Travelogue: Rhapsody of the Sea 1999
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Rhapsody Cruise Photo Itinerary: 12/11/99 – 12/20/99: Los Angeles then Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, and Cabo San Lucas by Richard Brodie

Cruise of the Millennium

Hunnybear and I scouted out the deal of the millennium on a Royal Caribbean cruise this week. Apparently the first half of December is bargain time for cruises, so we got this 7-night Mexican cruise from for an astounding $602 each plus air to LA. That’s half what I usually pay for a cruise. We decided on a leisurely schedule in case of flight delays, so we are overnighting in LA at the Westin LAX. We’ve got the whole time between now and the cruise start booked with seeing friends who live in LA.

This UA flight was previously scheduled as the one to put me over 100K miles, but with the UA 2500-mile bonus for Chicago problems I requalified for 1K on Dec. 1 returning from my Vegas jaunt with Kevin and Dave Rottweiller. Nevertheless, we’re taking the good planes to and from LA (meaning no 737s). I consider video an important part of the flight experience. It’s the only time I ever get to watch sitcoms. There’s one called “It’s Like…You Know” that seems like an attempt to be a twentysomething rip-off of Seinfeld. They also have “Spin City,” but I didn’t get to see it earlier in the month because the forward video screen was inoperative in FC on the 757.

Today we are set to cab it to the airport around 11:30 for our 12:45 flight. I want to leave a few minutes to chat with the ladies in the 1K room about some upcoming flights. I usually book them myself on United Connection but invariably screw something up, like leave myself a three-hour layover in Dulles. They wave their magic wands and fix it.

I have to say that initially I didn’t think 1K was that big a deal and I had planned to give half my business to Continental so as to qualify for PremEx on UA and Continental’s top level as well. But then the confirmable upgrades started arriving and I met the angels in the 1K room. That changed my mind. They really do treat 1Ks like kings, and really that’s what I look for in an airline.

The cruise itinerary takes us to Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, and Cabo San Lucas. For me, the ship is 90% of the cruise and I’m not too concerned about which ports we’re stopping at, although there are some (Enseñada and Casablanca) where if I go again I won’t bother to get off the ship. Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines (RCCL) has good food, good service, and a great casino. The ships are nice. The entertainment is just as cheesy as on other ships. Last time we cruised RCCL we were on the Majesty of the Seas. This time we’re on the Rhapsody of the Seas. Most of RCCL’s ships are the Something of the Seas. Pretty creative. Well, Holland America’s are all Something-Dam. And Renaissance are all the letter R followed by a number.

Anyway, Hunnybear was beaming as she came home from work yesterday because she is now officially on vacation! We watched Titanic last night.

Minibus to LA

We arrived at the 1K/FC checkin around 11:45 and waited only a couple minutes for Laney to check us in. We told her we were very excited to be going on our anniversary cruise. It’s two years since Hunnybear and I met in the Thai Airways Royal Orchid Lounge in Bangkok Airport. Laney was very happy about that and got us checked in in no time. I warned her that my bag was heavy, being full of all the changes of clothes that I like to bring on cruises. I suggested that she could lighten in by not putting the “priority” tag on the bags, since those are ignored anyway.

We took the subway to the north satellite and headed for the 1K room, which was conveniently right across from our gate. Laura, the newest angel, was there. I asked her how her magic wand was doing and she said she’d give it her best zap. She was able to fix one problem and wait-list us for a better connection returning from Tampa. Laura has a fantastic attitude and will be a welcome addition to the Seattle 1K room.

Our flight was delayed about 10 minutes, but we boarded the 319 only a bit late. It’s a small pane. There are only eight FC seats, the cloth kind that are very comfortable sitting upright but don’t provide much thigh support. On 757s there is not enough legroom in the first row with these seats installed. On Airbuses, I don’t like the front row anyway because it’s difficult to see the video screen, which lowers from overheard. The angle is too severe and there is glare from the overhead lights. The viewing is much better in row 2. We took seats 2CD. One uniformed pilot sat in front of Hunnybear in 1D. The other five customers in FC were regular Mileage Plus members. In coach were one 1K and two customers holding XF first-class award tickets who couldn’t get space on this connection. United really needs to add a couple more rows of FC to these smaller aircraft.

