These are our Vacation Heroes

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It takes many people to make this giant floating hotel known as Norwegian Encore work, and to make guest experiences special. There were many more people who I could list, but these are the ones who really went the extra mile, sometimes in a routine task for them, sometimes when it came to helping us get off the ship successfully in the midst of our crisis.

They are not listed in any particular order.


Surina Taljaard

Surina was the General Manager’s secretary during the Alaska leg of the trip. Her contract came to an end on arrival back in Seattle, but she extended to work back in the photography department for a time. We were going to have her take the photos we wanted to have as part of the Romance package I’d bought for the Repo leg, but that was not to be…

In the first week Surina was available for any need we had, and she coordinated a number of surprises we enjoyed during the week. Whenever there was a surprise experience or token of NCL’s affection, it was Surina we saw. She helped me coordinate Internet to be able to live blog the trip, too. She always did so in a calmly professional way and with genuine appreciation for us as cruise guests.

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Julius Cantel Villavelez

Julius was our Room Steward.

Of course you become attached to your room steward, especially on a trip you expect to be 28 days! Julius was the face of NCL every time we saw him, whether it was hard at work in our room or one of the others in his block, asking if we planned to go ashore (and following up inquiring about how our time on shore was), and numerous little things like an extra towel for Roxan, a firmer pillow for me, and so much more.

I did not spend enough time to get to know Julius the way I’d hoped to — learn about his family and home country, that kind of stuff.

For everything you did, thank you kind sir!

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Francisco Agena Jr

Francisco is Julius’ immediate supervisor, based on the interactions I saw between them. I had the impression he might have been higher up the management ladder than that, but I don’t know his full scope of responsibility. We met Francisco about the same time we met Julius, and he was also very attentive to our needs.

The biggest thing he did for us was when he helped expedite our laundry the last day so we could be packed for customs inspection at the needed time. His interactions with Julius showed Francisco to be a caring, compassionate boss who also holds high expectations.

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Maye Yasay

Maye led the team of waiters serving in our section at Cagney’s the first night, setting the tone for our trip with excellence.

But I think she was behind a surprise we received on Los Angeles day. We ate at Cagney’s the night before, using one of the meals in our Romance package. That came with wine and the meal. We conversed more with Maye on this evening, having sought her out after the Three Divas show which ended not long before Cagney’s closes. I believe we mentioned that this trip was our delayed 30th anniversary voyage.

When it came time for dessert, out came a Happy Anniversary slice of cake! And the next morning we had a Happy Anniversary banner hanging in our room, which stayed there for the rest of our voyage. Those unexpected moments of joy are among the things we will cherish about Maye and this trip.

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Avelino Resurreccion

I don’t know who came up with the idea to put the Local Maitre D’ in an officer uniform or whether Avelino has earned higher status than the Maitres D’ in the other restaurants, but having him in the Local is a stroke of genius! His attention to each customer is amazing. We thought we were being greeted by a member of the management staff every time we were in the Local, and it actually wasn’t until just before the trip ended prematurely that I learned he was “only” a Maitre D’.

Avelino doesn’t just go through the motions. He seems to truly care about each and every customer. When a customer next to me on sail-away day for the second trip had language and hearing difficulties and was unable to get the waiter to understand they wanted a slice of bread to eat with because that was the custom in their country, I explained the situation to Avelino and they had what they needed in short order.

His above and beyond moment, though, was the genuine expressions of sorrow he had for me and Roxan as we were dealing with hear dad’s death on our last day aboard. Those will be treasured forever.

Wilson Hooker

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Our back and forth on whether and when we were going to leave the ship meant a lot of trips to guest services! Add to that issues with our Vibe passes not being encoded on our cards for the second trip, and our room card not opening the door the night we got back on from Los Angeles, along with the numerous questions that came up related to all that, Wilson was excellent at defusing stress and getting the situation rectified as quickly as possible.

On the day we debarked, he was one of the Guest Services people assisting us, and was in the office during the customs search. I also spoke to him about the CruiseNext purchase, and he was the one who said he would pass on to his replacement the need to continue calling the CruiseNext manager, as his shift was coming to an end by that time.

