Category Archives: Things To Do

Cruising Ducks

QuackMail

As usual, I’m probably overthinking things, but that’s how I roll.
Since people seem to think one major inhibitor of being notified about their Cruising Ducks or Pirate Ducks being found is the whole “joining the Facebook page” issue, why not invent another way to let people report?
I realize the idea of being notified is another can of worms, but so it goes.
So, while most plastic animals don’t have email, their owners do, so I decided email was the best way to communicate, at least until I figure out how to get a GPS reporting unit inside a plastic duck.
On the other hand, you probably don’t want your personal email address on a bunch of easily lost or discarded tags, so why not have a domain just for plastic ducks? That way, if one address gets compromised, we just throw it away and create another one.
That’s the idea behind QuackMail. I registered quackmail.net and it has 100 free forwarding accounts (I can always get more if this turns out to be popular), so you can now request a quackmail account that forwards to your real email. The only concern I have is making sure people have unique QuackMail names.
[contact-form to=”kjg@cruisexriva.com” subject=”QuackMail Request”][contact-field label=”Your Name” type=”name” required=”1″ /][contact-field label=”Your Email (where QuackMail is forwarded)” type=”email” required=”1″ /][contact-field label=”QuackMail Name (your name@quackmail.net)” type=”text” required=”1″ /][contact-field label=”QuackMail Name (Second Choice) ” type=”text” /][contact-field label=”Comments” type=”text” /][/contact-form]
It’s probably overkill, but we are talking about people who think leaving plastic ducks with personalized tags in various places on random cruise ships is a reasonable activity.
The webpage points back here for now, but eventually, I will get around to creating a real site to let people register online and replace the form above. Eventually.
I realize this is the first step towards re-inventing geocaching, but that was my first thought when I heard about cruising ducks.
We’ll see what happens.
 

Cruising Ducks

Cruising Ducks

(Editor’s Note: for our first example, please see here.)

Sometimes, you hear something so strange (and possibly insane), you wonder why you didn’t think of it yourself. This is one of those occasions.

First, an aside – After all the time I’ve spent with GPS units, you really think I would have become more serious about Geocaching

Geocaching is a sport / avocation / hobby where people hide caches and then leave the GPS coordinates and hints on a website, so others can go out and find them. When you find a geocache, you sign the log book if it’s available and then log your cache on the website. There are also trackables – small items that look like dogtags with serial numbers, so their position can be tracked by serial number. You can watch trackables move around the world, as geocachers take them along on trips and leave them in new and exciting places. 

Someone either didn’t know about trackables, or someone did, and thought, “Serial numbers. Tracking databases. Logging. That seems like a lot of work.”

It’s also impossible to do on a cruise ship, since the GPS coordinates change frequently, and even if you just use the coordinates at the pier, it’s not like the security team is going to let somebody onboard to “look for a geocache since you’re here”. 

Why is life so complicated? Why not just hide something on a cruise ship, have people find it, tell you about it on Facebook, and then hide it again, either on the ship or on another ship on their next cruise? 

Hence, Cruising Ducks.

My wife discovered this Facebook group and immediately ordered rubber ducks (plastic, actually, I think), some custom labels, adhesive labels to print the Info to put on the custom labels, and began chatting incessantly about how fun this would be. 

So, the first secret to getting her involved in anything (she has zero interest in geocaching) is to require her to go shopping. If it’s shopping for something cute, so much the better. 

She is not spoiled by geocaching so she thinks hiding ducks is brilliant. I’m thinking “How do you track the duck from ship to ship? There’s no serial number. There’s no name (well, I named all of her ducks.) There’s no space on the label to write where it has been, just where it started.” 

Apparently, I’m sucking all the fun out of this. 

So, there are a multitude of people (I joined the Facebook group) who go around hiding rubber ducks on cruise ships. Most of them are hidden in plain sight, but most of the passengers are slightly inebriated, so it cancels out. When you find a duck, you follow the instructions on his name tag (hopefully – as in, hopefully, you follow them and hopefully, the owner put them there) and post a photo to the group and then either keep the duck or hide it somewhere else. 

Apparently, the crews all tolerate this. This may be why the daily service charge keeps going up. Duck maintenance. 

The bad part is that there are twenty ducks labeled and ready to go in my house, ten for this cruise and ten for our next one (the second ten are actually Duck Pirates.) I’m wondering what of mine will be left home to make way for ducklings. 

The good part is that someone else posted in the group this week that she had hidden 50 ducks on a five-day cruise and my wife said, “50? Fifty?!!? That’s CRAZY.” 

We’ll see how long she thinks fifty ducks on a cruise is crazy. I give it two cruises. 