There was no preflight drink service. The excuse was that the aircraft arrived late, but I’ve found that there is rarely preflight drink service when boarding is through the front on narrowbody aircraft. Other than that, though, the service was pleasant.

The safety video was one I hadn’t seen before: it was a cartoon! I liked it.

We got the full lunch service on this flight, including a menu! Lunch was a choice of filet mignon or a turkey wrap. We chose the filet and asked for it to be as rare as possible, but it still came out well done. It had a nice barbecue sauce. The spinach soufflé accompanying was superb. Hunnybear tasted the Eli’s apple cheesecake and found it to be excellent, but more like apple pie than cheesecake. There was also a salad with lots of radicchio or Belgian endive or something. (Once, at a very pretentious restaurant, I was offered a salad with some vegetable that was supposed to be a cross between radicchio and Belgian endive. I mean, give me a break!)

I’ll sure be glad when they stop showing that Y2K readiness video. After that, the short was “Sin City.” As much as I like Michael J. Fox, this show is just bad. Please! What’s worse, they decided they had to show a “Christmas episode.” Bah humbug.

We got a surprise at the end of the trip. Laney, at check-in, had apparently made a notation in the manifest that it was our anniversary! We got a nice bottle of Louis Martini cabernet sauvignon compliments of United. The people across the aisle were on an award ticket to Hawaii for their honeymoon, and got a bottle of champagne! I love these little touches.

We arrived at gate 69B, the farthest gate from baggage claim, now apparently home of all Seattle flights. But miracle of miracles—the bags were waiting for us when we arrived at the carousel! We called the Westin LAX, wheeled our bags out to the center waiting area, basked in the beautiful Southern California sun and 20 seconds later the shuttle arrived. The driver ported our bags and whisked us to the Westin. I stood by the Starwood Preferred Guest line even though I could see no one was manning it as usual, but I do it on principle. No one was waiting anywhere. We got checked in by Joey, who apologized that once again all the suites were taken (there was a convention at the hotel) but gave us a King room on the Executive Floor with a view of the airplanes! I just love that

Hunnybear and I had time to go for a run before dinner, and we chose a route that took us directly under the landing pattern of the airplanes. It was so great. If you’re here, turn left out of the hotel lobby and then left again at the first light. We ran for 15 minutes and then doubled back for more planes. When a DC-10 landed directly over us, I braced myself to be swept up in wake turbulence like in the movie Pushing Tin. Didn’t happen.

Dinner was at a superb Polish restaurant in Santa Monica called Warsova. The duck was utterly outstanding. In fact, everything was. Highly recommended. Try the chilled Polish vodka. After dinner we went for a walk on the Third St. Promenade. We saw the new Discover Channel Store, which was very cool. On the top floor there is a “spy camera control center.” There are casino-like spy cameras throughout the store and you can turn and zoom them from there. Or at least, you can if you can pry loose the kids playing with it, which I couldn’t.

We returned to our Heavenly Bed, watched American Pie (good summer high-school flick), and drifted off to our last sleep on dry land for a week!

Rhapsody of the Seas

Tony and Judy picked us up at ten for a bon voyage brunch. They came up and we all admired the airplane view for a few minutes before going down to check out. Although the information in the room said that local phone calls were 85 cents plus 10 cents/minute after 20 minutes, the bill reflected only the 85-cent charge for two calls I made, both over 20 minutes but under an hour. I stood at the unmanned Starwood Preferred Guest sign and was waved over to the other side of the counter to check out with Ericka. This was stay #2 toward my two Free Fridays.

The paperwork accomplished, we packed into Tony and Judy’s Volvo and headed to beautiful Hermosa Beach (Hermosa literally means “beautiful” in Spanish). We arrived at Martha’s, a very popular beachfront restaurant, and was told the wait would be 30 minutes. Not too bad. So we walked up and down the beach, once again wondering why we don’t live here.

We were seated at a table outside with a comical tilt: it was actually placed on a little slope, so one had to be careful with coffee and juice. Hunnybear and I both ordered an omelet stuffed with goat cheese topped with green hummus. It was fabulous. Judy had scrambled eggs and toast with multicolored jam, and Tony felt like going straight to lunch, so he had a cheeseburger. It’s easy to see why this place is so popular. Apparently between mealtimes it becomes a hangout for local writers, who bring their laptops and work on the script that will catapult them to success.