Wilson, as a person on the front line of customer service, you have to deal with a lot of things both great and small, and while I hope we were easy passengers to deal with I also saw you work with an upset customer with aplomb and saw them walk away from the desk at least understanding why the issue had happened, even though it was one of those things that nothing could be done about. Great example of quality customer service work!

Katja Francisco Fuhrmann

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As you might imagine, all this presto-change-o we were doing created a pretty complex bill. Katja was the person who sat down with us in Starbucks and explained why things were as they were on the bill, especially with the different handling of excursions and the $50 credit per excursion between when we originally booked and how we experienced it on the ship.

She also dealt with a couple of credit card issues for us and consolidated our two accounts into one to simplify things for the rest of the time we were on Encore. She was the person who called security after we filled out the paperwork on my “lost” wallet. Through it all she was calm, professional, and extremely personable. Thanks so much for your help, Katja!

Kimberly Esguerra

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Kim was the person who stepped into Surina’s shoes in Seattle for the second leg of the trip. I feel badly that nearly her entire interaction with us was based on crisis! We didn’t get to meet until after the Cruise Critic / Facebook roll calls’ Meet and Mingle event on Monday the 24th…and she already had a message from Roxan to deliver: to check my NCL app texts because we needed to go home. So it was, “Hi, Kim, so great to meet you, and now I have an urgent situation I need help to deal with.” That was the initial thought we’d need to get off the ship, first in San Francisco then in LA.

Kim checked on us frequently as we worked through the process, learned of the PSVA fine for getting off the trip before Encore had docked in Mexico, and as we came to the determination we were getting off in LA because flights back from San Francisco were just unbearable.

I feel so bad for calling her and waking her up at 6:30 in the morning the day we determined we would not need to go home in LA! I didn’t even stop to consider that she might not be on duty yet — something in me figured I’m up, surely Kim is working! I felt like a heel, but she dealt with the situation in a friendly manner and got the wheels turning once she *was* on duty!

Once again Kim was right there when we needed her to get the ball rolling to debark in Puerto Vallarta. And she was the last person there when we turned to get in the taxi that evening. Her spontaneous hug for each of us was completely unexpected, and it put a big red bow on the box of happy experiences we had on this sailing!

October 31 – Puerto Vallarta, sort of

We woke up late Monday morning, since our Dolphin excursion didn’t leave until 11. But during breakfast, news that Roxan’s dad had taken a dramatic turn for the worse nixed those plans and set us scrambling to debark the ship and get home. I’m going to shift to timeline here (all times approximate):


Received text that dad was in much worse condition while eating breakfast at The Local. I called the Hotel Manager’s Secretary, Kim, and informed her that we needed to get off the ship today and asked that she coordinate on our behalf while we went to the room to arrange flights home.

We had sent a load of laundry to be done. This typically takes 6 hours to a day. Of course, we now need that laundry to pack! I called the Housekeeping Manager, Francisco, and asked him if it could be expedited. He called the Laundry manager, walked our laundry bag down to the laundry, and said they were handling it as quickly as they could.


Struggle with ship WiFi and poor land-based cell signal to get our flight from Miami home rebooked as a flight from Puerto Vallarta. Ended up texting my boss for flight schedules and figuring out quickly that we had no ability to get out on Monday, we’d have to go Tuesday morning.

This was going on in the midst of multiple calls with Guest Services, during which we found out

  • The Port Agent and Customs officer would only be aboard until noon.
  • We had to have all our baggage packed for inspection by noon, even though we intended to remain on board until around 5pm.

So now our timeline is less than two hours….and as far as we know the laundry MUST be back by then. I continue trying to arrange flights, Roxan starts packing. I call and cancel the schedule of appointments we had at the spa for the duration of the trip, and gathered up the excursion tickets to give to the excursion desk when we took the luggage down. Everything else in this time frame is a blur. I just know there were 8-10 calls on the room phone and many texts home and to my boss during this period, all while packing and getting the room ready for cleaning after our departure.

Somewhere around 11:30, I think, Francisco knocked on the door and handed us our clean laundry! Just one example of people going above and beyond in our time of need — my next post will be about all the people who helped us and were, as NCL calls them, our Vacation Heroes.

