Getting Social

One of my self-improvement goals is to increase my participation in the cruise community. To that end, I started the Cruise Critic roll call threads for the trips.

October 16, 2022 – October 23, 2022 NCL Encore Seattle to Alaska RT

October 23, 2022 – November 13, 2022 NCL Encore Seattle Repo to Miami via Panama Canal

I’ve also volunteered to be the forum host on those threads, and to organize the Meet and Greet and the big spreadsheet CC members use to help coordinate various activities, both onboard and in port. I just got those sheets done a bit ago:

Alaska RT

Seattle to Miami

It’s looking like quite a few people are joining us on the back-to-back!

How’s the Progress?

Here it is the first of March and I just realized not only have I not posted an accountability blog in 3 months, I haven’t posted anything in that time! Much of the reason for the complete lack of posting is just the continued doldrums of seeming to always have bad news out of the cruise industry.

The wisdom of not scheduling a 30th anniversary cruise in June has definitely shown up, with Canada’s decision to close their ports to ships larger than 100 people. I find it interesting, to say the least, that the US is pressuring Canada to allow ships to dock but not disembark so they can meet the restrictions in a US law. Not that our politicians could do the actual right thing and repeal the provision of the Passenger Vessel Services Act that forces foreign stops for voyages starting or ending in a US port…

Ok, off the soapbox and on to accountability!

Weight Loss

I’m down almost 40lb since I started in November. I started losing at 410, and was down to 403 by the time I started tracking it regularly. As of this morning…38 lb lost!

I also set a personal record on my time to complete a mile. I’ve been working at or just longer thatn a 20-minute pace (20:30 or so), but Saturday for some reason I just kicked it and hit 18:30!


Learning Spanish

I’m up to a 108-day streak (I have used a few streak freezes along the way when life was just too busy on a day.)

Last week was an exceptional week there, too, as I finished second in my “league.”

Here are my stats and where I’m at progress-wise:

Overall, I’m pleased on the progress on both fronts. My SCUBA diving and Photography goals are still on hold, but that has always been the plan. I’m going to have some difficulty with the photography goal, because I lost my mentor on those skills to COVID just over 2 weeks ago. RIP, Steve.

I’ve also been lax in my goal of being more active in the cruise community. I’m working through how to re-order priorities a bit to enable that to happen. It being the first day of meteorological Spring in the Northern Hemisphere (astronomical spring is March 20 this year), it’s time for the annual rejiggering of my daily schedule due to severe storm season, anyway.

You’ll be seeing more posts soon!

Accountability: 05-Dec-2020

Earlier I committed to accountability around goals for this trip. We’re into a new month now and I thought it would be a good time to post results.

My weight

Starting (03-Nov-2020) : 403 lb
Today: 389 lb
Weight Loss: 14 lb
Average Weekly Loss: 3 lb/week

So I’m slightly ahead of goal, which is just over 2 lb a week. I’m sure I will plateau in some places, so I’ll take the higher rate this month.

Tools I’m using: MyFitnessPal to track calories and exercise, Noom to change my mental/emotional relationship with food, Google Fit to track workouts. I will buy a smart watch in a month or two so I can track more parameters like heart rate.

We’ve also signed up and just finished our first week using the Derby KS Recreation Center. It’s a great facility (see below, and about a 10 minute drive from our house. Currently we’re walking the track (half a mile a day), stationary bike (15 or so minutes each day on a weight-loss workout program) and some strengthening using the weight machines (mostly arm and back at the moment). We intend to add water aerobics after first of the year and probably some other activities as time goes on.

Derby Recreation Center cardio and weight machines. Used under fair use principles, orignal photo on https://www.derbyrec.com/146/Derby-Recreation-Center as of 05-Dec-2020
Derby Recreation Center cardio and weight machines. Used under fair use principles, original photo on https://www.derbyrec.com/146/Derby-Recreation-Center as of 05-Dec-2020

Learning Spanish

I’m using DuoLingo as my learning tool. Here’s the progress I’ve made:

The Present Tense section is the one I’m having the most difficulty with.

