The other California trip: Cruise portion

It has been a couple of years where I’ve wanted to try out going on a cruise. FIL and MIL and their gaggle of semi-/retired friends go on – it seems – a cruise every year so FIL is on all the right email lists, has a travel agent he books with and knows the process of preparing. I envisioned a full-family affair with the in-laws and going to Alaska which would be new a destination for me.

But factors like reluctance to book last minute to catch deals because I’m not retired like MIL threw a wrench into things. Big life changes taking place in 2015 took that year off the books. This year, SIL is on mat leave and I had plenty of unspent vacation days due to being on leave for a year so we finally did it. FIL found and advocated for a three-night repositioning cruise from Vancouver to LA on Princess Cruises that was 80% discounted from the “Brochure Price” (who pays that anyhow?!) and we were set. Except BIL couldn’t make it. Boo.

I realize that I’m so fortunate to have been able to go away in August and again a month later in a different fashion and with different travel companions. Such a fun two-trip streak ends there, though. The next destination is Halifax for Christmas which is – well, Halifax.

On the Ruby Princess, SIL and we were booked into cabins A716 and A717 respectively. These “interior staterooms” were on Deck 12 and towards the stern. If we had ponied up more money or booked earlier, we could book rooms closer to the middle of the boat which would have been smoother. (As I write this, six days after disembarking, I still get some lightheadness or vertigo. Weird considering that I’ve been on a flight since then, too.) FIL and MIL paid $50 extra each and got a balcony room, a treat after nearly 10 cruises in interior (windowless) staterooms.

It turned out to be quite nice to have a private patio to look out at the city as we set sail. Consequently, we missed out on being on deck with hundreds of other passengers waving farewell to anyone and everyone standing at Canada Place. Since we did not set sail until after 5:00 p.m. and we had dinner reservations at 5:30, we did not stay and watch the boat get even as far as Stanley Park.

At first, FIL had us down for Anytime Dining because that provided us with flexibility you’d think the children would need. Then we switched to a fixed reservation and had dinner at 5:30 each of the three evenings and it was the best decision. The queue we saw each evening outside Da Vinci, our dining room, would not have sat well with the adults or children alike.

After talking to some contacts about going on a cruise, NPY thought we could play it cool and not attend the safety demonstration but with Princess staff lining our halls, it didn’t seem like we could get away with it. As fellow passengers filled up Club Fusion, just one of the muster stations, it started to hit me how many people we would closely be living with temporarily. It got real, and I got worried. You see, we did not purchase cruise insurance for E so I was on edge that his cold would get worse and/or he would get Norwalk and we would be hooped. My anxiety eased over the days when – to the credit of the environment, it didn’t feel like we were elbow to elbow with thousands of other people most of the time.

When colleagues have asked me how the cruise was, I have difficulty being unrestrained effusively happy about it. I think I would enjoy a cruise similar to how I enjoy a long flight: if I were alone. Just yesterday, NPY was floored that I wouldn’t mind the flight from Vancouver to New Zealand because if all I had to do was worry about myself, I’d gladly nap, eat, read, watch movies, write, etc. And on a cruise, I’d have all sorts of other entertainment like swimming, sunning, working out, etc. But on a flight or cruise when I have to take care of others, it is a different story. Although there were eight of us (two under 14 months), we were not completely flexible with our time or what we could do. At times it felt like a day-long battle to feed E in new and overstimulating environments and NPY and I have to abandon the notion of eating hot food to both of us entertain and ply the child with food. I would venture to say I’m not eager to go on another cruise until E is about five years old, a swimmer, independent eater and such. Still, as I like to try different things, I’m glad we did have this experience.

As we narrowed down our cruise choices, a little part of me tingled when FIL was really advocating going with Princess. Nearly two years ago, I met a musician who performs (or used to perform) on Princess Cruises and I didn’t appreciate how talented he is, how much I missed out by not seeing him perform until I watched YouTube clips afterwards. Could it happen…? No. I would have been positively floored if his name turned up in the Princess Cruises email announcing the entertainment we would enjoy. We and the entertainers were stuck at sea for three nights on our dinky repositioning cruise between dinky Vancouver and L.A. This guy, who has been performing on cruises since like 2011 can only be found on boats destined to more exotic locations. Like Mexico, South America, and around the Scandanavian countries, to name a few.

