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Old April 16th, 2008, 01:54 AM
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April 15- Santorini- By Kuki
There was a bit of an issue with my internet access, so I apologize that today’s report didn’t get posted as timely as normal. At any rate… on to the next chapter of the story.

I’m now feeling as though I’m over the jet lag. My head is quite clear… keeping in mind that it’s my head. Even though the cruise remains busy, by sort of taking the day off in Mykonos, with no all day touring, I’ve had a chance to settle in, and begin feeling caught up to the cruise.

Arriving back to my cabin last night I found the cabin steward had laid out a large bag on the bed, along with a notice of today’s laundry special… fill the bag with wash and fold laundry for only $15. If I put in all the clothes I had with me and went naked, the bag would still be half empty. The invitation for this laundry special was somewhat ironic, but did give me a good chuckle, as I thought of filling it with the towels and linens and pillow cases in the cabin.

This morning I made, and enjoyed a pot of coffee in my cabin prior to heading to the Stardust Theater at 8:45 for my meeting point for the Volcano Hiking Tour I had booked today.

The young lady coordinating the tour departures was explaining that the seas were a bit rough this morning, and that all tours would be tendering to a different dock than is normally used, and all tours would use the cable cars to get to the top, to the town of Fira. She also explained there was some concern that as the day passed, it may become too windy to use the cable cars to bring everyone back down to the tender dock. If that occurred the cable cars would be stopped, and everyone would be required to walk down the switch back path.
No mention was made of the famed Santorini Donkeys, used as an alternative to moving passengers up, or down, the pathway, so I wasn’t sure if the donkeys take the winter off , and it was too early in the season for them to start carrying cruisers up and down the path again.

Having just been here 11 months ago, I remembered the trek up and down the hill all too well. We had taken the cable cars up, but upon returning the lines to take the cable car down were extremely long, so we had opted to walk down… until after about 10 minutes of avoiding donkey “poo” filled steps, we switched gears and rode the donkeys down. I didn’t want to walk in their “poo” anymore than they would like to walk in mine.

After riding the donkeys down, or even walking down, a quick and direct trip to the shower is an urgent requirement. Everyone within smelling vicinity thinks you’ve been born and raised in a mangy manger.

Because we had experienced this fairly recently, I didn’t feel the staffer informing those going on tours was being direct enough explaining the process, if the need did arise for everyone to walk down from the town to the spot where the tenders dock. As I looked around at the other passengers in the showroom, I saw many who I felt would be somewhat physically challenged trying to walk down the path. I felt it necessary to suggest to the tour coordinator that she make the possible difficulty of the walk down clearer to everyone on the tours. I feared that not doing so could easily lead to many, many complaints afterwards about unfair warnings being given, and possibly injuries.

With my own knees, and back being nowhere near as good as they used to be, I myself opted out of taking my tour, just in case the situation did require the walk down, that I felt I would not be comfortable with. So, instead, I decided to stay onboard and devote today’s reports to discussing the ship, and more of the Freestyle 2.0 upgrades. Luckily for all of those who did go on tours today, the strong winds did not materialize and the cable cars were able to run all day, returning all passengers to the tender area.

After making the decision to stay onboard I headed directly to the Cagney’s Breakfast Room. This is open for breakfast each day from 7 A.M – 10 A.M., and entry is gained by sliding the coded key card into the key card device immediately outside the door. Access is available solely to guests in the Garden Villa, the Courtyard Villas, Penthouse Suites, and Romance Suites (only the top 48 suite onboard). It is not available to guests in Mini-suites or lower categories. The same room at Cagney’s is also available for lunch, though I haven’t tried that yet.

There is however many other features and upgrades involved in Freestyle 2.0 which all guests onboard, regardless of cabin category booked, will enjoy and avail themselves of. The very basis of 2.0 seems to be to greatly expand on NCL’s advertising slogan, “Free To Whatever”, to make it a reality onboard.

For example, there have been significant changes made to the management of the entertainment program onboard. Paul Baya, who was the ship’s Cruise Director, is now referred to as the Guest Activities Director. And in my discussions with Paul to date, it seems his job has changed rather dramatically.

They’re now attempting to schedule all variety of entertainment options, and instructional and participatory classes packaged together in what is referred to as “NCL U”. With all the NCL U programs, and then production shows and headliners create action almost continuously throughout the day and evening. The intent is to make certain the guests are “Free to Whatever”…. And whenever. I admit to telling Paul that the program is almost wasted on a “cruise vegetable” like me, who wants to do very little but relax.
However as we discussed the various upcoming events schedule for the balance of this cruise, it became apparent that even a “slug” like myself would very likely get more get involved.

When cruising on other lines, if you’re a past guest on the line, you can normally pretty easily predict what the daily activities sheet is going to look like from one cruise to the next. Often it seems the daily is simply a template, where they change the names of the current showroom headliners as the weeks go by. With Freestyle 2.0 there is no such template. Each cruise is going to require careful planning, scheduling and implementation to match the itineraries, and adjust with which events prove to be more popular, and conversely those that don’t draw much attention. For example, this evening I have a choice of an Opera presentation in the Stardust Theater, or Second City Comedy Troupe Cabaret in Spinnaker’s Lounge. Those of you who’ve got to know me will most probably guess -- I’ll be the guy with the lack of culture, laughing it up with the Second City Comedy Troupe.

There’s an upcoming themed lunch available, for a surcharge, featuring Gospel music by the ship’s vocalist.

