February 2012

the sushi lollipopsThere are a number of specialty restaurants, cafes and a bistro on the Eclipse. The one I knew we just could not miss was  Qsine. As it turned out, the time went by so fast we did not make it to dinner in either Murano or the Tuscan Grille though I heard glowing comments about the food from other diners. We did get to the Champagne Tea in Murano on the last afternoon of the cruise.

But I am glad we made a point of trying Qsine. The dinner at Qsine was definitely the most interesting and innovative dining that I have enjoyed in any specialty restaurants aboard during my recent cruising experiences. The variety of tastes and textures was simply fantastic and the novel way each dish was presented was exciting to see.

view from my officeThe Eclipse was only due to arrive in San Juan around 3 PM so that meant the morning was full of potential on-board activities. The time zone changed to Atlantic time, an hour ahead of Eastern Standard. I really intended to sleep a bit longer anyway, but no luck. We have had our sliding door onto to the verandah open each night so we get lots of fresh air so I wake to the sound of the sea. I took my laptop out onto my “office with a view” and caught up on writing till the coffee arrived at 7 am.

salsa class in SkyloungeI am actually quite impressed with the wireless internet access on this ship compared to my experience on previous cruise ships. They must have some very powerful routers on board as the wireless access in really good even in the cabin and on the verandah.  Hopefully on my next cruises coming up on the Sapphire Princess and the Queen Mary II, they will have improved the strength of their wireless signals too.

my on-board office - nice!Sunday morning early - the first full day on board and I was so eager to find out about the Celebrity Life Activities that I woke up before sunrise. It was 6 am and the Eclipse was moving swiftly but smoothly on her way to San Juan, Puerto Rico.  I was writing my travelblogue from the spacious balcony of our cabin, seated in a comfortable chair with a strong breeze whipping up my hair, and listening to the sound of the water rushing by against the hull of the ship. It seems that my internal clock wakes me at 6 regardless of the time zone.

We had ordered room service breakfast for later this morning – coffee for me, tea for Pat, and some fruit. As well I thought I would try out their plain yogurt. The tray arrived on time. The yogurt however was a no-fat variety and had that slimy texture that comes from thickeners. That’s why at home I love the thick Greek style yogurt that has no additives. Crossed this brand of yogurt off my list for the rest of this trip. But the sliced pineapple was sweet and delicious. And the coffee was hot.

Remy and Philippe teach cha chaToday was my first opportunity to check out the Celebrity Activity Lets Dance Program. The dancers who perform in the shows teach these lessons. The first one listed was a waltz lesson with Vitaliy and Anna.  It was held in the stunning Sky Lounge at the front of the ship on deck 14. There is a medium sized circular dance floor there. It’s a marble floor – so not great for the legs but certainly a nice space. The problem is that it does not come with dance partners!

Maybe twenty-six people showed up for the lesson. I was curious to see what they would cover in the time allowed. They demonstrated a basic box and a turning box, a hesitation step forward and sideways, and a promenade step.  At the end they played one waltz for people to practice what they had learned and I sat and watched.  It was fascinating to see the difference in what people had picked up and how they moved in time to the music – or not.

Shortly after that the next class was scheduled in the Foyer on deck 3, which also has a marble floor.  This class was cha cha cha with Philippe and Remy. About the same number of people crowded onto the floor.

Remy, who is English, said that they would be teaching International style cha cha cha and indeed they taught the basic step, the New York step and an underarm turn. I decided I could lead those steps so I partnered with Pat to practice.I am not a very good leader though as I have not developed that aspect of my dancing and in fact, my main objective these days is to be able to follow anyone on the dance floor easily.

Eclipse at Anchor at St. Thomasthe itinerary of the cruiseThis is my first time aboard a Celebrity Cruise Ship, and the first cruise I have taken in recent years that has not been with my favorite ballroom dance group, Dancers at Sea. My cruises in the past three years have been on the Princess and Cunard lines, with one New Year Cruise in the Caribbean on Costa.

On Princess ships I have done a Wine Country Cruise from LA to Vancouver, an Asian Cruise from Beijing to Bangkok, a South Pacific Cruise from Honolulu to Tahiti, and one from Tahiti to Honolulu.  My Cunard  cruises have included the British Isles Cruise on the Queen Victoria  and two cruises along the East Coast of the US and Canada, a Labour Day weekend cruise  and an Autumn East Coast Cruise, both on the Queen Mary 2.

As this is my first cruise on Celebrity and each cruise line has its own unique flavour, I an really curious to see how Celebrity compares with my previous experiences. As a food writer and foodie, the culinary aspects of the cruise are really important to me. And of course, I am also especially interested in the aspect of dance opportunities on the Celebrity fleet.  As well, on the dance cruises I am usually more interested in dancing myself than seeing the dancers and singers in the shows, so this time, I will have the time to get to see each of the shows on board too. So on-board food and wine experiences, music and dance, and the production shows are the aspects to which I will pay particular attention on this cruise.

Thursday

Check out my YouTube clip of the last salsa lesson. You can see how much fun we had with the classes with Laura. The link is about midway down the page.