SCUBA

This goal will wait until late next summer or in the fall, when I’m in better shape.

Photography

I’ve not yet started on this goal

Be More Active in the Cruise Community

I’ve added several NCL-focused Facebook groups and posted a few times. Because of traveling for about 1/3 of the month and a big week work-wise last week, I’ve not been as active as I’d hoped.

And Speaking of Travel…

That 10-day trip started one week before Thanksgiving and I got home the Saturday after the holiday (a week ago today). I drove back and forth to California to help my best friend of 35 years get settled in his new home. I was driving and staying in hotels alone, and of course I wore a mask in public and followed each state’s restrictions and policies in effect at the time regarding distancing, etc.

Map of the trip. Tap or click the image or this link to look at it in detail.
The red markers denote where I took some photos.

I enjoy long-distance driving and seeing new parts of the country. On this trip I added driving and stopping in a few new states and areas: Arizona, the Las Vegas area, the Sierra Nevada mountains, and New Mexico. Some of the tourist destinations I saw included Wolf Creek Pass, CO, the Las Vegas Strip, and Ivanpah Solar Power Station in California along I-15. That was a neat experience. Full sunshine the morning I drove by, and for about 15 miles there was this brilliant shine in the sky. I should have stopped and gotten pictures. It’s the largest station of its type in the world as of 2014. The photos below are from Wikipedia and Google Maps/Street view.

By Dicklyon – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=70655979

The city in the bottom of the shot is Las Vegas, and this is almost an hour’s drive away.

About 20-22 hours of driving each way, most of it through areas I’d never seen from the ground. I’d do it again….and plan to at some point.

So Yeah, About that “Floating Petri Dish” thing?

Norwegian Encore Departing New York City

With the first ship to resume sailing in the Caribbean having to return to Barbados after passengers tested positive for COVID, already there are calls to reinstate the CDC sailing ban. And dozens of articles this week have revived the term “floating petri dish” as a description for passenger ships.

FAKE NEWS? I understand where the comparison comes from. However, I believe the term is being used against logic and to advance a narrative.

“Floating Petri Dish” is a Shortcut Used by Lazy Journalists and Critics

Having been a journalist for a dozen years or so, I get it. You often search for hooks to allow readers / listeners / viewers to put their mind around complex concepts. But the term “floating petri dish” is more click bait sensationalism than a tool to help understanding. As i mentioned in an earlier post cruise ships are under a level of scrutiny not seen by other industries and gathering places. Just one example: airlines are no longer making any effort at social distancing aboard (not that their efforts were that stellar in the first place). Travel Vlogger “Where’s Walter” explains further:

Cruise Radio Has a Comedic (Sarcastic) Look at the Term

Ships are Clean. I Mean, REALLY Clean

Just how clean? Here are the standards they are held to: CDC VSP Travelers page. The Encore is so new it had yet to have been inspected, according to the record available here. So let’s look at the other 16 NCL Ships (screen shot from https://wwwn.cdc.gov/InspectionQueryTool/InspectionSearch.aspx):

Screenshot of table showing Vessel Sanitation Program scores for all Norwegian Cruise Line ships excpt Encore, which was too new at the time COVID hit to have required inspection yet.
CDC VSP reports on NCL ships (sans Encore), screenshot taken 2020-11-15.

The lowest-scoring ship in the fleet in its last inspection was the Epic. It barely passed, with an 86. Want to see what the crew was gigged on? Norwegian Epic VSP Inspection Report 2020-02-09 — no corrective report was issued due to COVID.

Think a ship which scored 100 was in compliance with all the standards? Think again. NCL Spirit Report 2016-03-29.

The standards ships are held to are — well, high. I get the feeling Amand Duplantis understands….