Tony and Judy took us the scenic route to Los Angeles Harbor, through the stunning Palos Verdes (“green sticks”) area. The only thing that makes Palos Verdes a less than wildly desirable place to live is its distance from freeways: it takes a half-hour to get to and from. But it’s a hilly, treed set of neighborhoods, beautifully landscaped with some stunning views.

On the other side of the Palos Verdes peninsula was San Pedro, where the ships dock. Royal Caribbean had given us no information at all about how to find the ship other than that it departed from Los Angeles! Well, I figured, how hard could it be to find a cruise ship? It wasn’t hard. There were only two docked there on Sunday, the other being the Carnival Elation. Tony and Judy dropped us, we said our goodbyes, and we went to stand in the first of three long lines to get on board the ship. The lines moved quickly, in fact so quickly that we didn’t have time to finish up our paperwork! We got to the counter, got a cabin assigned, and wheeled our own luggage up the escalator to the ship. This was the first time I had ever been allowed to bring my own luggage on board, and it was great. Usually several hours elapse before the luggage arrives in the cabin. So we got to our inside room (no upgrade ), unpacked, and the cruise began.

The Rhapsody of the Seas is a beautiful new 2400-passenger ship. There are many nice touches, including very nice artwork all over. They have a nice big casino (although there was no “Sphinx” video slot, my favorite). I had booked the early seating, but when we looked at the schedule we decided we would prefer the late seating, so I stood in a long line to see the maitre d’. It was no problem switching, and we got a nice window table for 10 right near the entrance. The more the merrier is my philosophy.

My two favorite things to do on cruises are to play in the casino and to hang out at the piano bar. On the last two cruises, we had attracted less-than-stellar piano players. But this time we hit the jackpot. Maurice, the pianist, was a virtuoso with a huge repertoire, and played lots of my favorite Cole Porter for us. He also didn’t mind if I sang along (hopefully none of the guests minded either). To top it off, there are several player pianos on the ship, and those were playing Cole Porter too!

Like our other Royal Caribbean cruise, the food was excellent. I always ask for the waiter’s recommendation. Tonight he recommended the prime rib, so I took it. Hunnybear isn’t a big prime rib fan, but no problem: grilled salmon and NY steak are available every meal if you don’t like anything else on the menu. She tried the salmon and it was great. I managed to pass on dessert (let’s see how long that lasts) and Hunnybear had a sugar-free key lime pie (her favorite!). The other couples at our table were delightful. After dinner we stopped by the piano bar for a few more tuned with Maurice. He was about to take a break but since we arrived he stayed a while longer. When we returned to our room, it had exactly the right amount of rocking to make a perfect night.

A Day at Sea

Monday was a day at sea. We decided on the breakfast buffet rather than the sit-down. They had a nice selection of typical breakfast food with made-to-order omelets. The oatmeal, like every oatmeal I’ve ever had on a cruise ship, was gummy. We sat next to a player piano playing selections from Cole Porter’s Anything Goes and watched the wake.

After breakfast we power-walked around the top deck for awhile (it’s a little over a quarter-mile around!) and then we sat by the pool and read. I had started William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury on the last three trips but finally I got past the first few pages. It is a very difficult book to begin, one of those novels where the reader has no idea what’s going on or even who’s narrating for quite some time. But it came in high on the top 100 books list on the Internet, so I figured it must be worth it.

This ship has a kiddie pool area completely separate from the main pool, so the main pool area was relaxing and fairly quiet, at least until the band started playing Margaritaville. For lunch we had some burgers and barbecued chicken and ribs at the between-mealtimes place in the Solarium. More reading and relaxing and a long afternoon nap and it was time for our daily run. About 10 laps around the ship took me a half-hour. It was formal night, so we cleaned up and dressed for dinner. Hunnybear wore a stunning ribbed black dress and I wore black with a white silk band-collar shirt. I used to bring a tuxedo onto cruise ships, but being a couple pounds overweight I no longer fit into it, and since very few other passengers make the effort to dress up I now go with the high end of casual-elegant.

