WP_20150622_18_23_34_ProThe cruise ship terminal was a freaking goat rodeo.

The terminal was easy to find, it was right across the water from our hotel. But once you got close the signage was unclear at best, and just plain wrong in areas. Guys in orange vests were waving sticks and pointing to tell us were to go. We thought we would be early, but everything was already packed. A guy waved us away from the parking garage, and over to a makeshift baggage drop-off. I left Yulia and Sasha there to watch the bags, and pulled out of the drop-off. The ramp up into the garage wasn’t marked, but after a loop I guessed right and got in the right lane.

The garage was completely full. I circled until I found someone departing the ship, and took their spot. When I got back down to Yulia and Sasha they were trying to figure out where to head next, and we had no damn idea. A porter came up, and pointed us in the right direction while he offered to take our bags. I had already printed our room labels, so this worked out great. We tipped him, and started to work our way into the crowd. The terminal itself was still closed, we were out in the courtyard. Nothing was marked as far as we could tell. I saw a huge group waiting for sunglasses on one side of the courtyard, and other people milling about near the doors. There were waiting areas marked “A”, “B”, etc., but no indication of where we were supposed to go.

We wandered over to the Sunglasses line, and found someone with a clipboard and Cruise line shirt. Apparently this as the check in line, it was just near the sunglasses booth so you couldn’t see the desks past the lines. That made mores sense. The line was pretty big, and slow. Once we had waited for a bit, we looked back, and the line was enormous. Apparently, we just missed the big rush.

Once we got checked in, they let us through the terminal, which had another full group of checking desks that weren’t being used for some reason. The terminal is a big, white half-dome on the shore, very impressive from the outside. On the inside, it’s mostly empty. As we went up the stairs to the boarding ramp, you could look across the whole place, and literally there e was a wall chopping the floor in half. The second half had nothing in it from what we could tell. It made no sense, but since there wasn’t a bar here, I wasn’t interested in sticking around.

We had our obligatory picture with a ship’s wheel taken, and walked up the ramp onboard. The ship is goddamn huge.

An atrium stretched from deck 2 through the top of the ship, 10 decks up. The whole place is in a “Fiction” theme, with characters from famous stories on the walls, and each area having a theme. The Main Restaurant is Horatio Hornblower. The Stage is Phantom of the opera. There’s a “Raven” library, etc. 2 pools, a spa, an uncountable number of bars.

Our cabin is in the aft, with a deck over the stern. We watched as they pulled the lines in, and the thrusters pushed us away from the dock. Once underway, we stood out on our deck and watched the wake of the ship curl out of sight.

This didn’t suck.

The nice thing about traveling to Disney is that we fall into a pretty good routine. We go often enough that we aren’t in a rush anymore to try to do everything at once. Also, Sasha is older now, and we are hanging out for shows and events more, as well as some of the big rides.

But, as is tradition, we started on Pirates of the Caribbean. We did this as soon as we dropped our bags in the room. It was the evening when we arrived, but when you stay on the resort, the best times for the park are the early mornings and theWP_20130711_008 late evenings. Mid day is such a rush with the peak of everyone trying to get in as many rides as possible, that it is almost a waste, and we typically spend that time in the pool, shopping in Downtown Disney, or since Sasha remembered to take her pins this time, pin trading.

Sasha has been collecting pins since her first trip to Disney. She has a great collection now of cool and limited edition pins, and this trip we took some time with one of the cast members working one of the pin booths to get an explanation of how the sets go together, “completer pins”, newer Limited run pins, and all kinds of other info. It’s the best value for souvenirs at the park. Of course, you have to work the system. If you buy a top-run pin individually, it costs $9-$15, which is insane. Or, you can get a set of smaller, crappy pins for $25 for a set of seven. Cast Members will trade any pin for another. So I buy a cheap set once in a while, and Sasha scours the Cast Members for New Hidden Mickey sets and other cool pins.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was down for a refurbishment, which is a bummer as it is one of our favorites. We were staying in the Frontier tower of the Main hotel, which has a big model of that roller coaster in the lobby. It’s pretty impressive to look at the pattern of the coaster from above and see how it loops on itself. The display case noted that Thunder Mountain was built on the side f the old Mine Ride. You can still see some of the old ride tracks left over decorating the new ride. Two of the old ride effects, a waterfall and the “old faithful” geyser were removed from the park and built into the garden in front of the hotel tower. The geyser still erupts. Cool.

