Friday, January 19, 2018

The Looming Government Shutdown - A Few Inconvenient Truths

With all the hoopla in the media about the pending US government shutdown its important to remember a few inconvenient truths.

1. Government shuts down because it is out of money.  Government is out of money because Congress (one or both houses) can't complete its Constitutionally-required job of presenting a budget and appropriating funds.  To work or expend funds by an agency during a shut down is a violation of the Economy Act of 1932 which carries criminal penalties.

2. Government shutdowns are political theater and nothing more.

3. In 31 years of government employment I endured 9 full or partial shut downs. Most occurred around October 1, the start of the fiscal year when Congress couldn't pass a budget or come to agreement on a continuing resolution. In other words, in 31 years a shut down occurred on average once every 3 years.

4. The most famous (and longest in my career) shutdown was in 1996 when Newt Gingrich threw a fit claiming he wasn't allowed to sit with President Clinton on Air Force One as they returned from Israel. This despite a front page picture in the Washington Post of Newtie sitting with Clinton on the flight.

5. Government employees do not lose any salary because of a shut down. We are given Administrative Leave for the time off and paid our regular salary when the nonsense is over.

6. Social security checks are still written and sent to retirees as are monthly annuity checks for retired Federal employees.

7. Vendors working with government agencies don't get paid during a shut down but they eventually get paid when funds are appropriated. Albeit late, they are paid.

8. The military, law enforcement and other employees deemed "essential" still work during a shutdown. So its not like the Marines come to a halt and can't do anything or the FBI cant chase bad guys that rob banks or Customs can't enforce import laws. The US Coast Guard is still on the water helping boaters in distress and rescuing sick passengers from cruise ships. They can and still do.

9. Air Traffic Controllers still show up for work and still keep planes in flight separated from each other. Air travel does not change or stop.

10. About the only thing that happens when government shuts down is the National Parks close and the National Wildlife Refuges close, and you can't go sign up for new benefits under Social Security, and the Department of Labor doesn't collect employment data for a few days, and there are delays in obtaining Federal housing assistance, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research vessels have to return to port because they can't operate without funds. All of these things go back to normal once the children in the Congress agree on more funding.
The only thing that really happens in a shutdown is that pompous asshole members of Congress and in the current case a president with an ego the size of Brooklyn, can crow about how they shut down the government to make a point. The last time there was a shutdown (caused by Senator Ted Cruz R-TX) it was estimated that it cost the american economy something like $28 billion dollars.

So when you hear people panting fearfully on tv about an impending shutdown, just open a beer and watch the fools make a fool of themselves. Think of it as a "free" theater performance and nothing more.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Diving Away in Margaritaville - Bonaire Style

Bonaire is one of the few places in the world where you can earn PADI Lionfish Hunter certification and we all know that the only good Lionfish is the one on the end of your spear

While diving offshore from Anna Maria island have you ever thought to yourself – “There has to be better viz somewhere!”  

If you have then you should consider a week of diving on beautiful Bonaire, one of the ABC Islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao) in the Dutch Caribbean off the coast of Venezuela.  Diving is superb, visibility less than 60 feet is considered “bad viz,” plus the dive package at the Plaza Resort Bonaire, and diving with Toucan Diving Bonaire, is a bargain at twice the price.  

True there are cheaper options on the island but they don’t include 12 boat dives, luxurious hotel rooms, all your meals, and unlimited alcohol!