Brave New World

I never thought it would happen, but after seventeen cruises, we have finally booked an excursion outside the ship’s excursion offerings. Sure, we’ve had a couple of ports where we just wandered around on our own, but we were never that far from the ship, and it was usually pretty well-planned (and limited) – like going to lunch or meeting people for drinks.
Now, booking through the ship is usually considered a badge of shame on Cruise Critic (which should really be called Cruise Whiners much of the time), because the ship excursions cost more, the selection isn’t as plentiful, and usually because the ones telling everyone not to book through the ship are selling their own excursions.
Me? I like booking through the ship, if there is something interesting available. It goes on the same statement, it’s paid over time with the rest of the cruise fare, and there is some hope the ship will wait if the excursion gets back late.
The last part was never much of a consideration, until Alaska, when excursions were ending just before the ship was going to leave, mainly because the time in port was so short.
So, I never really considered anything else – we either did a ship shore excursion, or we didn’t do anything organized at all. In Cozumel, we would just get a taxi to go to Pancho’s Backyard, which was conveniently in the same building as my wife’s favorite souvenir store, and I would have a margarita or two, and try to pay my bar tab while there was still money in the account.
So, it’s time to shake it up a bit. We’re sailing at Christmas. Again. We’re going to Cozumel. Again. Cozumel is one of the default destinations for all Western Caribbean cruises, and we’re sailing out of New Orleans, so that’s where we’re headed. We’ve done all the interesting excursions, some twice, some that weren’t that interesting, and we’ve just gone to eat and shop.
What’s left?
There are a couple of Cozumel suggestions that always come up – Mr Sancho’s (a beach resort) and the Cozumel Bar Hop. You can’t book either of these through the ship, so it was time to cross over to the self-service excursions.
I always wanted to try the Bar Hop, mainly because it has the word “Bar” in the title, but also because it visits the ocean side of the island (the east side, where no tourists generally go.) We almost decided on it, but then we looked at Mr Sancho’s, and they have an all-inclusive plan – all you can eat, all you can drink.
You can find YouTube videos of people hammered at both places, so that’s a push.
However, when you’re married to a diabetic, as I am, food options are important. There are snacks on the Bar Hop, but it wasn’t clear how much food there is available – or whether someone nameless would actually partake in what was offered. So, all-you-can-eat is a good bonus, especially when the someone nameless approved of the menu. (When you’re married to a diabetic who goes on and on about needing food options, all-you-can-drink is a necessity.)
(It turns out there are a lot of resorts selling day passes in Cozumel. Mr Sancho’s is just the one I heard about first — and most often. Apparently, there is a whole lot to do in Cozumel that is not available through the ship.)
Mr Sancho’s, it is.
So, I booked my first excursion without going through the cruise line. They took a $5 deposit on a $55 all-day fee, so we owe them money when we arrive. We need to have money for the taxi over there and the taxi back. The taxi ride back is the money many people forget about.
Also, we have to remember to get back to the ship on time. This is where all-you-can-drink could be a slight negative.
I will have to see if you tip the waiters enough, if they will pour you into a taxi to get back in time.
They do close at 5pm, so if you’re there at closing time, you’ve missed the ship.

Freighter Travel

It is still possible to travel on a freighter – not the tramp steamers of old, but a massive, scheduled container ship. Companies offer minimal numbers of cabins on freighters in service around the world.
You have a cabin, but the only difference between you and the crew is that your cabin is nicer and you don’t have to work.
Some information I’ve found so far:

This is on my bucket list, because I want to experience the sea – there are few distractions, no excursions, no casino, just a ship across the oceans.
The challenges?

  • My wife has no interest, and with no medical services on board, it’s a gamble for her, anyway.
  • It is quite the time commitment – an Atlantic crossing can take 15 days or more (it can take twice as long as a cruise ship’s crossing.)
  • There are no schedule guarantees – if the ship has to wait for cargo, you just stay in port.
  • You may get a shortened cruise, based on shipping requirements.

The advantages?

  • It is quite the time commitment – the perfect time to finish that novel or write your autobiography.
  • You will share the ship with the crew, and maybe 10-12 other people, max. Hopefully, no idiots on their first cruise.
  • I’m pretty sure you can visit the bridge.
  • You may get a longer cruise, based on shipping requirements.
  • You can pretend to be a sailor more convincingly than on a floating hotel.

I still want to do it! This page is to track information as I find it.

