Friday, December 23, 2005

Merry Christmas!

I hope everyone out there has a Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa or whatever your holiday of choice is.

May you get everything you ask for, your family be blessed with good health and that your new year is prosperous.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

More on Dubya's illegal wiretapping

Check out this commentary on Dubya's illegal wiretapping policy and why Americans should be pissed off about it.

If you're not incensed about Dubya and his cronies stomping all over your civil rights, you're either stupid or ignorant.

Despite what he says, tapping phone lines without a court order is illegal. The Republican Party line is just another step towards your government moving further down the road to complete authoritarianism.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Score one for the good guys

A federal judge struck down a the Dover (PA) School Board's policy that biology teachers be required to read a statement endorsing "Intelligent Design".

Eight of the nine school board members who created this policy were then thrown out of office by landslides when they came up for re-election.

All I can say is, "Thank God!"

I find it interesting to note that the people who support this line of rubbish do so out of a desire to promote religion in public schools, but when these school board members were put under oath, they denied that their faith had anything to do with formulating this policy.

You'd think that they would want everyone to know what they're faith is about instead of denying it. Hypocritical bastards.

It almost makes me want to go buy one of these bumber stickers.


You might remember this school district. After the election in which the pro-creation idiots were deposed and replaced with a heavily anti-intelligent design crowd, Pat Robertson warned that Dover was due to feel the wrath of God. And people wonder why I have such a low opinion of fundy Christians.

Monday, December 19, 2005

I had an accident

Last Wednesday, while on the way to church, my car was struck by another car.

My stepson and I were in the car, minding our own business, when out of no where, some kid in a Chevy Cavalier came out of now where and plowed into me. It was dark, and I didn't know he was there until he hit me.

I was going maybe 30 mph; he was probably doing about 20 and it knocked me into the other lane.

Right after the accident, I looked over to see if my stepson was okay; he was. I turned the engine off and got out. The other kid's car had it's front bumper hanging off and both headlight assemblies were smashed.

He got out of his car and the first words out of his mouth were, "Are you guys okay?"

His next sentence really made me smile. "I'm sorry; I didn't even see you coming. It's my fault."

Woo-hoo! Someone else's insurance is paying for it!

The kid turned out to be a pizza delivery driver who was on the clock and returning to the store to pick up another run.

We called the police and while waiting for him to arrive, I tried to move my car out of the way because the road we were on sees a fair amount of traffic.

I started the engine and put the car in gear. It wouldn't move. I could rock the car back and forth, but it wasn't going anywhere. So I shut the car down and called Sarah and told her to come get my stepson.

She arrived at the same time as the police. He took our information, wrote up the report; when I told him my car was undriveable, he called a tow truck and sent each of us on our way.

The passenger's side front wheel was knocked back into the wheel well, the front bumper was hanging off and the passenger's side door will not open. The airbags didn't go off and everyone is okay (except my car).

I called Progressive the next day (the other kid's insurance company) and he had already filed a report. I added my information to the report and the adjustor said, "I guess we need to get you set up with a rental car."

I loved to hear those words.

On Friday, Enterprise Rent-a-Car calls me and says they've got a car for me. I went down there and they asked what kind of car I wanted. I said, "Give me the biggest car Progressive will pay for."

"How about a VW Jetta?"

"Sounds good."

I had the car towed to a body shop here in town and they still have not called me back about how long it will take to fix the car, or if they're going to total it. I can't say I'm in any real rush; the Jetta is nicer than my car and someone else is paying for it.

As I said, no one is hurt and I may be in the market for a new car. I'll let you guys know how things progress.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Impeach Dubya

I'm sorry I haven't updated my blog this past week. I had a car accident last Wednesday and haven't had time to blog much. No one was hurt, but my car is undriveable. I'll fill you guys in later.

In other news, Dubya admitted signing an executive order authorising the National Security Agency to wiretap the phones of American citizens without first getting a court order.

This is absurd.

Dubya has basically admitted violating the Constitution of the United States, specifically Amendment IV which reads in its entirety, "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

That Dubya can remain in office after admitting ordering the NSA to violate the law is unbelievable.

He claims that this is being done in the name of "national security." This is absurd.

The NSA can go to court and get a wiretap at any time. They can begin surveillance on someone and get a retroactive court order in cases when there is an immenant threat. The NSA has been turned down for surveillance exactly one time.

Dubya is deliberately circumventing the law. He is stomping all over our civil rights. Regardless of his ill-conceived intentions, all Americans are entitled to the protections guaranteed by the Constitution and the guarantee against unreasonable serach and seizures is plain and in black and white, unlike the so-called "right to bear arms" that is vaguely worded in Amendment II.

Why are conservatives, who supposedly fear large government, still backing Dubya? You'd think the right=wing anti-government folks would be all over this instead of blindly following Dubya and the people pulling his strings.

Between this and Dubya's flip-flopping over the CIA leak investigation (first it was "anyone who is involved in this will be fired" but now it's "anyone who is convicted will be fired"), I don't see how Republicans can look themselves in the mirror and not see themselves for the hypocrites they are.

When Bill Clinton got a blow job in the Oval Office and tried to cover it up, the right-wingers went absolutely bananas. You'd have thought the Prez getting some action on the side would lead directly to the fall of the empire.

We're not talking about a guy taking advantage of a moderately-attractive, overweight intern with self-esteem issues here, we're talking about the most powerful person int he world deliberately circumventing the Constitution he is sworn to protect.

He and his cronies have stopped serving our country. They are undermining the very foundations that it was founded upon.

Dubya needs to be removed from office. His administration needs to be purged. His cronies need to be jailed along with him.

I hope everyone who voted for this yokel understands what he has done to them and how he has destroyed the public trust.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Sunday Thoughts

The Chronicles of Narnia


It seems odd to me that the fundy Christians have been eagarly awaiting The Chronicles of Narnia movie(s) because of their supposed christian allegories while condemning the Harry Potter books.

Why?

Both deal with magic and fantasical creatures. I must first confess that I have not read anything Harry Potter or Narnia, but it seems from the track record of fundy Christians and science fiction/fantasy that they should be down on Narnia as well. After all, they condemn Dungeons & Dragons for its use of "pagan" deities, magic and sorcery.

They also don't like science fiction that depicts life on other worlds because it means that if the Earth isn't the only planet with life on it, then humans aren't the center of all creation.

So why do people like James Dobson want their kids to read Narnia but not The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone?

Football highlights


I was watching NFL Prime Time on ESPN tonight and saw one of the funniest things that's been on TV in a long time. Tennessee's Adam "Pacman" Jones intercepted a pass and was running it back for a TD. During the highlights, Tom Jackson was making the "wok-wok-wok-wok-wok-wok-wok-wok" sound that the Pac-Man video game used to make when he was eating pelletts.

It was very, very funny. Maybe you had to be there.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The state of college football

Several years ago, I swore (in writing) that I would never complain about football again if two things happened: instant replay and a college football playoff.

The world is halfway there, but it looks like they want me bitching and moaning for some time because it doesn't look like the beancounters who run the NCAA want to put a legitimate Division I-A national champion forward, instead relying on an archaic bowl system, supposedly built on tradition, that keeps money in the hands of six conferences and Notre Dame but doesn't really advance the cause of student-athlets anywhere.

Why isn't there a college football playoff? Seriously. Why not?

If you have been watching ESPN2 or FSN lately, you've seen all sorts of college football featuring teams with strange helmets and weird names. The Mount Union Purple Raiders?

All of the arguments to keep Divison I-A football from having a playoff fall flat. The only reason for the current bowl system is money. It's not about tradition. It's not about helping student-athletes get to class (after all almost half of the bowl-bound Division I-A schools failed to meet the NCAA's new academic standards) and it's not about overworking the kids who would have to play 15 games under a playoff system.

Why is it okay for the kids from St. John's (Minnesota) or Northern Iowa to play 15 games a year but not for the overpaid "student"-athletes at Florida State or Michigan not to?

The college presidents and athletic directors around the country should at least have the cajones to admit it's all about about money and expose themselves as the greedy bastards they are instead of hiding behind a bowl system that has already been rendered irrelevant by the BCS "title" game.

Florida State


How 'bout them Noles?

After being given up for dead, Florida State came back from the grave and stomped Marcus Vick and the Hokies, leaving Bobby Bowden 7-0 against Frank Beamer and doing near-irreperable damage to his program.

Instead of coasting into their inevitable bowl game with an unprecedented four consecutive losses, Florida State managed to give Bobby and excuse to keep his kid Jeff on the staff.

I hate to say I was hoping they lost because four straight losses (and the very real possibility of a fifth in the bowl game) would have had the media, boosters and fans screaming for Jeff's head on a stick. If not his outright firing, his removal as offensive coordinator.

Instead, we're stuck with him for another year, maybe two or three.

Why doesn't Bobby see how incompetent his kid is? Why doesn't Mickey Andrews go into Bobby's office and tell him what's going on? Why don't the boosters who are funding Bobby's annuity step up and tell him to get rid of his kid or they'll send their checks to another department?

You know things are getting bad when you call your father in the middle of the game and ask, "What the hell kind of play did Jeff just call?"

Now, not only are FSU fans saddled with more Jeff Bowden, the 8-4 Seminoles are going to a BCS bowl ahead of 10-2 Virginia Tech, 10-1 TCU, and 10-1 Oregon.

And that's not right.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Shouldn't your kids be in school?

My wife and I went to see The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe today. We went to the 1:00 show thinking that we would avoid the rush of kids going to the show.

Unfortunately, there were several dozen kids ranging in age from about 4 to 12 at the theater. Since we had some freezing rain last night, there was a two hour delay in the schools and some of the kids may have been kept home by their folks. Others were from one of the fundy Christian schools who were taking a class to see the movie.

There were several other adults there who had also thought to avoid the throngs of kiddies, but were foiled.

I have not read the books, and I don't know much about C. S. Lewis. I tried to read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when I was in middle school, but I thought it was too slow, so I picked it up and never finished it.

Like the book, the movie started slow. The effects were first rate as they should be. The people in charge were from the Weta shop, the same folks who did "The Lord of the Rings" movies.

I thought the story was a little convoluted and a lot of the backstory was left out, but overall it was pretty good.

If I had a five or six year old, I don't think I'd take them to see the movie. There are some creepy looking monsters and an intense battle scene at the end, but nothing as gory or violent as "The Lord of the Rings".

I won't comment on the supposed Christian allegories in the movie, because I've read that Lewis himself said he wasn't writing books with religious overtones; he just wanted to write a good story.

If this movie makes enough money, there wil probably be a sequel, but I'd give it a B or B-. It wasn't fantastic, but it wasn't bad either.

I don't think I'd pay to see it at the full price, and probably wouldn't pay to see it a second time, but I don't feel like my money was wasted.

Football picks, week 14

  • Chicago at Pittsburgh
    No offense for the Bear means big trouble in Pittsburgh

  • Cleveland at Cincinnati
    The Bengals are no long the fifth best football team in Ohio; that would be the Browns now.

  • Houston at Tennessee
    Who wants Reggie Bush more?

  • Indianapolis at Jacksonville
    I really hate to be making this pick, but since almost losing to the Jaguars back in week 2, the Colts have become a complete team. I'd also like to see them go 16-0 into the playoffs, even if it means having to go through Jacksonville to do it. I also don't mind making this pick because the Jaguars have all but wrapped up the 5th seed of the playoffs.

  • New England at Buffalo
    Will their 4th quarter implosion last week carry over to the Bills this week?

  • Oakland at N.Y. Jets
    Home team on this one, too.

  • St. Louis at Minnesota
    Minnesota is playing very well right now. I'm going with the team with the better back up QB.

  • Tampa Bay at Carolina
    I also struggled with this pick, but in division games in December, I've got to go with the home teams and against the Bucs when it may be cold.

  • N.Y. Giants at Philadelphia
    The Eagles are also imploding and the Giants need a win to stay in the playoff hunt.

  • San Francisco at Seattle
    Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz . . . .

  • Washington at Arizona
    Even the Redskins can't blow this one, can they?

  • Baltimore at Denver
    I think Brian Billick is getting his resume together.

  • Kansas City at Dallas
    The Chiefs beat a good Denver team at home last week. They should be able to take care of a mediocre Dallas team on the road.

  • Miami at San Diego
    The Chargers need this one more. The only thing the Dolphins can play for is to be spoilers. I'm not picking against LaDanian Tomlinson at hom.

  • Detroit at Green Bay
    Coin flip. Click here

  • New Orleans at Atlanta
    The Saints play like they've given up. And frankly, I can't blame them.

Cheerleader of the Week


I'd like you all to meet Aimee of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

This is her second year with the squad. When she's not cheering for the Bucs, she is a student at the University of South Florida where she studies public relations and communication.

She was on her high school dance team and has a cat.

You can watch Aimee's video here.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Football picks, week 13

Atlanta at Carolina
Buffalo at Miami
Cincinnati at Pittsburgh
Dallas at N.Y. Giants
Green Bay at Chicago
Houston at Baltimore
Jacksonville at Cleveland
Minnesota at Detroit
Tampa Bay at New Orleans
Tennessee at Indianapolis
Arizona at San Francisco
Washington at St. Louis
Denver at Kansas City
N.Y. Jets at New England
Oakland at San Diego
Seattle at Philadelphia

I know Favre has owned the Bears over the past few years, but this year his team just isn't good enough, especially on the road.

Houston, Dallas, New Orleans have officially moved into "implosion" mode, and I'm not sure the Eagles aren't on their way there, too.

St. Louis is better with Mike Martz locked out of the building.

There are lots of important division games with playoff implications (DAL/NYG, CIN/PIT, ATL/CAR, DEN/KC) and I'm going with the home teams in all the ones that matter.

Cheerleader of the Week



We go to the Philadelphia Eagles this week; when you click on their cheerleaders link you get a warning that the content is "age appropriate", so enjoy!

This is Janette, who is in her second year with the squad. When she's not cheering on the Iggles, she is a gymnastics instructor and nursing student at the Community College of Philadelphia.

Janette's guilty pleasures are chocolate and "The O.C." (I wonder if she celebrates Chrismukkah?). Her hobbies include traveling, coaching gymnastics, painting and drawing, crafts and going to the beach.

She provides extra incentive to go see the Eagles play because apparently her top slipped down once and she didn't notice.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

I wonder why GM won't hire me . . .

Back in June, I wrote a column on how GM could save itself and now they're trying to figure it out now.

It's nice of the largets of America's two automakers to announce their cuts right before Christmas, don't you think?

Time has another article on how GM can get back on track.

I could have told GM all this before the problems started. Why haven't they called me? I have all the answers.

