At the beginning of the cruise, we signed up to participate in the Murder Mystery Dinner. Friday night, we started in the Stardust Theater, where they showed us dramatisations of the character introductions. The murder victim was Chase Diamond, a private investigator. I received the character Leilani, a hula dancer, and Flar was Chief Wiki Wiki, the manager of the Hawaiian Cultural Museum. We started out a bit slow on understanding how to use the little script booklets and clues, but eventually we all got into the swing of things. There were two Leilanis at our table, so I got to take turns with the other Leilani, played by a fellow who reminded me of Nathan Lane.
Flar says I really got into my part. I decided the best way to imitate a hula dancer was to constantly move my hands, and occasionally I put in hand movements to illustrate the dialog as people were talking. I was among the four of us that solved the mystery. The surfer dude, who was friends and partners with Chase, killed him to coverup the fact that he, the surfer dude, had been blackmailing their clients. We had a lot of fun livening up the suggested dialogue and making sure that all the accusations and defenses and clues were revealed.
The action took place in the Summer Palace, so we've gotten to eat there without dressing more formally than we would for the other dining rooms - very fun.
Saturday was our third day at sea, and it was a busy day for me. I started out with the behind the scenes tour of the ship. I took 216 pictures, as we toured the galleys, learned about waste processing onboard, toured the laundry, saw the backstage areas of the Stardust Theater, and finished by seeing the bridge.
We were not treated to empty spaces - each of these places had people busy at work, especially the galleys, laundry and bridge. We only toured the main galley, room service headquarters, pastry, vegetable prep, meat cutting, fridge and freezer. There are many more galleys onboard, and the description of the path of a typical room service order more than explained the 30-45 minute average wait. The sauce chefs, soup chefs, and others were all busily scurrying around while the executive sous chef explained what we were seeing. The bakery chefs, pastry chefs, and meat cutters all gave us demonstrations as they went about their regular tasks.
In the laundry, they showed us the dry cleaning machines and spot-treatment board, and demonstrated the steam presses, mannequin steamers, 275 lb. capacity washers, smaller front loaders for passenger laundry, dryers and manglers. The manglers were fascinating to me - they pressed, dried and folded tablecloths & sheets, pillow cases & napkins, and towels at three sizes of manglers.
The environmental officer was hard to hear as she had a soft voice, but it seems that the ship has a complete waste treatment plant. What food waste that is safe for fish gets ground up and pressed into one-inch cubes to put to sea. The ship incinerates as much of the other food waste and solids from water treatment as is possible. The ash leftover from incineration is stored for removal at the home port. Many of the dry waste products are recyclable, and the ship has facilities for crushing and baling glass, papers, plastics, cardboards and metals. Most of these are sorted into finer categories before baling. We got to walk through the garbage storage fridge - it's kept cool to reduce odor and bacterial growth, and the room smelled only very faintly like stale beer. Flar speculates it was a fermentation smell. The metal cubes looked like a scene out of Wall-E. :)
The cruise director toured us through the backstage areas, and told us details about how the Jean Ann Ryan dance company puts together their dancers for 6 month contracts. We got to take close-up looks at the costumes and wigs, as she explained how the dancers lay out their costumes backstage for those 10 second quick-changes.
For our final segment of the tour, we saw the bridge, and one of the officers explained all of the controls to us. He covered the maneuvering controls, the emergency monitoring station, the communications desk, the navigation desk and the weather station. A lot of the communications and information for the ship uses the internet, but there are also radio-based backups in case the internet connection is down. There is even a tiny little ship's wheel mounted on a stanchion in the middle of the bridge, that is ordinarily controled by the computer but can be turned over for manual control.
After my tour of the ship, I met Flar for lunch in Cagney's Steakhouse. I think we headed back to the room after that, where I finished my Dan Brown novel. I decided I'd had enough exercise, walking the length of the ship serpentine-style, and climbing up and down stairs in the innards of the ship, that I didn't check out the Caribbean Line Dancing class. Instead, we rested up and then dressed up for our dinner in Le Bistro with other members of the forum Flar joined on Cruise Critics. The food was lovely, and we handed in the card that had been placed in our cabin at the beginning of the cruise. Norwegian Cruise Lines treated me to a small birthday cake, since my birthday was the day before we sailed. We shared the cake around with the rest of the Cruise Critics. Since it was my birthday, I ordered two other desserts to try, along with the birthday cake.
The busy day wasn't over yet though -- the second round of the Celebrity Bowling tournament started at 10:30pm. I decided to bowl in my pretty tie-dye dress that I'd worn to Le Bistro, without the embroidered wrap. I managed a much better showing than the first night in my first game; I bowled 121. My second game was a much less impressive 75. But our team bowled well enough together to escape the cut of another 4 teams, which meant that we would go on to the final rounds.