Cruising the Erie Canal

I’m in the planning (very early planning) stages of an Erie Canal cruise. This will take more planning than usual, mainly because there is no Captain or staff. We’re the Captain and staff. This is renting a bare-bones boat and sailing up and down the Erie Canal – through locks, under raised bridges and the whole schmeer.
I think this would be great fun, and my wife actually agreed. Many of the YouTube videos show couples older than us, so if they can do it, we can do it.
Here’s one possible route, with ports (you may have to expand the map to be able to actually read it.) The ports are lettered in order – you depart and return from Macedon. It’s a one-week cruise. Except for North Tonawanda (the termination of today’s Erie Canal), all of the ports are overnights. (I think you have to see the end of the canal, so you sail to North Tonawanda and then head back.)
[googlemaps https://www.google.com/maps/d/embed?mid=1JhPVnHW1AawRUcAcom4ZcMfNj84&hl=en&w=640&h=480]
We’re probably talking 20 miles per day (or so), at about five knots. You need to add time for traversing the locks.
There’s a minimal kitchen onboard, but the itinerary  I mapped (which is a suggestion from houseboating.org) has you overnighting in towns, so you could always just have dinner in town and grab coffee and something on the way out. I don’t think you’re ever far from a town, so you could stop for lunch if you didn’t want to bring food along.
This is a cruise where your cell phones would always work, everyone would speak English, and if the boat stopped, you could probably just walk to the nearest town. (The original Erie Canal was four feet deep, so you could just wade to shore, but it’s deeper now.) It should be simple. (I always fear anything that should be simple.)
I’m starting to collect all the information I can – but I don’t think my request was understood. I now have the brochure on the rental boat and I have the planned itineraries, but I really wanted a Captain’s guide (like LeBoat in Europe has.) I would like some specifics on how you actually drive – it’s a diesel-powered boat, so that should be simple enough. It has bow thrusters for getting in and out of ports. The electrical systems are battery-powered, but it’s not clear how you charge the batteries – unless they charge while you’re connected to hotel power in port.
Much more research to follow. I will document as I go, so I don’t forget anything.
I always wanted to do a LeBoat tour in Europe – mainly on the Shannon in Ireland or through Loch Ness in Scotland. This is a lot closer to home for practicing.
The interesting thing to me is that all the rental companies are pretty much similar in their restrictions: you don’t need a license, we’ll show you how to drive the boat, you have fun, be back on time. (They require insurance and deposits, so they don’t expect it to always go smoothly.)
The tricky part to most of the routes would be the locks, I think. You’re always promised that the lock-keepers are friendly and happy to help, but they must get tired of the same questions all the time. Also, on parts of the Erie Canal, you have to remember to contact the bridge master to have the bridge raised.

Married at Sea

One of the romantic traditions at sea is to be married by the Captain. Someday, I have to research if a ship’s Captain could ever marry someone at sea, although a Notary Public can in Florida, and a Captain certainly outranks a Notary.
I never really thought about being married at sea, but when my wife and I were discussing our wedding almost fifteen years ago, we spent days trying to find a place. Her family is travel-allergic and mine are cranky, so finding a venue was really about us. Most of the cities we both loved had residence restrictions, so they were out, because she had just started a new job and had limited vacation. Plus, I had limited job security, so it wasn’t like I wanted to be away too long.
I finally played my trump card – Hawaii – and she said “Too far.” At that point, I gave up, and told her to tell me where I was supposed to be. The next morning, she suggested Key West. I had never been to Key West, so I agreed.
Then, the research began. In Key West, you get married at sunrise or sunset. We are not morning persons, so sunset it was. Then, you get married on the beach or on a boat. I couldn’t picture being married on a beach with everybody else that had chosen beach and sunset the same day (how big could the beach be?) so it was the boat.
That’s how we got married at sea. On the Dream Catcher, a 60-foot schooner, off Key West. However, the Captain didn’t do the ceremony – the ship suggested Deborah Noeker, a local healing minister (and a Notary Public) who did the ceremony (and did a lovely job).
Later, as our cruising hobby (addiction) began, I thought about the concept of getting married at sea on a slightly larger ship – but Norwegian didn’t do weddings.
Well, now they do.
In fact, they do vow renewals, which is all we need since we’re already shackled. If you choose a vow renewal, you can get the Captain.
So, now, we can get re-married on our fifteenth anniversary, at sea, on a really big ship, by a Captain. (Having the Captain do the ceremony is an extra $200 – for an hour – so, next time you think your plumber is expensive, have him bless your marriage while he’s fixing your leak.)
We’ll see what happens. A vow renewal is much simpler than an actual wedding, but there’s still a lot to cover.
After the event
The Vow Renewal Ceremony was very nice, actually. Everyone got their lines mostly correct, everybody said “Yes”, so we’re still married.
It was worth the money, especially compared to the costs of a wedding ceremony at sea. (I’ve since learned a lot of people get married by the local JP and then have a “wedding” that is really a vow renewal at sea, so the Captain can perform the ceremony and the cost goes way down.)
The Captain performed our ceremony (which doesn’t seem to be an option on the Norwegian website any longer), and it was short and sweet. He was most gracious. We were given sample vows, which I personalized for us, and the Captain led us through the vows. Afterwards, we had cake and champagne, and the photographer led us about the ship for more photos.
After all of the planning and running around beforehand, the ceremony and cake and photos were over in about a half-hour, but it met our needs, and we’re very happy. It was a very small group – just us and my sister-in-law and brother-in-law, so at one point, we were almost outnumbered by the crew.
Word got around on the ship, since we had dinner comp’ed the night of the ceremony, and were presented with an anniversary cake at dessert. We had met the assistant hotel director on an earlier cruise, so after we met him at the Meet & Greet, he had our room decorated, with towel swans, roses, cake and wine. (We had a lot of cake this cruise!)
My only “regret” is that it wasn’t filmed. We do have photos, so that’s better than our first wedding, where we didn’t even have an official photographer – we had friends with a point and shoot.
We saw a very grumpy bride heading back to the ship in Nassau, so at least after our ceremony, everyone was in a good mood. Plus, we didn’t have to walk back to the ship – we were on it.