We were also close to the Tiki Bar, which is always fun, as the whole place is animatronic, with thundershowers, tikis that watch you, strange noises, and is themed for the headhunter in the Jungle Ride. Yulia and I sat at the bar, and I was picked for the “Curse of the Tiki” effect, where they slowly shrink the bar stool under you until you are almost on the floor. I love this bar.

We used our Early Entry passes once for each park, which meant getting up at 6am, but since we got in an hour before the general public, we were able to hit all the major long-line rides in each park before 9am. It was the only way to get on the new Cars ride, which had 2+ hour lines all day, every day. Fastpasses were gone within an hour. Once the crowds hit, we would hit some of the little kid rides, like Peter Pan and Mr. Toad. The crowds would usually chase us out by noon.

Our last day in town, we rented a car and drove up to Santa Monica.WP_20130713_019 This was Sasha’s idea, as she loves LA, and wanted to see some of the nice parts of the town, and knew of some store on the promenade that she was dying to see (and had saved her money for). The promenade is very LA, with street performers every few feet, lots of cool shops, and great food. Once Sasha finished with her favorite shop, we found a little French Bistro and had lunch. This was literally a sidewalk cafe, with the kitchen built into a newsstand kiosk in the middle of the street, and all seating surrounding it. The food was great, and the people watching was fun as well. It was nice to have food that was not Mexican or Deep Fried. No matter how hard you try, eating while travelling is tough if you want to be healthy.

After shopping a bit (and buying a new suitcase to replace the broken junk we were using) we walked to the Santa Monica pier. I was excited to visit this as it is the ceremonial end of Route 66. The actual end of the old highway is at 7th and Broadway, a few blocks up, but the cool signs are on the pier, so that made a better photo op. The pier was packed with tourists and performers all the way to the end. It was hard to get through the crowd, but pretty cool to read the history of the pier on the placards. You could read about the building, fires, rebuilding, and the view of the beach from the pier was impressive. The beach itself was packed with people as far as you could see.

We walked back up the pier towards town, and the crowds were getting worse. It didn’t help that the Born-again preachers with megaphones moved in, and with their volumes turned to full, shouted to the crowds how we were all going to hell. While that was annoying, worse were the groups of people moving down the sidewalk that would not watch where they were walking, and shove is right off the path into the street.

For this, I invented a new game. I called this, “Pay Attention Asshole.” The rules were simple. Your family gets half the sidewalk. My family gets the other half. If you aren’t paying attention, I’m not getting out of your way. The number of people who barrel forward while looking sideways is amazing. The number of them who give dirty looks after getting a 200 pound shoulder slammed into them is slightly less amazing. Yulia and Sasha thought I was being terrible, but liked having the sidewalk cleared for them.

We headed back to Disneyland, and planned on having dinner at The House of Blues, and try to catch a show. We packed our bags in the room first, then headed over for dinner. I grabbed tickets for the show, and we headed in for dinner. Having dinner before the show let us skip the line. The drinks were good, and the food was as well. We were pretty surprised, as I expected the food to be typical chain restaurant fare, but it was really good Cajun fusion meals. I had a jambalaya that was some of the best that I have tried. It was really amazing.

The show was running a bit late, so we had an extra drink and some fantastic Key Lime Pie, then we waited at the side of the venue with the other diners who were seeing the show. After the line grew a little in our area, and a lot in the General admission area, they gave a security sweep to the group, and started letting us in. We were the standing room only section, and found a good rail with a view of the stage. Things were getting a bit late, and we were pretty tired, but we wanted to catch at least part of the show. I grabbed the bar special, and shot and a beer, both of which turned out to be supersized. We caught the opening act, which was a Funk band with a hard rock edge. I loved it, but I was harder for Yulia and Sasha to follow, as the band did a lot of original material, and only I knew most of the funk covers they did.

After they completed their set, we were too tired to stay for more. We flew out the next morning early, and this made a fitting end to the week. And to a great vacation.

For the weekend, we took a bit of a rest. (note: I had to look it up to figure out that it was the weekend. ) Saturday was spent with me at poolside, learning that you can still get sunburnt through a deck umbrella. Sasha rested in the room most of the day, and Yulia swam and walked the beach. We ordered drinks, swam and read until 6pm.