Craig Faanes and Cathy Hayslett are headed back to Bonaire during October 27 to November 3, 2018 and want to invite you to come along.  There are three packages available and the price is based on room type:  A Laguna View/Marina View room is $1466 per person in double occupancy; a Pool View room is $1568 per person in double occupancy, and an Oceanfront is $1810 per person in double occupancy.  Those prices include the following:

 7 night All-Inclusive Special at the Plaza Resort includes:
·        Transfers from airport to resort and return
·        Hotel room
·        12 tanks of boat dives with 6 days unlimited shore diving for each person
·        Tanks, weights, belts, free Nitrox
·        Daily buffet breakfast, lunch and dinner (all you can eat) with live cooking station
·        All drinks, including house brand wine, spirits and beer (premium brands not included)
·        Use of kayaks, snorkeling gear, stand up paddleboards, beach tennis, fitness center
·        Daytime activities and evening entertainment
·        Beach chair & Pool towels
·        Room safe and WiFi
·        All local taxes, service charges and energy surcharge

Toucan Diving Bonaire is a PADI 5-Star Resort where you can work on several certifications (Deep Diver, Night Diver, Rescue Diver, Underwater Naturalist, etc.) if you are interested. An added bonus of diving with Toucan Diving Bonaire is that it’s one of the few places in the world where you can earn PADI Lionfish Hunter certification!

American Airlines now flies nonstop from Miami to Bonaire (a 3-hour flight) making travel to the island much easier than in the past.  There is a connecting flight available from Tampa.

Monday, January 1, 2018

New Year's Day in Northern Wisconsin History

January 1, 1974 in Rice Lake Wisconsin the ambient temperature at the airport at sunrise was -62 degrees F. Dick Kaner reported that temperature on radio station WJMC. Luckily there was no wind so there was no wind chill. Walking from the barn to our house after milking cows I spit. It hit the snow as a little ball of ice just like in Jack London’s story “To Build a Fire”

By 11 am I was able to start my car when the temperature had warmed to -40 degrees F. My Chesapeake Bay Retriever Chester and I drove out to the Blue Hills near Hardscrabble. I strapped on snow shoes, and we hiked in a mile to check some traps I had set on a beaver colony. I caught 2 beaver whose combined weight was 90 pounds! I put them in my wicker backpack and hiked back to the road.

Snow shoes were an essential component of off road travel in the north woods of Wisconsin long ago

The added weight of the beavers, on top of my wool clothes, caused me to overheat. I took off my coat, slung it over my shoulder, and trundled back to my car. Steam billowed off me as I walked. I wish someone had been with me to take a picture because I must have looked like a cloud on snow shoes.

By sunrise the next day the overnight low had warmed to only -26 degrees F. The beginning of a warming trend. I relive bitter morning and that hike to check beaver traps in my memory every New Years Day.

Not to be outdone, almost three years to the day later, the overnight low in Rice Lake reached -60 degrees F.  As my now deceased mother said that morning "what do you expect? Its Wisconsin."
These bumper stickers were a common sight in Barron County after that equally bitter day in January 1977

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Holiday Greetings from the Littler Latitudes - 2017 Edition

As Christians prepare to celebrate Christmas, Jews celebrate Hanukkah, Muslims celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr, and Atheists sit back in amazement watching all of it, its time to reflect on 2017 and think about what lies ahead in 2018.

Like for many of us, 2017 was a year of transitions.  During it I lost a very good friend from college to cancer, as well as my last surviving uncle. I guess Nick's passage means that all of the Beranek cousins are now officially orphans.  During the year I turned 66 years old which is certainly the start of the "Golden Years" we hear about, and on July 1, I married my best friend and dive buddy Cathy Hayslett.

Its nice when you finally meet someone compatible.  (Sorry Wisconsin folks about the Florida State University shirt - we were watching Bristol's college playing.  I was still eating cheese curds and yelling "On Wisconsin" at every opportunity)

The year was filled with travel (not really a surprise by now) with a trip to the Florida Keys in January so Cathy's son Bristol could earn his open water diver certification.  For Cathy's birthday in February we traveled to Bonaire off the coast of Venezuela, for a week of diving in the brilliant blue waters of the southern Caribbean.  Cathy also became a biological grandmother for the first time on February 19 while we were in Bonaire (my grandson Garrett claimed her as his "Grandma Cathy" two years earlier however).  She now has taken her grandma responsibilities quite seriously.

Cathy in grandma mode with Channing Beau.  He's asleep in this picture. He had a PhD in sleeping at that age.

