Hola desde bonita Ensenada… Hi from beautiful Ensenada. I’m starting this post from the Starbucks within walking distance from the ship. You may be getting the idea that I would rather have a good cup of coffee than a frozen concoction to help me hang on. Usually you would be correct. But… today my quest is to find a place to buy Rancho Escondido tequila. Well, that is, after I have a decent cup of coffee.

 You see, I visited Cabo on a cruise about a year ago. I should have gone there again this year too, because it’s fifteen or twenty degrees warmer farther south. Anyway, in Cabo I went to a place called “The Happy Ending”. They had a special: two shots and two beers for five bucks. That price seemed to be too good to be true. I figured it would be a very small glass of beer and a thimble size shot of tequila. But no… these were full size shots and two regular bottles of beer.

I didn’t drink the beer, but the guy I was with said it was good. (Bloody Mary stayed back on the boat for this one.) Added to this, I had never done shots before. So that was a first for me:

Ariba – Abajo – Al Centro – Al Dentro… that’s sort of the Mexican version of “Over the lips and past the gums… look out stomach, here it comes”. First, limes were prepared as was a little salt on the back of my hand. I licked the salt… and then it was “down the hatch”. I fully expected to wretch and gag with some foul, burning stuff going down my throat. Instead, the tequila went nicely. A quick suck on the lime and I let out an aaaaahhhhhhhhh.

Yeah, there was a bit of burn, but it was OK. My friend and fellow piano bar enthusiast Laura has the motto, “I’ll try anything twice… once to see if I like it. And a second time to confirm my opinion.” Since the first shot seemed pretty good, I needed to confirm my opinion.

After the second shot, my opinion was confirmed… this was pretty good stuff. On the day, a number of other shots went down. I have since been told that before making it back to the ship, there were some bikini clad twenty-somethings involved. I plead complete innocence. It’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Now the point of telling you about that cruise, is my quest today is to find some of that Tequila. Before I staggered out of “The Happy Ending” we found out that the brand of tequila they used for the shots is “Rancho Escondido”. Ok… I didn’t remember that, but the guy I was with took a picture of the bottle on his phone.

It turns out that you can’t buy Rancho Escondido in the U.S. Hence today’s quest. I’ve finished my coffee, so it’s time to get to it. More later…

OK… it’s later.

Before I tell you where I found the Rancho Escondido, I need to mention, that I really don’t like Ensenada. The first time I came here, also on a cruise, I decided I really didn’t ever want to go back. Well, this is my fourth cruise back here. And I still don’t like it. But since I like cruising, this just happens to be where the ship goes. So the only reason I got off the ship today was for the Tequila.

You can walk to the “downtown” area (and the Starbucks) from the ship. It’s about 3/4 of a mile from the ship’s gang-plank to Starbucks and a couple of short blocks from there to the “downtown” area. I put the “downtown” area in quotes, because the area I’m talking about is really just a Grande Tourista Trap-o. I suspect it’s what the locals think the Gringo del Norte’s are looking for… barkers from every store trying to pull you in to make a great deal on the junk they have. “Come in… look around… I make you a good deal my Amigo.”

There are lots of pharmacias in the area. I think these are mostly for the Gringos Del Norte too. There are huge signs for Viagra, Cialis and the like. In case you can’t read, there’s a superman like character with a big “V” on his chest… ViagraMan. ViagraMan has a large bulge in his pants.

Viagra Man -  Standing proud

Viagra Man – Standing proud

I thought it quite amusing that the “Be Happy Pharmacy” only had mention of Viagra and Cialis on their great big sign… with a maternity cloths store right next door.

Buy Viagra, Cialis and then go next door to buy maternity clothes.

Buy Viagra, Cialis and then go next door to buy maternity clothes.

All along the way there are street vendors trying to sell you a grain of rice, or a little bracelet with your name on them. A variety of beggars are there to greet you as you pass by. They say nothing… just holding out their tin cup and rattling a few pesos they have in it. You’ll also find old ladies supervising little children… maybe four to six year old children. The children are instructed to go to each Gringo passerby to hold up their box and offer “chickleys?” I don’t know if they think this is what Gringos expect or what. But I guess I’m a sucker. If I have any pesos as change, I always give it to someone on my way back to the ship. I just hope that at the end of the day they don’t go around the corner, get in their new Mercedes and drive home.