We met the captain, Arnolf Remo (I guess the D and F keys are close together on the typewriter keyboard), got a photo taken with him, and entered the cocktail party. Meeting the captain is a classic cruise experience. The highest-ranking female on the cruise staff stands at the front of the line in a pretty cocktail dress. She greets you (I said, “Hi Julie!” even though her name was Karen) and asks for your last name. On my first nine cruises I answered the question and got introduced to the captain as “Mr. And Mrs. Lion.” This time I wised up: I said, “Julie, I am Mr. Lion and this is Miss Bear.” She introduced us to the captain properly, we got the photo, and went in. They had outstanding hors d’oeuvres, including caviar. This is one of the few times you get free drinks on a cruise, so it’s good to grab a couple and take one with you to dinner to save five bucks. Also you can special-order if you don’t want a martini, yellow bird, or Bahama mama.

The recommendation for dinner tonight was veal or filet mignon. Hunnybear and I both ordered veal, and our waiter Andie suggested we also get a filet mignon to share between us. He sized me up real quick as the gourmand at the table, I think. We accepted his kind offer and I ordered a double shrimp cocktail to boot. The veal was dry, but the filet was nice if a bit fatty. The vegetables on this line continue to be outstanding. I asked for another order of spinach after I finished.

The travel agents of both the couples to my right and left had lied and said it was their anniversaries today, so they both got little cakes with their name written on them and we had to sing the ridiculous “Happy Anniversary” song set to the tune of Happy Birthday. I told the headwaiter that tomorrow was really Hunnybear's and my anniversary (we met Dec. 14, 1997 in the Thai Airways Royal Orchid Lounge in Bangkok) and he said he’d take care of us.

We spent the evening in the casino, where I taught Hunnybear to play craps. She did OK but I got hoovered. We ran into our new friend Arnie, an insurance salesman from Phoenix, and moved over to the $10 blackjack table where we practically broke the bank. As is my policy, I quit while I was ahead. We all made out well.

To cap off the evening we went up to the Crown Viking Lounge and took in some great ’70s tunes. The motion of the ocean continues to be perfect, and we had another great night’s sleep.

Party boat

We tried the dining room for breakfast. It’s open seating, which means that the headwaiter puts you at a table with whoever shows up at the same time. We sat across from a couple from Nevada. She ordered grits and he ordered eggs and hash browns, which he proceeded to mash together with his bacon, adding ketchup and Tabasco to the mixture. I ordered bran flakes, a half-grapefruit (very good), lox, and low-fat turkey sausages. After I finished I ordered a side of ham to balance it out.

We retired to the pool area as we waited for the ship to clear customs in Cabo San Lucas. It’s a very pretty view from the ship, but there’s not much else to see in Cabo other than some hotels. We had signed up for the snorkel and sail expedition, but that didn’t leave until two. So we read on the deck, then went for a run at noon. We went up to the buffet for lunch at one. There was a pretty good line as it had just opened. I had some OK mixed seafood and some decent roasted chicken. We were going to pass by the fruit table to balance out the meal when a slice of Boston cream pie and a chocolate pavlova somehow jumped into my mouth. These buffets can be a hazard to someone like me who is a couple pounds overweight.

We took the next tender ashore and waited on the pier for the party boat. It was running late, but they offered to let us on the next boat, which was early. That boat didn’t have a mast, though, so we waited a few more minutes. The party boast was great. We snorkeled in the cool water for a half-hour or so, seeing quite a few schools of fish close to the surface. The coral was pretty dead. Once back on the boat the bar was open and Hunnybear and I started guzzling down margaritas. Then the Mexican crew came around with tequila poppers and poured them down everybody’s throat. We sailed a bit around the tip of Baja, and then returned to the pier, music blaring loudly.

Once back on board, we relaxed before dinner. I played a little blackjack, once again winning. Hunnybear joined me and we moved over to the Schooner Bar to hang out with Maurice the piano player for a bit before dinner. One of the guests asked Maurice to play whatever his favorite song was. He protested that he didn’t have one. I shouted out, “His favorite song is ‘Piano Man’ by Billy Joel!” Now I happen to know that every piano-bar artist quickly learns to hate that song (if he doesn’t already) if only for the simple reason that it gets requested several times a night. So under my breath I apologized to Maurice, but my wicked grin belied my words.