I guess I'll just have to settle for the satisfaction of knowing the idiots who designed and built my piece of crap Oldsmobile are losing their jobs.

Monday, November 28, 2005

It's started

During football this weekend, Fox showed a bunch of American Idol previews. Some good, some trainwrecks. They've been running a couple of spots during some other prime time shows, but this was the first time I had seen a bunch together.

Of course, I think it's odd that they would run American Idol ads during football; I don't think the general football-watching demographic really tunes into American Idol . . . come to think of it, I do, so maybe it's not such a bad idea after all.

I did see Simon saying something like, "This is going to be the best season yet."

Of course it is. And if it isn't, do you really think Fox is going to have anyone saying, "The folks this year aren't as good as last year, and there's not one Rueben, Kelly or Carrie among them."?

I just hope they fix some of the lingering problems that American Idol has had and get it right this year.

The last thing we need are more Anthony Fedorovs or John Stevenses.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Why does Jeff Bowden still have a job?

For the life of me, I can't figure this one out.

I watched Florida State get embarrassed today by a mediocre Florida squad because the Seminoles's offense sucks. Flat out stinks.

Jeff can't blame things on Chris Rix any more. He can't say that he's playing with someone else's guy because he helped recruit Drew Weatherford. Why is it that Bobby can't see that his son is costing him games?

The talking heads are saying that injuries and an underachieving defense are to blame. Injuries have hurt the team, but for a program whose third string players would start at most other schools, I don't really buy it. Defense? Sure, they're not doing as well as they used to, but they're spending 35-40 minutes a game on the field because the offense is going 3-and-out all the time.

Jeff Bowden might be a good wide receivers coach. He might even be a good quarterbacks coach. But he's a horrible offensive coordinator.

I know Bobby values loyalty; the average tenure on his staff is something like 16 years. It's especially hard when the person he needs to fire is his kid. But Jeff isn't half the coach Mark Richt was, and he was the last guy who had the FSU offense consistently ranked in the top 10 in all the major categories.

Bobby needs to can Jeff. The problem is that Bobby has been above reproach in Tallahassee for so long, no one in the FSU athletic department has the balls to say it to him.

All he has to do is look at the stats to see that the only thing that has changed since Mark Richt left is the Jeff Bowden is sitting in Mark's old chair and he's the reason the program is suffering.

The Noles have lost three in a row. I'm watching Virginia Tech beat up on North Carolina, and it's a good bet that the Hokies will lay a world-class whuppin' on FSU in the ACC championship game. If they lose their bowl game, that will be a five game losing streak, something that is absolutely unheard of in the Bobby Bowden era.

The sad part of it is that it could be solved so easily. I wonder if www.firejeffbowden.com has been registered yet. Because that's all it would take.

Friday, November 25, 2005

How was your Thanksgiving?

I hope everyone ate themselves into a coma and recovered in time to get up and go shopping on Friday.

We had dinner at my wife's cousin's house. I think there were 36 people there, although I could be high or low; lots of people were coming and going. Mom was going to my brother's and dad was at his in-laws, but none of them had as many mouths to feed.

The family I married into does some strange things on Thanksgiving, most notably waste space on their table with all sorts of food that are completely unnecessary.

Growing up, there are five foods that are esential to the Thanksgiving dinner: turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing (not dressing) and cranberry sauce. Dessert is pumpkin pie. Everything else takes up space.

My in-laws had corn, green beans, all sorts of vegetables, ham, two different kinds of dressing (no stuffing), pea salad, asparagus and any number of other things that got in my way. We used to have basically the same meal at Thanksgiving and then again at Christmas. Then, a few years ago, we decided to do other things for Christmas, after all, why have the same meal twice in a month?

So for Christmas we've started having pot roast, grilled salmon, or something else but our Thanksgiving dinner has stayed basically the same. I tried a couple of the extra dishes a few years back, but can't find it in my heart to eat them. Maybe I just need my regular Thanksgiving comfort food, but I just can't eat everything else. Of course, all the extra food means more of my favourites for me.

To my surprise, there was no pumpkin pie this year, although someone did make a pumpkin dessert that was very good, but the topper this year was my wife's cousin Debbie's cheesecake which was fabulous. I had two pieces and then snuck some off and had it for breakfast this morning.

We stayed out until about 11:30 and my brother-in-law Tom made everyone stay long enough to get a group shot of everyone who was related (by blood, marriage or court order). So we had a good time. I always like family get togethers that don't involve a wedding or a funeral. We should do it more often.

As we were leaving, Sarah's cousins Cindy and Tara were asking who was getting up at 5:30 to go to be at the mall at 6:00. I told them I didn't have enough tear gas to go to the mall. I don't know why anyone would really want to go shopping on the Friday after Thanksgiving. "They" say there are lots of sales, but every time I've seen a great deal, it's like the store only has five of them in stock and everyone else is out of luck. I think, "why bother?" and would just as soon wait a couple of weeks for the prices to drop again before Christmas.

I've also heard that some stores are going to be having more sales in December, before all the gas and heating bills go out. We got a letter from our gas company telling us that our budget was being increased 32% from what it was last year to make up for the increased price of oil. Can you believe that? 32%!?!?!? We're knocking down the thermostat a couple of degrees, turning up the heat on the waterbeds and putting on sweatshirts. It's either that or get rid of the furnace and get a heat pump.

Foortball pick 'em, week 11

After the Thursday games, one snoozefest and one really good game, I'm 2-0 going into the weekend games.

I picked Atlanta and Denver to win, and even though the Broncos needed OT to pull of the win, I'm undefeated. In looking at my weekend and MNF picks, I'm going with a lot of road teams and that has me worried. To appease the footbal gods and court their favour, I'm doing a special Cheerleader of the Week feature.

My Sunday and Monday picks are:

Atlanta at Detroit
Denver at Dallas
Baltimore at Cincinnati
Carolina at Buffalo
Chicago at Tampa Bay
Cleveland at Minnesota
New England at Kansas City
San Diego at Washington
San Francisco at Tennessee
St. Louis at Houston
Jacksonville at Arizona
Miami at Oakland
Green Bay at Philadelphia
N.Y. Giants at Seattle
New Orleans at N.Y. Jets
Pittsburgh at Indianapolis

Could there be a week with more meaningless, boring games? MIA/OAK, SF/TEN, GB/PHI . . . yech. And then ESPN saddles us with the Saints/Jets on Sunday night; surely not even Joe Theisman can make this sound like a good matchup.

Cheerleader of the Week



To get the football gods to give good fortune to many of this week's road teams, I'm bringing you a double-shot of Cheerleaders of the Week.


These two lovely young ladies are not only cheerleaders, but twins. And every football fan loves twins, right? At least the song says so.

The young lady on the left is Jessica and the young lady on the right is one of the three Nicoles who cheers for the worst-run organisation in the National Footbal League (not their fault). The girls are 20 years old and originally from Denver, Colorado. For both, this is their first year on the squad, and when they're not in school or cheering for the Cards, they work at Starbucks.

Jessica enjoys working out, swimming, dancing, reading, playing volleyball, and spending time with family and friends; Nicole has similar (bu fewer) interests: working out, swimming, dancing and playing volleyball.

Both girls like Italian food, although Nicole also enjoys Chinese (although her favourite restaurant is Ayako of Tokyo) while Jessica likes Mexican. The girls also list their most fulfilling accomplishment as making the Arizona cheerleading team.


If you still need more cheerleaders, click here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Sit down, big boy

Arbitrator Richard Bloch upheld the Eagles's suspension of Terrell Owens earlier today, clearing the Eagles to sit on him for the rest of the year and saving them about $800,000 in base salary for the four games they suspended him.

I hope Owens rots. If I owned the Eagles and could afford to eat the salary cap space, I'd sit on Owens for the remainder of his contract, but that won't happen given how competitive the salary cap has made the NFL; if NFL salaries were like baseball, I have no doubt they would hold on to him for the next five years.

Owens of course, wants the Eagles to release him so he can be picked up by another team for the playoffs and he hopes another long-term deal with a big signing bonus. The latter will never happen now; why should a team fork over a big signing bonus one year if the player is just going to make an ass of himself and holdout for another one the next year.

If other players adopt this same strategy, the league will have no choice but to sign guys to a series of 1 year deals, something that is not really in the players's best interests. I don't know what Owens was thinking and I'm happy he lost.

I just hope he realises what he and his big mouth have cost him, and I hope other players have learned that as well.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Football pick 'em, through week 11

I know I haven't posted the standings, so here they are. I started keeping cumulative track for another message board, so we picked up a few more people.



Results for week 11:

sportsgirl33 13-3 (81.25%)
Sweetest Sin 13-3 (81.25%)
Greenie 11-3 (78.57%)
BPH 12-4 (75.00%)
Dove 12-4 (75.00%)
The Z 12-4 (75.00%)
Ally 11-5 (68.75%)
DemiMorgue 11-5 (68.75%)
Hill-Shatar 11-5 (68.75%)
Bloodstalker 10-6 (62.50%)
conspiracysadie 10-6 (62.50%)
DragnMstr 10-6 (62.50%)
Ender 10-6 (62.50%)
Me 10-6 (62.50%)
Lakeloverinnc 10-6 (62.50%)
PadreJim 10-6 (62.50%)
qwertitus 10-6 (62.50%)
Swede96 10-6 (62.50%)
Toughy 10-6 (62.50%)
Tunky 10-6 (62.50%)
Tybaltus 10-6 (62.50%)
Weasel 10-6 (62.50%)
Big Wheel 9-7 (56.25%)
CB 9-7 (56.25%)
dejavu 9-7 (56.25%)
Digmiester 9-7 (56.25%)
evangeline 9-7 (56.25%)
Howie 9-7 (56.25%)
Jeto 9-7 (56.25%)
Jwmblade 9-7 (56.25%)
LA Tracks 9-7 (56.25%)
Mike 9-7 (56.25%)
MNIrishAngel 9-7 (56.25%)
Skyflake 9-7 (56.25%)
Gwalchmai 8-8 (50.00%)
Home Team Wins 8-8 (50.00%)
J'Shawn 8-8 (50.00%)
Kipi 8-8 (50.00%)
Robyn 6-10 (37.50%)
The overall standings:

Hill-Shatar 27-9 (75.00%)
Tunky 112-48 (70.00%)
BPH 110-50 (68.75%)
LA Tracks 78-36 (68.42%)
Skyflake 86-42 (67.19%)
evangeline 20-10 (66.67%)
J'Shawn 57-29 (66.28%)
Greenie 75-39 (65.79%)
Lakeloverinnc 84-44 (65.63%)
Mike 38-20 (65.52%)
Gwalchmai 104-56 (65.00%)
Me 103-57 (64.38%)
Tybaltus 103-57 (64.38%)
conspiracysadie 92-52 (63.89%)
Dove 83-47 (63.85%)
qwertitus 19-11 (63.33%)
PadreJim 101-59 (63.13%)
sportsgirl33 101-59 (63.13%)
Sweetest Sin 100-60 (62.50%)
Big Wheel 90-54 (62.50%)
Howie 72-44 (62.07%)
Weasel 98-60 (62.03%)
Home Team Wins 99-61 (61.88%)
Digmiester 89-55 (61.81%)
The Z 98-62 (61.25%)
CB 88-56 (61.11%)
DragnMstr 79-51 (60.77%)
dejavu 97-63 (60.63%)
Jeto 88-58 (60.27%)
Jwmblade 96-64 (60.00%)
Ally 94-66 (58.75%)
Swede96 82-62 (56.94%)
Ender 91-69 (56.88%)
VoodooDali 62-49 (55.86%)
Toughy 48-38 (55.81%)
Bloodstalker 86-73 (54.09)
DemiMorgue 53-47 (53.00%)
Robyn 65-63 (50.78%)
MNIrishAngel 28-30 (48.28%)
Kipi 21-25 (45.65%)
The "inactive" list:

RandomThug 11-3 (78.57%)
ch85us2001 28-18 (60.87%)
X-Phile 8-8 (50.00%)
Bottleblonde 14-16 (46.67%)
HunterHack 7-9 (43.75%)
iammiklen 7-9 (43.75%)
Icekrystal 19-26 (42.22%)
golden_calf 10-18 (35.71%)

This week's games are:

Atlanta at Detroit
Denver at Dallas
Baltimore at Cincinnati
Carolina at Buffalo
Chicago at Tampa Bay
Cleveland at Minnesota
New England at Kansas City
San Diego at Washington
San Francisco at Tennessee
St. Louis at Houston
Jacksonville at Arizona
Miami at Oakland
Green Bay at Philadelphia
N.Y. Giants at Seattle
New Orleans at N.Y. Jets
Pittsburgh at Indianapolis

If you would like to submit picks, send me an email or post a comment. The first two games are on Thursday, the rest are on Sunday or Monday.

What do you have to be thankful for?

It's that time of year, folks: Thanksgiving.

Family comes in from out of town. The kids are out of school. Mounds of comfort food that makes the Adkins people go nuts. Shopping.

With all the bad things that are on the news, and people who are depressed during the holidays, what is it that you have to be thankful for?

Here's a partial list of the things I am grateful to have:
  • Health for all my family.

  • Prosperity; we're not rich by any means, but we've got a roof over our heads, cars in the driveway and food in the fridge.

  • None of my fantasy football teams are in last place in their leagues.

  • Sometimes, our biggest worries are whether we're going to watch "House" or "Commander in Chief" and tape the other one. The kids can play in the yard and don't worry about stepping on land mines, our drinking water is clean and we have plenty of jackets and blankets to stave off the cold.

  • My brother's wife is pregnant, so there will be a new addition to the High Lord's extended family.

I'm sure there's more I should be thankful for, but the bottom line is that even when we think things are bad, once you put them in perspective, they're pretty good.

I hope everyone has a good week; yes, you have to put up with Grandma and the eight stories she tells every year, and no, crazy Uncle Millard still doesn't know when to stop going through the liquor cabinet. If all else fails, there's always football and Charlie Brown's Thanksgiving Special (Thursday, 8 pm, ABC).

Friday, November 18, 2005

Football pick 'em, Week 11

Arizona at St. Louis
Carolina at Chicago
Detroit at Dallas
Jacksonville at Tennessee
Miami at Cleveland
New Orleans at New England
Oakland at Washington
Philadelphia at N.Y. Giants
Pittsburgh at Baltimore
Tampa Bay at Atlanta
Seattle at San Francisco
Buffalo at San Diego
Indianapolis at Cincinnati
N.Y. Jets at Denver
Kansas City at Houston
Minnesota at Green Bay

Some of my thoughts for this week:

Chicago's D is playing tough, but their offense is horrible. Carolina will win in a grinder.

