Sunday, May 12, 2019

Amazon & Carnival Explorer Cruise - Final Thoughts and Reflections

When I sat down to write my final thoughts for this cruise, I had a hard time knowing where to start.  My thoughts are a bit of a jumble as there were both high and low points on this cruise.  That’s not to say we didn’t enjoy the cruise, it’s just that it had challenges that were different than any other trip we have taken.  I think the best way to organize my thoughts is to start with some memories of the high points of the cruise.  There were two highlights of this cruise that made it one of our best cruises.

First off, being in Rio for Carnival was something I will always remember.  It wasn’t on my bucket list, and before we booked this cruise I wasn’t really interested in going.  But what a surprise!  It was great, and now I know why everyone loves Carnival in Rio.  On top of just being in Rio for Carnival, visiting the Sambadrome for the Samba parade was one of those "experiences of a lifetime" for us.

Many, many years ago my Dad took me to a World Series game at Dodger Stadium between the Yankees and the Dodgers.  The Dodgers were ahead by one run with two out in the ninth inning, and Dodger pitcher Bob Welch was facing the feared Reggie Jackson.  The intensity and excitement of the crowd was electrifying and when he struck out Reggie Jackson to end the game, the crowd became one, and the intensity and release of emotion was overpowering.  I will never forget that feeling, and being in the Sambadrome gave me a similar feeling.  The intensity in the Sambadrome wasn’t as instantaneous or focused, but it was over a much longer period of time.  The samba music blasting through the speakers, the intense colors, the dancing, singing and excitement of the crowd just carried you away.  The experience is very hard to describe.  I won’t belabor this as I wrote extensively about that night in my blog post on the Sambadrome, but I will say once again, for us it was one of those experiences of a lifetime.

The other highlight of this trip was our journey up the Amazon.  Seeing the Amazon was the reason we booked this cruise and it not only lived up to our expectations, it exceeded them.  The immensity of the river is awe inspiring and seeing the unique culture and life along the Amazon was equally fascinating.  I can’t pinpoint any one thing specific about it that we liked the most, it was just the overall experience of traveling on the Amazon.  Although it was a very different experience than the one in the Sambadrome, it was also something we will never forget.

The other cities we saw in Brazil were all on the coast and known mostly for their beaches.  They were interesting and we enjoyed our visits, but they tended to blend together.  The focus was on the beaches and for whatever reason, there seemed to be no tours outside the cities and into the countryside.  I don’t know whether it was the lack of tourist infrastructure or interest, but all the tours seemed focused on city tours or the beaches.  The beaches are wonderful, but I wanted to see more of the countryside.

The Caribbean Islands we visited were beautiful and interesting, but somehow seemed like an afterthought as we were so focused on our visit to Brazil and the Amazon.  We talked to quite a few people who felt the same way as we did.  We did enjoy our visits to the various islands, but nothing stands out.  I think we will have to take a dedicated Caribbean cruise to really appreciate them.

For all the wonderful things we did on this cruise, there were some negatives.  First off, before we even went we had to get shots for yellow fever and a prescription for malaria pills; that was a bit scary.  There were also the safety concerns in the Brazilian cities that we were constantly reminded of.  We never really had any trouble, but it was always in the back of our minds and there were a few people that did have some problems.

The worst part of the trip by far was the constant heat and humidity.  It wasn’t bad in the Caribbean, but as soon as we neared the equator it got very bad.  The combination of heat and humidity just wore us down.  We would start out the day thinking it wasn’t too bad, but it was just relentless and you couldn’t escape it.  Thank goodness most of the buses we rode on had decent air conditioning, but most of the shops, museums, etc. had very little, if any type of cooling.  Although where we live can be very hot in the summer, there is very little humidity so we are just not used to it.