Dinner was Mexican night. Andie, our waiter, recommended chicken quesadilla appetizer and pan-fried snapper for the main course. We ordered a seafood ceviche, which was good, and had a quesadilla for good measure. I ordered a chilled lemon soup, which I took one taste of. It tasted like melted lemon sherbet! I sent it back and asked for beef consommé, which was good. The fish for the main course was disappointing and Hunnybear and I ended up splitting her steak, which was once again good.

This was the second anniversary of our meeting in Bangkok, so I ordered Hunnybear two red roses, which were brought to the table in a little arrangement in a small vase. She liked them. They brought us the anniversary cake for dessert, which I attacked with a coffee spoon before Andie could get around to cutting it into little pieces to share with everyone. It required a little vanilla ice cream. As a rule I don’t eat dessert, but anniversary cakes are a hazard to a guy like me who’s a couple of pounds overweight.

Hunnybear was eager to get back to the craps table, but the table was stone cold tonight. Blackjack was no better until at midnight Hunnybear retired. I told her I’d play until I had one “bubba.” My blackjack strategy is a four-stage reverse Martingale. I start out betting one unit. If I win, I bet two, then four, then finally eight. If I win eight units I take the winnings and go back to one unit. If I lose at any point I go back to one unit. This strategy conserves money when the table is cold, but capitalizes on hot streaks. I’ve been more successful with this strategy than any others I’ve tried (including counting cards), which is to say I’ve won almost as much as I’ve lost. Well, I lost all my afternoon winnings and more and still hadn’t had the opportunity to bet a bubba. A space opened up at the $25 table, and Gary from Phoenix (Arnie’s brother) was playing there. I moved over and promptly lost three hands in a row. But then it happened. I won three in a row, giving me the opportunity to play a $200 bubba. I got a five and a three—eight. Not that great a hand, but the dealer showed five. The correct play is to double down. That would mean in addition to the $200 I had on the table ($175 of which was winnings from the last three hands) I needed to put up another $200. I looked at my chips. I had $211. I did not hesitate. I slid my stack of eight green chips up behind my bet. The dealer turned over the next card. A four. I had 12. Everyone at the table was silent. The dealer turned over a three, then a six, then a nine. Busted. I won, an $800 swing. I ended up ahead $71 for the day!

Señor Frog

We walked down the gangway into Mazatlan, where a complimentary shuttle was waiting to take us to the main gate of the port. We were surprised to see no vendors waiting outside the ship, but that was more than made up for when the shuttle driver dropped us off at Mexico’s equivalent of the Mall of America. More trinkets, t-shirts, and tequila than anyone could possibly want lined a twisty maze between us and the city.

We thought we’d walk outside the main gate and see what was in the general neighborhood rather than hopping right into a taxi, so we said, “no, gracias” to a dozen taxi drivers and tour-bus operators as we made our way out. Just before we got to the gate, though, we ran into Arnie and Gary from Phoenix, who had rented a dune buggy for the day for $55. They invited us to join them and we accepted—just so long as Señor Frog’s was on the itinerary. Hunnybear and I clambered into the back seat and rumbled our way into Old Mazatlan.

Gary was fascinated by the main square of Old Mazatlan because the square was completely filled with shoe-shine booths. There were dozens of them. I wondered who their customers were and how frequently people got their shoes shined in Mexico.

When we finished looking at the shoe-shine booths, we headed up to see the famous cliff divers of Mazatlan. We got there, parked the dune buggy on the side of the road, and crossed over to join a large crowd. Boys paraded back and forth with signs declaring that the divers get no salary and must rely on contributions. Atop the cliff stood a middle-aged man, stock-still, arms extended as if he might dive any minute. I was impressed that an older guy would be diving. Gary simply had to have a straw hat with “Mazatlan” written on it, so he spent a few minutes negotiating the price down from $4 to $3.

A kid with a beautiful iguana was hanging around asking people if they wanted to hold it. Hunnybear, Arnie and Gary all declined, but I was happy to and we got a picture of me holding the iguana. Then the kid put the iguana on top of Gary’s new hat. I got a couple pictures of that too. The kid took the iguana off and informed me that the charge for pictures was $2. I gave him a couple bucks (I probably would have given him $1 if he hadn’t said anything). Then he decided it was $2 per picture, and wanted another $2 from Gary, but we thought that was excessive and perhaps in violation of the Fair Trade Act, so we declined.