I think the Giants got lazy last week and were ambushed by the resurgent Vikes. This is a division game and with a win can basically write off the Eagles as playoff contender, and need stave off a charging Dallas and a good Washington team.

Indy is the only undefeated team and while I don't think they're going 16-0, they've got to put people away until they lock up 1) the AFC south, 2) a wild card round bye and 3) home field.

I'm going with the Bucs because they are the one team who has always given Michael Vick fits. While they don't have Warren Sapp and John Lynch anymore, their scheme and team speed has been able to contain Vick and despite his claims that he has proven that he is a good pocket quarterback (228 yards? Puh-leeze!), he won't have a breakout game. Plus, Chris Simms isn't looking as bad as he used to.

To me, the Vikings/Packers is a toss-up. Both teams are inconsistent although Minnesota is on a roll right now. I think the Packers will win because the forecast high for Sunday is 40° and when Minnesota started playing in the dome, they got soft (as dome teams tend to be).

And now my Terrell Owens rant:



Terrell Owens goes before an arbitrator today. He wants the Eagles to be forced to either suit him up or cut him. I don't see where he has any grounds to force this action.

Under the collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and the player's union, a team can deactivate a player for any reason. Of the 53 man roster, only 46 are dressed for each game, so 7 guys will be inactive on every Sunday. Usually these are guys who are injured or are kept on the team for depth, but a team can put a player on the inactive list for any reason at any time. These players are paid their base salary, but cannot earn any of their contract incentives.

What Owens wants is special treatment. He wants the Eagles to be told that if he is not activated they have to cut him and let him try and catch on with a team somewhere else. No arbitrator in the world who is worth his salt will make that sort of exception for an individual under this CBA.

I do think that the Eagles may be ordered to lift two or even three games of his "suspension" because I don't think it was handled the right way, but a team can suspend a player for up to four games for "conduct detrimental to the team". I consider going on TV and calling your team "classless" to be "detrimental conduct" so it's not that the Eagles don't have any grounds to suspend him, it's that from what I understand, he was told that if he apologised (which he half-heartedly did) he would be suspended for one game and wound up getting four games.

Another thing I've heard is that the Eagles have several documented cases of Owens being disruptive that were handled "in house" and are not known publically, but even by going with what he has said to the media, it's not a case of hearing things out of context or a misunderstanding; all of that is on tape and the world has seen it all, so I really don't know why the player's union is bothering to fight a fight they know they're going to lose.

I think the likely outcome is that the Eagles will be allowed to sit on Owens for the rest of the season, which is what they are allowed to do under the CBA. I think the four game suspension will likely be reduced to one game, but I don't think they will be force to cut him. We'll know later today.

Cheerleader of the Week



I did not post a COTW last week, and the football gods made me pay.

So this week, I bring you Leeanne of the Washington Redskins.

. This is Leeanne's first year with the squad, although she was also a cheerleader for the U. of Maryland. She is 25 years old and a sales coordinator by trade.

Her favourite movie is Gladiator and her favourite book is The Notebook. In her spare time, Leeanne likes to shop, watch movies, go to the beach and hang out with her friends and family.

Friday, November 11, 2005

"Simulated" press conference

I was watching ESPN today and saw a "simulated" press conference with an actor playing the part of the LA Dodgers's general manager (I think baseball is a waste of time, so I don't know his name). This is the second "simulated" press conference I've seen on ESPN, the other involved the Boston Red Sox.

Does anyone other than me think that this is one of the most stupid ideas ESPN has come up with (second only to hiring Michael Irvin and putting him on NFL Countdown)?

Are there not enough real press conferences out there for ESPN to cover? Why are they making this crap up? I know the E in ESPN stands for entertainment, but after building a reputation for providing news, now it looks like they've had to resort to making things up to generate a story.

I know I'm just a viewer, but ESPN should fire whoever thought of this; maybe next they'll have "simulated" games and save us all the trouble of the real thing.

Becoming one of the faithless is looking better and better

Pat Robertson told the residents of Dover, PA that they should expect to be hit by natural disaster(s) after voting out eight pro-creationism members of their local school board.

The school board voted last year to require school science textbooks to carry a sticker claiming that evolution is an "unproven theory" and that creationism has a basis in legitmate science.

This, of course, is pure crap. Creationism is religion. There is no scientific basis for creationism. People believe that God/Yahweh/Rama/Midichlorins/Ameratsu crated the universe because they have faith. No evidence exists to prove creationism except people's beliefs in their god(s).

To require a public school district to teach creationism is equivalent to promoting religion, which has no place in the American public education system.

Robertson has a history of pulling stunts liket his. A few years ago, he warned the city of Orlando that God would strike them down with a hurricane after hanging rainbow flags during Gay Pride Week (actually, hurricanes strike Orlando because it's in Florida, and everyone in Florida has--and will be again--been struck by a hurricane) and he said that Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans because of the abortion clinics in the city.

This man is an embarassment to the human race. It shames me to think that other people around the world look at him and listen to the drivel that comes out of his yapper and think that it is representative of what all Christians believe and how all Americans act.

Football pick 'em, Week 10

Here are my picks for this week along with some commentary. If you would like to participate in our just-for-fun pick 'em, leave me a comment or drop me an email.

Arizona at Detroit
Baltimore at Jacksonville
Houston at Indianapolis
Kansas City at Buffalo
Minnesota at N.Y. Giants
New England at Miami
San Francisco at Chicago
Denver at Oakland
N.Y. Jets at Carolina
Green Bay at Atlanta
St. Louis at Seattle
Washington at Tampa Bay
Cleveland at Pittsburgh
Dallas at Philadelphia

Arizona/Detroit, someone has to win.

I think the home teams are going to do well this week.

Lots of teams are positioning themselves for the playoffs, either to solidify their leads (Indianapolis, Denver, St. Louis and Chicago), make a run (Dallas, Washington, Kansas City) or try to keep up (Jacksonville, Tampa Bay).

There are lots of tight divisions (AFC North, AFC West, NFC South and NFC East, which right now is the most competitive division in football).

It looks like this year, the AFC East, long the strongest in the league, is the one division where the winner will back into the playoffs.

What's happened to Tampa Bay lately? Are they imploding or did they just hit a speed bump?

The Steelers can't be feeling too comfortable right now. They're half a game behind the idle Bengals, and Cincinnati is a scrappy team that scores a lot on offense and is always around the ball on defense. Now is not a good time for them to be without their starting QB.

I'm not surprised at how badly the Pats have struggled. On top of the injuries, the league has saddled them with a killer schedule. It's like Tagliabue doens't want them to three-peat.

I reserve the right to change my Dallas/Philadelphia pick between now and Monday afternoon.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Baby stories

My wife and I have been keeping a little girl for several years now, and I need to write down some stories about her before I forget her.

We call her "The Baby" even though she's five years old now. Her name is Kyra and she is a handful. She spends the night with us probably once a week and even has "her" room at our house.

  • Kyra is a bacon-eating machine. She used to eat anything that you'd put in front of her, but like all kids, got pickier as she got older. One thing she has always liked though is bacon.

    When you'd ask her what she'd want for breakfast, she would either say "waffles" or "bacon." If you told her that we were going to ahve bacon, she'd put her face up close and say, "I . . . like . . . bacon!"

    One morning after eating her share of the bacon, she came over to me, sat down on my lap, and took a strip of bacon off my plate. Kyra ripped it in half, handed one part to me and stuffed the rest in her mouth.

    "I share with you."

  • I think the only thing she likes more than bacon is brownies. We found Hershey's chocolate fudge brownies with chocolate chips in them at Sam's; they come five packages in a box for something like $8. Kyra likes to make brownies, although all she really does is move the spoon around in the bowl, although she also likes to pour the oil and water into the mix. She hasn't quite gotten the hang of cracking the eggs.

    After baking brownies one day, we went to bed. Sometime in the middle of the night, I felt a tapping on my chest. "Deh-bed, can we have brownies?"

    I was mostly asleep and ignored her, hoping that she'd just fall back asleep herself. I felt the tapping again. "Deh-bed. I want some brownies."

    At that point, Sarah woke up and in her "mommy" voice said, "No. Go back to sleep."

    Just like that, Kyra put her head on the pillow and was out like a light. She did ask for brownies the next morning at breakfast.

    A few weeks later, when we hadn't seen her for a while, Kyra came into the kitchen and asked, "You haven't made brownies without me?"

    Of course I told her that I would wait for her to come over before making brownies again.

  • One of the little jokes we have is the "talking hand". My "talking hand" says things to Kyra and hers says things to me. It's pretty fun.

    One night, while getting ready for bed, Kyra was pestering Sarah who used the "mommy" voice. Kyra turned her hand towards her and said, "I think we're in trouble."

    Another time, Kyra brought her sleeping bag over and was on the floor next to our bed. We were watching TV and winding down, when I saw her "talking hand" sticking up over the rail of the waterbed. I leaned over the bed and asked her what the "talking hand" wanted.

    She said, "My talking hand isn't sleepy."

    "It's time for bed. Do I need to tuck the talking hand in?"

    She nodded so I put her hand on the pillow next to her and covered it with the sleeping bag. It was pretty funny.

  • If there's one thing that will set a little child off, it's telling them "no". So instead, with Kyra, when she'd ask for something, I'd reply with "Not right now", "Maybe later" or my favourite, "That's not for you."

    After a little while, she got wise. We were in Wal-Mart and as we'd go by something she'd want, I'd always, say, "That's not for you."

    One day, we walked by something and Kyra asked, "Is that for babies?"

  • Kyra used to sleep on the floor next to our bed, either in a sleeping bag or in a pile of blankets. As she got older, she moved into "her" room. Often, in the middle of the night, she'd start crying and at some point, she'd usually end up in the bed with us.

    After a bout of wimpering, I went and got her out of "her" room and lay down in the bed with Sarah and Kyra. A little while later, I felt her moving. I don't think she was fully awake, but I heard her little voice say, "Am I in the middle? I want to be in the middle."

    She wasn't (I was in the middle), but I told her she was and she went right back to sleep.

  • We picked Kyra up at her day care; she was probably 3 years old. As I'm riding in the car with her, she says, "Today is Patrick's day."

    It was St. Patrick's Day, but I figured that was close enough. So I said, "That's right, Kyra. What do you do on St. Patrick's Day?"

    "Wear green."

    "That's right," I smiled. "Do you know who St. Patrick was?"

    Thinking that she'd tell me all about the patron saint of Ireland, Kyra then said, "Patrick's a starfish."

    And people say there's such a thing as too much Spongebob.

  • When Kyra started her "climbing" stage, she would get up on my shoulders when I'd be sitting on the living room floor watching TV. Not long after she found out that she could get on my shoulders, she learned that she could wrap her arms around my head and she'd try to pull herself up even higher.

    When she'd do this, I'd fall over, which made her giggle. Then I'd sit up and she'd start climbing again. This continued and we used to play this game more. It got to the point that before I'd fall over, I used to sway back and forth and cry out, "Help me! Help me! There's a baby on my head!" (which she pronounces "heyud").

    One morning, when I was asleep, I felt Kyra crawling into bed with us. Since she was awake, she figured that we should be, too, so she climbed on top of my head and lay there until I woke up. Which, of course, I did while feeling around and saying, "How did it get so dark? I'm trying to get up, but there's a baby on my head!".

    The game even progressed to where she would sit a stuffed animal on top of me and say, "Scooby is on your heyud."

  • Kyra loves Star Wars. She likes to play with some of Matt's old action figures and likes to watch the movies. Her favourite character is Yoda, but she calls him "Yona".

    She likes to have the kids meal Yoda toys from Burger King and Taco Bell eat with her and she even brought "Yona" to bed with her a couple of times. She watched TPM and AOTC first, but then we watched ESB and ROTJ.

    During ROTJ, when Luke returned to Dagobah, she noticed that Yoda was coughing and not feeling well. As the scene went on, I looked over and saw Kyra with her head buried in a pillow on the couch. I said, "What's wrong, honey?"

    She lifted her head up and there were tears streaming down her cheeks.

    "Don't . . . want . . . Yona . . . to . . . die . . . " she sobbed. It was so cute.

    I set her in my lap and wiped her tears away and told her, "Yoda is a Jedi Master and Jedi Masters don't die. You'll see."

    At the end of the movie, Kyra saw Obi-Wan, Anakin and Yoda and she said, "Yona didn't die. He's a ghost."

  • The first three movies Kyra saw with us were Monsters, Inc., Spider-Man and Scooby-Doo. She slept most of the way through Monsters, Inc. but in Spider-Man every time she saw Spidey, she would say, "See Spider-Man! See Spider-Man!" and when we were leaving, she waved to the screen, "Bye, Spider-Man! Bye!"

  • Update (06/12/06)
    At Bluestone this year, Kyra went with us again. She was playing with some of the other kids and I went out to call her. One of the kids said, "Kyra, you daddy's calling you."

    Kyra replied, "He's not my daddy. He's my David."

I'll post more baby stories as I think of them.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Football picks

Here are the football pick 'em standings. Yes, I know they're late, but with my vacation a couple of weeks ago, I've been lazy.

Our friend Home Team Wins took a big hit this week with the road teams going 9-5, but other than that, most folks had a pretty good week.

