couple of pictures.  But I knew I needed a fresh battery.  Fortunately, I had one back on the ship, and so I cut my bike time short and headed back for the ship.  I wore my beach towel on my head as I walked back, for it was hot out by this time.  Yes, I had a hat in my bag, but the towel was more convenient.  There weren’t many people heading back towards the ship around noon.  When I got there, I happened to see Mickey, Goofy and Pluto arrive and board through the crew’s ramp.  They saw me and gave a wave; I waved back.  I dropped my towel off on a table near the entrance, and then I went back on board.

Back in my cabin, I made sure my camera was dry, and then I swapped batteries.  My t-shirt was rather damp, so I took it off and hung it in the bathroom to dry.  With a fresh and dry shirt, I went to lunch at Parrot Cay (Beach Blanket Buffet was not open for lunch today).  But like BBB, Parrot Cay had a buffet/cafeteria line for lunch.  The temptation to stuff the plate was too strong to resist; I took a little of a lot, and what I took was good.  I saw my dinner tablemate Lynn(e) at another table having her lunch; she must have arrived before I did.  There weren’t many people in the restaurant today, for most people were on the island and probably having meals on the island.  If I hadn’t had to return for a fresh camera battery, I might very well have done the same.

After lunch, I went back to my cabin and changed back into my shirt I’d worn in the morning, which was still damp.  I retrieved my camera and my day bag, and I set off for an afternoon on Castaway Cay.  Now my Extreme Getaway Adventure had two items left on it, a snorkeling session and a float rental.  I had no intention of renting a float, just engaging in snorkeling.  So I went over to Gil’s Fins and Boats to pick up a mask and snorkel, a pair of fins (size 12), and a flotation vest, as well as a blue mesh bag to hold everything.  I found a beach chair that was unoccupied, and then I took off my shorts and shirt and put on my gear except for the fins.  I waited until I was at the shore to put on the fins.  This was the first time I was snorkeling in the ocean; all previous times had been in a swimming pool.

The ocean bottom was very sandy and very cloudy close to shore, but it cleared up the farther out one went.  The bottom sloped away very gradually, still sandy with some grassy areas.  Eventually, I started seeing structures on the bottom where fish and other life began to congregate.  My camera was getting some heavy use, although I wasn’t sure everything was going to turn out all right.  I was changing the settings frequently, trying to find the mode that would give me the best pictures.  It didn’t seem like the special underwater modes were working as well as they should.  Since this was my first time shooting underwater in the ocean (not counting the stingray encounter earlier today), I’d be happy for any of the pictures to turn out.

I had a lot of problems with my mask fogging up.  Perhaps I should have spit in it beforehand, as I learned later on, but I didn’t.  I just rinsed it out when needed.  The fins worked very well, though, propelling me through the water with ease.  I swam around, marveling at the items deliberately sunk to form habitats.  I started to see a few fish swimming about.  As I swam farther out, the fish became more plentiful.  It wasn’t easy to keep track of direction out there, and I found myself getting close to markers, but I repositioned myself.  I’d heard there was a statue of Mickey in the lagoon, but I never found it.  At one point, I found that the fish seemed to be heading towards me.  I wasn’t sure I cared for that; what was I, fish food? Later, I found a shipwreck that had a school of fish inside of it; I took a picture and a short video.

Now you might wonder how I was feeling with my cold.  It wasn’t bothering me that much out there, although I certainly hope that the gear I used was cleaned off or sterilized properly before the next user got a hold of it.  But I wasn’t really pushing myself out there; I didn’t dive below the surface to any great extent.  I’d want to do this again when I was feeling better.  Yes, I would definitely like to return to Castaway Cay and snorkel again, or do so at any other port, for that matter.

When I had had enough, I swam back toward shore.  I felt a little unsteady getting back on my feet, but that soon passed.  I dried off at the beach chair where I’d left my stuff, and I drank my bottle of water there.  Now where would I want to go next?  I walked around for a bit and visited a couple of the stores, but I had now done everything I wanted to do.  And so I walked back to the ship.  While I walked back, someone noticed a crab walking across the path.  It sure looked like a small hermit crab.