Finally the divers’ agents collected what they considered enough donations and made a signal to the guy on the cliff. To my surprise, the middle-aged guy walked away and was replaced by a teenager who immediately did a beautiful swan dive into the shallow water. The show being over, we climbed back into the dune buggy and rumbled off.

We toured the Gold Zone and settled on a place for lunch that was recommended by Joao, the headwaiter. It was unclear exactly what the name of this place was, but it had the words “costa” and “marinero” in it. We had coupons for free margaritas, so we ordered a round, and two of the giant shrimp fiesta platters for two. They were fabulous. Hunnybear and I ordered one more margarita to share. The food was not cheap—it came to about $90 for the four of us—but the margaritas were only $1 each!

After lunch we found that our dune buggy had been blocked in by taxis, but it only took a moment to find the driver of one and clear an exit. We drove back up the coast and parked at the beach in front of Señor Frog’s. Hunnybear and I walked way up and down the beach, which at 16 miles is Mexico’s longest. The place was deserted. We felt like we had the whole beach to ourselves, enjoying this perfect weather and surf. When we finished our walk it was time to go to Señor Frog’s.

Señor Frog’s is the party spot in Mazatlan. Never mind the restaurant. Go straight into the bar, where booming music fills a dark room surrounded by a ledge that people can dance on. Every day is spring break here, where girls are in the mood to dance and party, especially after downing one or two of the Señor’s margaritas by the yard. We ordered a round of those (at an outrageous $10 each, but you get to keep the plastic glass) and had a great time. Hunnybear inherited a balloon hat from an older gentleman from our ship who was just leaving, and we passed it on to Celeste from NY as we finished up. You really can’t go to Mazatlan without coming here.

We managed to make our way back onto the ship, through the shopping maze, without buying anything. Hunnybear and I napped voraciously before dinner. The rack of lamb was excellent, but everything else was once again mediocre, even my favorite Baked Alaska. They stopped serving it flaming “for security reasons.” Apparently some kid caught fire a few months ago.

Blackjack, the deck party, and enjoying the air capped another wonderful day. We made plans to blow off the shore tour we had booked for tomorrow and instead meet up with Gary and Arnie again.

Puerto Vallarta!

We met Gary and Arnie at 10. Arnie had already rented us a green VW Thing-like creature for $35/day. This was a homemade vehicle built on top of a VW chassis. It looked as if it had been made in high-school metal shop. It had the most Spartan dashboard I had ever seen, with two toggle switches for lights and wiper (not wipers) and a speedometer whose needle bounced crazily about like a drunken grasshopper.

We decided to head up to the jungle restaurant where the movie Predator was filmed. It was a 45-minute drive up an unbelievably unmaintained dirt road. Part way up we passed three Mexican boys sticking their thumbs out to hitch a ride. We looked at each other and Arnie said, “Sure.” They climbed onto the platform in back and held on as we trundled up the road. We arrived at a place called Chico’s Paradise and let the boys off. We looked around a bit but decided that this was not the place recommended to us. That place was called El Edén and was further up the road. One of the boys accepted our invitation to continue up. I talked to him a bit in Spanish and discovered that his name was Jaime (Jimmy, he translated for us), and he was 13 and in seventh grade.

On the way up we saw a whole family of pigs wandering around the road. We didn’t know if they were wild or domesticated, but I took a few pictures. We arrived at the top, Jaime thanked us and we parked the Thing and entered Eden. The place is a restaurant built out of thatched roofs on a natural stream with waterfalls. We explored the grounds, but since Hunnybear and I didn’t bring our bathing suits we didn’t try sliding down the waterfall headfirst like a seal, or swinging out on a knotted rope and dropping into the cold water. Instead, we ordered a huge seafood feast and a round of margaritas. The whole thing seems to be free except for the food. The food was great. Jaime came around our table toward the end of our meal and with my limited Spanish I figured out that he wanted a ride down with us but wanted to play some more in the water first and wanted to know how much longer we would be. I told him a half-hour, and we went off and promptly returned just as we were paying the bill ($125, cash only). It would certainly be possible to spend much less there. We ordered the most expensive things on the menu.