This week's results are:

BPH 13-1 (92.86%)
CB 13-1 (92.86%)
Gwalchmai 13-1 (92.86%)
Tuky 13-1 (92.86%)
Tyblatus 13-1 (92.86%)
Weasel 13-1 (92.86%)
Hill-Shatar 12-1 (92.31%)
Ally 12-2 (85.71%)
Bloodstalker 12-2 (85.71%)
Me 12-2 (85.71%)
Howie 12-2 (85.71%)
PadreJim 12-2 (85.71%)
Mike 11-3 (78.57%)
RandomThug 11-3 (78.57%)
Jeto 10-4 (71.43%)
Jwmblade 10-4 (71.43%)
Sweetest Sin 10-4 (71.43%)
The Z 10-4 (71.43%)
VoodooDali 10-4 (71.43%)
dejavu 9-5 (64.29%)
Ender 9-5 (64.29%)
J'Shawn 9-5 (64.29%)
Lakeloverinnc 9-5 (64.29%)
Toughy 9-5 (64.29%)
DemiMorgue 6-8 (42.86%)
Dove 6-8 (42.86%)
Home Team Wins 5-9 (35.71%)
The overall standings are:

Hill-Shatar 12-1 (92.31%)
RandomThug 11-3 (78.57%)
Tunky 92-38 (70.77%)
J'Shawn 39-17 (69.64%)
Mike 29-13 (69.05%)
BPH 88-42 (67.69%)
Gwalchmai 87-43 (66.92%)
Lakeloverinnc 65-33 (66.33%)
Me 84-46 (64.62%)
Tybaltus 84-46 (64.62%)
PadreJim 83-47 (63.85%)
Home Team Wins 82-48 (63.08%)
Howie 54-32 (62.79%)
CB 71-43 (62.28%)
Dove 71-43 (62.28%)
Weasel 79-49 (61.72%)
Jeto 71-45 (61.21%)
Jwmblade 79-51 (60.77%)
dejavu 78-52 (60.00%)
Sweetest Sin 78-52 (60.00%)
The Z 77-53 (59.23%)
Ally 74-56 (56.92%)
VoodooDali 55-42 (56.70%)
Bloodstalker 71-58 (55.04%)
Ender 71-59 (54.62%)
Toughy 29-27 (51.79%)
DemiMorgue 33-37 (47.17%)

The inactive prognosticators are:

Greenie 55-31 (63.95%)
ch85us2001 28-18 (60.87%)
Kipi 9-7 (56.25%)
X-Phile 8-8 (50.00%)
BottleBlonde 14-16 (46.67%)
HunterHack 7-9 (43.75%)
IceKrystal 19-26 (42.22%)

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

I blame Owens

Terrell Owens has only one person to blame for the mess he's in: himself.

Earlier today, Owens issued a public apology to the Eagles, Donovan McNabb and everyone in the Philadelphia community for his actions. Too little, too late.

I have no sympathy for multi-millionaire athletes wanting more money, and I have even less sympathy for guys who will backstab their teamates, their coach and the organisation they play for when they act like spoiled little children.

What I want to know is, who does Owens keep around him to bring him back down to earth when he starts running his mouth and doesn't know when to shut it?

You'd think that his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, would have some measure of control of him. After all, that's why you pay him, right?

It's the agent's job to look after his client's best interests. It's in the agent's best interests, too, because if the player doesn't get paid, neither does he.

Where was Drew Rosenhaus, who was all over the TV last summer when Owens was threatening to hold out and throwing his tantrums then? Why wasn't Rosenhaus saying, "Terrell, if you want a long-term contract from anyone, shut your yapper now."

Things as they are, Owens is damaged goods. And he has no one to blame but himself. Who will sign this guy to a multi-year deal now? Even if someone picks him up next year, do you think they're going to say, "Here's a $15 million signing bonus, a 7 year contract at $5 million per, and pretty-please-with-sugar-on-top don't hold out next year or set off a bomb in our locker room if you don't get your way"?

Of course not. Any smart GM will tell Owens, "You're worth $5 million for this year. We'll pay your a $3 million signing bonus and we'll pay you $2 in base salary and incentives. Play well and we'll sign you to the same deal next year."

Owens killed any chance for a big-money, multi-year deal because he's shown that he will try and gouge more and more money out of a team year after year. You'd think that Rosenhaus would have known this and reigned his guy in.

The hallmark of smart people is that they surround themselves with other smart people. Who has Owens surrounded himself with?

Monday, November 07, 2005

Terrell Owens . .. what a waste of flesh

When Terrell Owens looks around for someone to blame for his current situation, I'm sure he'll point the finger at everyone except himself.

With the Eagles suspending him for "conduct detrimental to the team" which they can to for a maximum of four games, they're probably going to "Keyshawn" him. That is, they'll keep him on the roster but "inactive" so he can't play. I suspect that sometime after the Super Bowl, they'll drop his name as trade bait in hopes of getting some sort of compensation for him before they have to pay a roster bonus he is due in March ($5 or something like that).

My questions is this: who would want him now? He's thrown two teams under the bus, first the 49ers and now the Eagles. I have no problem with trashing the San Francisco franchise since I don't think too much of John York, but the Eagles seem to be a classy organisation and if he's going to treat them that way, who else would?

Baltimore won't take him after what he did to them before going to Philadelphia, coaches from the Bill Parcells coaching "family" (Bill Belichick, Romeo Crennel, Tom Coughlin, Nick Saban) won't put up with his crap, and after what he did to Andy Reid, I suspect neither will any one from the Mike Holmgren/Bill Walsh "family" (Steve Mariucci, Mike Sherman, John Gruden). I also daresay that Joe Gibbs won't stand for him, neither will Bill Cowher, Marvin Lewis, Tony Dungy, Herm Edwards, Marty Schottenheimer, Jeff Fisher or Dick Vermeill.

So who does that leave? St. Louis and Minnesota don't need receivers. Dom Capers job is already on the line, so I don't see him taking one a headache like Owens. The one guy who is known to put up with egos for the sake of on the field production, Dennis Green, can't get the ball to all the receivers he has, so I'd say they're out.

I haven't mentioned Buffalo, Baltimore, Denver, Oakland, Detroit, Atlanta, Carolina, or New Orleans. Do you really think any of those guys are going to want to take him?

It's my opinion that Owens has just talked himself out of the league, because I think he's at the point where people don't want to deal with all his baggage. After all, would you accept a blood transfusion from someone with cancer?

If a team picks Owens up, they've got to know that he's a locker room cancer. All his apologists will go on and on about how he plays hard and puts out on the field, but there's more to football than playing on Sunday. Owens is a bad teamate. If I owned a team, I wouldn't touch him if my choices were him or two Division III quarterbacks I'd have to turn into wide receivers. At least they'd be grateful for the chance to play professional football.

I really hope that the Eagles would Keyshawn him for the 5½ remaining years on his contract, but they can't afford to. I think it would be so appropos to make him inactive and let him rot with the contract he signed with the Eagles last year.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

It's not the Titanic or the Achille Lauro

I was a little upset that our cruise to the western Caribbean was re-routed to the eastern Caribbean, but I'm happy the Star Princess wasn't attacked by pirates like Seabourne Cruise's Spirit.

The ship came under attack by pirates off the coast of Somalia who used small arms and rocket-propelled grenades. The captain rammed one of the pirate boats and out ran the other. One person was reported to have been injured on the cruise ship.

Remind me not to cruise anywhere near Somalia until things improve.

Friday, November 04, 2005

But Can They Sing?

Is anyone watching this?

It's horrible!!!

It's like a giant rolling head. I can't look away.

The people on this show are gawd-awful. And it's great. I had it on while I was doing some work around the house, but let me comment on the folks I did see:

Antonio Sabato, Jr.
He was the first person I saw and I was trying to find a sewing awl so I could poke out my ear drums.

Bai Lin
Learn to speak English proficiently. Then try to sing Madonna.

Kim Alexis
Faith Hill is looking for you. She's got a baseball bat and a scowl. I'd run if I were you.

Joe Pantoliano
He was actually pretty good. I was surprised. The audience clapped. I think they were afraid if they didn't cheer for them, he was going to pull their connection to the Matrix out when he left the stage.

I didn't get to see everyone else, but the neighour's dog was howling. I'm going to try and catch it again when VH-1 inevitably runs it again this week.

The public apparently gets to vote someone off and I'm just guessing, but I think Larry Holmes is going home. I didn't get to see him sing, but all the girls are hot, so they're safe (at least early on).

I don't know if I'm going to be able to sit through all of the "singing", but this show is one giant, glorious trainwreck.

Football pick 'em, week 9

I know I didn't put my updated stats in for this week, but I have been working on stuff related to my cruise. Here are my picks for week 9:

Atlanta at Miami
Carolina at Tampa Bay
Cincinnati at Baltimore
Detroit at Minnesota
Houston at Jacksonville
Oakland at Kansas City
San Diego at N.Y. Jets
Tennessee at Cleveland
Chicago at New Orleans
N.Y. Giants at San Francisco
Seattle at Arizona
Pittsburgh at Green Bay
Philadelphia at Washington
Indianapolis at New England

I'm picking an awful lot of road games this week; I hope that works out for me, especially considering that home teams are 66% this year. We'll see how this worked out for me on Tuesday.

The Cheerleader of the Week si Ashleigh of the defending world champion New England Patriots. She is s student at Worcester State College and dual-majors is early childhood education and psychology. This is her second year with the team. She has either broad career ambitions or doesn't know what she wants to do with her life; he career goal is to be a child psychologist, real estate agent, actress, or to work in Public Relations.

Her hobbies included shopping tanning and hanging out with her boyfriend (sorry, guys!). Her favourite TV show is Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and she has a golden retriever. She enjoys sushi, Godiva chocolates, the colour pink and claims to have no hidden talents.

May the football gods smile upon me this week, because they haven't done so for a while.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Cruise Vacation Diary

As I had mentioned a couple of weeks ago, my wife and I went on a cruise last week with another couple. At the end of every day, I jot down a couple of notes about the things we did, the places we went and the things we saw and then I put them together in a "vacation diary".

What follows is our cruise vacation; it's long, probably a little tedious, but they're my recollections of a wonderful vacation.

You might consider reading them in spurts instead of all at once (it works out to be a little over 32 pages in WordPerfect). If you make it all the way through, I hope you enjoy reading it almost as much as I enjoyed being on vacation.

SECOND EDIT: I think I got all the links fixed. It had something to do with the quotation markes that I copied and pasted from WordPerfect in the A HREF= tags. If anyone finds a link that is broken, please send me an email.

-----------------------------------------

David & Sarah’s Cruise Vacation II


The Star Princess Mystery Cruise


Before the vacation

We booked this cruise last February. There were six of us going: Sarah and I, Jim and Peggy and Charley and Kari.

When they got married, Charley and Kari eloped and she gave him down the road for years about never having taken her on a honeymoon. So this was it. We had cruised with Royal Caribbean on the Mariner of the Seas before, but after searching for western Caribbean itineraries, we found the best price on what looked to be the best ship to be the Star Princess. We scheduled it for October because we had been lucky last year cruising during hurricane season and decided to chance it again this year.

Besides, the price was right. We paid $575 for an interior stateroom; that price includes all food, non-alcoholic/non-carbonated beverages, entertainment, four ports of call, taxes, fees and port charges. By comparison, the Mariner of the Seas for the same trip and the same class stateroom was about $200 per person more.

After booking the cruise, I started a countdown and we waited to see how things panned out. After Hurricane Katrina and her storm surge leveled big chunks of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama and topped the levees in New Orleans, the US Army Corps of Engineers called Jim out of retirement and sent him to BFE, Mississippi to do damage assessment. Our group was down to four.

Things looked good until the week before the cruise when a tropical depression started brewing south of Jamaica. The tropical depression became Tropical Storm Wilma which then became Hurricane Wilma, which turned out to be the highest intensity (lowest pressure) storm ever recorded in the Atlantic basin.

Wilma took her time, dumped lots of rain on Jamaica the Cayman Islands and then headed towards Mexico. You know you’re in for a rough vacation when every place you’re going to visit is on the news as receiving “hurricane-force” winds and rain.

About Wednesday, all of the National Hurricane Center’s models showed the storm making landfall sometime Saturday, so I called Delta to see if we could change our flights into Ft. Lauderdale. I figured it would be better to be in Ft. Lauderdale to ride out the storm then be stuck in Atlanta or at home and miss the boat (literally).

No one wants to have a cruise ship (or any ship for that matter) in port during a hurricane. That’s just stupid. I figured that depending on what Wilma did, Princess might hold her out to sea for a day or two, then bring her in and try to get as many of the passengers on board as possible for an abbreviated cruise. I also though there was an outside chance that the airports may get shut down and it might be a good idea to be in south Florida in advance of the hurricane.

Anyway, Delta said that they were anticipating issues at the airport and that we could reschedule our flight (same itinerary, same flight numbers, different day) at no extra charge. I talked with Sarah and she said her boss wouldn’t like it but that we could try it. I then called Charley and he seemed a little ancy about being in south Florida with a hurricane bearing down; between that and having to find an extra day’s worth of child car for their son, they didn’t want to go down a day early.

That turned out to be an okay decision as Wilma slowed down and didn’t hit Florida until Monday night/Tuesday morning, when we were long gone (although she did mess with us a little; more on that later).

We spent Thursday and Friday packing up all our stuff into two suitcases and one soft-sided bag, careful to remind ourselves of the lessons we had learned on last year’s cruise.

Day One, Saturday, 22 October 2005

The day started out with a drive to the Charleston airport. We had originally thought about driving, but with the price of gas going through the roof and faced with the prospect of spending 17 hours in the car each way we were constantly on the lookout for cheap fares. I checked with Travelocity, Expedia, Orbitz and a couple of other services, but couldn’t find anything under about $236 out of CRW or $317 out of HTS.

One night, Sarah was goofing off at the Delta website when she said to me, “Come look at this. Make sure I’m not seeing things.”

Somehow, she found a rate of $203 per person (includes all fees, taxes, etc.) from CRW to FLL on the dates we wanted. Sarah wanted me to double-check the dates to make sure she wasn’t hallucinating. I called Charley and verified that they were in, and we booked the flights. The only catch was that to keep people from messing with their pricing system, Delta routed us from FLL to TPA to CVG and then to CRW on the way back. We wouldn’t get back on the ground until about midnight on Sunday, but since no one really wanted to spend 17 hours–each way–in the car, we went with the flying option.

Sarah and I picked Charley and Kari up at 7:45 Saturday and were packed and on the road not 10 minutes later. We got to CRW way earlier than I expected, even after stopping at McDonald’s for a biscuit and hash browns. While there, we ran into our friend David who was with his wife on their way to Hawaii for “business”. Supposedly he had a “conference” out there, and since he is some big-wig in a professional organisation, not only was he required to go, they were paying his way. And then somehow, he couldn’t get a flight back until a week after the “conference” ended.

We ran into a couple of other folks who were also on their way to Florida for cruises. One woman was a travel agent who handed me her card. She was going on one of the Carnival boats out of Miami. There was also a mother/daughter couple that was going on the Mariner of the Seas. I told them they would have a fabulous time. They told us they were originally going to the western Caribbean (the same basic itinerary as us), but Royal Caribbean told them several days before that they were being diverted to the eastern Caribbean.

I was not surprised that Royal Caribbean was very upfront with their weather updates, but I was shocked at how little Princess passed along to us. More on this later (and it’s not good).

After flying to the wonderful Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, we grabbed a quick bite to eat before flying out to Ft. Lauderdale. I stopped in at the Brookstone there hoping they would have one of their massage chairs in the store I could sit in for about half an hour. Sadly, the only massage things they had were the hand-helds.

Charley and Kari ate at Chili’s and Sarah and I had something from one of the airport Chinese food chains.