Seriously, that was it.

WP_20130630_003We booked tours for Monday and Tuesday, and headed down the beach for dinner and music at the Mango Deck. We have been doing so much during the day that we haven’t had energy to go out at night, so this seemed like a great plan. The live music at the Mango Deck was the best and biggest on the beach, so we went there. It was a party madhouse. It was full of drunk teenagers, dancing and taking down shots, and the food was fantastic. It was pretty cheap too, for a beach bar.

The band ran for a full set, then took a break, pounded shots, then headed offstage. We ate dinner, then the MC came out for a TV song trivia contest. This was pretty hard, as we sat behind the speakers, so it was hard to hear clearly, but we were able to get 14 points, with Sasha getting our biggest score by naming the song to “Full House” after a few clues were thrown out.

We didn’t win, but it was a blast.

On Sunday, we went back into town to get some shoes for Yulia, check out the silver shops again, and bargain at our favorite Flea Market. The guy at the flea market recognized Yulia, which saved us a lot of time haggling on prices, he pretty much just took whatever offer she made. We walked back around the marina and had lunch at the Hard Rock café, which is a total tourist spot, but they had some cool memorabilia, and the prices weren’t too bad. It was also nice to get American food for a change, especially since we don’t actually eat American food at home, so it was actually unique for us.

Sasha was blown away by the guitars, gold records, and all the cool stuff on the walls. We played our usual game of naming the artist and song that was playing, and were stumped on one for a bit, until we recognized it as the Skype ringtone. The bartender was running the music off his laptop and someone was calling him. It happened twice.

Our waiter spoke great English, and he turned out to have graduated from Federal Way High School. He was living back in Mexico, as he was trying to get his US citizenship, and needed to apply from Mexico, while his sister sponsored him. (we weren’t sure of all the details, but we wished him luck on his application)

We headed back to the Hotel, as we had a seminar at 4:00 on “How to burn Belly Fat” This was too fun to miss. The personal trainer for the gym here held a little talk on diet and exercise. It was pretty much just basic Paleo talk and HIIT for exercise, but some of the folks there thought this was the most foreign  thing possible. At least there was free water.

All day the waves on the beach were getting closer and closer to the hotel. Red flags were up. Californian tourists were surfing. When we returned to our room, we had a notice on our door of an impending storm warning. The staff was loading up the cushions from all the deck chairs.

Arranging the deck chairs, eh? Should be fun.

WP_20130703_005Winds and waves were lower this morning.  So we made plans to get a water taxi to take us across the bay to Lover’s Beach and the Arch. The upside to being offered a taxi every few feet on our walk into town the other day was that we now knew the best place to pick one up. We already knew that the water was too rough right outside our Resort, even with the wind down the waves were still way too rough to get near the waterline. But halfway down, in front of the Mango Deck, there was a very smooth landing spot, and a company with foldup ladders on the boats.

This was much easier, and meant that we had a lot less chance of Yulia hurting her rib any worse (from her fall three weeks ago). it was a cheap ride, and the driver told us that the latest storm wiped out the beach under the arch, so we gave him a tip to take us around the point t get a few photos of the famous stone arch, then headed for the beach.

The beach was stunning, and hot. We took something like five bottles of water with us, and when we felt the heat we were glad to have it. The sand cracked under our feet as we walked inland, with a dry crust that we would step through until we got close enough to the other shore for it to be moist again. Waves from the unprotected side were crashing  up the rocks, and it was a really amazing sight. Once the heat really got to us, we headed back into the bayside of the beach, and found the swimming area just a bit in. We rented an umbrella, and a few beers from one of the locals, and Yulia swam while Sasha and I watched the local Chipmunks steal food from the other Americans when they weren’t looking. Pelicans stood on the rocks nearby watching the whole show, waiting for small fish to be scared up to the surface by the snorkelers. It was hot and good.

We took in as much heat as we could, then caught the next taxi back to the shore. This one was a glass-bottom taxi, which gave us a full view of not a goddamn thing. Cool bubbles though.

We made shore, hiked back to the hotel, with local vendors offering us a water taxi, after watching us just disembark a water taxi, and had a great lunch on our Pirate Boat. Eating lunch, I did a little math. At every meal, even though it is covered on our all-inclusive plan, we get a bill. This lets us add an extra tip past the pre-included amount, if we want. It also lets us see what this meal would have cost if we had paid cash. Extrapolating out, if we keep eating at our current rate, we will eat the equivalent of 1.5x what we actually paid for our stay here. With a little work, we could double it.