March brought with it cataract surgery on both of Craig's eyes and the removal of a very large non-cancerous tumor (the size of a large plum) from my left shoulder.  There were a few complications with the surgical incision and I came to know the staff at the Wound Center at Doctor's Hospital quite well.  That's all cleared up now and I never want to go through it again.

In early May we flew up to Tallahassee to attend Bristol's graduation from Florida State University (degree in Finance), and a week later took him diving in Roatan, Honduras, as a graduation present.  That month Craig completed a course in Arabic Language and Culture, and another one in speaking French.  I can now speak four languages passably - but there are so many more to go!  Throughout much of the spring Cathy spent hours and hours knitting sweaters for 5 grandchildren, both of her children, and was always looking forward to the next knitting project.

In early June Craig spent 2 weeks in Alaska vistiing his daughter Jennifer, son-in-law Ryan, and way cool grandson Garrett.  He also flew to Barrow, the northernmost airport in the United States, and hung out with Polar Bears on the edge of the Arctic Ocean.

Garrett and me after a long hike to the top of a mountain in Alaska

Garrett really is the luckiest kid in the world

I was there when Garrett caught his first fish at 3 years old.  His mom caught her first fish at 3 years old as well, and also in the Arctic

Nanook.   There is no question who is the apex predator in the Arctic

Welcome to Barrow Alaska. I didn't seen any Snowy Owls while there but it wasn't for lack of trying

Its a long way from Barrow to everywhere.  I could certainly spend a summer there studying birds but there's no way I could survive a winter without going bonkers.

Later in June we did a 3-tank dive with sharks offshore from West Palm Beach.  Its something all serious Jimmy Buffett fans should do.  If only there was a way to sing "Fins" and be heard underwater.

That's me with the orange thing on my right shoulder just after an 11-foot Lemon Shark's nose bounced off my forehead

Cathy and I were married in a tiki hut at the home of our friends near Osprey on July 1.  Garrett came down from Alaska for the wedding, and the night before he was the kid who yelled "Play Ball" at the start of a minor league Bradenton Marauders baseball game (we won that night).

Garrett was able to walk on a professional baseball field when he was 3 years old. His grandpa had to wait until he was in his 60s!

Our wedding was at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday July 1 and at 3:00 pm that afternoon we boarded a Cayman Airways 737 in Tampa and darted down to Cayman Brac for a week of diving at the Cayman Brac Reef Resort.

Its official and she's now stuck with me

Garrett and "Grandma Cathy" at our wedding

Cayman Brac Beach Resort was a great place to spend a week after saying "I Do"

We completed a few local dives throughout the summer and after receiving our PADI certification as Lionfish Hunters, Cathy speared her first Lionfish in early August.  

The mighty spearfisherwoman with her first Lionfish.  They taste much better than they look

About the same time, Craig completed the requirements for Rescue Diver certification, and for Master Scuba Diver certification - the latter being the highest level of certification available to non-professional divers.  With nothing better to do with his time, Craig began working on his Divemaster certification - the first level of professional diving.  Those tasks should be completed in early December.

Autumn in Florida, which looks just like summer, spring and winter in Florida, was filled with college football on Saturday's and watching pro games on Thursday, Sunday and Monday.  Despite Cathy's South Carolina roots, I've converted her to a Badgers fan and a Green Bay Packers fan.  Given the way the Pack is playing this year they need all the help they can get.

October brought us to the Miami airport from which we flew to Barcelona, Spain.  We spent a week in tiny Andorra in the Pyrennes Mountains (Craig's 119th country visited), diving from the island of Ibiza (made famous from the song verse "I took a pill in Ibiza"), and spending time in gorgeous Barcelona, one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.  We left Barcelona on November 5 aboard a Norwegian Cruise Line ship that dropped us off in Port Canaveral, Florida, two weeks later.  This was our second Transatlantic cruise and we are already planning another one in April 2019.  We spent the remainder of the year getting caught up on things that had to slide while we were gone and making plans for 2018.  