On Sunday, the ship docked in Costa Rica, and Flar had purchased an excursion that started at 8:10am. Whew! The only reason I managed after my late night of bowling, was that the excursion was a bus tour. We started out with a longish drive to the Costa Rican equivalent of a Stucky's. It was a large souvenir shop with rows and rows and rows of shelves, covered with handcrafts. Flar helped me to exercise restraint: we only bought a feather picture to add to the one we have and create a collection; a thimble for my mom, and an enormous bottle of vanilla.
The tour guide kept us entertained with lots of interesting information about Costa Rica as we rode, telling about the areas that we were passing, the geography of Costa Rica, as well as political and economic information. Our next stop was a short visit to a church in San Ramone. Flar actually got me a trip to a church on a Sunday. :) We had 10 minutes to tour the outside, but they were holding service, so we didn't tour inside. We could hear the worship music from outside the church, however, and it was beautiful. The church was constructed in the late 1800s out of stones carved from the Poas volcano. The stones were transported to the church site via oxcart, and assembled using a glue made from egg whites and lime. Since Costa Rica experiences many earthquakes each year, the egg white mortar has in many places been bolstered by cement.
After we got back on the bus, we rode about 30 minutes to the Doka Estate, a coffee plantation whose largest customer is Star Bucks. Our tour guide took us through the estate, showing us first how the coffee plants are planted and cultivated, then how the beans are picked. He showed us what the beans look like inside the outer shell, and what a pea berry is. The coffee beans are generally in two halves inside the shell, similar to each of the peanuts in a peanut shell. About 6% of the beans are "deformed" and the bean inside is whole, rather than in two parts. These beans are called pea berries and are used to make the Pea Berry blend of coffee, our host's favorite.
We got to eat raw coffee beans, which taste most like a green plant-type substance, kind of sweet. It was more like chewing on sugar cane than on a coffee bean. He led us through the various steps of coffee production, from picking, to collection, shelling, fermenting (to remove the sugar), drying, peeling and roasting. There are three grades of beans, and only the first grade is exported. These beans are pale in color, while the darker colors are relegated to the second and third grades and kept for domestic consumption. The darker grades are dried in a rotating dryer. The premium grade is dried in the sun on a big patio, where a worker used a tool similar to a rake to turn the beans so that they dry evenly.
After the beans are dried, they are stored. The customers order beans either dried or roasted, and beans are roasted to order. The different kinds of coffee depend mostly on the amount of time they are roasted. Espresso is roasted the longest. It is during the roasting process that the beans acquire the familiar coffee smell and the rich, dark color.
We went from the tour to eat lunch. Our tour included a buffet meal at the coffee plantation, served on wooden trenchers with banana leaf liners. The food was quite tasty, and the dessert was a crunchy candy made from toasted coconut that Flar has had before in Brazil. Next we visited the gift shop, where we selected coffee for ourselves and for gifts, and picked up a few other gifts, as well.
Our last stop of the day was at a Botanical Gardens that had rescue birds: Scarlet Macaws, a yellow crested cockatoo, some green parrots, and a yellow parrot. There was also a peacock wandering the grounds. They had many beautiful plants, but their main event were the orchids. There are over 1500 varieties of orchids growing in Costa Rica. I didn't know, until we toured the garden, that vanilla is an orchid. We bought a pair of vanilla beans that are twice the length I can usually find in the states.
The bus ride home was very long, and our tour guide put on a video of Costa Rica for us to watch. The images were pretty, but the music was hypnotic. I was starting to wilt by then, so the bus ride back to port probably seemed longer than it really was. We got to the ship shortly before the all aboard time.
After all the beautiful flowers we saw at the Botanical Gardens, we arrived back to our room to see that our butler had delivered a new flower arrangement to replace the one that he had delivered on embarkation day. It's a beautiful arrangement incorporating birds of prey and tiger lilies and bright orange and yellow asters(?) and other flowers I can't name.
Flar and I were both pretty worn out from our long day, and he suggested that we order room service. We had just come to the conclusion that we'd love to have the menus from the main restaurant and the chinese restaurant to help us decide, when our butler showed up at the door with our evening goodies. One of the perks of the suite is our very own butler. Among other things, he brings us a different collection of sweet or savory bites each evening. That night, the plate was antipasti. I ate the melon, and Flar ate the salami and the bell pepper slices, leaving the fish on the plate.