We dropped Jaime off near the base of the mountain. His home was in a little village there. We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the beautiful town of Puerto Vallarta and ended up at the famous statue of people with loops on their heads. I took a few pictures. We were right across the street from Carlos O’Brien’s, the Puerto Vallarta equivalent of Señor Frog’s, but it was pretty dead. We took a look around the Starwood property there, the Sheraton Bougainvilleas (except they spell it in Spanish). I asked to be shown a room that a Platinum Preferred Guest would get and was shown a very ordinary room on the 11th floor, which for some reason was numbered the 23rd floor (it started at 13). I could certainly stay here if the price was right, but it was nothing special.

I broke exactly even in the casino today, but Hunnybear quickly got hoovered of her $50 limit. Dinner was Italian night and we all had excellent shrimp scampi at Andie’s recommendation. Maurice had the night off, but we hung out at the piano bar with the other pianist, Dean, and had a great time.

At Sea

The final two days were spent at sea. The weather got progressively cooler as we sailed north, and on the last day we entered some mist in the morning that obscured just about all visibility. Fortunately there were no icebergs in the vicinity. Amazingly, I finished out the week without a single losing day in the casino! That was a first.

Disembarkation proceeded smoothly but slowly. Since we did not have an early flight we were the last ones off the ship (about 10:30 a.m.). We took a cab to the airport ($35 flat rate plus tip) and checked in at the empty 1K line. Hunnybear finally has her own certs now—they do start coming in a flood once they start coming—so two each and we were checked in to seats 1A and B on the 757 to Seattle. We had several hours, so I spent one of them wrestling with the crummy LA phone lines downloading email in the RCC. We liked the layout of the new club, but there was a very poor snack selection (choice of two foil-wrapped cookies) and no self-service soft drinks.

After finally getting my email downloaded (those awful AT&T payphones never gave me the OK to replace the receiver, so I had to listen to modem noise the whole time), we walked over to Encounters, the Jetson-esque restaurant and bar in the center of the airport. The elevator played hilarious music, a cross between Star Trek and Austin Powers. We got a seat with a great view of the runways and had a couple of great martinis and a couple of passable burgers. Service was friendly but sparse. With about an hour until flight time, we headed back to Terminal 6 and began the hike to gate 66. But when we got there we discovered the flight had been moved back to Terminal 7! Fortunately it was only gate 70B, one of the closest ones, although when I told Hunnybear that after walking another mile she said, “ ‘Close’—I do not think it means what you think it means.”

We arrived at 70B just as they were boarding the first coach passengers. We got to the end of the jetway and turned left. On this flight we had superb service from Joanne, a 30-year UA veteran who just passed her Purser’s test. She actually confirmed something that I had suspected: there is a purser on all UA flights except domestic narrowbodies, and to be a purser you have to go through a rigorous training course and pass it. So there really is a difference in service on the widebodies. Occasionally you will get a purser on the narrowbodies too, but it is by no means guaranteed.

Preflight drink service was presented with a smile immediately upon entry. Joanne even did refills before takeoff (not that I needed one personally). The short subject was another bad episode of Spin City. (Actually it was the same episode at first, but when I protested Joanne changed it. Since LAX-SEA is pretty much a north-south flight and the videos are marked east-west, it’s not obvious which one to show. They should go by flight numbers: Eastbound and northbound are even, westbound and southbound are odd.) I started wading through my email but the laptop power was not working and my power gave out shortly before we started our descent. Snack service was offered (we both passed on the chicken focaccia sandwich or farfalle pasta salad) and then warm Mrs. Fields chocolate-chip cookies. We shared one.

I gave Joanne a service award and headed out to baggage claim to watch all the non-priority-tagged luggage come out before ours. Our three bags were actually scattered pretty well throughout the mix. It’s amazing how consistently United ignores the priority baggage tags.

We hopped into a limo and returned home to Belltown in style ($35 flat rate). We both give the Rhapsody of the Seas top marks for itinerary, service, and the ship itself (and of course the price). The food could use improvement, but it was really no worse than most of the discount cruise lines. Somehow I expect better from RCCL though. They are offering the same amazing special, $599 per person, all through January, and I highly recommend it.

The end.


© 1999, Richard Brodie

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