12:00 noon

Guest Services calls to see if we are ready to bring bags down for customs search. We ask for a hotel cart, so they call a Haven crew member down with one of those. We troop to Guest Services, step through the desk and into the shared office space behind. It’s now 12:15. We have Roxan, me, two people from Guest Services, one from ship security, a customs officer and two people from the Port Agent’s office in an office that couldn’t have been larger than 14 feet by 20 feet.

12:15 pm

“Can you open the locks please?” — it turns out Mexican customs at Puerto Vallarta does not have the keys for the TSA-approved locks. So we take out each bag and unlock it so the customs agent can search it. At this time we thought our luggage would be sequestered until we got off the ship, so we had everything with us. Hand our passports to the Port Agent staff so they can collect information. Re-explain the situation for them.

12:35 pm

Oh, did I mention, there’s a $41.50 USD fee for the customs search and other processing, payable in cash, to the Port Agent, NOW? We had been told this multiple times during the morning. Note that a ship is a cashless society. I had a torn one-dollar bill and some peso notes in my wallet. The ATM is in the casino, which is closed when the ship is in port (you’ll start to see a theme developing). Fortunately the ATM works, so now I have 5, $20 dollar bills. $100 to pay an $83 fee…and no way to break the last $20…the Port Agent doesn’t give change.

Quick mental calculation: “I have a 500 peso ($5 USD, approximately) note in my wallet, hope that will work.” I’d been told earlier that it was payable only in USD, but I didn’t have the time or energy to spare to point out that we’re in a country that uses pesos. Back down to the Guest Services office, “I have only this in US currency (showing her 5, $20 bills), but I have 500 pesos. Can you take this (4, $20 USD and 1, 500 peso note)?” “Yes, that’s fine.”

Meanwhile Roxan is taking the luggage back to the room with the help of the Haven staff. That’s right, customs cleared the bags then gave them back to us…we could have put any sort of contraband in them during the afternoon and it wouldn’t have shown up until the airport! (We didn’t.) So it was just a box that needed checked.

12:45 pm

I head back to the room. I’m drenched in sweat, and try to towel off and cool down in the room. Unfortunately the air conditioner stopped keeping up about 10:30! I got on the phone to American Airlines reservations to get the flights taken care of.

1:30 pm, maybe 2:00

We go back to the Local, because we want to get a photo of the maitre d’ who had been so friendly to us the past two weeks and a bit. We eat lunch and he comforts Roxan, telling a story about something similar that had happened either in his family or to a crew member recently (I couldn’t hear it all). We head back to the room, to grab the things we still need to finish up our account on the ship and so forth. Around 3:15pm we receive the call we didn’t want to receive — Dad had passed away.

3:45 pm

After a good cry, we both shifted into logistics mode, as we had a lot to do before getting off the ship in just over an hour. When we were out for lunch, we had taken excursion tickets back so they could be refunded. Then we found CuriseNext was closed due to being in port and would not open until after we’d left. (There’s that theme again.) We asked if someone could contact the CruiseNext manager to see if we could get some purchased before we left. He was ashore.

4-ish to 5-ish

  • visit the spa, to ensure the remaining three visits each of us had scheduled had been cancelled, and to make sure the account was correctly credited/debited for the sessions used vs. the package of sessions we had purchased. (Credit back the entire package for each of us, consolidate the two visits each of us had made into one 4-visit package, bill us for the cost of the 4-visit package)
  • Visit Guest Services to check on CrusieNext. They still had not gotten hold of the CN Manager. I sat in the lobby to wait for him while Roxan went back to the room to get the luggage packed up on the cart again so it could be brought down.


We’re now past 5pm. The CruiseNext manager nearly dashes in about 5:10pm and tells me he’s been on the phone with Miami to figure out how to get things credited/debited around so our bill could be closed. We were at 5:10pm Mountain Standard Time. The finance folks in Miami work a business-hours schedule (Eastern Daylight Time, so they had been home for a while). The normal way CruiseNext purchases are handled is through a batch process run by the finance folks once a day. Of course, that had already been run.