Get away from this area and I suspect the rest of Ensenada is quite different. I know there’s a Walmart, McDonalds, Home Depot, Ashley Furnature and an Applebees Neighborhood grill and bar. I’m not making any of that up… it’s all in an area where I suspect there’s normal life. That area is about 3.5 miles south of the cruise port.

But for the tourists, there’s “downtown.” It’s interesting to go there the first time, but after that… well, if I wasn’t looking for the tequila I would never go “downtown”. From past trips I knew that there were tons of liquor stores “downtown”… and I went into most of them. But, no Rancho Escondido. They all wanted to “make me a deal” on some expensive tequilas, but none had what I wanted.

I was about to give up, but something told me to try something else. I was out to the edge of the Grande Tourista Trap-o and spotted a grocery store. I went in, wandered around a little bit and found a section where they had wine and…. ta-daaaaahhhhhh, Rancho Escondido. I looked at the price… did a quick conversion… let’s see… 68 pesos at about 6 cents to a peso… or is it six pesos to a dollar or…

Well, it didn’t seem to bad so I grabbed three bottles. When I got to the check-out they translated it into dollars for me… not quite $12.00. In my best Spanish I asked, “?Cada Uno?” The reply came back, “No… por los tres”. No, for all three. I should have brought a bigger back-pack.

Rancho Escondido - mmmmmm-mmmmm good

Rancho Escondido – mmmmmm-mmmmm good

With that I merrily headed back to the ship… passing back through “downtown”. No, I don’t want any women… no, I don’t want any dope… or anything else you’re trying to sell.

When I got back to the ship, my backpack with all the tequila in it went through the scanner. The security guy told me I had to check my booze in at the table and I could pick it up at the end of the cruise. I did check it in… both bottles.

Adios, Ensenada


Catalina Island

The first time I went to Catalina Island I was a tween-ager… around twelve or thirteen. My parents owned a 16-foot cabin cruiser. One weekend we went to Long Beach to launch our boat for a day adventure. It was a really nice day. As we were launching the boat we could see Catalina. It’s only 21 miles off shore. So, on the spur of the moment my parents decided we would go there and spend the night.

Off we went… it probably only took around an hour or a little more to get there. It was a reasonably nice ride getting there… considering it was a 16-foot boat. We looked around the stores and shops a bit during the day and went to the old “casino” in the evening. Even back then it wasn’t a casino. The only thing I remember was it had some kind of stars on the ceiling of what was then a theater. The presentation was something about the universe.

When we got up the next day the weather had set in. Visibility was only a mile or two and the seas had risen to 10-12 foot swells. For me, it was a great adventure to head out into the ocean with those swells. I thought, “People pay extra for such thrill rides and I was getting it for free”. And since we couldn’t see land we had to navigate just using a little compass on the dashboard. No GPS or electronic navigation in those days. Yes indeed, great adventure for a tween-ager. I just didn’t understand why my dad seemed so concerned.

This time… many moons later, the boat is a teeeeny bit bigger… an 850+ foot long, zillion ton, cruise ship. We sailed from Long Beach around 5:30 P.M. It took about 14 hours to get to Catalina. All the stuff on the island is there just like when I was a kid… well, sort of. I don’t think much has changed in the years since I was first there. But somehow, I remember Avalon as being a lot bigger.

For all of the following pics, you can click into them for full size.

Avalon is a small village surrounded by desert hills.

Avalon is a small village surrounded by desert hills. You can see the famous “Casino” in the middle right of the pic.

The town of Avalon is small. You can see from the pics it is little more than a village next to the little harbor. Most of the island is a desert and there are very few permanent folks living there. The total population is a little over four thousand. Most of them, about 3500, live in Avalon. The other principal place is “Two Harbors” where around three hundred people live. Cruise folks rarely go to Two Harbors.

The cruise ships now have large tenders to get you ashore. The last time I was on a cruise here they used boats that were only a little bigger than a rowboat. When we went ashore in those tenders, Bloody Mary was a little nervous… and a little green. These new tenders are large, stable ships and can take maybe a couple hundred people… a vast improvement over the old tenders.