Back aboard ship, I took a shower to wash the salt off of me and get clean.  I soaked the camera in fresh water to wash any salt off of it, and then I proceeded to download the pictures I’d taken today and identify them.  That was a lot of work.  Now during this time, the weather had deteriorated; it had clouded up and begun to rain again.  What’s more, the wind started to pick up.  The island looked pretty deserted with all of the passengers back aboard ship.  We got under way again around 5.

I went up to deck 9 to see what was what, and it was pretty wet up there.  I had a cheeseburger to tide myself over until the late dinner, but I had a hard time finding a seat, for many of the tables were unavailable.  They were getting rained on!

Now the evening’s theme aboard ship was Pirates IN the Caribbean.  Everyone was encouraged to dress in pirate garb.  I knew this before the cruise began, and so a few weeks ago, I’d bought a few elements of a pirate costume back in Westland.  This evening, I was wearing a Hawaiian shirt, but I also had on a bandanna a la Captain Jack Sparrow and an eyepatch, which gave me a sort of Key West pirate look.  This was how I went around that evening.  Some went all out in dressing as a pirate, while others didn’t bother at all (it wasn’t mandatory).  The Disney characters who were out and about were indeed dressed as pirates, as Mickey and Minnie demonstrated during their photo session in the atrium lobby.  Peter Pan was one deck up, although I couldn’t tell if he was particularly piratical -- although given that Captain Hook is his enemy, I could see why he might not be.  I saw Chip and Dale in pirate garb, as well; I even got a picture of them as they were leaving the Oceaneer’s area on deck 5.  Earlier in the evening, I went to Diversions briefly, and then I paid a visit to the Treasure Ketch shop.  Was there anything I wanted to get for myself?  Tonight, it turned out there was: a print of a sketch showing one of the Disney ships (I couldn’t tell if it was the Magic or the Wonder) docked at Castaway Cay, drawn from the point of view of the main beach. Having just been there today, that view resonated with me in ways it could not have before, and so I decided to buy it.  It was a decent-sized print, but it wasn’t too large to fit into my suitcase.

As I waited in line for Parrot Cay to open, I saw someone who was dressed either as Captain Hook or Captain Morgan (of rum fame).  Since I didn’t notice him wearing a hook, and since he made the Captain Morgan pose (leg elevated as though resting on a barrel of rum), I suspect he was intending to pose as Captain Morgan.  My tablemate Lynn(e) wasn’t posing as anyone; she had opted out of the pirate costuming.  She hadn’t spent much time on the island today, either, being cowed by the threatening weather.  Tonight’s menu was different from last night’s, for it reflected the pirate theme as well.  The other restaurants on board were also serving this special menu, as I’d discovered when I took a peek at the Triton’s menu earlier.  This evening, I had pineapple appetizer, jerk chicken salad, and shrimp and scallops with linguini. For dessert, I had the mango mousse pie or cake for dessert (no sugar added). I also bought a souvenir cup that lights up at the push of a button.  Why, I don’t know; I guess I got into the spirit of the moment.

Ever since we’d left Castaway Cay, the weather had been dreadful, with rain and high winds, as well as seas that were a bit rougher than we’d previously experienced.  There were doubts about tonight’s Pirates In The Caribbean party: would it be able to be held out on deck?  The cruise director had promised word later in the evening about whether the celebration would take place inside or out on deck.  Finally, word came: the celebration would take place out on deck!  The captain found a spot where there was no rain. I went up to deck 9 and 10 to watch the festivities, which were to include fireworks at the end.  When I went out on deck, though, the wind was really kicking up.  I was still wearing my pirate bandanna, but I took it off and stuffed it in my pocket.  If I hadn’t, I feared it would have blown off into the ocean.  I should also have worn a jacket, for even though it was fairly warm out, it felt a little chilly with that wind.  The party was pretty fun, with it being divided into two parts, a “good” part and a “bad pirate” part, although Mickey saved the day for the good guys.  At the end, there was indeed a display of fireworks, which I caught on video using the Olympus camera.