This is getting far longer than I had intended, but there is one more thing I wanted to write about.  I turned 71 on this trip and it depressed me a bit to think about how old I was getting, but I also thought about how lucky I was and what a great wife and life I have.  Before I retired in 2012, Val and I had been overseas once and that was a work trip to France.  Since I retired we have visited over 40 countries; we have spent Val’s birthday in Norway, our anniversary in Greenland, Thanksgiving in Sardinia and now, my birthday in Brazil.  We are truly lucky and although I hate getting older I have to remember what my dad always told me, “it beats the alternative”.  Anyway, thanks to Val for making my birthday so special and being such a wonderful travel companion.  Travel just wouldn’t be so special without her.

As far as upcoming trips go, we have trips to Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe planned for the summer, but our next big trip (and blog entry) will be a road trip to British Columbia this fall.  We will be taking a two week train trip through the Canadian Rockies on the Rocky Mountaineer, and when we return from that we will spend a little over a week exploring Vancouver Island.  That’s it for now.  Congratulations if you’ve read to the end of this post and the lengthy blog post about our trip to the Caribbean/Brazil/Amazon.  As always, we’ll see you on down the road.

Amazon & Carnival Explorer Cruise - Home

Wednesday, March 27

There was no rush to get up this morning as we wanted to visit my Dad on our way home.  He is 93 years old and in very bad health, and his health had gotten even worse during our cruise so we were fortunate we could stop and see him, and as it turned out it was our last visit with him.

Since my body was still on East Coast time, I couldn’t sleep in and was up before 8:00, but Val had no such trouble so I let her sleep on.  Janis had already left for work so I didn’t see her, but I did get a chance to talk to my brother for a while before he had to leave for work.  Val finally made her way downstairs fully rested and ready to hit the road so I started loading the car, but unfortunately we ran into a glitch.

We had left our car with my brother while we were gone and he had parked it in the street in front of his house.  I decided to drive it into his driveway to make it easier to load our luggage, but when I tried to start the car, there was nothing but clicks, the battery was dead.  Doug had driven it several times, but evidently that wasn’t enough.  I called the Auto Club and within a half hour they had arrived and given me a jump start and we were on our way.

We made our stop to see my dad which was very sad for both Val and I.  My dad has lived a long and good life, but he has had severe dementia for quite a while and over the last year it has escalated so it really was his time to go, but it is still hard to see, and left us both shaken and emotional when we left.  As we drove north we talked for a while about what a good life he and my mom had, and what great parents they were. 

After a while we were both getting hungry, we decided to stop at our favorite Mexican Restaurant, Los Arroyos in Camarillo.  After an excellent lunch, it was a straight drive home and we were there by 3:30.

It was great to be home and everything seems to be in good shape despite us being gone for almost two months.  We did some unpacking, but decided to leave everything else for tomorrow and just relaxed for the rest of the afternoon and evening.  The last two times I have come home from a long trip, I have turned on my computer and have had something fail, but this time it worked fine and I am sitting here tonight finishing up the blog.  All I have left to do is write up my final thoughts and then I can get to our photos and start publishing the blog.

Amazon & Carnival Explorer Cruise - Debarkation Day and Our Flight Home

Tuesday, March 26

We were up at 7:00 this morning as we were scheduled to leave the ship at 8:00.  We quickly got cleaned up and dressed and had one last breakfast in the Neptune Lounge and then sat and waited for our debarkation priority number to be called.  Just after 8:00, our group was called and we left the ship into the semi-chaos of the port terminal.

The first thing to do was to claim our luggage and we quickly found it, but then had the problem of how we get it to and through customs as we had eight pieces altogether.  We had two large pieces that we will ship home, two medium pieces that we will check at the airport, and two carry-ons each.  I always have several carry-ons because of the camera equipment I carry, plus my laptop computer and I would never chance checking that.

So, I was trying various stacking methods so we could get them to customs when a porter walked up and asked if we needed help.  Indeed we did ,so he loaded everything on his cart and led us on to customs.  Several years ago we had signed up for Global Entry and the Florida cruise port is one of the few that have a Global Entry line.  That speeds things up a lot and after just a few minutes we were through customs, and out of the terminal.