So far we are planning 2 weeks in the Philippines in February, almost 2 weeks in Colorado in March where my step-daughter Charlotte lives and where Cathy can refine her Grandma Cathy skills.  Garrett will be down from Alaska then, and with luck my 3 granddaughters from Minnesota will be there as well.  It will be the first time all 5 grandchildren will be in the same place at the same time. which is pretty exciting.

In July 2018. we spend a week in the Maldives off the coast of India with a 2-day stopover in Doha, Qatar on the return. I'm looking forward to helping Cathy experience Arabic/Muslim culture for the first time.  It should be pretty exciting.  Finally, with luck we will be spending Christmas 2018 with my daughter and Garrett in either Costa Rica or the Galapagos.  Maybe if I win the lottery before then we'll spend it in both places!

When we were kids we all dreamed about growing up and most of us were upset that we couldn't grow up fast enough.  Now that we have grown up (at least organically that is) we realize the best gift anyone could give us is a lead weight on the hour hand on our biological clock so we might slow it down a tad.  People are transitioning out of our lives at a faster pace now, which is what the actuarial tables and statistics tell us will happen.  Who knows whom among us will be here today and spoken about in the past tense tomorrow.   

Cathy and I hope in 2018 we can all bury the hatchet from past slights and misunderstandings and come together as friends and family and enjoy what remaining time we still enjoy together.  It would be nice if the nation could do the same thing.  Isn't that part of what the spirit of the holidays is supposed to be about anyway?

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

A Transatlantic Cruise Aboard the Norwegian Epic

The Norwegian Epic - one of the mega ships in the Norwegian Cruise Line fleet

"The thing I don't like about cruising is all these people who don't speak English."... An ignorant, myopic, xenophobic American woman aboard the Norwegian Epic in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, November 12, 2017

The Norwegian Epic, a nearly quarter mile long 316 million pound mega ship, sailed from Barcelona, Spain at 1800 h local time on November 5, 2017.  Thirteen very fast days later she was tied off at the cruise terminal at Port Canaveral, Florida, near Cocoa Beach and the Kennedy Space Center.  My wife and I were aboard the Epic as she cast away from the pier in Barcelona and as we watched the sun set over an ancient fort overlooking the harbor we had already resigned ourselves to the trip being over almost before it began.

We had booked the cruise in August 2016 and with our early booking (and incredibly good per person rate for the cruise) which entitled us to accepting two inclusive packages from Norwegian.  Our options were 1) unlimited drinks, 2) a 4-restaurant specialty dining package, 3) 250 minutes of Internet use, and 4) reduced rates on shore excursions.  

Because we usually make our own plans when in ports, and since this cruise offered landings in only two ports, we instantly rejected the reduced rates on excursions option.  250 minutes of internet for $125 seemed like an easy thing to pass up considering the value of the other options.  Later Cathy purchased the Internet package and had nothing but constant problems with the service.  We were glad we didn't choose internet for our "free" package.

What we chose were the specialty dining package and the unlimited drinks package.  Both, it turned out, were no-brainers to choose and the next time we cruise on Norwegian (which means the next time we cruise) we will select those same two options.  They turned out to be the most cost-effective options possible.

The Itinerary

Although our cruise departed Barcelona on November 5, we boarded an American Airlines plane in Tampa on October 28 bound for Miami where we connected to a nonstop flight to Barcelona, 9 hours away.  Because I am the absolutely best husband on the planet, I used some of my American Airlines frequent flier miles and and flew us to Barcelona in First/Business Class.  
While following Jimmy Buffett's song line instructions and "reading departure signs in some big airport" we found the gate for the American Airlines flight to Barcelona. I'd return there in a heartbeat.