We asked our butler if he could bring us menus from the restaurants, and he was happy to help. He brought us the Indigo and Lotus Garden menus, and told us to call him when we where ready to order. He personally delivered all of our food, complete with a tablecloth for our dining table and silver flatware. He also filled our champagne bucket with ice to chill my bottle of Pellegrino. He then brought our dessert about 45 minutes later, and cleared away our dinner plates. He even stopped me from putting a tip on the dinner bill (Lotus Garden is one of the extra-fee restaurants), since the tip wouldn't come to him. We've absolutely loved having our butler, he is very friendly and eager to help in any way he can.
By the time we'd finished our desserts, we were so tired we both dropped off to sleep. Fortunately it was only 11:30 pm when Flar woke up to the realization that we hadn't hooked up his cycler before bed.
This was the first morning that we officially slept through breakfast. It didn't help that we had to set our clocks forward last night. We decided to start our day with a poolside lunch instead. I brought my laptop with me, to work on the kidcare payroll spreadsheet after I ate. We found a table in the shade, and I decided to go down the water slide and dunk in the pool while we waited for our drinks. My hotdog was nothing special, but the roast chicken was perfect. It literally fell off the bone, and yet it was still juicy. Yummm. I worked on my spreadsheet until Flar had finished his lunch and his beer, and then decided to return to the room with him.
I finished up my spreadsheet while Flar napped, and then left to go back poolside. On my way down, I got entranced by the Del Sol sales. I had decide to let the salt water pool style my hair today, and they were selling butterfly clips that are perfect for sun-drying curls into hair. I also got a bottle of nail polish. Then I headed to the pool deck. I painted my toenails and fingernails to the pleasant sounds of the rasta band. I will never hear Who Let the Dogs Out the same way now that I've heard it rastafied.
After my nails were dry, I swam a few laps, then I read my Esther Friesner short story collection Witch Way to the Mall until it was time to go up to the room and dress for dinner. Flar and I passed each other in the hallways, because he was gone (looking for me) when I got to the room. I decided my hair wasn't completely dry, so I blew it dry, then decided to sparkle for the night. I added sparkle hair spray and my green feather clip. I put sparkle powder on, then choose the tiger-stripes shirt that mom gave me, when paired nicely with green slinky leggings. The only makeup I needed was a bit of lip gloss, but then I felt beautiful for dinner. Flar remarked on how nicely I'd dressed up more than once tonight.
I was heading to Bar City to look for Flar, when I found it him at the elevator, still in his bathing suit. After he didn't find me earlier, he'd spotted an open bed on the pool deck, and napped for a bit. Under the shade on one side of the pool deck, are these great lounge beds. They are roughly the size of a king-sized bed, with a large pad laid over a faux-rattan base. There sides are surrounded to about the hight of a chair-back, and there are a couple of pillows. Most of the time that I've been picking a spot by the pool, all of the beds have been taken, so I can understand how they drew Flar in...
Once we hooked up together, we went back to the room, where I started typing this huge catchup post, while he dressed for dinner. On our way back to the cabin we decided to see if could eat at Cagney's tonight, since I was nice and dressy. We called the concierge (our other suite perk), who easily found us a table after the early show.
Tonight's show was a comedy juggling act called "Sharkbait." The guys in the show were both in the bowling tournament, so I especially wanted to catch their act. They were very talented, very high energy, and very funny. I both a copy of their DVD on the way out of the theater.
We got to the restaurant just on time for our reservation, and had a nice relaxing steak dinner. Flar had the T-Bone and I had the filet. He had onion rings and sautéed mushrooms, and I had the gratin asparagus and garlic mashed potatoes. After dinner, Flar had a french press of coffee, and I had the cheese plate, which came with mashed figs and grapes and honey.
We headed back to the room to prepare for the bowling tournament. I stripped off my necklace and put my card key back around my neck (I keep it in my evening purse for dress up dinners) and got my socks. Flar put a tee shirt on under his sweater for another layer of warmth. Then we headed down to the Bliss Ultra Lounge.
My partner was not on him game tonight, and I was only bowling middling myself. I bowled a 91, and he added 109, but it wasn't enough to make the cut on the first game. Instead of cutting teams after two games, since this was the final night, they cut four teams after the first game. So I didn't make it to the final game, but I did make it to the final night, so I'm pretty darned pleased with myself. And hey, it's really something to have not merely bowled on a cruise ship, but to have bowled in a tournament on a cruise ship. :)
Flar and I headed up to the cabin after that, and I decided to get this journal up-to-date
Tomorrow is a big day: we are crossing the Panama Canal tomorrow. You can even watch for us, on the Panama Canal webcam! Look for the Norwegian Pearl. It has nifty blue piping around the stacks, and a swirl of colorful pearls that look like bubbles on the sides and bow. We are expecting to enter the canal around 6am and exit the last of the locks around 4:10pm, all in Eastern Standard Time, which is an hour behind Eastern Daylight Time. Check us out!