Back in the room, I downloaded the pictures and video from this evening, and I also filled out the form for having gratuities to the restaurant wait staff and room attendant charged to my account.  It was customary to present gratuities directly to the individuals, and envelopes were provided for doing so.  They could be filled with cash or with tickets showing the amount charged to the account.  I went to the guest services desk to turn in my gratuity form, but the hall on deck 3 was jammed.  It turned out that cake was being served after the pirate party, and this was the line for it.  I ended up doing a zig-zag through the decks to get around: deck 5 (my stateroom) to deck 3 to deck 4 back to deck 3, where I dropped off my form, then back up to deck 4 and then back up to deck 5.  Back in the room again, I continued identifying photographs.  I also worked on the travelogue for a time and was able to make an internet connection of 12 minutes.  By that time, I was tired and called it an evening.


Wednesday October 6

I woke up before 6 AM, making my first bathroom visit of the day and my first nose-blowing of the day.  And I had a lot to blow this morning, as I had become really goopy overnight.  I did an e-mail and web surfing check this morning, beginning to increase my use of time, because my onboard minutes would expire at the end of the cruise, and I wanted to get my money’s worth.  It turned out that there wasn’t anything vital in the e-mail.  Will I be glad to return to my MiFi, and will I be glad to return to my high-speed connection at home!

I decided to go back to Beach Blanket Buffet for breakfast, for I knew they had a great selection.  And this morning, I did indeed try one of the Mickey waffles.  As waffles go, it was all right, though nothing special.  Once again, I had to go back to the serving line because I forgot a spoon for the oatmeal.

Days at sea have several special programs for passengers, things there wouldn’t be time for on days in the various ports.  Several caught my eye today.  The first was at 9 o’clock in the Buena Vista Theater; it was a presentation on the top 10 innovations of Disney’s theme park and resort experience.  Number 10 was the creation of Disneyland itself; number 2 was the development of audio-animatronics, and number 1 was the total resort experience first seen with Walt Disney World.  Overall, an interesting topic oriented towards the adults on the cruise.  The second item was the question and answer session with the captain, chief engineer, cruise director and assistant cruise director.  Although I didn’t ask any questions, I thought the ones that were asked were interesting.  For instance, in responding to one question, the captain said that he was no fan of the current generation of cruise ships, the ones that are built like big boxes afloat, ones that try to fit as many people in as possible.  They’re lumbering compared to the sleek lines of the classic ocean liners, which the Disney Cruise Line ships all try to replicate.  Someone else asked if any adjustments to the course had to be made due to the iffy weather we’ve had this week.  Yes, said the captain, giving the example of finding good weather for the Pirates in the Caribbean party last night and the fireworks show that closed it.  Also, our departure from Nassau was delayed two hours or so due to bad weather and approaching squall lines.  Someone else asked about the schedules of the crew.  They’re all on a seven-day-a-week schedule for the duration of their contract, which can be and is grueling, but they have to take several weeks off between contracts.

After the Q&A session ended, I went back to my cabin to change into my swimsuit. Today was my last day to try out one of the swimming pools here.  Now really, only two were available to me, the Goofy Pool for families and the Quiet Cove pool for adults.  I chose the Quiet Cove pool.  I got a beach tower, found a spot where I could put my stuff, took off my shoes, shirt and watch, and then I went in.  Now the temperature of the pool had been reported all week as around 80 degrees.  That would have been very chilly.  But when I got in, it was not chilly at all.  I also found that the markings of a 4-foot depth weren’t accurate, either; it was closer to 5 feet deep.  The pool had a wide wading surface of a few inches deep surrounding the main pool.  The steps on the ladder were narrow and were very uncomfortable, so later on I just pushed myself up to the wading level.  After 20 minutes, I got out.  With the wind, it was chilly, and so I went over to my towel and dried off quickly.  After getting semi-dressed, I walked around the deck for a bit, especially deck 10.  I had my camera with me, and at one point I thought I’d seen a city on the horizon.  I took some pictures.  What could it have been?  I’d find out a bit later on that it was probably Freeport (that’s the Bahamas’ Freeport, not the one in Texas).