I didn’t do any of the tours that are available. But I did gather up a lot of information  about the tours that are offered locally. Perhaps I’ll write a guide later on. For today I just did a walk-about.

A variety of tours you can do yourself. There's a park in the middle of town where you pick up these tours.

A variety of tours you can do yourself. There’s a park in the middle of town where you pick up these tours.

You can walk around most of the Avalon area in a few hours. There are lots of quaint shops to look in. Yes, some are the standard tourist type shops like in a lot of the Caribbean ports, but Catalina is different. Instead of being covered with trinket places, there are a variety of boutique stores with clothing, art, and collectables.

There are boutique type shops all along the Avalon bay.

There are boutique type shops all along the Avalon bay.

I found a nice little place to have a good cup of coffee. I like coffee most mornings, but the coffee on cruise ships is PATOOOOOYYYY. I usually bring some of those coffee bags with me so all I need is just hot water to have something that passes for coffee. But this time I didn’t bring any because this is just a quickie. So… I was really glad to find the Catalina Coffee and Cookie Co. It’s just a little place in the “Metropole Marketplace” with outdoor tables.

Even though it was a little cool, I sat outside and used their internet (free with purchase) to check email and such. I didn’t bring my computer with me… I had decided not to post the “live froms”… so I just used my smart phone to check on stuff. What a world we live in today. Anyway. I would have stopped in there for the coffee even if there were no internet. There coffee was really good. I won’t try to tell you exactly where it is because I would only confuse you. But… if you are a coffee lover, Google the Catalina Coffee and Cookie Co. before you go to find out where it is. Oh… I almost forgot, they have fresh homemade cookies too. I didn’t have any, but they smelled good.

Thanks to Google Earth... here's the Catalina Coffee and Cookie Co.

Thanks to Google Earth… here’s the Catalina Coffee and Cookie Co.

[One of the good things about putting the finishing touches on this stuff after the cruise is over is that I can use all the stuff on my desktop computer to give you more information. Thanks to Google Earth and a little of “paint” you can see exactly where the Catalina Coffee and Cookie Co. is. Tell them Kokomo Man sent you. And no… I don’t get anything for putting this here. Not even a free cup of coffee.]

There are also several ice cream shops. These aren’t the cheapie type… these are the mmmmmm – mmmmmm good places with 453 rich, creamy flavors for you to choose from. I thought I would just have one right after I got off the ship. But as the day wore on, I stopped in three different places. Each had its own character and the ice cream was GREAT. Now that I’m back on the ship, I wish I could have one more. Of course as it is… and with all the chocolate melting cake, I’m going to have to spend an extra 30 minutes in the gym every day of the trip.

I also strolled over to the famous casino. It’s the iconic spot on the island. A long time ago it stopped being an actual casino. Today, it’s sort of a history museum about the island. It costs five bucks to go in on a self-guided tour… twenty-five bucks for the whole guided tour. I was getting low on time so I didn’t go. Instead I just walked around and took some pics.

Here's another view of the casino. This pic is taken from water's edge in Avalon

Here’s another view of the casino. This pic is taken from water’s edge in Avalon. During the summer all of those mooring balls will have private boats hooked to them.

For those that like to SCUBA dive, there is a dive shop right in the back of the “Casino”. I have never been diving there… or anywhere off the coast of California because the water is so cold. That said, lots of people tell me that the diving in Catalina is great. There are huge kelp forests and the lots of the orange Garibaldi fish the area is known for. So if you don’t mind wearing a 7mm wet suit, it’s probably a good place to dive. I’m told it’s also a good place to snorkel.

It was still a bit chilly today… then anything below 80 is chilly to me. I didn’t expect to see anyone diving or snorkeling but sure enough there were people there. As I arrived, four people were just getting in the water at the bottom of the steps. The first two tippy-toed down into the water without saying anything. Then a third person just leaped in. Remember Chevy Chase in the movie “Vacation”… when he jumped in after a very “hot” Christine Brinkley. Well… after this guy jumped in, he came up hollarin’ “COOOOLD” (Just in case… here’s a the link to the Chevy Chase scene on youtube: )

Diving there behind the casino is a shore dive and you enter the ocean via a set of steps down to the water from the casino. You can either just rent the gear right there if you have someone to dive with or you can go with one of the dive-masters / instructors in a group. I talked to a couple of the dive masters, and they said that they put together groups throughout the day. Of course the ship offers dive tours, but I think I would rather just join a group there ashore.