The time seems to speed by. This is our second to last day in Cozumel, and the morning was already blazing hot by the time we left to walk along to La Palapita for our last salsa lesson from Laura.

We warmed up doing a routine that incorporated the various things we had learned, our right-hand turns, and the shines.  The two things Laura wanted to incorporate into our salsa knowledge base were arm styling for the basic right-hand turn, and then the cross-body lead. For the latter we learned the basic footwork and also a variation which she said was a Cuban touch.  Basically instead of taking step three forward (with a pointed foot) you rock back on step three before taking a large step forward on 5 to complete the change of place.

Ixchel's templeWednesday

Our concierge at the hotel arranged for Raul, a taxi driver with a fair command of English, to drive us around the island. We originally decided that a 5 hour excursion would be fine but as it turned out we added another hour at the end because the water at Playa Corona was so great.

the layout of the siteWe started going north on the coastal road and then turned east along the center road that runs east-west across the island. We turned off for six kilometers along a not-so-great road to San Gervasio,  the best preserved Mayan ruins on Cozumel. There were six different cruise ships docked in Cozumel and on the road we were passed by people racing in jeeps along the dirt road. APat shows the ways we arrived at the ruins tour buses were also pulling up  disgorging hordes of tourists. I guess next week we will be part of the hordes if we do any excursions off our cruise ship.

Compared to the magnificent Mayan ruins at Chetzen Itza the site here was smaller and far less well preserved. But we still took about 70 minutes to walk around the site.

The most important temple left there was dedicated to the Mayan Goddess Ixchel. According to the handout written by Ric Hajovsky, she was associated with the moon, sex, childbirth, disease, beekeeping, planting, water, writing, and weaving. Obviously a woman of many interests- actually rather like me – except for the disease and beekeeping – although as a retired doctor I suppose disease would have also been considered one of my interests. Hmmm... 

Monday, our third full day in Cozumel - and it was scorching.

We spent the morning at the pool. The sun was out with only a few wispy clouds and the temperature was around 28 C. The water in the pool was still quite cold as it is sun-heated and there had not been much of that the previous day.

We checked out the hotel activity list and decided to watch the  advertised cooking demonstration by one of the hotel staff. Only Pat and I ventured down to the activity palapa to watch and actually Gaby, the staff person, just showed us how to make ceviche. The shrimp was marinated in lime juice until it turned translucent.  Then she sliced tomato, onion, and cilantro to mix with the shrimp. I managed to get my plateful before she added the cilantro – I really hate that soapy taste of cilantro. Anyway without the cilantro the ceviche tasted good and went great with the guacamole that we had for our poolside lunch.

This 7 day visit to Cozumel was not originally on my travel agenda for 2012.   My travel plans for the first six months of the year were aimed more at making up for the year of ballroom dance that I had lost with my severe back pain that culminated in emergency spine surgery.  So I had planned to start the New Year in the South Pacific taking a dance cruise on the Ocean Princess.  Shortly after getting back from that, I had to head off to New York for an exciting family event  - and the added bonus of a theatre and restaurant blitz.

But a chance call from the timeshare exchange that I use, offering a great priced cruise and resort deal, caught me in a reckless moment and before I knew it I was signed up for a 7 day stay at a resort in Cozumel, to be followed by a 7 night Caribbean cruise.

Although I have stayed in Cancun and several times in Playa del Carmen, I had never stayed on the island of Cozumel. The map shows the beaches of Cozumel as well as San Gervasio, the local Mayan ruins. The hotel we were booked into was located at Playa La Ceiba - and called El  Cid La Ceiba Beach Hotel.

Poster at the Booth TheaterOther Desert Cities by Jon Robin Baitz,
Directed by Joe Mantello,
A Lincoln Center Theater production,
Booth Theatre, 225 West 45th St, NY
Jan 25th, 2012

New York, NY: This play was the fifth production I saw in my New-York-one-week-seven-play marathon. Amidst some really great theatre, this was the show that I found the most compelling. The story was gripping and the characters were fully developed and utterly believable.

Although I enjoy all the varied theatrical genres, my favorite form of play is one with a strong dramatic script where stakes are high and the arc of evolution of the characters is meaningful. I thus found it especially interesting to compare the emotional impact of the two dramas I saw back to back, namely Seminar and Other Desert Cities. Both plays dealt, albeit from different perspectives, with the way the creative act of writing and the written product, book or story, impacts both writer and reader. Both plays had first class acting and great production values, set, lighting, costumes etc but of the two plays, only Other Desert Cities had the "wow" factor for me; getting me right in the guts. I think the difference lies in the scripts.

lobster cevicheHaru
205 West 43rd Street,
New York, NY
Ph: (212) -398 9810 or Reserve Online

Haru is so conveniently located for pre-theatre meals, particularly round the Times Square theatre district, that on this trip I actually dined there twice. 

the ebi and vegtable tempuraOn the first visit we were seated at a table in the window alcove. I liked that as it was  a bit secluded from the main activity in the restaurant.

We had just come from seeing Bob, a SITI Company production, and after dinner we were going to see Mary Poppins just around the corner at the New Amsterdam Theatre. With seeing two such different genres of theatre in one day there was so much food for thought that real food initially took second place to conversation.

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