I went back to the room to get dressed.  Ron, the stateroom host, was in the process of cleaning my room.  I took the opportunity to give him his gratuity envelope, since I wasn’t sure when I would see him again.  After getting dressed, I went for lunch, carrying my camera bag and my iPad.  I tried going to Parrot Cay for its buffet, but I would have had to have been seated with strangers, and I didn’t feel like that, so I went back to Beach Blanket Buffet.  The food was still good, but eating out on the deck posed some problems: bread blowing off your plate, lettuce being blown from the salad into the soup, etc.  I finished fairly quickly and got a cookie for dessert.  Back to the room I went, dropping off the iPad and the camera before heading to the Walt Disney Theater to see the matinee of Disney Dreams, a show that had been voted as best in the cruise industry for several years running.  This was my first opportunity to see the theater.  It was a large one, extending down one or maybe two decks from the entrance on deck 4.  The show concerned a young girl who dreamed of learning to fly like Peter Pan, as well as having other Disney-related dreams come true.  Stories like that are what Disney does best, and this was no exception.  The lead girl reminded me a little bit of Lea Michele from Glee.  Now I thought it a little odd when the show began with a saying like “All this has happened before and will happen again.” That was a theme of the reimagined Battlestar Galactica series, and part of me wondered when the Cylons would come out.  I’d learn later that Peter Pan also opened with that phrase, so who ripped off who?

When the show ended, I visited the Treasure Ketch, which was next to the theater.  The captain’s autograph session was tonight, and I had entertained thoughts of him signing the art I’d bought yesterday.  But I decided instead to get a model of the Disney Wonder and have him sign that.  It wasn’t easy taking it out of its package back in the room.  If I had my pocket knife, it would have been easy, but that was left in the car at the cruise terminal.  A set of keys worked well enough, though, and soon the model was out of the box and ready to be signed.

Also in my room was a Customs declaration form and a Welcome Home letter explaining the procedures for tomorrow.  My breakfast tomorrow would be at Triton’s, where I would have dinner tonight.  I would have to have any checked luggage outside my door by 11 tonight, so I started to pack things up.  I’d actually made pretty good progress by the time 4 PM rolled around, when I decided to stop and do some travelogue work.  I also took a picture of something on the horizon that turned out to be a container ship passing us by on our starboard side.  I tried Internet access and downloaded some of my e-mail, but not all of my accounts were accessible.  I tried again later on, and this time I had a better connection, for I did indeed get my mail from all of my accounts.

An aside: earlier today, on the way to the Q&A session, I saw a photo opportunity that involved Daisy and Donald Duck (there were others, but I forget who they were).  I took a picture or two, although they may not have turned out the best (they weren’t in the greatest of focus, it turned out).

I spent much of the 6 o’clock hour on the port side of the promenade deck for a view of the sunset.  It was much less windier than on deck 10, although I did detect the occasional burst of spray.  I thought I saw a couple of Navy or Coast Guard vessels go past us at one point.  Once again, just like on the first night of the cruise, there was a fantastic sunset on the last night.  I could see it barely encumbered by clouds.  A few other people came out for sunset photos, as well.  Then it was time to head over to the Treasure Ketch store, for the captain’s autograph session would start in 15 minutes.  I thought it would be rather busy, and it eventually was, but I was the first person to arrive and the first person to get his item signed.  The captain signed mine on the base: “Capt. Marco 2010”.  I mentioned that this was my first cruise, and he suggested a longer cruise next time, perhaps a 7-day cruise on the Disney Magic.  Perhaps not coincidentally, he would be transferring to the Disney Magic next year when the Wonder moves to the West Coast for Alaskan cruises and the new Dream comes to the Bahamas.

There was a decent line behind me as I left the signing and returned to my cabin to drop off the camera and the ship model.  Several minutes later, I was heading back midship to wait for Triton’s to open.  There was a rather long line there, but that was actually for an appearance with Mickey and Minnie.  The Triton’s line wasn’t too bad; it enabled me to see Mickey and Minnie very clearly. At one point, three children went to see them, but one was in a cast and in a wheelchair.  He couldn’t have had as much fun as he would have wanted on the cruise.