So somehow he figured out how to get the CrusieNext purchases and the shipboard credit manually posted to our bill and we were given a printout of the entire bill. All the spa, excursion, and CrusieNext charges and credits were shown correctly and we actually ended up with a small refund which would be sent to our card company.

Now down to the exit, the elevator full with our luggage, us, Kim from the Hotel Manager’s office, a Guest Service Representative, and the Haven staffer pushing the baggage cart. After clearing security and getting our luggage into the taxi (quite small, but we made it work for the 4 miles to the hotel), Kim hugged us both and asked me to email her when we got home safely the next night.

Then comes the trip home.

October 27 – Los Angeles

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I’m writing this from my lounge chair in the Vibe. Think of it as the Observation Lounge, outdoors, at the very top of the ship. With everything going on and the temperature not being truly warm until today, it’s the first time we’ve been up here.

It’s actually the first time we’ve spent extended time on the deck of any ship. We don’t do crowds well, so the only times we typically use the pool deck are when we need it to get from place to place. The limited availability and extra cost of the Vibe take away the negatives, as there’s never a crowd.

There’s just a little wind today and the sky in LA is actually blue for once.

This morning we hung out with my coworker Elizabeth, one of the cofounders of Convesio. We went over to a great coffee shop in Long Beach and talked about a lot of things — Roxan’s Dad, the company’s growth trajectory, family and remote work bonuses & challenges…just a great conversation. Elizabeth is an excellent conversationalist…that always helps 😀. Unfortunately no one remembered to grab someone to take a photo, so we don’t have a shot like we do with Daryl. If we’re able to complete the cruise, we’ll meet up with Tom, the Convesio CEO and cofounder, and his wife Jen in Miami. They’ll drive down from Fort Meyers.

We’re sitting at the World Cruise Center near the Diamond Princess. You’d recognize where they are docked if you’ve ever watched The Love Boat.

Back when (Copyright Paramount, used under fair use principles)

When Roxan went to our room after we got back this morning, she found this surprise:

Our 30th anniversary was last June (2021). We intended when we looked at booking this trip for it to be a 30th anniversary trip. But a year ago Encore was making this sailing crew-only, due to CDC rules at the time allowing no more than seven-day passenger trips from US ports. We booked in November 2020, and thought at the time the world would probably not be to post-COVID normality by Oct 2021. We turned out to be correct. So it’s a 31st anniversary trip, and much more enjoyable because of the additional year to save up.

We saw Kinky Boots last night; this post is getting long so I’ll do a short, dedicated review post on it soon. Here is a quick shot as the actors were taking their bows. Copyright restrictions do not allow photos during the scripted performance.

Is my Face Red?


So….for the last 2-3 days, we’ve been concerned because we could not locate my wallet. We’d gone through the room thoroughly, including the safe, multiple times. Tore the room apart this morning and pulled everything out from under the bed, emptied bags, blah, blah, blah. Had our room steward do the same, same result.

You see where this is going, right?

So we dutifully reported the missing item to guest services. After filling out the report, they summoned Security according to procedure. After explaining it to multiple security officers, we consented to a room search.

Oh, the looks you get from people who see you walking flanked by the security officers, and the assumptions they make about why. I think I’m glad I have hearing loss, as I only heard one audible gasp and a whispered “security….”

(Never mind we were walking and talking normally with the officers and joking with them at times…) The most comical, though, was the waiter who came out the door from the adjacent crew area, saw the bevy of uniforms and hot footed it the other way. They got him turned around and let him pass 🤣.

Commence the room search, one person working on the storage hanging on the bathroom door and stepping into the bathroom only to have forgotten where the light switch was! After the housekeeping manager reminded her it was outside, I cracked “it’s almost like she doesn’t LIVE on a ship!

Her fellow officer was patting down everything in the closet, when I said “if you want to look in the safe, I can give you the combination.” (Unknown to me Roxan had left it unlocked this morning due to having her wallet with her.)

Two seconds later he emerges from the safe, “is this what we’re looking for?”

(Blush, uncomfortable laugh) “Um, yes sir.”