We left Atlanta and flew to Ft. Lauderdale on one of Delta’s big 767s. It wasn’t full, so there was lots of room. I think some people flew in early and some folks had cancelled their trips due to the weather, otherwise the plane might have been packed. Flying on a big plane was good for us since Charley has issues with flying and the 767 made him a lot more confident.

After landing, we me out friend Matt at the gate. Matt is married to Kristin who is our next-door neighbour’s daughter. They’ve lived in Ft. Lauderdale for several years and always ask when we are going to come visit, so we figured we’d spend some time with them before the cruise (we also tried to get them to cruise with us, but I think child-care was an issue for them).

Not long after arriving at Matt and Kristin’s place, “Matteo” showed up and started mixing drinks, including his world-famous margarita which he makes with tequila, Grand Marnier, lime juice and some other stuff. The original plan was that we would take Kristin, Matt and their kids (Grace and Ethan) out to dinner, but given how much people were drinking, it’s probably good that we stayed in.

Charley caught a brief nap, we all played with the kids, fed the ducks in the pond out back and visited. Matt and Kristin liked Charley and Kari (at least they said they did and kept throwing liquor at them) and we cooked out steaks and sat around all night.

We had a very good time before going to bed on air mattresses. All the while, I kept one eye on the weather wondering what Wilma was going to do.

Day 2, Sunday, October 23 2005

SNAFU. FUBAR. Charlie-Foxtrot. Whatever you call it, Sunday was pure chaos.

It started out well enough. We all got up when Grace and Ethan did (about 7 am). While they had a banana and some juice, I checked the weather report. Wilma was bearing down on southwest Florida and projected to make landfall sometime Monday morning. I was vaguely optimistic.

We showered, got dressed and went to Lester’s, a 50s-style greasy spoon. I had pancakes, eggs (over-easy), bacon and grits. All the while, we talked about the weather. Several of Matt and Kristin’s neighoburs were putting their storm shutters up and Matt was debating whether or not he wanted to put his up.

On the one hand, Wilma had lost some strength. Instead of being the category 5 storm that had laid waste to Cancun and Cozumel, she was now a “mere” category 2. On the other hand, even category 2 storms can cut a swath of destruction and mayhem across the land.

After leaving Lester’s, we stopped at a Walgreen’s to pick up some last minute cruise stuff (Kari needed some flip-flops and Charley got some more chapstick) and then headed back to Kristin & Matt’s. He decided to put the storm shutters up, especially since he had two guys who could help out.

All of the houses in the area have bolts sunk around the windows and glass doors. Companies sell/rent steel plates that you mount on the bolts and they protect the most vulnerable parts of the house from flying debris. The plates are heavy as hell, but we got them out and most of them mounted.

While we were putting up the storm shutters, Kristin took the kids to a birthday party. Just as we finished and were about to hit the showers, Kristin called and said that she heard on the radio that Port Everglades was closing at noon. It was not quite 11:30. Sarah, Kari and Charley quickly began packing while I called Princess.

The agent I talked to at Princess said he had not heard about the port being closed, but that departure had been moved up from 5:00 pm to 3:00 pm and embarkation had been advanced from 1:00 pm to 11:00 am. I checked my email and voice mail and there was nothing from Princess indicated that this information was being passed along. The agent also told me that the itinerary had been changed, but had no additional information. I thanked the agent and we stuffed everything into Matt’s car and headed off to Port Everglades.

When we got to the cruise ship dock, it was bedlam. People were scurrying around everywhere and the Princess people were moving us along pretty quickly. Matt dropped us off and we promised that we’d visit again when it wasn’t hurricane season and invited them along on our next cruise.

I will say that Princess made the embarkation process was relatively painless. Maybe it was because some people hadn’t made it to the dock from the airport, but the lines were short and moved quickly. No one was supposed to board until 1:00 pm and we were about an hour early.

We got our cruise key cards, dropped off our luggage with the porters and went to our room. We booked an inside double stateroom because it was cheap. Last time we got an oceanview stateroom, but the difference in price was about $100 per person; to go to a balcony room was another $200 per person. Since we didn’t do much in the room except sleep and shower, to us, the extra money would be better spent at the spa or in port.

The room was a little cramped but unless money suddenly no longer becomes and issue, I will probably book every future cruise in an inside stateroom. On paper, the room was the same size as our room on the Mariner, but it seemed smaller because it had a walk-in closet instead of using built-ins for storage. The room on the Mariner seemed larger, even though it wasn’t.

When we got to the room, we had a note on the bed from the Commodore that the week’s itinerary had changed. The original itinerary was:

Sunday: departure
Monday: Princess Cays (Princess’s private island in the Bahamas)
Tuesday: at sea
Wednesday: Cozumel, Mexico
Thursday: Georgetown, Grand Cayman
Friday: Ocho Rios, Jamaica
Saturday: at sea
Sunday: return

The changed itinerary was basically the same trip only in reverse:

Sunday: departure
Monday: at sea
Tuesday: Ocho Rios
Wednesday: Georgetown
Thursday: Majahaul (Costa Maya), Mexico
Friday: at sea
Saturday: Princess Cays
Sunday: return

Since Wilma had been sitting over the Yucatan peninsula for about three days, she had done substantial damage to Cancun and Cozumel and Princess diverted us to another port in Mexico. Sarah was particularly bummed out as seeing the Mayan ruins at Tulum was one of the things she was really looking forward to on the trip.

Still, there’s nothing we can do about the weather and if the port and other infrastructure at Cozumel was too damaged to accept visitors, I’d rather be sent somewhere else.

After dropping our stuff off, we set out exploring the ship. We noticed that the crew seemed especially frantic, as well they should since their usual turnaround was cut short by two hours. There was nothing wrong in our room, but we did hear of personal items (such as a purse and oxygen bottle) being left in cabins and being found not by the room stewards but by passengers. Still, I’ll give the crew a pass on the little things because the day was so hectic.

We met our room steward Luis, who was absolutely top notch. Nice guy, quick and got us anything we asked for. We met Charley and Kari at the buffet for lunch and I knew we were in trouble for the week.

The buffet (Princess calls it the Horizon Court) was crowded, and not just because there were a lot of people there. It’s laid out poorly. There are two sides that serve the same food with the kitchen in the middle. That makes it easy to get food out, but cramped for the people trying to get through the line. Plus, their selection of food was limited because of the small space. Throughout the week, I found myself disappointed with the Horizon Court, which was surprising since I had heard that the food on Princess was better than on other lines. The buffet certainly rated lower marks than the Windjammer on Royal Caribbean. It doesn’t help that their salad bar never included bacon bits and croutons.

After the buffet, Charley and I picked up soda cards which entitled us to unlimited fountain soft drinks (all Coca-Cola products) for the low price of $3.95 per day, which is a third less than on Royal Caribbean who charges $6 per day.

Upon finishing lunch, we went to the spa for a tour. Charley and Kari were really looking forward to the massage treatments and spent enough there to support a family in Zambia for a year. Sarah ended up in the spa twice during the week; I didn’t go, but seriously considered getting VIP pass which featured unlimited use of a special area that had some aromatherapy saunas and some ergonomic heated stone chairs. If we go on another Princess boat that has this area, I’m going to sign up for this.

We went back to our rooms and found our bags which Luis promptly put in our room. On the Mariner we didn’t get our bags until after dinner on Sunday, so that gives good marks to Princess for their expediency. I did however, happen to glance down a cargo hallway and noticed a crew member walking over other people’s suitcases, so don’t think that a cruise ship crew handles your luggage with any more delicacy than an airport baggage crew.

While I unpacked my suit, Sarah unpacked what was probably the most valuable commodity on the ship: Diet Pepsi. I’ll drink whatever soda is available. Coke, Pepsi, RC, Sprite, Sierra Mist; I don’t care. Sarah and other Diet Pepsi folks won’t drink Diet Coke. Go figure. So we packed 8 24 oz. bottles ourselves and they lasted her the week. I probably could have packed more and made some money, but I didn’t.

After getting settled in, we headed to the Promenade Deck for the always-fun lifeboat muster drill. This is required by law and must be held within 24 hours of sailing. Most cruise lines hold this drill while the boat is still docked. I will say that Princess’s muster drill was much more comfortable than Royal Caribbeans. On the Mariner, they had us line up on deck near the lifeboats and stand around a lot.

On the Star, we just had to go to one of the public rooms and sit through a demonstration on how to don a life jacket and then it was over.

As we were heading back to the cabin, Sarah said, “We’re moving.”

We stowed our life jackets in the cabin and then headed up to the Sun Deck to watch the ship leave port. Sure enough, we were halfway out of the harbour by the time we got on deck. There was a slight breeze ahead of the coming hurricane and a there were a few clouds. The Commodore must have been told to move quickly because we were moving at a pretty fast clip for being in port and we were leaving about an hour and a half early.

I took some pictures (the first of the 778 or so that I took on this trip) and then headed back to the room to get ready for dinner. Sarah finished unpacking her things and I watched some football on the TV. Throughout the week the satellite reception stank; it was choppy and may have been due to the weather.

Our cabin this time was on one of the upper decks where our cabin on the Mariner was on one of the lower decks. There was a lot more lateral movement on the ship this cruise. I don’t know if it was because we were higher up than before where the ship rolls more or if it was related to the weather. After all, we had a hurricane coming our way from the west and another tropical storm was brewing to the south. The Star is also smaller than the Mariner (109,000 tons and 138,000 respectively), so those factors may have contributed to feeling more motion. Sarah took a lot more motion sickness medicine this year than she did last year.

We finished up in the cabin and then headed down to the dining room. On the way there, as Sarah and I passed through the 500 block of deck 10, we passed an open door and ran headlong into the smell of burning “oregano”. Sarah made a joke about not even waiting until we were in Jamaica and we kept walking. I don’t think it made us any hungrier.

We chose the traditional dining setup, where we eat at a fixed time each night and have the same servers every night. Princess offers another feature called “personal choice” in two of their big dining rooms where it’s open from 5:30 until 10:30 and you can go in any time and they’ll seat you at the first available table.

Personally, I prefer the traditional style. We had a good waiter and assistant waiter, who knew what drinks we preferred and were very friendly. Our waiter was Ferdinand from the Philippines and the assistant waiter was Seri, who hailed from Thailand. Both were very good.

I had a seafood turnover and Sarah had chicken and shells in a red sauce. As I said before, I had heard that the food on Princess was better than on Royal Caribbean and in the dining rooms it was indeed very good. Since it’s been a year since eating on the Mariner, I don’t know that I’m qualified to make a head-to-head comparison, but I never found anything on either boat I didn’t like, and the cuisine on the Star was indeed very good (the buffet notwithstanding).

A recurring them throughout the week was that Sarah was disappointed with the amount of chocolate that was available for dessert (not a lot). I didn’t find a lot of things on the dessert menu that appealed to me, but their cheesecake was very, very good. I do remember that I was disappointed by Royal Caribbean’s cheesecake and Princess blew theirs away. However, Princess could not produce a double-layer fudge cake that Sarah would have killed someone over.

After dinner, Charley and Kari went to the spa for discounted massages; on the tour, they were offering discounts on treatments booked that day. Sarah and I went to the opening show featuring the Cruise Director Tim, who is a pudgy guy from England who has a first-rate entertainment staff. There was some singing and dancing and Cary Long, a stand-up commedien.

With the show over, we ran into Charley and Kari who were returning from the spa. Charley looked like he had been beaten into submission (in the good way). I was surprised he could stand. On the tour, Charley had been scoping out the masseurs and wondered which of the lithe young beauties would be handling him (he was hoping for the two Asian girls). It turns out that he got the only woman in the spa who was over the age of 35 and for him that was a slight disappointment. I said, “Was she good?”

“Yeah,” he replied though his semi-glazed eyes.

Then it was worth it.

Kari was less satisfied with her massage. She thought the masseur talked too much and didn’t “hurt” her enough. I don’t know what Kari’s into, but apparently she likes it harder than most other people and this girl didn’t do as well as Kari’s masseur back home. She eventually complained to the spa manager and got a discount off a later treatment and seemed satisfied by the end of the week.

We retired to our room and set about planning our next day, which according to the new itinerary would be at sea. Sarah and I took stock of the ship and found that while it was smaller than the Mariner, it seemed larger. There were fewer large areas and things are more spread out. For instance, all the shops on the Mariner are in one place, the Royal Promenade. The shops on the Star are all in the same vicinity, but are spread out on three levels.

The Star also features more entertainment venues, one main theater plus two small theaters. The main theater is smaller than on the Mariner, but the secondary venues are larger and host more events (it’s easier to sever drinks in the lounges than in the theater). In this way, Princess has cleverly made the Star seem like a bigger boat and made the venues it has seem more intimate.

My other quick observations was that the Princess crowd seems older than the Royal Caribbean crowd. I mentioned this to another guy I met and he said that the guests on the Star seemed younger. Go figure. I didn’t notice as many kids as were on the Mariner and there didn’t seem to be as many young couples. The crowd seemed to be generally older and there were lots more women who smelled like Grandma than were on the Mariner.

One other thing that greatly perturbed me was that there was no ice cream machine on the ship. If you wanted ice cream, you either needed to have it with dinner or pay for it. What the hell?!?!?!?!

I greatly enjoyed having 24/7 access to a soft-serve ice cream machine and I was disappointed not to have one on the Star. I am not the only one who thinks this is bunk because one of the ship’s comedians made a joke about it during his show (“Our number one complaint is that there isn’t an ice cream machine by the pool. Do you know why there isn’t an ice cream machine by the pool? Because we don’t want to roll your asses off the ship at the end of the week.”).

While not having an ice cream machine won’t make or break my next cruising decision, it certainly won’t help if all other things are equal. Plus, I won’t feel that I have to take my revenge on you guys again when it’s steak and lobster night in the main dining room.

A plus on the Star is that there is a self-serve laundry facility on board. On the Mariner, if you wanted something cleaned, you had to pay the ship’s launder to do it. Our cabin was about 30 feet from six washers and six dryers that charged $1 to wash and 50¢ to dry, which is what I used to pay to do laundry in college 14 years ago; I was expecting to get gouged and was pleasantly surprised not to. Plus, the soap and fabric softener they sold out of the vending machines was reasonably priced and they had irons and ironing boards set up for use with no charge

Sunday ended far more calmly than it began and the Princess staff really stepped up. When faced with a quick turnaround and I know they were all frazzled, the staff still managed to be polite, professional and turned in an A+ performance given the circumstances. This won’t be the last time I mention the service on Princess and it was a step or two above that on Royal Caribbean, and when I say that, the service on Royal Caribbean was pretty good, too.