Triton’s was a very elegant restaurant, with the waitstaff dressed in turquoise-blue jackets.  The theme for the dinner was French.  Now the restaurant would never have received the Donald Duck seal of approval, for there were two items on the menu that included duck. I had one of them this evening, the appetizer Duck Confit.  It was good, I thought; it reminded me of smoked liver (that was our name for braunschweiger).  For soup, I had some French onion soup (tough choice between that and the tomato and basil soup), and for the main course, it was Triton’s sea bass (yum!).

After dinner, I went up to deck 9 to see what conditions were like at the Quiet Cove pool.  It was quite breezy, so it was cool.  With the up and down motion of the ship, there was some significant wave action taking place there.  As the ship pitched, the upper level of the pool at one end would be drained away while the water piled up at the other end.  Then the action would reverse as the ship pitched in the other direction. No one was in the pool, although there were some in the two whirlpools located nearby.  The outside air temperature seemed too low for me, especially with the cold I had, and so I decided to pass on the evening swim.  That would have to wait for another cruise.

Back in the room, I packed away my jacket and put my suitcase outside for it to be collected and brought to the terminal tomorrow. Now I’d have to worry about just the carryon bag in the morning.  I finished filling out the customs form and started on the customer survey, and then it was time for bed.


Thursday October 7

I woke up once during the night for a restroom break.  I was up for good around 5 AM.  We weren’t in port yet, but we were very close, for I could see lights on the shore, presumably the space center.  My nose was clogged again, but after a few blows, it opened up.  I used up most of my internet access this morning; it was a use-or-lose situation.  I ended up leaving some 11 minutes in my account.  And it occurred to me that I could probably use my MiFi here in the port.  But the MiFi was in my car and still inaccessible to me.

Around 6, I heard some clanging outside.  I looked outside my verandah door; we were at the dock.  We had returned home.  The clanging was the start of the unloading process for luggage and waste.  Soon, my luggage would be taken to the terminal for claiming.  I flipped around the channels; Roy Halliday had thrown a no-hitter during a playoff game last night, only the second time that had ever been done.  And he allowed only one base runner the whole game.  Impressive!  I finished up the survey and read over the welcome home letter again.  It occurred to me that the staggered breakfast times were designed to manage the flow of folks leaving the vessel, for once we had our breakfast, we were to immediately leave the ship.  I’d have to take my bag with me.  I guess I’d be staying for breakfast after all.  There was time for me to wash my hair in the tub.  Finding Nemo was airing on the Pixar channel; I turned that on for the morning.  At some point, my account statement had been slid under the door.  One charge I didn’t recognize at first, for a non-alcoholic beverage at Pinocchio’s, turned out to be for the 12 bottles of Evian water.  There was an extra charge for the laundry I didn’t recall making.  It was $2, not really worth fighting over.

As I sat around, I heard the tones for an announcement, so I turned on channel 201.  The announcement was that passengers could now leave the ship.  That may have been true for some time, in fact, as I could see people in the gangway from the ship to the terminal.  Now my breakfast seating was at 8:15, but I wanted to hit the road as quickly as possible.  And so I decided to forego my breakfast at Triton’s and left the ship around 7:40.  Once I left the ship and entered the terminal, I found where my bag was located, and then I put my carryon on top of my suitcase and rolled them both to the customs line.  The customs inspector reviewed my form briefly and waved me through; however, my suitcase tipped back and fell to the ground.  I thought it might have hurt the agent, hitting him in the foot, but no, he was unharmed.  I was back in the US.

I found my way to the parking lot, loaded up my car, and got in line to pay.  It was $15 a day to park there, meaning I had racked up $60 in parking charges.  Once those were taken care of, I was on my way.  The route out of the port took me very close to the Carnival Sensation.  Soon I was on 528 heading towards I-95.  When I reached I-95, I turned north.  My plan was to drive to Jacksonville, pick up I-10 there, then take I-75 all the way to Michigan.  It was a good plan, and at the start, it worked very well. There weren’t any problems heading up I-95 to Jacksonville and the eastern start of I-10.  As I traveled west on I-10, though, I felt like I wanted to nod off a few times.  That wasn’t good, so I stopped at a rest area for a half-hour.  I didn’t nap, but the rest did me some good.