Challenge Accepted!

I ordered two shots of bar tequila and beer chasers, and retired to poolside.  We checked the Resort schedule, and found that tonight was the “Latin Dance Night” over at the partnering Villa in our group, and was part of our all-inclusive. This seemed like a good plan, so we rested at the pool, swam, and rested some more until the evening. Once we cleaned up and dressed, we walked over to the other resort for the dinner and show.

It is a short walk from Villa del Arco to Villa Del Palmar. But as we noted, they couldn’t be farther apart. Villa del Palmar is the “economy” resort, and while it has a great restaurant on the beach, the shows are apparently the nightly “all you can eat” bonus.  The crowd looked like extras from “Jersey Shore” and men large enough to use their bellies as their own speedos. The food was of low quality, but made up for it in volume. Wow.

The drinks were the same as our hotel, so we clung to our little alcoholic life rafts and waited for the show. It opened with a round of musical chairs for the kids, which by a strange coincidence, had better footwork than the show to come.

At her last showcase, Sasha was judging the younger kids in their dance events. Not as in being judgmental, but the actually ran a kid’s event, and she was scoring them professionally. Both Yulia and Sasha were very excited to  see Latin dance in Mexico, but this wasn’t it. It was bad enough that Sasha started scoring the show from our table. “They are moving their hips and ribs at the same time”, “This is not a proper Samba”, it was awesome, and probably the best part of the show.

We did get a souvenir bottle of tequila with a family photo on it, which comes in a close second.

We are still hoping to find some great latin dance here. But that wasn’t it.

Into a small wine glass, squeeze the juice of one lime wedge. Add one shot Repisado Tequila. Drink. Repeat as required.

We are now on vacation. I would normally start vacation writing early, but things were so goddamn hectic that I barely had time for a quality shit, let alone some fancy pants writing. I am now sitting on the balcony of our room, looking at the local tourist “pirate ship” take the current load of drunken tourists around the bay at Cabo San Lucas. I haven’t had internet access in well over 24 hours, and thus my writing was not happening.

This is now alleviated.WP_20130630_001

We always plan our vacations well in advance – at least six months to get good reservation pricing. But for some reason I am incapable of packing anything until I actually have checked into the online checking 24 hours before we fly. So this leads to a mad dash around the house to find all the little piles of shirts, cables, and other things that I think I will need when we travel. No matter what, I am always wrong. This time I have taken too much. Specifically, an extra computer and cabling. I don’t need to dial in for my job anymore, but I took it by habit. I can do everything on my Surface, but oh well.

We had a 6am flight on Sunday out of Seattle, so I was up at 6 on Saturday to check us in. This early bird approach gained us the option for a First Class upgrade all the way to Mexico, so I jumped on it. Flying First Class on an upgrade is always a good choice, but I make it a point to get back the cost of the upgrade in free drinks if possible. On shorted flights this can be a challenge. As this was a 6am flight, this challenge was Expert Level.

We woke up at 2:45 to catch a shuttle from our house. The night before, Sasha had her Spring Showcase for Ballroom Dance. That ended at 10:30. As expected we were not sleeping well. Yulia woke up at 1:00am. Sasha couldn’t sleep until 1:30. The drive to the airport and stumble through security were a total blur. but we were glad to have some coffee and a banana at the coffee stand inside.

Naturally, once on the plane, things were better. First class served a nice yogurt and fruit breakfast. The newlyweds in front of us had mimosas, so Yulia had the same, while I ordered Bloody Marys. After the third one, things felt more normal. We had a short layover in San Jose California, before continuing to Los Cabos. On the last flight, I just had a scotch, and a few G&T’s to get ready for the heat.

That turned out to be a good plan, as it was 93 degrees when we got off the plane, but an easy ride into Cabo to our hotel. We have all the shuttles pre-arranged so we don’t have to deal with taxis and such, and the hotel is just outside of the main strip, across the dry river. We stayed at this complex before, but this time we are at Villa Del Arco, and have the All-inclusive option. Which is nice, so our food and drink are included. Please note: I am at a place where all my booze in covered.

They will regret this.