Day 3, Monday, 24 October 2005

Monday was originally supposed to be spent on Princess’s private island, Princess Cays, but under the new itinerary, it was a sea day. We were traveling through the Bahamas, southeast towards the Windward Passage which separates Cuba and Hispaniola. We actually were within sight of Cuba for quite a ways during the day.

I woke up at about 6:40 and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I changed, put on a hat and went topside to get some pictures of the sunrise. There were a few people up already in addition to the crew, some on the jogging/walking track and some making their way to the breakfast buffet.

Once on deck, I was almost blown overboard. We were making good speed, maybe 25 knots, and there was a fierce crosswind blowing from the starboard side to the port side. I had to take off my hat to keep it from being blown off my head. It was also cloudy, so I didn’t get any pictures of the sun coming up.

Along the way, I ran into several crew members and they all had a “Good morning” or “How are you today?” for me. I was very impress by the service on the ship. From the bar staff to the cabin stewards to the folks at the purser’s desk, everyone was very nice, polite and quick. The Star has about the same number of crew as the Mariner, even though there are about 500 fewer passengers, and it showed in the way Princess takes care of their guests.

After walking around the deck for a little while and leaning into the wind a lot, I went to the Horizon Court and checked out the breakfast buffet. I found most of the standard fare; scrambled eggs, hotcakes, bacon, sausage, oatmeal. On Monday there were grits although on some days there was cream of wheat where the grits had been the day before.

There was lots of fresh fruit and rolls, although there was no omelette station and oddly, there was no soda fountain. In order to get soft drinks, I had to go outside to the bar. I recognise that not everyone drinks soda/cola/pop/coke for breakfast, you’d think there would be a place to get soft drinks near the buffet for lunch, dinner and midnight snacks.

After breakfast, I went back on deck to take some pictures because Sarah was sleeping in. A word of warning when you travel to the Caribbean: when you leave you air-conditioned room and step out into the heat and humidity, your camera will take several minutes to adjust and un-fog. I snapped a few photos the headed back to the room.

Sarah was up and getting ready to go to the spa. Because we were diverted from Cozumel, we wouldn’t be going to Tulum, the only Mayan city on the coast. Sarah was looking forward to that trip, but since we weren’t going, she decided to go to the spa and splurge on a “stones” massage where the masseur uses heated rocks therapeutically. Afterwards, she said it was very good.

While Sarah was in the spa, I went to the shopping seminar. Led by the ship’s shopping guru, these seminars give cruisers a heads up on customs regulations, what to see, things to buy and showcase merchants who pay the cruise lines to be “recommended and guaranteed”. This means that in exchange for a kickback, the cruise line sends patrons to certain stores. In exchange, the merchants agree to guarantee that their goods are authentic (real Rolexes instead of counterfeit) and that they provide certain warranties and a higher level of service.

That’s not to say that a store that isn’t “recommended and guaranteed” is necessarily going to stiff you on some merchandise, but if they screw too many people over, the cruise line will stop sending people their way and may even say things that aren’t so nice about them.

The briefing was quick, highlighted many of the same shops and merchants that we saw on St. Thomas and Sint Maarten last year, but was still very interesting. Jen, the shopping person, was very knowledgeable and funny, and like all the other Princess staff, said hi when we saw her around the boat or in town. She went over what to see and do in Ocho Rios, Georgetown and Costa Maya and had lots of handouts for each stop.

After the shopping seminar, Sarah and I met for a buffet lunch, then she, Charley and Kari went to a tasting while I walked a couple of miles on the jogging track. When the dive shop opened, I rented a mask with prescription lenses in them, fins, a snorkel and a vest at the weekly rate of $25. We had made arrangements in advance to go snorkeling with a dive shop on Grand Cayman that was recommended to me by some folks on the cruisecritic.com message boards and I planned to go snorkeling on Princess Cays as well.

Sarah said they tried six wines at the wine tasting, three whites and three reds. I don’t drink wine because it causes me to break out into hives and have trouble breathing, but the other three did their share to decrease their risk of heart disease (at least that was their excuse). Since I didn’t go, they got stuck at a table with a single English gentleman who drank the rest of the wine they didn’t want (it’s alcohol; it cleans itself).

Monday night was our first formal night, so we all got dressed up and went to dinner in the Amalfi dining room. We took the obligatory pictures, both at the table, and in front of the fake scenery. I had crayfish over saffron rice and spinach while Sarah had the tenderloin. The food was excellent. I had the cheesecake (again) and Sarah had a chocolate souffle which wasn’t very chocolatey (I mentioned this for yesterday and it’s a theme you will see again).

While at dinner the Commodore came over the ship’s speakers and announced a change in itinerary. Instead of doing our revised western Caribbean route, we would instead be headed to the eastern Caribbean. There was much groaning about this, but what can you do about it?

I didn’t mind being diverted because of the weather, but I did mind no one bothering to tell us what was going on. I’ve heard that Princess allows its captains to make changes to the itinerary; after all they know better what the conditions are than some guy in an office in Los Angeles. Personally, I think Princess knew the western Caribbean wasn’t going to be in business due to the hurricane. The folks in the offices know what shops are open and what ports are clear long before the ship captains do. I think they withheld this information because they didn’t want people cancelling when their western Caribbean trip became an eastern Caribbean trip, and that pisses me off.

I certainly would not have cancelled my cruise because of a change in itinerary, but people were scrambling to find shore excursions in Costa Maya after their Cozumel excursions were cancelled, and now people were scrambling to find excursions in three new ports. I think it to be inexcusable to have a webpage that does not have a link to weather updates. Royal Caribbean told their passengers a few days in advance about changes being made to itineraries and didn’t mess with their passengers. I could barely get Princess to acknowledge that there was a hurricane in the area.

This more than anything will keep me from cruising with Princess again in the future. I understand that acts of god sometimes cause plans to change. If a category 5 storm wipes out Cozumel, it would be irresponsible to send anyone there. Likewise, with flooding in Jamaica, it might be a bad idea to dock at one of their ports. But at least tell folks what’s going on.

It’s like when your kid is out with his or her friends. Parents don’t want to know specifics, but if you don’t tell them where you’re going, who you’re going with and when you’re going to be home, chances are, you won’t be going out in the future.

We grumbled at the table about the change in plans, but sucked it up. After all, what are we going to do? Leave the boat?

The new plan was as follows:

Tuesday: San Juan, Puerto Rico
Wednesday: Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas (US Virgin Islands)
Thursday: Road Town, Tortola (British Virgin Islands)
Friday: at sea
Saturday: Princess Cays
Sunday: return

We were going to be in San Juan from 5 pm until midnight so there were no excursions, but new excursions were being printed for St. Thomas and Tortola. I hoped the dive shop where I had originally scheduled to go snorkeling was still there and that they wouldn’t be charging me since the ship was no longer going to make it to port

We left dinner and went to a show in the Vista Lounge, which is on deck 7 aft. The featured performer was John Ferrentino a stand-up comic and magician. He looks a lot like John Goodman and was pretty funny. Charley, Kari and Sarah drank a lot, although they also commented throughout the week that the drinks served in the lounges were pretty weak, although those served at the bar were much stronger.

After that, we went to Princess’s version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” which was pretty lame. The questions were easy and the people they had on it were idiots. After the show, we hit the buffet again for a quick bite to eat before bed.

Day 4, Tuesday, 25 October 2005

Under the new itinerary, Tuesday would be spent mostly at sea, with us pulling into San Juan at 5:00 pm so we had nothing really to do for the day. There were also no excursions through Princess since we were getting in so late but many of the shops were staying open later due to the influx of 2,600 cruisers with cabin fever.

As the week progressed, I started sleeping in later and later as I got off my regular schedule and onto a vacation sleep rhythm. I still got up before Sarah and went to the Horizon Court for breakfast where I had my usual: scrambled eggs, bacon, smoke salmon, cottage cheese, couple of rolls and grits.

I then went to another shopping seminar, which started out with Jen saying, “Everything I told you yesterday; well, forget it.”

She then briefed us on what there was to see and do in San Juan, Charlotte Amalie and Road Town.

After the shopping seminar, I went out by the pool and walked around the jogging/walking track a few times. The wind was still howling, party because the ship was making good time and partly because of some of the outlying winds from Tropical Storm Alpha that was brewing south and east of us. Sarah laid out for a while then had a room service lunch before docking in San Juan.

We met Charley and Kari at the Horizon Court for a quick bite before hitting San Juan. It seemed that everybody and their brother was in Puerto Rico. On most eastern Caribbean itineraries, San Juan is not a regular port of call, although some cruises start and end there. We didn’t know what to expect, so everyone ate a little bit in case we didn’t find anything and then went up on deck to watch the sun set and the ship dock.

As we were coming in, a ship whose markings I didn’t recognise was leaving–it wasn’t a Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Princess or Carnival boat, that much I’m sure of–and we were following a Royal Caribbean Voyager-class ship into the port. From the top deck of the Star we could see over the fort that guards San Juan Harbor and saw a Carnival boat and the superstructure of another Voyager-class Royal Caribbean boat.

I took some pictures of San Juan and it turns out that the other ships in port were Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas and Explorer of the Seas, the Carnival Victory and us. In addition to the unidentified ship we passed on the way in, that makes five cruise ships in port that day bringing maybe 10,000 tourists (and their dollars) to down. It was extra-busy in San Juan, but I’m sure no one was complaining.

After watching the boat dock, we went below to disembark. It was a zoo. On the way down, the excursions desk released the excursions for Tortola and we tried to get a snorkeling trip there. I asked a couple of people and they all said that snorkeling on St. Thomas or Tortola was about the same. In fact, the islands are so close together, sometimes the excursions end up in the same places. I had wanted to do some shopping on St. Thomas (since the customs allowances are different there) so we tried to get a snorkeling trip out of Tortola.

Unfortunately, the one snorkeling trip they had was sold out when we got there, which was about half an hour after the Tortola excursions were opened. I was pretty bummed out until the excursions desk manager, a Kiwi named Peter, said, “Hold on just a second; I’ll be right back” and then he disappeared.

The other girl at the desk, a super-hot girl from Canada named Brianne said he was checking with the tour operator about adding some additional slots. It turns out that in the mad rush to book excursions on Tortola (unexpected by both Princess and the operators), there were initially only 10 seats available on the snorkeling trip.

I don’t know what strings he had to pull or who he owes a favour to now, but after about 10 minutes, Peter emerged from the back room, asked for our cruise cards and said, “I got an extra 15 spots on the boat for you guys and anyone else who wants to go.”

Peter gets big props from me not only for not blowing me off, but being very professional. We put him in for employee of the month before the trip ended.

With our excursion tickets in hand, we went back to the disembarkation point and waited for them to let us off the boat. Usually, getting off the boat at a port is pretty easy and, for the most part, painless. Often the ship is docked (or docking) right about the time people are getting up, and since most of the shops on the islands don’t open until 9:00 or 10:00 am local time, the only people who are in a hurry to get off the ship are the folks with an early shore excursion.

Not this time. Everyone wanted off the boat at the same time because it was 5:00 pm and people either wanted to do some shopping before everything closed or they wanted to get to a restaurant before the throngs of cruisers from the Mariner beat them there.

Disorganisation seems to be a hallmark of Princess. From their non-existent weather notification system to the hurried embarkation system, the disembarkation at San Juan was easily the worst of them all.

As I mentioned before, disembarkation usually isn’t a big deal because not everyone is getting off the boat at the same time. But because everyone was getting off the boat at the same time, we were crowded like cattle into the small spaces at the gangways so we could swipe our cards indicated that we had left the ship and then walk down on the dock.

The line started moving and then stopped. And we waited and waited and waited. While Charley and I were at the excursion desk booking our snorkeling trip for Thursday, Sarah and Kari had moved ahead. Charley linked up with them, but I was stuck further back in line. I did meet a newly married couple from New Jersey and we compared notes about different cruise lines (they like Norwegian and had good things to say about Bermuda).

Later, I found out that the hold up was a kid in a motorised wheelchair was stuck at the gangway. There are two gangways on the Star, one forward and one midships. We were at the forward gangway, which is not handicapped-accessible, but the midships gangway is. Of course, no one from Princess ever bothered to say so, and the kid and his family were stuck at the exit point with a thousand ancy cruisers behind them. Sarah says one of the crew helped another guy carry the wheelchair down the gangway while the kid’s father carried the boy.

With the gangway cleared the rest of us were able to disembark the ship and make our way into San Juan. As we were exiting the cruise ship terminal, we saw a couple of folks going the other way with their luggage. After talking to some of the crew, we found out that several people who had arrived in Ft. Lauderdale late had been flown to Ocho Rios to meet up with the boat and then when the itinerary changed again, they were flown to San Juan. I hope Princess gave them gobs and gobs of shipboard credits or something for all their headache.

The first place we went was Barrachina’s, a combination shop and restaurant which claims to have invented the piña colada, although several other establishments claim the same thing. Sarah and I split the chicken nachos and crabcake appetizers. I don’t like coconut, so I didn’t have one, but the piña coladas were reported to be very good.

We left Barrachina’s and walked down a couple of the narrow streets in San Juan. The smell of diesel fuel and car exhaust was too much for Sarah so we quickly got off the main drag, located the Hard Rock Café where I bought a city t-shirt and then headed over to Señor Frog’s. The line was out the door, so we just took a picture and then headed back to the ship.

On the way back into the cruise terminal, we passed a duty-free store that was featuring different flavours of Bacardi rum. Kari and Sarah had a couple of shots, although we didn’t buy anything because the prices are so much better on St. Thomas.

Since we didn’t get a lot to eat at Barrachina’s, we headed up to the Portofino dining room, which features anytime dining, as we were way past our seating time in the Amalfi dining room. We were seated with a guy named Hank and his wife and another couple from Texas. Hank and I compared cruise notes and he told us that the AC in their room had been broken for a couple of days and that the battery in their door had died so they couldn’t get in for an hour or so. He was less than impressed by the service provided by the ship’s maintenance staff, but liked the folks who operated on the “front side” of the operation.

He said part of the delay was due to most of the crew being tied up by a US Coast Guard inspection and drill, and we did see several guys in USCG coveralls walking throughout the ship while we were in San Juan.

I had the veal which was superb while Sarah had the beef tenderloin. I’m not usually big on veal, but this fell right off the bone and wasn’t overcooked as veal sometimes comes. Sarah got a chocolate mouse dessert and told the waiter that she wasn’t getting enough chocolate, so he had them drizzle some extra chocolate sauce and chocolate chips on hers. I’ve got a picture somewhere, I’ll post later.