After that rest stop, I continued down I-10 until I saw the signs for I-75.  Go north to Valdosta and beyond or south to Tampa and points beyond.  Now part of me wanted to go back south, but no, I couldn’t do that; I had to head north.  Suddenly I started to cough frequently enough that I got a headache.  I pulled over on the shoulder until it passed and I felt better, which wasn’t that long (dang cold!).  After allowing traffic to clear, I moved back onto the ramp and continued down the freeway.  Fortunately, I didn’t have to cough like that again the rest of the day.  But I did have to guard against nodding off.  It got to the point where I thought it would be best if I stopped short of Atlanta today, to take the time to rest up.  And so, at a rest area, I got out my MacBook and looked for a Holiday Inn around Macon.  There were several, but I found one in particular in Byron, near Warner Robins and south of Macon.  That would be where I stayed tonight.

I arrived at the hotel after 4 and checked in.  The air conditioning in the room had been going full blast; I turned it down, and eventually I turned it off.  But the room was comfortable enough.  Now what would I do for supper?  I could see a Denny’s across the street, and the hotel directory mentioned a steakhouse and a Mexican restaurant nearby.  It turned out that the latter two restaurants were in a small outlet mall off of the main highway.  I ended up eating at the Mexican place, figuring the spiciness of the food might help contribute to open sinuses.  It might have, to some extent.  I had mixed fajitas for dinner (steak, chicken and shrimp), and they were good.  I couldn’t quite finish it all, even with having skipped lunch (although I’d nibbled a lot during the day).  After I left, I stopped at a gas station to fill up so I wouldn’t have to do so in the morning.  Then it was back in the hotel to soak in the tub a little bit.  Only then did I notice how sunburned my back was from my Castaway Cay adventure -- or I should say, only then did I see, for I could definitely feel the burn the last couple of days.

There was a college football game on tonight: Nebraska was playing a team that I don’t recall and was beating them soundly.  I was watching it off and on.  At some point, I turned off most of the room lights and lay down; you guessed it, I feel asleep during the fourth quarter.


Friday October 8

Once again, the cold made its presence known in undesirable ways.  A clogged nose woke me up too early again, and it took its sweet time unclogging.  Later on, I had to cough up some really disgusting stuff, but better I did that than have to contend with it in my respiratory tract.  Once the breakfast bar in the lobby opened, I went down and had two dishes of cereal, some cinnamon rolls, a half-glass of orange juice and a full glass of water.  The woman who was minding the breakfast bar encouraged me to have a banana, but the bananas were far too green for my liking.  Perhaps I could have taken one for the road, though, but I didn’t.

I was on the road a little after 7.  Macon was easy to bypass on I-475.  Atlanta was also easy to bypass on I-285.  Having been in downtown Atlanta during rush hour, I didn’t want to repeat that experience.  Traffic on I-285 was heavy but not exceptionally so, and I eventually got around to I-75 again and continued north.  Two hours later or so, I had arrived in Chattanooga.  Once again, I’d felt like I was going to nod off at times; this cold was really affecting my driving ability.  Since it was lunchtime, I decided to find a place to stop for lunch.  It turned out to be the Hamilton Place shopping mall.  In the outlying parcels was a PF Chang’s, home to good spring rolls, good hot and sour soup (recommended by my chiropractor for helping with colds) and good shrimp lo mein.  I had all of those for lunch today, and I enjoyed them.  When I was done with lunch, I walked over to the mall, first visiting MacAuthority, an independent Apple store.  Their store reminded me of Apple’s official stores, although they carried a few items I’d not seen in a regular Apple Store.  Perhaps Chattanooga was too small for a regular Apple Store, and this company stepped into the void.  Then I went over to the Barnes & Noble and picked up a few items, including the 2011 version of the Disney Cruise Line guidebook.  This mentioned the new Disney Dream and the new Alaska and Mediterranean cruises but had few details about either.