So… then it was all about the food. We did not venture out beyond the venues that were included in our package which meant buffet (Horizon Court) breakfast and lunch, International Cafe for afternoon tea, and our assigned dining room each evening for dinner. More than three days of this and I might balk.

What follows, I realize, is not the prettiest photos of food. I wasn’t going to artfully arrange buffet items when most of the time, I’m in a hurry to start feeding a fussing toddler. The dinner plates were better except I still felt rushed and at some point turned on the HDR feature on my camera.

In summary:

  • Favourite breakfast item: BACON. And making an English muffin breakfast sandwich, you know, like McDonald’s. Assortment of cantaloupe, honeydew and watermelon.
  • Favourite lunch item: Proscuitto, fried chicken, butter chicken.
  • Favourite dinner item: Steak
  • Favourite dessert: None from the dinners. The best tasting was opera cake from the buffet and International Cafe.

First lunch

After the soul-sucking rigamarole of being the in the holding hall with hundreds of already weary travelers and shuffling through customs and check-in, we went out separate ways to drop off our carry-on items and then met up again for our first buffet lunch.

FIL and MIL were already seated and had their plates and the volume of people descending on the buffet was palpable. Getting a tender cut of roast beef by requesting it and starting on proscuitto was nice. So was the opera cake.

First afternoon tea*

For some reason, the buffet where you help yourself and not pay anyone at the end seemed perfectly natural to me. But at the International Cafe on Deck 5 where it is set up like a shop and someone fetches for you the items you request and plate it and you just walk away? The International Cafe is on the wings of the grand Piazza area which is open for about three decks’ height and, excuse the pun, and has some pizzazz.

The white and dark chocolate mousse cup was not bad and I would have liked the ham and cheese croissant (which was primarily for E who didn’t really enjoy it) if it did not have mayo in the center making it soggy.

First dinner

NPY and I got a lesson on cruise ship geography trying to get to dinner which we were already late for. Just because the dining room is on Deck 6 doesn’t mean that you can get there just by going to Deck 6 by the elevators closest to our room. If the dining room or whatever you are looking for is not listed on the directory at the elevator bank, then it is not (easily) accessible.

While dinner was sit-down and served by waiters, it was essentially all-you-can eat. It was “three courses” but we could order more than three courses if we so wished. Thanking we’d have time to eventually check out the entrees that are offered every evening, we concentrated on the daily specials. I tried to be mindful of what E would also be able to eat like melon balls (alas drizzled in port wine), a creamy artichoke bisque and seafood stew a la Curtis Stone. Disappointingly, his favourite part was the hard breadsticks.


The souffle was ready way too fast to be good and the ice cream was nothing to write home about and half melted even when just served.

First breakfast

In our completely dark interior stateroom, we all slept very well and E seemed to not notice the continuous rocking in the slightest. As is the usual routine, I was up when E was, diapered him, threw on some casual clothes and took him away to allow NPY to sleep some more. Breakfast with its challenges seemed to be the easiest meal with regards to feeding E.

I set E up in a highchair closest to the window to look at the waves the boat was creating and playing with sugar packets he kept tossing to the ground. He ate congee which was available every morning and was on the salty side, melon straight from the rind, and plain (non-fat!) yogurt with a prune mixed in.

Recently, Andrea introduced me to her Bacon Fridays ritual which is to grab bacon from the hot food bar at Meinhardts and feast because it doesn’t weigh so much if it’s the crispy ones. I chuckled because it was Bacon- Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday! I would enjoy the selection of sausages and the fried egg, not so much the baked goods, French toast or yucky and cold salmon quiche.

Second lunch

More of the same. Nothing really stood out from this plate and I hadn’t picked much (except the salty soup) that was suitable for E.

Second afternoon tea

The steak and kidney pie and beets were for E who wasn’t in the mood in the least. The beets were laced with cilantro (why??) so I didn’t have any.

We finally found the Pizza and Ice Cream Bar which was on Deck 15 and near one of the pools. I had envisioned scooped ice cream so soft serve was a bit of a let down. The colour of the vanilla (so bright white) and chocolate (so dark) looked off and it tasted icy and the sprinkles didn’t taste like anything but synthetic and chemically. I wasn’t keen to return but NPY did the next day and said the chocolate side was a more suitable colour.