This was Cathy's first real first class experience including being seated in lie-flat seats that converted to a bed.  We left Miami a few minutes early, not long after the National Weather Service had issued a tornado warning for Palm Beach County about 50 miles north.  To say the departure was bumpy was an understatement.  The in-flight service was impeccable, the dinner (and breakfast) we were served were tasty and filling, and the hard sleep made possible by the lie-flat seats made the entire 9 hours worth the 100,000 frequent flier miles it "cost" to fly in First Class over the pond.
One of the highlights of the trip was adding tiny Andorra to my list of countries visited - it was my 119th country

We arrived in Barcelona early, quickly cleared Customs and Immigration then found a bus operated by Andorra by Bus and took off on a 3-hour drive across the Catalonia countryside to the tiny country of Andorra on the Spain/France border.  Andorra was the 119th country I have visited.  We spent one night in Andorra then returned to Barcelona.

The bus station in Andorra.  Catalan is the language spoken in this beautiful country.  Its a mixture of Spanish and French with just enough Portuguese thrown in to flummox you.  There was a White Wagtail foraging along the stream when I took this picture.

For my birthday, October 31, we flew to the Balearic island of Ibiza in the Mediterranean where we spent three nights.  We did some SCUBA diving with the excellent folks at Scuba Ibiza Diving Center, then returned to Barcelona on November 3.  On November 4 we spent much of the day exploring Barcelona with the superb local company Barcelona Day Tours.  Travelers simply cannot go wrong booking a trip with this company.  Ask for Elena as your guide - you will not be disappointed.  While in Barcelona we stayed at the Barcelona Airport Hotel which, not surprisingly, is quite close to the airport but about 20 minutes by taxi from downtown.  The rate was ridiculously cheap for this 4-star hotel and we look forward to returning to Barcelona if only to stay here again!  The breakfast alone was worth the nightly rate.

Departing Barcelona aboard the ship on November 5 we set a course for Malaga, Spain, about 500 miles south.  
For hundreds of years this ancient fort has been perched like a Peregrine Falcon overlooking the entrance to Barcelona harbor

Unfortunately there was an on-board medical emergency overnight and when we woke up on November 6 we were a mile or two offshore from Isla Ibiza (where we dove 5 days earlier).  The unfortunate passenger was dropped off here for medical care shortly after sunrise and we continued on our course for Malaga.

We spent November 7 in Malaga and thoroughly enjoyed it.  Established in 770 BC it has to be one of the prettiest cities I have visited in Spain and in much of Europe for that matter.

Cafe de l'Abuela near the cathedral in Malaga was a perfect place to chill with a glass of Spanish red wine and simply watch the city come alive.

Walking around Malaga was made so much easier by the highly-polished marble streets

Central Park in Malaga epitomizes the beauty of the city

Departing Malaga we spent 4 days at sea before arriving at Ponta Delgada on Sao Miguel Island in the stunningly beautiful Azores.  
Sunrise over Ponta Delgada harbor, November 11, 2017. I absolutely love this island!

We had stopped here on a Transatlantic cruise in 2014 and I thought I would never see the island again.  While here we completed a 2-tank dive with the good folks at Best Spot Azores Dive Center located just a 5-minute walk from the cruise terminal.  Cathy dove with this PADI resort in 2014.  We dove today with a Brit living in Lisbon.  Bruno the owner of the company, and Diego a PADI Instructor served as our divemaster.  Despite the bottom temperature 60 feet beneath the surface being a chilly 63 degrees we enjoyed two great dives and look forward to going out with this company again.
There are five dive shops within a stone's throw of the cruise terminal in Ponta Delgada.  At least 3 of them are PADI shops and one is SSI (Not sure about the affiliation of the 5th one). Despite the competition you cannot experience a better dive than with Best Spot - just make sure to wear a 6 ml wetsuit!

We reluctantly departed Ponta Delgada on time at 1700 h local and spent 6 days at sea before arriving at the Port Canaveral Cruise Terminal near Cocoa Beach, Florida on November 18.As with every cruise we have been on with Norwegian Cruise Lines we didn't want the trip to be over and especially so soon.  Its truly shocking how quickly 2 weeks can fly by when you are on a cruise ship.

The following images show the approximate route we followed on this journey.

The Cruise Ship

We spent 13 nights in Stateroom 10097, a Mini-Suite located forward on the starboard side of the ship

The amenities of Stateroom 10097 included a free bottle of champagne courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line (thanks to our status with this cruise line).