They also offer “discover scuba” where people that have never been diving can give it a try. The instructors will take you through all the basics and within a little while you will be diving. Although I prefer the warm Caribbean or Florida Keys (AKA the Northern Caribbean), Catalina might be a good spot for some of you to try out SCUBA.

SCUBA divers in their thick wet suits. Burrrrrrrr!!!

SCUBA divers in their thick wet suits. Burrrrrrrr!!!

When I write the guide to Catalina, I’ll tell you about all the tours available. But for now I’ll tell you that while I was researching the tours I did find out that Carnival now offers a 110% price match guarantee. It goes something like this… “If you find the same tour offered at a lower price, they will pay you 110% of the difference”. I don’t have the details, but I will check it out and let you know.

There are also two small beaches within easy walking distance from the pier where the tenders let you off in Catalina. It was a bit cool today, so there was plenty of room on the beach. But I suspect the beaches will be quite crowded in the summer time.

Another view of Avalon as we approached the dock.

Another view of Avalon and the desert hills.

Of course there are plenty of “watering holes” within easy walking distance. That said, they don’t line the street like Key West or a lot of the Caribbean areas. I did not see any of the big chain watering holes like the Senior Frogs or Hard Rocks typical of the Caribbean. Still you won’t have any trouble finding a place to have a frozen concoction to help you hang on.

I stopped in at “Maggie’s Blue Rose” for a bite to eat and margaritas. Ok… it was mostly for the margarita, but the food was really good. Maggie’s is right there along the bay. You shouldn’t have any trouble finding it. When I come back to Catalina again, I’ll be sure to eat… and have a frozen concoction to help me hang on at Maggie’s.

Everything here was mmmmm-mmmmm good.

Everything here was mmmmm-mmmmm good.

That’s all for today. Tomorrow it’s on to Ensenada… Ole!


Day O – part II

I’m back (duh). It’s the end of Day Oh. Bloody Mary is in the casino getting rich… yeah, right. While she’s there, I’ll do a wrap up on today.

The mustard drill is about serious business. I know that. Yeah… I know, it’s muster drill, but I just can’t quite take it serious even though I know I should. Even though it’s important, Carnival continues to loose everyone’s attention. First, we gathered in one of the lounges. A moderator tells everyone to be quiet because this is important stuff. Then we sit there. After a few minutes everyone starts a little chatter. There’s nothing else coming from the moderator nor over the ship’s intercom.

Once again, the moderator asks for absolute silence… and once again, after a few minutes everyone starts a little chatter. This time, the moderator demands absolute silence and after an even shorter period everyone starts to chatter. This repeats itself several times for twenty or thirty minutes. It gets to the point where it starts to become comical. Finally, the Capi’tan comes on and says a few words that most folks can’t understand. Then the cruise director, “Goose,” comes on. By this time most folks…

Well, I’ll stop there because you get the idea. Finally, they take the whole crowd out to the area where the lifeboats are. We stood there in the chilly weather and to be honest, I don’t remember a thing that happened there. So much for the “fire drill”.

It was nearly dark by the time we sailed out of Long Beach. The harbor and coastline are all lit up and it really sparkels. There’s what looks to be a sea wall with multi-color lights, a Ferris wheel and a bunch of other stuff at some kind of amusement park. Everything adds to the sparkle. If you get a chance you really have go out on the poop deck to see it. It’s quite pretty.

I still lament the loss of live bands during the sail-away… especially the one or two man bands on the Lido deck in the afternoons or during the sail-aways. The DJ they now have is OK… but just OK. And on this ship the sound system doesn’t seem to be up to par so it is just becomes some loud background noise. Although Carnival seems to have brought back the steel-drum type band on other ships… not this one.