The Sea Dream Failed to Follow Their Own Protocol

Photo by Sam Jean from Pexels

SeaDream also is requiring social distancing on board SeaDream 1 and, since Monday evening, mask-wearing. The line did not require mask-wearing during the first two days of the voyage. [emphasis mine]

Gene Sloan, Reporter/Passenger on Sea Dream, 2020-11-11
Original Article on ThePointsGuy.com

Apparently the line thought the extensive testing ahead of the cruise had succeeded in creating the sought-after “bubble.” But they neglected to enforce the mask wearing required by their policy. In fairness, the symptomatic patient started feeling sick two days into the cruise. It is likely they contracted COVID before boarding and the virus load was not enough yet to be detected by the testing.

My Take

This incident shows why the CDC is mandating PCR quick tests before boarding, once ships are underway again. They are much more sensitive than the nasal swab tests.

My preference would be that lines also require what the Healthy Sail Panel recommended, a PCR test with results supplied to the line, taken no more than five and no less than three days prior to leaving home to begin the trip.

Once a vaccine is available, I think a record of immunization should be required to be provided to the cruise line as part of the eDoc process pre-boarding/pre-departure from home. I also believe a negative PCR should be required to board, in spite of the vaccination requirement. There is too much unknown about the vaccines yet and there is a percentage of people for whom the vaccine is ineffective. At least for 2021 (and possibly 2022) I think erring on the side of safety is warranted.

But I do not agree with Senator Blumenthal and Rep. Matsui. The No-Sail order does not need to be reinstated. If the directives in the Conditional Sail protocols are followed and the cruise lines maintain the enhanced cleanliness and improved air handling systems they have committed to, there is no reason cruising can’t begin. The general experience thus far in Europe shows this.

Will cruising be COVID-free? No. But with the proper protocols, especially masking and distancing, the risks from cruising can be brought in line with the industry’s record on other contagions. The reason the Diamond Princess had so many cases at the beginning of the pandemic is because the ill were not allowed to leave. Forcing thousands of people to remain in the same auditorium for 14 days would likely have produced even more cases than on Diamond Princess. And one of the keys of the CDC Conditional Sail protocols is rapid identification and isolation of ill passengers.

Bottom line: Can the Cruise Industry Survive?

I think the policies in place as I write this will allow for the industry to gradually restart and to sail safely by late-summer 2021. I worry that at least the first half of the Alaska summer season is at risk. Financially, NCL said at the beginning they had 18 months of runway on their cash without turning a single propeller. That means about 10 months left now. I expect the larger ships including Encore to be the first to begin revenue passenger service…I’m guessing sometime in February at the earliest. I say this because the larger ships take less passenger load to generate a profit…something like 30% passenger load is the break even point I’ve seen mentioned several times.

Here are some thoughts from University of Portsmouth Professors Liz Sharples and Kokho Jason Sit:

Although the long-term sustainability of the sector is uncertain, it can take solace in the fact that cruise passengers are notoriously loyal. Tourism studies have shown that visitors return even after a disaster. And, according to a survey conducted by CLIA, nine out of ten passengers said they “probably or definitely will” cruise again.

Original arTicle

In researching this article I came across a research study that described the type of traveler I am: Crisis-resistant:

Empirical results indicate that segments of tourists resistant to external or internal crisis events indeed exist and—as theoretically postulated—demonstrate higher levels of risk propensity and resistance to change. In contrast, risk shifting is not associated with being a crisis-resistant tourist.

Annals of Tourism Research
Volume 53, July 2015

I think that comes from my history in the EMS and Emergency Management sectors and my exposure to disasters and disaster planning in my journalism career. I tend not to get terribly excited in the midst of crisis. Adequate planning and preparation is key.