The Jade is a sister ship to the Dawn, Jewel, Gem and Pearl. And these are amongst my favorite ships. The layouts are simple and easy to get around. I like the size, and the traffic flow. The design is such that even though they are large ships, you do run into familiar faces as you move about the ship. Unlike some ships which are not as well laid out, you rarely have to arrange specific times and places to meet friends and travel mates; you’ll more often than not simply run into each other.

With the odd exception, non-smokers will delight when sailing the Jade. While smoking is allowed in guest cabins and on balconies, all public rooms other than the casino are totally smoke free. Even the Cigar Bar, which was within the Bar City area, is now smoke-free (with the cigar smoking area being moved outdoors to the Bar area on Deck 13 aft).

I received a note this afternoon from the Jade’s Front Office Manager informing me that they had confirmation that my luggage was flying out of Istanbul today. Apparently my toothbrush and toothpaste have decided that while traveling, they’d like to visit the Acropolis (they heard a rumor of a plaque there…. GROAN), so they’re making an overnight stop in Athens. Then, if my dress slacks get back in time from a night of clubbing in Athens, they’ll fly to Alexandria, Egypt tomorrow. It is nice to hear my belongings are having as good a time as I am. Though, if I’m not REUNITED with my missing underwear soon, we may have to redefine freestyle.

Frankly, as part of this press group, one part of Freestyle I haven’t been able to test drive during this cruise is dealing with making dinner reservations. There are electronic flat screen displays outside all of the various restaurants showing the availability of space in all the restaurants, which does assist in dining decisions, for those who have not made reservations in advance.

One part of the Freestyle 2.0 upgrades for guests in balcony cabins, mini-suites and above is a priority reservation system and reception hotline. Considering some 85% of the cabins on the ship would fit into those categories, I’m not quite certain how effective this “perk” will be, and I’m going to inquire about that. We may have to take pity on the poor souls booking inside cabins, and going hungry for lack of reservations. Fairly soon we may see those inside cabin folks hanging around outside of the restaurants begging those in balcony cabins to let them go to dinner with them.

To be serious, I have only witnessed people lining up one night (the first night) at the Pacific Garden Dining Room. We’ve dined in several restaurants now, and I’ve wandered the ship in the evenings, and haven’t seen any restaurants totally full at any other time.

For dinner tonight we tried the Asian menu at the Jasmine Garden, which also has the sushi bar located right next to it. I’m not a sushi fan, but others in the group seemed to thoroughly enjoy a beautifully presented “boat of sushi” appetizers. Everyone ordered an entrée and we shared them all Family-style.

Two other writers joined the ship today in Santorini. One is a young man, James Byrd, who works as a member of the wait staff on the Pride of America. He began his own blog recently, and was noticed by the “right people” at NCL, who were impressed enough to invite him on this trip; Great initiative from a young man not yet old enough to drink.

After dinner, as promised I checked out the Second City Troupe in the Spinnaker Cabaret. I was impressed by a very talented and funny group. They did sketch comedy, improvisational skits, as well as improvising songs with audience participation. They drew a good crowd, who all seemed to be enjoying the entertainment.

I hadn’t had the opportunity yet to donate to the casino, playing blackjack which I enjoy. As I made my way from Spinnaker’s to the casino I did stop by the Stardust Theater to quickly check out the Opera. I’m saddened to report that I proved to myself yet again that I am a man of no culture, with little taste. Of course I like to think of it as being a man’s man, preferring to be in a casino, to being at an Opera. And it’s exactly that type of thinking that proves the earlier point.

Tomorrow’s port of call is Iraklion, Greece ( pronounced Heraklion ) which is on the island of Crete. I have no tour booked, so my intent is to sleep in, and then take the free ship shuttle from the ship’s berth to the piers terminal and gate. From there I’ll find a taxi to take me to a wonderful outdoor marketplace we visited the last time we were here. I’m driven by the memory of how good the pistachios were that I bought there last year. The challenge may be that I have no idea what it’s called, and Iraklion is a very large city, and I speak no Greek, other than being able to say thank you. I may end up just spending my day saying thank you to every pickpocket, thief and vagabond in Iraklion as I attempt to get back to the ship. I’ll be sure to take the name and number of the ship’s port agent with me on this little solo adventure.

It’s funny to think how much braver I am when I have Mrs. Kuki along to take care of me.

Did I tell you she’s reading along? Yup, I spoke to her tonight, and she was laughing at me! Remember the camera chord that I had mentioned being in my lost suitcase? While reading she saw it next to the computer on my desk. Of course, it’s her fault for not reminding me to pack it.

Private Note to Mrs. Kuki (The rest of you shouldn’t read this!) I love you dear, and miss you a bunch, even if I am now traveling with three great looking women, with more to come, and the day after tomorrow, on our sea day, we have a wine and cheese tasting, followed by a Beer tasting, followed by Margarita Madness, and concluding with a Tequila tasting, on our official press schedule. If things get really crazy, and everyone gets naked, maybe I can at least steal some clothes as insurance in case my luggage doesn’t show up in Alexandria.

At Medusa’s Lounge the ship has some private party rooms, initially installed to rent out for private karaoke parties. Aside from Karaoke equipment, these rooms now also have Wii games, and there’s no longer any charge to use them. You do have to reserve them. We’re planning on a couple of tournaments of Wii games. I’m just hoping I can Wii bowl better than Barrack Obama.
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