The Good Parts of the Trip

Norwegian Cruise Line certainly knows how to throw a party at sea!  We found the food to be superb (again), the service almost spotless.  Our housekeeper ("Motor-Mouth Melody") had a bit of an issue we never figured out, plus the service in O'Sheehan's restaurant sucked at best.  Other than that we enjoyed so much about this ship.  Entertainment in the Epic Theater was outstanding and included the Epic Beatles.  When they took the stage our second night at sea I though I was looking at the real John Lennon and the real Paul McCartney - they looked that close!  Plus a friend of ours, Parker Lawhorne from Sarasota, is a Costume Supervisor on the Epic.  Parker went to school with one of Cathy's children for many years and we knew he was on the ship.  Looking at the quality of the work he put into productions like "Priscilla Queen of the Desert" made us both wonder why Parker isn't working on Broadway!  One day soon I'm sure he will be.
Priscilla Queen of the Desert was first a movie (in the 1970s) and then a Broadway play and is now being performed on the Norwegian Epic - for free!  The performance was excellent and it came with a strong message of acceptance.  Our friend Parker played a major role in the performance so we are likely a tad biased.

We enjoyed four "Specialty" dining experiences as part of the free packages we were given.  These included Moderno, a Brazillian steakhouse (where I ate shrimp),  La Cucina, an Italian restaurant where I ate shrimp, Cagney's Steakhouse (where I ate shrimp) and the Japanese Tappenyaki restaurant where, not surprisingly, I ate shrimp.  When not in a specialty restaurant we usually had meals in the Taste Restaurant on Deck 5 and in a pinch had dinner (or a lunch) in the Garden Cafe (buffet) on  Deck 15.

If you want to imagine that you are back in a steakhouse in Sao Paulo or Rio look no farther than this superb Brazilian restaurant

 Cagney's is the place to go for a Chicago (Or Nebraska!) steak in the middle of the ocean

By far the most entertaining meal we enjoyed was at Teppenyaki, a Japanese hibachi restaurant.  Our "fake Japanese chef" (his words) from "South Philly (Philippines) was hilarious and made the experience even more memorable

Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner at Taste Restaurant comes complete with an ocean view - if you arrive early enough to grab an ocean view table!

The Garden Cafe on Deck 15 was the place to go for a bounty of food whether breakfast, lunch or dinner

Entertainment options were almost endless.  Cathy found a group of fellow knitters and was usually gone for three hours every morning learning from others how to make her sweaters even better.  There was music everywhere and of course the requisite smoke-filled casino that we merely waked through enroute to somewhere else.  The Epic also has the famous "Ice Bar" where you dress up in an Arctic parka and drink your drinks from glasses carved from ice.  
The walls of the Bliss Lounge will be forever damaged after 13 nights of "Johnny" destroying songs from the stage during karaoke

For us, however, the most entertainment was the nightly karaoke performances in the Bliss Lounge.  Every night this guy calling himself "Johnny" would take the stage in the Bliss Lounge and belt out the most horrific karaoke you've ever heard.  Honestly!   In Sarasota we have a place called Stottlemeyer's where on Monday night they offer up what we call "Shitty Karaoke."  However Stottlemeyer's is a professional production compared to how incredibly bad Johnny is!  We always drank double shots of every drink we had in the Bliss Lounge - I think because of Johnny!

The Bad Parts of the Trip

Despite all of the great aspects of this cruise and of Norwegian Cruise Line, there were a couple of not-so-good parts. First and foremost was the lousy (damned near atrocious) onboard Internet service.  The following letter, that Cathy sent to Norwegian the day after our return from the trip, explains it all.

November 20, 2017

Guest Relations
Norwegian Cruise Line
7665 Corporate Center Drive
Miami, Florida 33126

Re:  Reservation Number 32090291

Dear NCL;

My husband and I are Gold Latitude Rewards members.  This past Saturday we completed a great cruise aboard the Epic on her transatlantic repositioning journey from Barcelona to Port Canaveral.  We look forward to another transatlantic very soon.