What are your thoughts? Sound off below:

The Opportunities Two Years Offers

Image of sunrise breaking over the earth as seen from space

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, this is the first time in our life together that Roxan and I have set a concrete goal two years in the future. We’ve been together, counting dating, 31 years. There are a lot of reasons why this is the case, none of them really important any more. No sooner had I booked the trip than the opportunities started jumping out of the woodwork. These are some of the opportunities I’ve identified so far.

  • Weight loss
  • Learn a second language
  • Learn to SCUBA dive
  • Become more involved in the cruising community
  • Learn more about photography

I should note, these are my goals. Roxan can share hers separately.

Weight Loss / Fitness

I started this journey at between 400 and 410 lbs. A two year time frame to get to my goal weight of 250 lbs gives me an approximate 2 pounds per week loss, well within healthy limits. I’ve tried to diet and exercise my way to a healthier weight multiple times. But this one feels different. Part of it is the work I’ve done in other areas of my life, and really understanding food as something with which I have an addictive relationship. But the other major thing is: I have a concrete goal — I want to be able to take off my shirt at the pool or in the hot tub and not be embarrassed.

So here’s my toolset — and I’d love to hear any ideas you might have, please add them in the comments below!
* My Fitness Pal phone app to track eating, water intake, and exercise in one place. I’m stemaat if you’d like to connect on My Fitness Pal.
* Smart Watch — I’m still deciding between a few. I want to save up and get one of the newer ones which have ECG and Oxygen saturation, along with longer battery life. So that’s probably a Christmas Gift to myself.
* Gym membership — Roxan and I will join the Derby Rec Center later this week (payday). We plan to take water aerobics classes and work up to weights and the exercise machines. Because we spend so much time apart due to her work, Roxan and I will take an idea form a book series we read a couple years ago and do our workouts at the same time — her in the hotel workout room and me at the Rec Center. That will also allow us to maintain consistency in time of day we do exercise, something we both recognize as essential to long-term maintenance as we’re both pretty regimented in our time.

BTW: As part of my accountability for this I intend to post weekly about my process on these goals. I weighed when I woke up this morning — using 403 as my starting weight I’ve lost just over 11 pounds since starting. I already notice a difference in how I feel.

Learn Conversational Spanish

I anticipate with us being primarily or completely within tourist areas, it would be unusual to find a shop owner who would not have at least a minimal level of English skill. But again, I have two years and would like to be able to carry on a basic conversation in Spanish. Toward this end I am currently committing 10 minutes a day to working in DuoLingo, a phone app that is of high enough quality my daughter’s High School Spanish teacher required them to complete work in on a regular basis.

Learn SCUBA diving

Image by 272447 from Pixabay

This is a thing I’d always thought would be cool to know but never got up the gumption to learn. In my teen years I swam all the time — in fact I taught swimming at the Pratt pool for several summers. But over the years, and as I’ve gotten more obese, I’ve stopped swimming. I have no doubt I can pick it back up and get back to most of the skill level I had.

I imagine sailing in tropical waters and right along with it diving to see the fish, coral and other below-water life. I’ve never been good at snorkel, partly because I couldn’t keep the mask sealed and water out of my eyes. Also, before LASIK surgery I had quite limited underwater vision. Now, almost 18 years after LASIK, I feel I’ll still have reasonable underwater vision, and plan to buy a prescription diving mask.

This is a goal into the summer of 2021 and winter 2021-2022. I need to get a good way toward my weight, fitness and appearance goals before I’ll be comfortable to do this. Right now I’m sure my doctor would recommend against it due to my lack of cardiac fitness.

Our plan is to take lessons from Amber Waves dive shop and get certified in open water diving before we leave on the cruise. Figure we’ll certify early to mid summer 2022 and try to do a couple lake dives before the cruise.

Learn More About Photography

There was a time in late middle school and early high school that I got pretty into photography. The past several years, I have chased frequently with Steve Boleski, who is an excellent photographer. It has reignited my interest. I took a lot of photos on our first Alaska trip, but was not highly please with very many. My daughter used the DSLR on the second trip and I only took cell phone photos.