Dining at the “American Table”… This is Carnivals latest scheme for dining on some ships. Dinner was good and the service was what I’ve come to expect from Carnival… which means very good. But… now here it comes… Carnival seems to have hit the height of cheapness. Their “American style” dining sucks. They’ve started by doing away with the tablecloths. That in and of itself isn’t a big deal. But now, instead of a clean tablecloth between the early and late sittings, there’s just the bare table… the table where you can still see the traces of the wash cloth that wiped down the table. EEWWWWWW. Some of the silverware gets put on the table. EEWWWWWW. I learned to “intercept” the silverware before it hit the table and put it on my bread plate instead.

Doing away with tablecloths isn’t the only bad thing. Now instead of serving bread to each person before ordering your meal, they just put a platter of bread on the table for everyone to share. They also put pitchers of ice water on the table for everyone to help themselves to. This wouldn’t be a bad thing if you were just with family. But I like to sit at one of those big round tables that seat eight or ten people. You know… the ones in the middle of the dining room. Last night they sat down the bread by the guy next to me. He decided that he needed to see which pieces of the bread were soft before he chose the one he wanted. Then he passed the platter on to me… EEWWWWWW. I decided I didn’t want any bread.

NOTE TO BEAN-COUNTERS: Some things may look good on paper… and they aren’t!

A while back Carnival started offering their “Didja” (“didja” = “did you?”). They still have it here… only they don’t call it that.) Each night the “Didja” offers exotic stuff like snails, frog legs and the like. Tonight’s didja was alligator fritters. For me, every one of the didjas have always been notgunnas.

The menu has changed. They used to have two pages of stuff. One page was the stuff you could order every day and one page was for each day’s special stuff. The special stuff used to have three or four entries. Now there is only one page and seems to be one “special” of the day and everything else is what is available every day.

The thing I always look to for the first night’s dinner is the Chocolate Melting Cake… mmmmmmm-mmmmm good. I don’t usually even take the dessert menu. Tonight I took it just to check things out. There seemed to be fewer offerings than in the past, but I’m not sure on that one. Of course tonight there was only one thing to consider for dessert… Chocolate Melting Cake. For me, it is always the best dessert of the cruise. Except tonight it was more like soupy pudding… not like cake at all. It was still good, but just not quite as good as when it is 2/3 cake with pudding in the middle.

I do have to tell you that even though this post has seemed a bit negative, I’ve really had a smile on my face since setting foot on the ship. All of the staff has been cheerful and go out of their way to take care of folks. Our “room ninja” came by in the afternoon and like magic, he took care of some stuff we asked for. The bartenders seem to be better than usual… quick, efficient, and the drinks are all “well poured”.

That’s enough for now. It’s off to the Piano Bar for me. I’m told the entertainer in there is pretty good so I’ve got to go check it out. I’ve also got to check in on Bloody Mary to see how big of a condo we’re going to buy in South Florida from her winnings.

Next up is Santa Catalina Island

A Quickie on the Imagination

OK… get your mind out of the gutter… a “Quickie” means that I’m doing a “quickie cruise”. It’s a four-day on the Imagination out of Long Beach. And a four-day really is a quickie since you barely have time to unpack. I rarely go for a quickie. I like it to last much longer than this. But even thought it’s short, a quickie is still good… isn’t it?

Those of you that know me know that I usually do a “live from”. But this time I’m not going to sign up for internet since it’s only a quickie. If I can pick up free Internet at one of the ports, then maybe I’ll post during the cruise. Otherwise, I’ll just write as I go along and put up the posts when I get back. In my usual irreverent fashion, I’ll tell you the good, the bad or the ugly as and if it happens.

[This is being posted completely after the cruise as I did not get to any good internet places]

I’m going to start with the Internet on board. I don’t know if this falls into the good or bad category. They have instituted the new Internet scheme here on the Imagination… at least new to me. They have three different tiers of service: “Social”, “Value”, and “Premium”. Social is just access to some of the social networks.

Here’s what Carnival says about their “Social” plan: “Access the most popular social websites and applications. Includes: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Snapchat and the most popular airline sites. Does not include access to other websites or apps.” The cost for this is five bucks for twenty-four hours or fifteen bucks for the cruise.

For “Value” Carnival says, “Surf all your favorite sites, including e-mail, news, sports, weather, banking and finance. Note: Does not support Skype calling or music streaming (eg. Spotify). This costs sixteen bucks for twenty-four hours or thirty-five bucks for the cruise.