As I drove along I-75 northeast of Chattanooga, a dark pickup passed me.  That wasn’t unusual, but what was painted on the rear window was: “In Memory of My Sister Georgine Corrigan, on Flight 93, Sept. 11, 2001” (most probably not the exact quote).  This was near mile marker 29. That was not something I would ever have expected to see, and when I did see it, it gave me pause.  Some thoughts of that flight and what the passengers did came to mind.  Their actions kept the hijackers from completing their mission, whatever it was: the Capitol, the White House, Camp David - we’ll probably never know for sure.  Doing a web search later on found that Georgine’s brother was Robert Marisay, who lived northwest of Atlanta, so that was probably him driving past me.  One of those events that make you think....

The extended stop in Chattanooga had done me some good, as I did not feel like nodding off the rest of the drive.  I made it through Knoxville and the rest of Tennessee without any problems.  When I reached Kentucky, I stopped at the rest area and welcome center for a bathroom break and an opportunity to find a hotel for the night. Given my pace, I thought that Lexington would make a good stopping point.  Unfortunately, when I checked room availability, I found that very few rooms were available, and what was available was at a very high price.  It turned out that a major world equestrian competition was under way in Lexington.  My options were to stop short of Lexington or to press onward to the Covington/Cincinnati area.  Given my cold, I didn’t feel up to pressing onward, and so I arranged for a hotel in London, north of Corbin, the birthplace of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

There were two Hampton Inns in London; I had reserved a room in the newer one, the northern one.  When I arrived, I found that this hotel was already rather full and was expected to be completely full later on, mainly from other travelers who couldn’t find rooms in Lexington.  I took it easy that evening, getting takeout from Wendy’s, reading the books and magazines I’d bought in Chattanooga, blowing my nose way too much for my liking, etc.  I’d considered going for a swim in the hotel pool, but I passed on the opportunity; I didn’t feel like it any more, not with the way the cold was now.  I watched some college football on one of the ESPN channels before calling it a night.


Saturday October 9

I popped awake a couple of times during the night, but each time I went back to sleep.  By 5:45, I was up for good.  I spent some time checking my e-mail and doing a bit of reading before getting ready for breakfast and going down to the lobby.  The breakfast bar had the quality I’ve come to expect from Hampton Inns.

By 7:45, I had checked out and was on the road.  The weather started out as clear, but I did pass through a few of areas of fog before reaching Lexington.  Later, it was sunny the whole way up to Detroit.  I made it through Lexington and Covington on the way to Cincinnati.  There was construction between Cincinnati and Dayton as well as in Dayton itself, but it didn’t slow me up too much.  The stretch of I-75 between Dayton and Monroe had become very familiar to me through a number of trips to the Dayton Hamvention in May.  I didn’t stop for lunch, for I had a number of nibbles in the car with me.

The cities passed by: Lima (the home of Glee), Findlay, Bowling Green.  At noon, I turned on ‘70s on 7 to see from what year this week’s American Top 40 repeat would be.  It turned out to be from 1970, near the beginning of its run and before I started listening to it.  It was very enjoyable listening to the show; many of the songs, I was very familiar with (such as “Cracklin’ Rosie” by Neil Diamond, the number 1 song), but there were a few that were obscure to me.  Case in point: Candi Staton’s version of “Stand By Your Man”, number 40 that week. When the show ended around 2:15, I started listening to college football games and eventually turned on the pregame show for Michigan State versus Michigan, which would kick off at 3:30. Onward I drove, passing through Toledo and Monroe, briefly coming to a stop in Monroe due to road construction.

Would I make it home in time for the kickoff?  It looked likely, for at 3, I was in the intersection of I-94 and I-275.  It wasn’t much farther now: the exit for Ecorse Road; the exit for Michigan Avenue; the rest area; and finally the exit for Ford Road. Some 15 minutes later, I was pulling into my garage.  My vacation had ended.  I wish I could say the same for my cold.  That would persist for another week after my return. AFTERWORD: when I checked my mail, there was no package from the hotel in Key West. They never sent the medicine I’d left behind.




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©2010 R. W. Reini.    All rights reserved.

Written by Roger Reini
Revised October 18, 2010