This time around I am going to ask Steve to help me learn the skills I need to take quality landscape and weather shots (so I can do so while chasing, too), and I want to learn to take underwater photos. I plan to rent an enclosure for my camera so when we’re diving I can take quality photos, too.

More Involvement in the Cruising Community

Photo credit: CruiseCritic.com (https://images.r.cruisecritic.com/news/2017/05/blog-jewel-ots-transatlantic-2.jpg)

I think cruising and other travel will form a lot of our empty nester years and some of our retirement years. As a high schooler I was in debate and forensics, but since then my only “public speaking” has been behind a radio microphone. I am disappointed that I have chosen most of life to not be a social person. I want to change this, and I feel like volunteering to arrange the Cruise Critic Meet and Mingle and the Roll Calls for our two voyages, I can make a step in the direction I want to go. This blog is also part of it, but I’m writing the blog more as a cruising outreach I think. I want to get more people interested in this form of travel.

Have a great week! We’d love you have you join us on the cruise — here are the description links:

Seattle to Alaska (round trip)
Seattle to Miami via Mexico, Costa Rica and the Panama Canal

There is one worry…

Hurricane Eta Forecast Cone, Fri Nov 6, 2020

There are some risks to scheduling that last trip of the season in Alaska, then doing a reposition to Miami that ends the second weekend of November. The biggest risk IMO is the one shown above, a hurricane.

Since I’m a storm chaser, I’m used to making these sorts of risk calculations. First-off, if this sailing were happening now, Hurricane Eta would not be a concern (this weekend), as we would be well south of it in Costa Rica. Given the really odd forecast track on this hurricane and the longer-term models, if we were sailing now I would still have some concern about delays getting into Miami.

Hurricanes are usually done by now. Oh, it’s 2020…

Yes, you can have your very own 2020 Dumpster Fire Candle! (but I digress)

Hurricane season officially ends November 30th. In the last 100 years, this is what the frequency of hurricanes and tropical storms looks like for the Atlantic/Caribbean. The Pacific season is still officially in progress as we make our way down the West Coast and Mexican Rivera. Again, the concern is less at the time we’ll be sailing than in earlier months.

One Other Weather Risk — Cold in Alaska

This one is something often bandied about by people discouraging late-season Alaska journeys. Yes, the weather patterns tend colder and the days get much shorter. As an example, on October 21, 2020 Ketchikan saw a high of 45 and a low of 37. It was a little cooler than average:

Ketchikan Average Temperatures, Typical Range, and Sunrise/Sunset
(image credit: weatherspark.com)

Night is somewhat longer than day, with sunrise Oct 22, 2022 expected at 7:25am and sunset at 5:36pm. Our port time is currently scheduled for 7:00am to 1:15pm.

Image credit: timeanddate.com

So while temperatures will likely be brisk in Ketchikan that day, they will be pretty chilly for a walk around the promenade or other outdoor activities while the ship is underway. But this is possible any time in Alaska, and well within the range of clothing we have packed for such a trip before. At this point I don’t plan any excursions in Ketchikan anyway.

When you consider this is the ONLY time in 2022 that connecting a repo trip with an Alaska trip does not require getting off the ship in Canada, I’ll take the risk. I really don’t worry much about the weather at this time.

710 days until embarkation!

Double Standard Much?

We only made the decision to do the this trip once the CDC made its ruling Friday concerning how the cruise industry must behave in order to be allowed to sail in US waters and dock at US ports. Before that, we’d planned a 30th Anniversary cruise for June, doing a 9-day round-trip from Seattle aboard the Sun.