After dinner, we went to the always funny “Liar’s Club” where various members of the cruise director’s staff are given a word and the audience tries to figure out which ones are lying about the word and which ones are telling the truth.

The words were stinkibus, pooter, mushfaker and kakkalak. It was very, very funny. The Liars Club was followed by karaoke, which was surprisingly good. Often the people who sing karaoke are either self-deluded or they know they’re the butt of the joke, but of the 9 or so people who performed, only one was bad and the other 8 were above average and two guys were professional singers. The highlight was a big black man from Birmingham, England named Trevor who rocked the house with his rendition of “Me & Mrs. Jones”. Charley was so inspired, that he signed up, but didn’t get to sing that night.

After karaoke ended, we headed back up on deck and watched as the ship departed. The Mariner had already left, but the Explorer and Victory remained in port. Then it was back to the room to get ready for St. Thomas.

Day 5, Wednesday, 26 October 2005

We were in St. Thomas last year when we did the eastern Caribbean, so I really was not psyched up about going there again, only a year later. The one bright spot is that the customs allowances change when you visit St. Thomas. Instead of 1 litre of alcohol per person being duty free, you now gets 6 litres per person. In addition, every person gets an additional $800 customs exemption on other big-ticket item purchases and smokers can bring back additional cigarettes.

Shopping guru Jen went over these during her shopping seminar and called St. Thomas the place to go shopping on this cruise. Even though I’m not big into shopping for jewelry and other stuff, I have to admit, they’ve got a lot of stuff there, ranging from the chinciest of crap to the nicest electronics, diamonds and watches around.

The boat docked early in the morning, but we didn’t get off until after breakfast. The shops didn’t open until 10:00 am and we weren’t taking any excursions. Last year we did an island driving tour in a rickety old tour bus that groaned going up hill and smoked at the brakes when going downhill. Sarah encouraged Charley and Kari to go on a similar tour, but instead they tagged along with us.

The first place we went was A.H. Riise, one of the “recommended and guaranteed” liquor stores on our list. We did a fair amount of business with them last year and were very happy to do the same this year. We picked up some Cruzon dark rum for $4.95 a litre (which runs about $15.95 a litre here), some Jose Cuervo (2 litres for $21.95), some Crown Royal (2 litres for $29.95) and some other liquor at anywhere from 20-40% of the US retail price. Another great thing about going to the “recommended and guaranteed” stores is that they’ll ship the items right to the boat, so instead of having to carry 9 litres of liquor and its bottles (probably 25 pounds), we paid for it and then left.

Charley was also searching for something nice for his grandparents; we didn’t find anything at the Havensight shopping center which is close to the cruise docks. They have a lot of small stores that either entice you to go downtown to the larger stores or sell crap. One other place we stopped at Havensight was the Bernard K. Passman gallery. Check out their website here. Bernard K. Passman specialises in black coral jewelry and it is absolutely exquisite. I bought a pendant for Sarah last year and this year she picked up a necklace and earrings to go with it.

I have a feeling that now whenever we are near a Passman gallery, we’re going to have to get something.

Since we didn’t find anything for Charley’s grandparents at the Havensight area, we took a cab downtown. Even though St. Thomas is in the US Virgin Islands, they drive on the left side of the road and our driver was a little maniacal. I hope everyone remembers how this ride was the next time they feel like commenting on the way I drive.

Anyway, we got downtown and walked through some of the shops, which were often larger versions of the shops at Havensight. Unlike some of the other places you go in the Caribbean (like Nassau), the stuff at St. Thomas is generally on the upper end of the quality scale. Make no mistake about it; they still sell their share of chincy tourist stuff, but they also sell a lot of Rolex and Philip Stein watches, Lladro and other name-brand stuff, often at rates significantly lower than at US retail stores.

Charley found a bowl or something for his grandparents and Sarah picked up a matted map of the Caribbean to commemorate our trip. I went to the Diamonds International Watch & Design store and found a Philip Stein watch I liked that retails in the US for about $700 with a sticker price of $595 and the woman at the counter immediately told me I could have it for the bargain price of $476.

I couldn’t bring myself to pay that for a watch, but I didn’t know what they cost back home. Oprah apparently swears by them and the next time I’m in the Caribbean, I may have to pick one up, if I can get a comparable price.

After shopping for a little while, we stopped in a café for a break, then shopped round some more before taking another cab ride back to the boat. This driver was not only maniacal, but has some severe road-rage issues. So remember, folks, when riding with me, it can always be worse.

Sarah went back to the ship to take a nap, while I shopped around some more. I didn’t find anything, went to the room, put on my bathing suit and went to hang out in one of the ship’s hottubs.

Dinner for Wednesday evening was set for Sabatini’s, which is a specialty restaurant on the Star. Royal Caribbean has a similar restaurant on the Mariner called Portofino’s. Both feature Italian cuisine and carry a $20 per person “cover charge”. Each ship also has a steakhouse on board, but since we can get steaks at home, we opted for Italian.

Sabatini’s was unique in that the only course we ordered was the main course. The servers brought everything else out and let us choose which items we wanted and let us pass on everything else. It was very much like eating at a dim sum restaurant in that respect.

There were eight or so appetizers ranging from potato latkes topped with caviar to a cured beef filet with mozzarella cheese to shrimp and artichoke under white truffle oil. Following the appetizers were a variety of pizzas featuring smoked salmon, a Hawaiian pizza and one with a blend of cheeses, peppers and zucchini. After that was a soup course and a pasta course. The cannelloni was especially good.

For our main courses, I got two cold-water lobster tails with a saffron rice and butter, Sarah had a rosemary spring chicken, Kari had the Chilean sea bass and Charley had the jumbo sea scallops. After the main course, I went back for more and had the tiger prawns glazed in a garlic sauce over more saffron rice.

I was all set to have a third main course, langoustines served scampi-style with lime and cilantro, but the others said they wanted to be done before the show, so I relented and we went for dessert. Sarah had the tiramisu and I had more cheesecake. All the courses were excellent and the dim sum-style they served made it easy to try a little bit of everything without getting full. The only disappointment was in the dessert course, which showcased items which may as well have been from the Olive Garden. Still, it was a very enjoyable meal (even if I was deprived of a third main course at dinner).

Following dinner, Sarah and I went to a show in the main theater called “Give My Regards” which featured showtunes from Broadway. It had a little bit of everything from West Side Story to Showboat to Porgy & Bess. Charley and Kari didn’t go; I don’t know why.

After the show, we went back to our room where Sarah and I changed into our “tropical” attire and headed out to deck 14 aft for a beach party, which was basically an excuse to sell more watered-down drinks. We had a good time, danced a little bit and got leyed before bed.

Day 6, Thursday, 27 October 2005

The third of our unscheduled stops was to the island of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. It’s literally right around the corner from St. Thomas, but the Star went out to sea overnight and then came into port first thing in the morning so they could operate the casino and shops on board.

One of the original excursions we were going to take was a snorkeling trip on Grand Cayman to Stingray City, a sandbar where you can feed stingrays by hand. I was excited about that trip and had originally planned to go with an excursion through Princess when some friends from the message boards at Cruise Critic recommended a dive shop called Captain Marvin’s (not Captain Morgan’s as Sarah kept saying).

Unfortunately, since we weren’t going to Grand Cayman, we had to find another snorkeling trip, especially since I had rented the mask with prescription lenses in them on Monday. We booked the excursion through Princess (since access to the internet from the boat cost 35¢ per minute and was dial-up slow) without knowing anything about the dive shop or even where we were going.

Thursday started slow; I was sleeping in later and later the longer I was away from home. When I did get up, we noticed a funny paint-like smell in our cabin. It was in the hallway, too, and we never found the source, although we did report it to the maintenance staff and it was gone by the afternoon.

We went up to the Horizon Court for breakfast and then walked into town. Tortola is an under-developed island and that’s not a bad thing. There was a small tent area set up where some local merchants sold some touristy stuff and “downtown” was a short walk past that. The entire population of the British Virgin Islands is something like 11,000 and most of them live in the capitol of Road Town, which still isn’t a lot of people.

Although not a major destination like Charlotte Amalie or Philipsburg, Sint Maarten, Road Town is trying to become a destination for tourists and cruise ships. There wasn’t a lot to see in town, mostly some small jewelry shops, local restaurants and some other stores. We did find a store that dealt in black coral jewelry, but they were no Passman Gallery.

While on the way back to the ship, some clouds rolled in and it started to rain. It was a quick Florida rain; fifteen minutes of showers and then clear sky. It did this three times while we were there.

We stopped in at the Sunny Caribbee Spice Company and Art Gallery which featured local spices and some pungent rum ice tea. Not finding anything in town, we picked up a stone figurine (“They statues!”) and a cheap Tortola t-shirt at the tent market. Some of the other cruisers rented mopeds to explore the island and tried not to run over the chickens that walked freely on the road.

After a quick bite to eat, we got ready for our snorkeling trip. The dive shop that operated the excursion is called Sail Caribbean Divers and the crew was very friendly, professional and on the ball. Even the novices felt comfortable (initially) on the rough seas. I would snorkel with them again in a heartbeat.

In addition to the 18 or so snorkelers on the excursion, there were four SCUBA divers, the Star’s diving instructor and two SCUBA students who were becoming PADI-certified. We boarded their boat, the Endeavour and set out across the Sir Francis Drake Channel first to the wreck of the RMS Rhone, a mail steamer that was sunk by a category 5 hurricane in 1867. After dropping anchor, the crew quickly determined that the current was too strong so they scrubbed that dive and we went to another location where we did a reef dive.

It was absolutely wonderful. The current was moderate and visibility was about 100 feet. Unfortunately for many of the snorkelers, the trip out was very rough and choppy and between the motion of the boat and swallowing too much sea water, a couple of the snorkelers got sick. Even I felt a little queasy after a while and I’m not prone to motion sickness.

I had bought a couple of waterproof cameras at Wal-Mart before we left because I’d rather pay them $8 for a camera than pay Princess $19 for the same thing. I took about 15 pictures and saved the rest for Princess Cays. After about an hour in the water, we weighed anchor and headed back to the Star.

Motion issues aside, the excursion was a lot of fun and I wished we could have done the wreck dive at the RMS Rhone. I can’t say enough about the staff at Sail Caribbean Divers. Jenny, Melissa, Peter and Eamon put together a great trip, especially since they only had a couple of days to fit us into their schedule.

After we got back to the ship, we got ready for dinner. I had the tiger prawns and Sarah had the leg of lamb. Both were very good, although the tiger prawns at Sabatini’s were better.

The show for the night was stand-up comedian Scott Wyler. You can watch a movie of him here (you need Quicktime to view). He was pretty funny, if a little dry. Following Scott was London Pub Night in the Vista Lounge. Supposedly an “adult comedy” act, it was more PG-13 and not quite as funny as I thought it was going to be.

The “adult” events on the Mariner were rowdier and funnier, but they tried hard. Tim was pretty good as the host with his typical British sense of humour, but I still didn’t think it lived up to its “adult” billing.

Day 7, Friday, 28 October 2005

Our fifth day on the ship was a sea day as we left the Virgin Islands and headed back towards the Bahamas. I actually slept longer than Sarah did, so that means I was truly on vacation.

After a trip to the Horizon Court buffet, we went to a culinary “demonstration” featuring the executive chef on the boat, all the maitre d’hotels of the main dining rooms and much of the dining room staff. The show was very funny with a lot of singing, dancing, rubber chickens, tomfoolery and even a little cooking thrown in. After that, they opened up one of the galleys and let people walk through, only to dump them out amidst racks and piles of clothes, handbags and other items that were “on sale”. It was like Disney World.

After that we went to the pool. Sarah laid out while I walked on the jogging track. I skipped lunch because I was saving up for lobster and steak night. After a little while, Sarah went to take a nap while I lounged around in a hottub and talked with some of the other passengers. We compared notes about the different cruise lines and this cruise.

We got dressed up for the second of the cruise’s formal nights and then went to dinner, this time bypassing all of the ship’s photographers. At $20 a pop for each of the pictures, I’d rather take my own (which I did).

Sarah had the beef wellington while I took my revenge on Princess for not having an ice cream machine by the pool. I initially ordered the lobster (two tails served with saffron rice pilaf and asparagus) and advised Ferdinand that I would probably be having another plate when I was done. On my second plate (four lobster tails), Kari, who had also ordered the beef wellington, found the meat to be too tough and asked for the lobster as well. When she was done, Ferdinand came by with another two lobster tails and asked if we’d like some more. Both Kari and I said yes so he gave us each one (that’s five for me).

As he was pouring melted butter over the lobster, Charley jokingly told Ferdinand to bring me some more because I was just getting started. Ferdinand raised his eyebrow and walked away. A short time later, he came back out with a plate of six lobster tails. He gave one to the guy at the next table over and then brought the remaining five over to me. I don’t think he meant to give me all five, but when he offered, I took them. Who am I to turn down “free” lobster? Especially after having been screwed out of the ice cream machine by the pool.

I was at 10 lobster tails, plus an escargot appetizer, a salad, two rolls, two rice pilaf and asparagus side orders and that’s when I quit. Not because I was done, but because Sarah said other people were beginning to stare. Everyone else at my table was digging into dessert as I was finishing lobster tail #10 (#12 for the cruise counting the two I had at Sabatini’s on Wednesday). Besides, I need a goal to shoot for on my next cruise.

For the record, I could have probably had three or four more, but I settled for a slice of cheesecake.

Here’s the deal, Princess Cruises: put the ice cream machine back by the pool and the next time I cruise with you guys, I will voluntarily cap my lobster consumption at four for the entire cruise. You can go bankrupt feeding me lobster or you can go bankrupt feeding me ice cream. Take your choice.

After dinner, we went to the main theater where they had a show called “Cinematastic” which features tunes from the movies including, but not limited to, Dirty Dancing, Risky Business, The Muppett Movie and Titanic. I wondered if the latter may have been in poor taste considering the venue. At least we wouldn’t freeze to death in the Caribbean.

The show was pretty good with a high production value. Princess had four featured performers and a dozen or so backup singers and dancers, which was more than were on the Mariner. The dancing also featured some not quite-Cirque de Soliel acrobatics and was better than I expected.

We left the show and went to the ever-popular “Marriage Game” where three couples compared answers while embarrassing themselves and their mates. There was a newlywed couple who had gotten married the Saturday before we left, another couple that had been married for 20 years and a third couple who had been married for 30 years.

They asked them questions like, “What is one gift that your wife bought you that she thinks you like, but you really don’t?”, “If your wife could change one part of her body what would it be?”, “What is the first thing your husband reaches for or touches in the morning?”, “If you could be anyone’s bar of soap, except your wife’s, who would it be?”, and “Where was your first kiss and how would you rate it on a scale of 1 to 10?”