The “premium” costs twenty-five bucks for a day or sixty bucks for a cruise. Carnival says, “From e-mail to Skype, our Premium plan offers the fastest possible connection, at speeds up to 3 times faster than our Value Plan. Supports Skype video calling, where coverage allows.”

I chose none of them. Thank you very much, but I think I’m going to continue boycotting Carnival’s internet. They’ve come a step closer… but no cupie doll. It’s still at least twice as expensive as it’s worth. Carnival likes to claim they offer exceptional value compared to land based vacations. Mostly that’s true, but they need to re-look at the internet charges. Till then my “live from” articles will only be posted when I get internet from ports or after the cruise is over. I guess that means they really aren’t exactly “live from” any more. Well… they are live in the sense that I’m doing the writing during the cruise and not after it’s over.

Boarding and all that stuff in Long Beach was good. We processed smoothly through the priority boarding and were on to the ship quickly. They have changed part of the processing for those that haven’t reached platinum status or purchased “Faster to the Fun”. Except for passengers with cabins on deck 4… I think it was just deck 4… everyone went through security first and then got their “sail & sign” cards inside. Then it is on to run the gauntlet past all the photographers and onto the ship. For us, all of that took just a few minutes.

Day 0… make that Day 0h… starts the minute I set my tootsies on board the ship and head off for a drink of the day! I rarely drink any kind of booze during the day… especially early in the afternoon. But there’s something about crossing the gang-plank onto a cruise ship that changes all that. For me it’s straight up to the Lido deck for a snack and a Carnival rum punch. I’m not usually a rum drinker, but there’s something about the “Funship Special” that’s mmmmmm-mmmmmm good. I always have one… or two… or three… or…

After boarding, I did a “walk-about” to check things out. I’ve been on this ship once before and on Inspiration (same class ship as this) a couple of times. But they’ve done some upgrades so I wanted to see what has changed. This is a nice ship even though it’s one of the older Fantasy class ships. As usual for all cruise ships, the maintenance is always all on-going. All of the facilities are like the other ships… gym, spa, restaurants, etc. They are good, and inviting places, but just smaller than the latest mega ships.

The only noticeable upgrade is the Serenity deck. On this ship, it’s on the faux poop deck. OK… there’s no such thing as a “faux poop deck”, but I just like saying “poop deck”… the highest point on the stern of the ship. On this ship the “faux poop deck” (Serenity Deck) is on the stern, but it’s two levels below the Lido deck. The Lido and the deck below it don’t go all the way to the stern so that makes it a “faux poop deck” because it’s open to the sun and sky.

Compared to the bigger and newer ships the Serenity area is quite small, but still has the nice chairs and a couple of hot tubs. I’m surprised they don’t have a bar back there because a bar is always a moneymaker. They did seem to have a waiter in the area, but I’m not sure if that was just for the “drink of the day” during the sail-away or if there will be one there all cruise long.

I’m disappointed this ship doesn’t have all the 2.0 upgrades. I really do like the Red Frog Pub as a place to hang out, and I like the Ferengie burger stuff along with the Blue Iguana and Red Frog Bars. I don’t expect any of that will ever make it’s way onto the Imagination.

Without saying much Carnival has continued to restrict the areas available to smokers. OK… don’t shoot me here… I’m just your dutiful cub reporter. It used to be that Carnival’s policy was that one side of the ship on all the open air decks were smoking areas. Now just a small portion of the Lido deck, furthest away from the buffet, is a smoking area. My Funatic friends would call this the “situation room”. Well, now there are only about 10 tables in the situation room smokers can choose from. There’s also a bar in the corner next to the “situation room” that’s a smoking bar. I’ll have more to report on this when I find out what else is available to smokers. No… I don’t smoke… but I have cruise friends that do and I think Carnival may be running them away.

Usually I’m in one of the Serenity hot tubs… with a frozen concoction to help me hang on… early in the cruise. But this time out of Long Beach it’s chilly… in the high 50’s or low 60’s at best. The forecast says it is going to stay that way for most of the cruise. Maybe it’ll be a little warmer when we get a bit farther south.

It’s time for the mustard off the hotdog drill, so I’ll stop for now and continue later.