Second dinner

We didn’t see MIL or SIL all day as they were lain flat with seasickness. SIL didn’t want to take medication because she is still breastfeeding while MIL had some anxiety and avoided medication. NPY took a Bonine tablet before we set sail but found that he wasn’t very ill afterall and would feel fine again after popping onto deck. So it was was dinner that we would come together in a civilized setting and not be getting up at asynchronous times and getting the next helping.

Three of us ordered the game and wild mushroom pate (incidentally, it was the three women) and it was an odd appetizer to me. I ordered the cock-a-leekie soup because I had not heard of it before and E enjoyed the drowned rice bits of it. And I felt healthier for having fish over lentils. Meanwhile, NPY ordered the Curtis Stone creation which was a pork belly entree.

To continue trying to cleanse our palate – already, on the second day – I ordered the red current sorbet and we tried the New York style cheesecake that NPY, who doesn’t like cheesecake as much as I do, enjoyed more.


Second breakfast

I was careless and balanced a cup of milk on my plate and it tipped over and flooded my breakfast. Thus, no photo.

Last lunch

I finally found the fried chicken and it was decent. For our last lunch, it seemed like they pulled out all of the stops (relatively speaking) and had all sorts of different ethnic cuisines of which I was only interested in Indian: a dollop of saag paneer and a second round to pick up butter chicken on coconut rice. The coconut rice was for their Thai dishes which did not interest me.

Last afternoon tea

It’s funny how tired I felt even though I wasn’t doing all that much during the day. The eating and frustration getting E to eat was catching up to me as well as other minor health annoyances. The watermelon-arugula-tomato-bocconcini salad was looking really refreshing and palate cleansing. And since I hadn’t seen it before, ordered the pistachio mousse or whatever it was.

On our last full day, I exercised some of my interests like attend my first art auction where I learned of Peter Max and a beautifully simple drawing of his umbrella man would cost me US$5,000 if I pre-bid. And they were really pushing Chris DeRubeis’ work but no one was having any of it. I also learned that Thomas Kincades were relatively affordable and yearned a little after some pieces that were put on Power Hour and didn’t get that expensive.

After afternoon tea, I pushed for more free time and enjoyed some time on Sun Deck (16), my only such time in the three days. Aside from not being dressed for suntanning and my deck chair was just one of several haphazardly strewn in an open area neither here nor there, it was blissful.

Last dinner

For our last dinner aboard, I decided not to be so experimental. With E along and paying half an adult fare, we ordered a portion of pasta each evening which I didn’t usually photograph because it is quickly cut into smaller pieces for him and we tried everything they had to offer from their pasta Alfredo to an oxtail ragu to pasta vongole. And I could also order a soup (double beef consomme that evening) “for the child”.

Neither NPY nor I could resist essentially a pot pie appetizer in the chicken and sweetbread appetizer and I also ordered a Caesar salad for some tasty greens. Continuing on the more traditional fare, I ordered the steak and it was surprisingly cooked to the degree I specified. NPY tried another Curtis Stone creation and had his second pot pie of the meal.

Dessert was non-fabulous again with Baked Alaskas obviously cut from a giant slab and a dense-looking deep dish apple pie.

Last breakfast

Some people, like NPY, didn’t manage to get breakfast on the last day because we were in Walk Off Group 6 and set to meet at 8:05 a.m. But I was intent on getting breakfast and grabbing some food and snacks for E like yogurt (and a prune), a wedge of honeydew and a banana. So I went for breakfast at 5:30 while NPY and E continued to sleep and admired the pre-dawn view of the Port of Los Angeles we pulled into in the middle of the night. Since half the dining room was closed, it was busy even at the early hour and I joined a solo diner at a four-top because I wanted to sit by the window. And after he left, a nice couple from Vernon joined me and I finally had a conversation with fellow passengers (and a meal without having to worry about E).

* In the etiquette chapter of Kevin Kwan’s China Rich Girlfriend, I remember Carina admonishing Kitty for referring to the meal as “high tea”, as if that was the elegant or accurate way to say it. But it would be wrong.

On this day..