In the meantime, we have settled into a very nice 1 bedroom suite, so we have a separate room from Sasha, with a fantastic view of the ocean. The whole place is fantastic. And the food so far has been amazing.

We walked to the marina earlier today. It is about 20 minutes to walk down the beach, and every few feet, some guy offers you a water taxi or jetski. If we moved up the surf a bit, they offer to sell you ceramic plates or silver jewelry. You think after seeing me say “no, gracias” to the first 100 dudes, the next one would at least offer something different to say no to. Hell guys, let me say no to the donkey show or something. Throw me a bone here.

We walked the malls,hit the tourist stands, and had lunch at Cabo Wabo. I have to say, the place has really fantastic food. If Sasha was older, we would take in a show there.

Back at the hotel, we rested at poolside, and Yulia ran into one of our fellow First Class travelers from the flight down. Yulia recognized him right away because he looks like The Rock, and speaks with a Scottish accent. Turns out his wife went t Newport with my sister, and he recognizd me from the plane, as the woman sitting next to him was shocked during the flight, and told him:

“Did you see that, someone ordered a glass of scotch at 9 in the morning! What kind of person does that?”

  1. I didn’t know it was only 9 am.
  2. Fuck you, welcome to México bitches.

For our last day in California, we decided to skip the wineries and spend the day in San Francisco. We were only about 50 miles away, so it was pretty easy drive into town. The Golden Gate was blanketed in fog as we rolled into town, but it cleared out as we entered the city. We drove straight along Lombard, and followed the street off the arterial so we could drive the car down the crooked section. Its fun to weave down the hill with the gaggle of tourists snapping your picture.

We parked the car for the day near the waterfront, and took a walk around town. We had plans for the evening, as Sasha had one of her friends who also happened to be in San Fran, and they were going to meet for dinner. But for the daytime we just planned to walk about and see what was up.

We started in Ghiradelli Square, since is was early enough in the day we were actually able to get into the little Malt shop they have there. usually, the line heads out the door to get in. We grabbed a couple of espressos and Sasha got a vanilla shake. The shop was very cute, with a display of traditional chocolate making in the back. It was fun to watch the machines churn chocolate while we waited for our drinks. Once done, we headed down the waterfront.

We really had no specific goal, but set our destination for Pier 1, which was the converted Ferry Terminal. Last time we were in San Francisco it had a great series of little shops and restaurants, and seemed like a smart lunch destination.

We just took our time to walk the piers, it was nice to see the various shops, fish-vendors, bakeries, etc. We checked out the marina behind the Aquarium, and I found a Carver Mariner like ours moored there. it was a newer model, and rigged for live-aboards. They had a new top on their boat that I was very jealous of. Ours is out of date and a bit trashed. We kept moving and continued our walk down the Embarcadero.

It was a longer walk than we remembered, and we were overheated and beat by the time we reached the pier. We immediately hid out in a nice cafe and had a full lunch. The place made a fantastic Caprese salad with heirloom tomatoes, and goat cheese. We each had a fresh fish dish, and you could appreciate how fresh everything was. We have noticed this all over California. The freshness of food in general is a big difference. I’m sure that being here at the end of summer when lots of this is picked fresh is having an impact, but it is striking when you compare it to regular food quality. I wish we could eat this fresh all the time. (We actually joined one of the CSA type vegetable delivery things, so having them deliver seasonal veggies may help us to do this more this year, we shall see.)

Once we are and rested, we checked out the shops and headed across to the end of the California street Cable Car line. we caught one as we walked up the hill, and took it to the transfer over to the Powell street line. Sasha’s friend was staying at the same hotel we stayed at on our last trip, so we walked around the hotel area for a bit, and sat in the park for some coffee and to relax before meeting up at the hotel.

Once Sasha went with her friend, Yulia and I caught the Cable Car back to Ghiradelli. It really is a cool way to travel across town. We passed the Lombard Hill on the way, and had a great view of Coit Tower. Once at the end of the line, we found a nice restaurant on the waterfront to relax at, with some live jazz playing. We just hung out until it was time to get Sasha, then we headed back across the Golden Gate.

We had a big drive home in the morning, so we didn’t want to be too late at night. Yulia managed to get a Skype call to her brother as we drove, and they exchanged video of Moscow and San Francisco sites as we headed out.

It was a fun end to a long trip. Time to head home.