The newlywed couple won, while the 20-year husband dug himself a hole after revealing that he’d like to be Lesley’s (from the cruise director’s staff) bar of soap, thought his wife needed a boob job and that he has a name for his private parts.

The event after the Marriage Game was karaoke again. There were some more strong performances, including Charley who got up to sing “It’s 5 O’clock Somewhere”. I rather missed the karaoke on the Mariner which featured people who should never be allowed to sing in private much less in public.

The four of us left karaoke for the champagne waterfall, 744 glasses arrayed in 17 tiers (one for each deck on the ship) with champagne being poured down the pyramid. Charley and Kari disappeared not long afterward. We learned later that Kari had downed six glasses of champagne in rapid succession and couldn’t feel her lips and had to be walked to her cabin.

Sarah went to the Vista lounge to hold some seats for us at the late night hypnotist and I went back to the cabin to ditch my jacket. On my way back downstairs, a young girl who was about 8 years old asked if I had seen her mother. She had her room key around her neck, but didn’t know where her folks where. The mother had last been seen in the casino and the father was at a show. The girl’s name was Caitlin and I walked her down to the purser’s desk. We looked around the champagne waterfall, but didn’t see the mother. I left Caitlin with Kara at the purser’s desk and went on to the hypnotist. After the show, I checked at the desk and the night clerk had not heard of any missing parents, so I am assuming that the family was reunited.

The late, late show was comedian/hypnotist Ed Fernandez. I’ve always been skeptical of hypnotists, but this guy seemed to be the real deal. He started with 18 volunteers, but sent people back to the audience who slipped out of the trance. Ed had folks impersonating Indian opera singers, convinced they were on the Jerry Springer Show and doing things that were generally embarrassing to themselves in front of people they would never see again. This show also carried the “adult” billing and lived up to it.

Day 8, Saturday, 29 October 2005

Our final day of the cruise was supposed to be spent on Princess Cays, a private beach area on the southern tip of Eleuthera. In the middle of the Bahamas, Eleuthera is 100 miles long and only 2 miles wide. We got up early so we could catch a tender to the beach early and get one of the prime spots of real estate (in/near some shade or an umbrella).

They were passing out tender tickets in the Explorer’s lounge and selling things like underwater cameras for use in the snorkeling/swimming areas. Charley, Sarah and I were hitting the beach early while Kari went to the spa to have her hair done. Then she was going to come out to the beach while Sarah went to the spa in the afternoon.

The three of us were sitting in the Horizon Court having breakfast when the Commodore came over the loudspeaker and announced that due to the weather (overcast and windy), the trip to Princess Cays was being cancelled and that we would have one more day at sea. Looking outside, it didn’t seem like such a bad idea. I don’t think it ever rained on us, but it was cloudy and there was a brisk breeze blowing, even when the boat wasn’t moving.

For this trip, we were supposed to have four port stops and ended up with three. I was happy that two of the three ports were places I hadn’t been before, but was disappointed we didn’t get to see Grand Cayman and Cozumel, but as I said before, the weather isn’t Princess’s fault.

We later learned that a cold front had come across the entire eastern seaboard and caught up with us on Saturday. I don’t think Princess Cays would have been too pleasant if we had gone ashore, so in retrospect, it was a good thing that we missed out on the beach.

With a beach day scrubbed, we took our stuff back to the room (I wonder if the people who bought the underwater cameras got their money back?) and unpacked our beach stuff. Sarah went out by one of the pools and I put in a couple of miles on the walking/jogging track.

One thing that surprised me about Princess was that they didn’t offer any end of the week specials. Maybe their spa people were booked anyway and they didn’t need to fill time, but on the Mariner, Royal Caribbean was offering $20 off this treatment or $40 off that treatment and has specials in their boutiques on shirts, liquor and jewelry. Princess offered none of that. They had a “featured” spa treatment of the day, but never any discounts, which I thought was odd.

They also had some shirts and apparel from the various ports on sale, but never offered anything off their Princess or Star Princess clothing. I might have bought a Star Princess t-shirt, if the pattern weren’t kind of ugly and it didn’t cost $15 (for instance, Sarah and I got Mariner of the Seas t-shirts 2 for $20 on the last day).

After some time on the track, where again, I felt like I was going to be blown over the side a couple of times, we went to lunch at the Horizon Court. I got some nice pictures of a rain storm the helm officer cleverly avoided and then it was back to the room to pack and fill out cruise evaluations, kudos, customs forms and gratuities.

We got all of our stuff packed and the liquor we bought on St. Thomas arrived mid-morning. We didn’t get into ours, but I’m sure a lot of other folks did as we were at sea with nothing else to do. We took two big suitcases, one soft-sided duffel bag and put the suitcases out in the hallway, keeping a change of clothes, our medicines and toiletries in the duffel bag.

Sarah then went to the spa for a deep-tissue massage while I hung out in one of the hottubs. One side effect of the wind was that the seas were unusually choppy. There was a lot of motion going on and the pool had some serious wave action happening. I joked to one of the other folks in the pool that I should have brought my body board.

The pool was very cold as the sun wasn’t out, so I stuck around in the hottub for a while before going to the dive locker to return the mask, snorkel and fins I had rented earlier in the week. Meaghan, the girl working the dive locker and SCUBA instructor, was very nice and only charged me the 1 day rate for a mask with prescription lenses instead of the weekly rate because we didn’t get to do Princess Cays that day. She was along on the dive/snorkel trip on Tortola and was generally helpful throughout the week.

On the way back to the room, I stopped by the spa and asked for a scale. I got on and checked in at 71 kg (about 156 lbs). When we were at Kristin and Matt’s, I stepped on their scale and came in at 61.8 kg (about 136 lbs). I know I didn’t put on 20 pounds during the cruise, so I know someone’s scale is off. I have a feeling that Kristin’s scale is about 10 pounds low because I usually weigh somewhere in the range of 140-145 lbs. and putting on 10 pounds on the cruise sounds about right.

I went back to the room and changed then went to the final Bingo where they gave away a $2,000 jackpot. Charley and Kari played; I didn’t. Some people go on cruises just to play bingo or gamble. I have never understood people who gamble on cruises. The odds of winning at bingo are astronomically low and the slot machines on cruise machines are notoriously tight, so why bother? I can see winning at the table games, but then again, you can play table games on riverboats, in Vegas or on Indian reservations.

You know you take bingo too seriously when you “shhhhh!” someone else who is talking quietly with a friend, which is what happened to me. Some old woman glared indignantly at me; I glared back.

The most entertaining thing about bingo was what they did to folks when there was a bongo (a false bingo claim). If you called out “bingo!” and were wrong, they made you come on stage, put on a funny had and do the chicken dance. It was very embarrassing (although probably not as embarrassing as revealing that your private parts have several names) and funny for the rest of us.

Throughout the day, I looked outside and noticed that the ship hardly seemed to be moving forward. Sure we were rocking and rolling along, but didn’t seem to be making much headway. I’m sure they were taking into account the fact that the original plan was to be anchored off Princess Cays all day long. At one point I looked out and saw three other cruise ships in close proximity; two were Carnival boats, I couldn’t make out the markings on the third. It was like being in an airport landing pattern. I wonder where they were headed because there were no other ships in port at Ft. Lauderdale when we were there.

One the way to dinner, we ran into Luis; I gave him a little extra gratuity because he was so good to us and he let us look around the suite he was cleaning. It was the size of two of our cabins, had a small sitting area and a jacuzzi tub. They also cost about four times as much.

To tell the truth, we were very happy with our inside cabin. We didn’t miss the window, they had lots of mirrors to make the room seem bigger and it had just as much room as a balcony room (without the balcony). I think the only way we would get a larger room is if we were traveling with young kids. If we were going with teenagers, I’d just get two rooms with adjoining doors.

For the final dinner, I had sea scallops and Sarah had the prime rib. Both were okay, although despite being pan fried, the scallops weren’t burned on the outside and weren’t dry on the inside, which is how people tend to (over) cook them. Dessert was baked Alaska, which was also very good, although I did go for the cheesecake, too.

After dinner, we went to the farewell show which featured comedian/juggler Jack Kalvan and once again Scott Wyler. Both guys were funny and it was especially interesting to watch the juggler work in the low confines of the Vista lounge instead of the main theater.

Following the comedy was the karaoke “finals” which featured six singers selected by the cruise director’s staff There were five guys and one girl. Thankfully, no one sang “My Way”. The winner was Trevor, the big guy from England who sang “Me & Mrs. Jones” and “Mack the Knife” earlier in the week. He won for “Mack the Knife” but I think that was only because they had another guy doing “Me & Mrs. Jones” for the finals.

That was the end of our cruise, as when we woke up, we knew we would be back in port.

Day 9, Sunday, 30 October 2005

We woke up Sunday morning to the sound of the guys in the cabin next door talking. They were up throughout the week at all hours. I never saw them, but they had a habit of leaving their TV on all day and would be up talking or yelling at the TV at the strangest times. I wanted to kick the wall down and strangle them.

We got up and went to breakfast in the Horizon Court. The ship was already docked and the crew was preparing for disembarkation. We finished breakfast then went back to the room to gather the rest of our stuff. We also found out (too late) that the vacuum toilets had been turned off, so we vacated the room with our duffel bag, my backpack, Sarah’s carry-on bag and the two boxes of liquor we had bought on St. Thomas.

We gathered in the Explorer’s Lounge and waited for our number to be called. When it was, we filed down the gangplank, went through immigration, customs and baggage claim and then looked for a taxi big enough to take all four of us and our crap to the airport.

FLL is only about two miles from Port Everglades, but it still cost us $8 a head for a taxi. While still on the ship, we had heard that the power was still out in much of Dade and Broward counties and that some people didn’t have running water either. Thankfully, FLL was open for business (we heard that they didn’t re-open until Wednesday or Thursday, depending on who was telling the story).

On the way to the airport, we saw lots of evidence that a hurricane had just passed through. Trees were blown over, stoplights were without power and some of the stoplights were on the ground. I don’t think there was too much damage, at least not as much as there had been in Orlando a year earlier. That’s one of the good things about being on the other side of the state from where a hurricane lands; by the time it got to Ft. Lauderdale, Wilma had lost much of her steam and so the only real damage was wind-related.

We got out of the cab at the airport, picked up our boarding passes, checked our luggage and then went through security. The flight board at FLL had our departing flight scheduled to be on time and I called Delta to make sure our connecting flights were also still a go (they were) and then we settled in for a long, long wait.

The cab dropped us off at FLL at 10:35 am, but our flight wasn’t until 3:15 pm. Sarah and I read while Charley did a crossword and Kari tried to sleep. After a while, we went to one of the lunch vendors, had a personal pizza lunch and watched football for a couple of hours before our flight was called. I also called Matt and made sure they made it through the storm okay. He said they didn’t have any damage to their house, but had lost power for four days (which is not pleasant in south Florida, even in October). When I called him, they were in the 20% of Broward County that did have power and were going on with their daily lives. He asked about the cruise and I told him that they’d have to come along for the next one.

While at FLL, we ran into Seri, our assistant waiter who had just wrapped up his contract on the Star. He was headed home to Thailand for three months before coming back to another Princess boat. As we were walking around the airport, Charley and Kari both asked a couple of times if the boat was still moving and my guess is that everyone’s equilibrium was off-kilter for a couple of days, thanks to the unusually rough seas we had for the last day.

We left FLL right on time and arrived at TPA 20 minutes early, so we had four hours in Tampa instead of 3 hours, 40 minutes. Ah, the price one pays for getting a cheap airfare.

The four of us had lunch at a Bacardi restaurant that featured all sorts of Bacardi liquor drinks and some barfood. Sarah and I split the conch fritters while watching football (Eagles/Broncos and Bucs/49ers) on the TVs. Our flight out of TPA was delayed for about half an hour as the flight coming in was late, so I picked up some soft-serve in a waffle cone at the airport. It was the first ice cream I had all week (except for the baked Alaska) and by God, if I was going to pay for it, I sure as hell wasn’t going to be paying Princess.

We were wheels-up in TPA at 8:30 for a supposed 7:58 take off, but the pilot made up some time in the air. As we were boarding, one of the pilots spotted the four of us each carrying our box of liquor and asked where we had gone. Charley told him that he would open his box if the pilot got him to Cincinnati in one piece. Charley has a bit of a problem with flying. I think it has to do with control issues, because he’ll fly with his dad with no problem, but the three puddle-jumpers we had on our return kind of freaked him out. At least none of the planes were turboprops.

We landed in CVG at 10:15 pm, which was five minutes ahead of our scheduled 10:20 arrival, but we didn’t have much time as our departure was scheduled for 11:00. I was very sad about this because the Brookstone in CVG had one of my massage chairs, but I didn’t get any seat time.

Soon enough, though, we were back in the air and headed back to West Virginia. When we left Florida, it was probably in the mid-70s. Cincinnati was about 46̊ and Sarah said “We’re not in Kansas any more.”

Our flight from CVG was wheels up right at 11:00 pm and landed at CRW at 11:50, about ten minutes ahead of schedule. Charleston was about 37̊ when we landed and that’s when I knew the vacation was over. I went out to the car while the other three picked up our luggage then we drove home.

There was no traffic out on Sunday night and we made it to Charley and Kari’s at about 12:40 am and were back in our house a little before 1 am. We unpacked our essentials and then left the rest of it until morning.

Our cruise was enjoyable and I think everyone had a good time. I still have issues with Princess for some of their procedural issues, but the Star Princess is a good boat with an excellent crew and lots to offer a cruiser. I think it’s a little unfair to compare her to the Mariner of the Seas; as she is a smaller boat and would probably be better compared to one of Royal Caribbean’s Radiance-class ships. I don’t know that I’d cruise with Princess again (especially during hurricane season), but I do know that I’ve got another cruise scheduled for the western Caribbean, and then we may be headed out to other ports of call, perhaps New England, Alaska or Europe.

Thanks for reading through all this. If you’re a cruiser and would like to compare notes or have any questions, send me an email. I took 778 or so pictures on the cruise (about 150 of which I had to throw out because they were blurry or otherwise unuseable), but once I sift through the rest, I will post some of my trip.

If you haver never cruised before, and have more questions abour cruising, you can check out the vacation diaries of my previous cruise if you go back to my October archive and read about that vacation or check out Cruise Critic for some more reviews, tips and pointers. As always, you can leave me a comment or send me an email by clicking on the appropriate links on this page.

Happy cruising!