The last few times we have cruised we have used a company called Luggage Forward to ship our two biggest pieces of luggage.  It is a little pricey, but it makes things so much easier; they pick it up from our home and deliver to our room on the ship and when we return they pick it up right outside the terminal and deliver it back to our home a few days later.

When we exited the terminal, the first thing we saw was the Luggage Forward people standing there, so with the help of our porter, we gave our two large bags to them which lightened our load considerably.

Our flight didn’t leave until just before 5:00 PM so we had a lot of time to kill so we signed up for an airport transfer that included a tour.  After getting rid of the two bigger bags we had to make our way to the bus parking area to find our tour and the porter insisted on continuing on with our load of luggage.  He was of course working for tips, but he was very nice and friendly and very helpful, he earned every bit of the generous tip we gave him.

The tour we selected would take us to Everglades National Park for an airboat ride through the everglades and then to hear some talks on some of the animals they have there.  The weather couldn’t have been better as the temperature was very mild and the humidity was quite low.  Before leaving for the Everglades, we had to wait quite a while on the bus for everyone to clear customs as the lines were long (thank goodness for Global Entry), but we were finally on our way.

It was about a 45 minute ride to the park and on the way our guide talked to us about the history of the area and the park, and some interesting facts about the park.  When we got there the first thing we did was get on the air boats for a 45 minute ride through the everglades.

To be honest we didn’t expect much and didn’t even bring our cameras, but we had a great time.  The area is beautiful and we saw quite a few alligators (some of them up close) and lots of birds.  The ride on the air boat was fun and the boat driver was knowledgeable and knew where to go to find the alligators.  I really regretted not bringing my camera and had to use my cell phone to take pictures.

Our airboat driver and guide, she was quite knowledgeable as she had spent most of her life in the Everglades.

This was almost to close for comfort and made me a little nervous.

After the boat ride, we made our way to the animal exhibits.  The animals are all rescued animals who have been injured or been found young and were unable to survive on their own.  There were alligators, snakes and birds as we expected, but there was also some big cats which are in the area which surprised me.

We saw all the animals and heard the talks about them and then it was time to board the bus and head back to Fort Lauderdale and the airport.  We were dropped off at the Alaska Airlines terminal and went in to check our luggage and then get something to eat, but just like last year, there was no one there to check us in as the check-in is only available two or three hours before the flight.

Without checking our luggage and getting our boarding passes, we couldn’t go through security and to the area where all the restaurants were, so we were forced to sit in the outer terminal and wait.  Val did find a place to buy sandwiches so we didn’t have the meal we wanted to, but at least we weren’t hungry anymore.

Around 2:00 the ticket counters opened up, but the lines were so long we didn’t see any reason to stand in line so we waited until they thinned a bit before checking in.  We finally got our boarding passes, checked our luggage and made our way through security and to the gate area to wait for our flights.  Our Global Entry also gives us Pre Check for the TSA screening so that made things much easier.  It was a bit of a hassle to get, but the Global Entry cards have been well worth it to us.

We had about an hour and a half to kill before our flight so we spent the time reading and taking turns walking around the terminal area.  The time went by quickly and our flight was on time, and we actually boarded on time for a change.  The flight from Los Angeles to Fort Lauderdale was five hours long, but the flight back to Los Angeles was six hours long.  I don’t know whether it was the prevailing winds or just a slower plane, but time seemed to crawl by.

We finally arrived in Los Angeles and made our way to the luggage claim area where we met Doug and Janis, my brother and his wife, who were there to take us back to their home where we’ll spend the night.  It is so nice of them to do that as they are not close to the airport and have to deal with the LA traffic.  Thank you so much Doug and Janis!

When we got to Doug and Janis’s house, Val and I went straight to bed as we were very tired.  It was only around 9:30, but it was 12:30 AM in Florida and we had gotten up early this morning so we were looking forward to sleep.  As most travel days are, it was a long and tiring day, but everything went very well with no problems or delays so as tiring as it was, it went as well as it could have been.  Tomorrow we drive home.