The Sun, docked in Alaska (via Wikipedia)

Let’s see, how does the order change that sailing? Can’t be for sure, but here’s my calculus:

  1. 9-day voyage – CDC max voyage length is set at seven days through Nov. 2021. With the caveat that CDC can shorten that arbitrarily at any time.
  2. Onerous burdens for passengers – it doesn’t appear to my reading that rapid tests at shipside and a negative blood test taken just before departure from home (as proposed by the Healthy Sail Panel) will cut it. To my reading, we’re going to have to have a blood test for COVID shoreside before boarding. That is going to cause longer delays in the enclosed spaces of cruise terminals.
  3. Everybody in, lock the doors, and sail for where you started from – if a (so far undefined) threshold of COVID is confirmed in passengers on any ship, the passenger(s) must be isolated and everyone else is quarantined. The ship turns tail and heads for the port from which it embarked.
  4. Wear a mask. Social distance. Take only cruise line-sponsored excursions.

Compare this to flying:

  • Wear a mask.Distance when you can. End of instructions.

Bus:

  • Wear a mask.Distance when you can. End of instructions.

Train:

  • Wear a mask.Distance when you can. End of instructions.

Doug Parker at CruiseRadio riffs on the double standard

Not to be outdone, the people of Key West have voted to limit total cruise passengers daily to 1,500. No docking for large ships. Election 2020: Key West Gives Cruise Industry the Middle Finger [via Cruise Radio].

A libertarian Take on the Whole Thing

Let’s look at this in the “little-L” libertarian framework for a bit. I can’t fault the people of Key West for voting as they have, even though it upsets me. They are absolutely the people who should have the final say on the cruise industry’s impact on their economy, natural resources, and so forth. I give them the benefit of the doubt that the impacts were considered by the voters rather than the result being ginned up by agitators.

Meanwhile back in Washington

On the one hand, the bailout bill gave billions of dollars to the airline industry, supposedly to save jobs. Air travel is still down, even with (or maybe a little because of) airlines back to their overselling ways, and there have been thousands of layoffs since the money ran out in October.

The point is, airplanes are flying. The airline industry got billions in bailout money, and guess what? It went to line executive pockets, not to keep line workers employed.

The cruise lines, however, have not sought nor received federal bailout funds. AND they have a government agency that’s in essence rent-seeking on the COVID status. Because CDC has the inspection authority over health and sanitation conditions on ships, it can set whatever rules it likes. Because if the lines don’t jump through the agency’s hoops, they aren’t getting the little piece of paper “Temporary Authorization to Sail” or whatever. The agency threw out a number of what I considered excellent recommendations by the Healthy Sail panel. And they made the process for getting the cruise industry back to work much more difficult than necessary.

But, but…

What about the fact that cruise passengers are in close quarters for days? Guess what, compared to an airplane we aren’t. Many cruise ship staterooms are larger than a commercial plane cabin (and they only have 1 to 4 occupants for extended periods). The lines have already committed to running limited capacity until this is past us. As in other public locations, lines are taking measures to help with distancing, and we can expect to be wearing masks in the hallways, theaters, and other situations where we can’t distance.

Aren’t cruise ships a “petri disk of germs and bacteria?” Nope. Everyone say it together now: “Washy, washy, happy happy!”

The bottom line

Canada will not decide until Feb. 1 whether ships will be allowed to dock at Victoria, Vancouver or other Canadian ports of call. That happened to be the 120-day mark before our cruise on the Sun. The risk of putting money into a cruise that was going to be less than we anticipated in just about all ways just became too high. So we started looking for ways to do something different, and from there came the back-to-back cruise idea.

To us, this is somewhat a mix between the Parable of the Loaves and Fishes and making lemons into lemonade.

Now we have 18 more months to save and make this trip something really special. I’ll write soon about all the things this kind of planning ahead (which is new to us) will enable us to do on this trip…many of them ideas that hadn’t crossed either of our mind as of five days ago!

712 days until embarkation!

Here are the links to the back-to-back trips we’re taking, if you might like to come along!

Seattle to Alaska (round trip)
Seattle to Miami via Mexico, Costa Rica and the Panama Canal

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