While on board the ship I purchased your 250 minutes of Internet plan for $125, and my husband and I both paid $9.99 for the message component of the Norwegian application on our cell phones.  Almost from the first day I had difficulty connecting to your internet service.  At the same time my husband and I found that messages we sent each other on the app were taking up to two DAYS to reach each other’s cell phones, and that included when the phones were lying next to each other in our stateroom!

Because I am an IT professional I made double-sure that each time I attempted to use the Internet I logged out after being online.  In spite of my cautious approach, twice I discovered that your system had not logged me out, and all of my available minutes had been used – even though I did not use them.   I informed the internet manager on board who agreed that the issue was NCL’s problem not something I had done wrong.  Your manager immediately reinstated the missing 150 minutes. Imagine my shock and disgust when I checked my onboard account and found a $7.50 customer service charge for adding back minutes that were lost because of the inefficiency of your system!  That was not something I should have been charged for – it was your mistake and your responsibility to make it right.

Each time I brought up the issue of inadequate internet performance with your onboard manager I was told to “use it overnight when fewer people are on the system.”  I don’t know about you but I prefer to sleep overnight, not spend the night awake trying to use a service I paid to access 24 hours a day.

During our penultimate day on the ship, your system once again showed that I had not logged out (when I had).  I captured screen shots on my cell phone as proof that the remaining 150 minutes were exhausted. Rather than standing in the interminably long line of other travelers at the internet desk, I just resigned myself to the fact that I had wasted a lot of money on your internet service and decided not to fight it any longer, or pay more fees to have the minutes restored. 

One thing this debacle taught me was that I will never again waste my money paying for onboard internet that obviously does not work.   The same is true for my husband and I using your onboard cell phone application.  Granted $9.99 is not a lot of money.  However, it’s the principle involved here – we purchased a service that your system is too inadequate to properly deliver.   This was a major lesson learned for future cruises on Norwegian no matter if it’s a 3-night trip on the Sky to Nassau or a 15-day Panama Canal cruise. We will simply wait to use WiFi in each port visited.

I sincerely hope you can fix this problem for your sake because there were a lot of very upset guests on the Epic who experienced the same shoddy service and heard the same excuses.

The other annoying part of the trip was smokers. The rules for the ship explicitly state that guests cannot smoke on the balconies. In fact I think the only place they can infect others with second-hand smoke is in the casino. However not a day went by I sat on our balcony and inhaled smoke from some uncaring guest upwind from our stateroom.  I'm not sure how Norwegian can catch and censure guests who break the rules - maybe smoke detectors in each room are the answer - however something needs to be done to eliminate the health hazard to non-smokers posed by those who want to fill the air with carcinogens.

The Ugly Part of the Trip

Anyone who has participated in a cruise knows about the silly drill we all go through before departure where we spend 45 minutes learning how to put on a life jacket.  Cruisers also are aware of the usual backlash that happens at the end of the cruise when we all attempt to exit the ship.  However nothing, absolutely nothing, can match the clusterfuck we experienced trying to exit the Norwegian Epic once it docked in Port Canaveral.  Rather than rehash it I'll simply post the letter I wrote to Norwegian Guest Services.  

November 20, 2017

Guest Relations
Norwegian Cruise Line
7665 Corporate Center Drive
Miami, Florida 33126

Re:  Reservation Number 32090291

Dear NCL;

My wife and I are Gold Latitude Rewards members.  This past Saturday we completed a great cruise aboard the Epic on her transatlantic repositioning journey from Barcelona to Port Canaveral.  At least the cruise was great until we encountered the debacle of disembarking in Port Canaveral.

Rather than doing the “Easy Walk Off”, we chose to let you handle our luggage, and we chose the “Green” zone for a 9:00 a.m. departure.  Things started to go downhill early when at 8:30 our housekeeper Melody (Deck 10, Forward, Starboard) was miffed that we were still our stateroom and were impeding her ability to make up the room for new guests boarding for the ship’s next cruise departing that afternoon, despite information we had from Norwegian saying we could remain in our rooms until 9:30. 