After we figured out where it was we discovered how one can lose a black wallet in a groove they don’t realize it’s in the side of the black, interior-lit hotel safe in the stateroom, everyone had a good laugh and we signed the search form, letting the good security folks proceed back to their real work 😝.

October 26 – At Sea

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We expected to spend the day packing, but awoke to news that was good in some ways, not so good in others. Both aspects have to do with Roxan’s dad. His condition is markedly improved from yesterday, and we learned that a treatment given over the weekend has extended his life by days to weeks. That’s a mixed thing because its a treatment we believe now he would not have wanted.

It feels somewhat callous/self-centered to say this, but we are relieved we don’t have to get off the ship in LA tomorrow. We’re remaining on the cruise until it’s necessary to go home, with the support of family members back home in the decision. Maybe not all, I don’t know honestly, but Roxan’s mom agrees, so that’s what matters most. We’ll go home when she says it’s time or Roxan says it’s time. My role in this is logistics and support. <grin>

So now we have the happy but tiring process of unwinding all the arrangements to end the trip tomorrow. NCL has been wonderful through the process and we know we’re on a day-to-day situation for the duration of the trip. We know how we’ll get home and where we won’t make the attempt for safety reasons. So the rest of it being day-to-day is okay, after all living life a day at a time is all we can do anyway!

We have some self-care things today (massages, a show, and dinner at Cagneys as part of a package I bought). Tomorrow is Los Angeles, and we’ll be meeting another co-worker and my best friend. So there probably won’t be much to talk about for the next few days. I wil post a brief Kinky Boots review sometime soon, and there are some other random things to catch up and report on.

October 24 – At Sea

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It’s a grey day, and seas are rougher than I’ve experienced before, a little over 11 feet. Wind is at our tail and we’ve been making very good speed. The rough seas were here the majority of the night, so sleep was fitful. Every once in a while there is a shudder or a bang, I assume this is something to do with the period of the waves and the length of the ship.

Our family situation is forefront in our minds today, as it is a day for some tough decisions back at home and Roxan is typically involved very heavily in these discussions because of her medical training. Broadly speaking, some decisions about end of life are pending, and there are scenarios in which we would need to fly home on short notice. We’re doing our best to not let the change in situation nose into our vacation, and maybe after today we’ll have some more certainty…either way.

October 23 – Depart Seattle


Had great fun at today’s sail away party! It’s going to be a great trip with this many people participating in events. Here’s the photo dump, what there is of it (having too much fun).

Tonight we enjoyed planning our next two cruises and took in the comic set at Social. Sorry to say, Tracy wasn’t worth the time to watch his show.

She’s Trying!


After the snark that’s flowing off me at the start of vacation, Roxan had to get in on the fun….

E for effort. Irony.

Suitcase Jenga

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It offends the “handle it one” freak inside of me, but in this case it was the right decision…pack at home just to make sure everything fits, then repack in the hotel to the configuration that means lost luggage won’t make a super-large impact on our trip.

That means we’ve separated clothing for each of us so we have half of any given category in each checked bag. For example, half our T-shirts, half our jackets, half our shorts, etc.

Like Jenga, we juggled everything else around to make weights correct, etc.

Ready to roll out!

And so, at 445am we are ready to take flight to Seattle! (Plane departs at 7)

On the Road, Off the Grid (ish)

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As much as I love Kansas I’m ready to be away for a while. We got out of home ahead of my mental schedule, so I’m feeling pretty relaxed right now.

As I write this, I’m riding in Cristi’s car, a rare experience for me because I generally drive. We’re about 1/3 the way to Kansas City, where we board the plane early tomorrow.

Tonight we will dine at 54th Street Bar & Grill and do some final shopping at Walmart before we check into the hotel.

Gotta love this, 6 hours before check-in….

So yeah, the system accepted a reservation in a closed hotel, and the property didn’t get around to telling us until the day of check in. We were able to book elsewhere, but that could have been frustrating. I got us checked in for our flight, and at 8:15…nirvana! Or at least step 1…all my weekday alarms shut off!

A little bit ago, app by app, setting notifications to vacation mode 😆

Only a few more days until this….

One final thought from one of our cruise forums on Facebook:

Yes, the vacation snark is big right now.
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