To assuage her concerns, we immediately left our stateroom and assembled outside the Bliss Lounge at 8:45 a.m. There we noticed a humongous line of Easy Walk Off guests who were not having a very easy time walking off the ship.  We were directed to wait in the Bliss Lounge where we sat until 9:45 a.m. before the 9:00 a.m. Green Zone was called.  When we reached the security checkpoint just before stepping off the ship, we were told that “because of Immigration and Customs” we would have to wait “a few minutes” before we could exit the ship.  “A few minutes” began at 9:50 a.m. – after standing in the hot sun with no water available, we finally stepped off the ship at 10:45, only 1 hour 45 minutes after we were supposed to originally depart.  Meanwhile there were still tons of guests onboard who had later departure times than we had, and they likely were as upset as we were with this debacle.

Once in the Customs area we were told by an immigration officer that the hold up was because “Norwegian let too many guests off the ship at once and that immigration had insufficient personnel.”  Thus, nobody accepted responsibility for this mess and instead the two major parties (you and Customs) passed the buck to each other.  After standing in line for what seemed like ages, we FINALLY reached a Customs agent at 12:05 p.m., a mere 3 hours and 5 minutes after we were supposed to originally depart the ship and be on our way home.

Whomever is to blame for this mess needs some immediate people management training.  There simply has to be a more efficient way to disembark a ship load of passengers.  Don’t you have some systems engineers on staff who can identify passenger flow problems and find ways to eliminate what happened in Port Canaveral yesterday?  I can imagine the rage felt by some travelers who had to get on a bus or grab a rental car to make a flight out of Orlando in early afternoon.  If they were in the “Green Zone” with us and had planned a 9:00 a.m. departure to catch a 1:00 p.m. flight they were SOL and I would imagine you are receiving a ship-load of angry comments from those travelers.

Its frustrating enough that we have to endure the ridiculous “safety demonstration” on entering the ship the first day where we spend 45 minutes learning how to attach a life vest (by the way after 13 cruises I STILL do not know how to board a life boat!).  Its beyond annoying to have to endure what a ship load of passengers experienced exiting the Epic yesterday in Port Canaveral.  NCL management and the people on the ship responsible should be ashamed of themselves.


I had not been on a cruise until Cathy and I sailed to Grand Turk aboard the Carnival Victory in October 2013.  The Transatlantic cruise we just completed aboard the Epic is my 13th cruise and our second Transatlantic. We both decided that Norwegian was our preferred cruise line after spending 14 days aboard the Norwegian Star on her repositioning cruise from Copenhagen to Miami in October 2014.  I still think the Star is the best ship in the Norwegian fleet; Cathy has fallen in love with the Epic.

There were a few negatives about this trip but they were surpassed by so many positives its almost impossible to count.  At the conclusion of this cruise we now both have Gold status in the Norwegian Latitude Rewards program and are only 13 nights short of Platinum status.  Thirteen nights is a simple Transatlantic crossing and right now we plan to do one from Miami to Rome (15 days) in April 2019.  Norwegian offered an onboard opportunity to purchase $1000 worth of deposits for future cruises, and receive $500 in onboard credits for the cruise we were on.  It didn't require a major in math to determine this was a great deal so now we have $1000 worth of deposits collecting dust in our Latitude Rewards accounts.  Something tells me those dollars won't be collecting dust for long.

I used to scoff at people who participated in cruises until I took part in my first cruise. Now I am hooked and can't wait until we board another ship, and preferably one headed south.  If you haven't been on cruise, make sure you do so soon. If you have been, then make plans to return to a ship sooner rather than later.   If you are a wise and frugal traveler, make that cruise reservation on Norwegian Cruise Line.  You'll be a happy cruiser when you do.

The only thing I do not like about cruises is putting everything behind you at the trip's conclusion.