Aboard the SS Gluttony

This is how you know I’m a first-time cruiser: I brought snacks onto the boat.

In the universe of worst-case scenarios I might have imagined — capsizing in a hurricane, Honduran pirates, forced Macarena — I jumped right to “Might be a bit peckish” as the most likely emergency to plan for. As it turns out, this cruise ship is basically a 24-hour floating all-you-can-eat buffet, so this is easily the longest that any quantity of beef jerky has survived in captivity in my luggage.

Day or night we can visit any of 17 restaurants here aboard the Norwegian Dawn to explore cuisines ranging from French to Brazilian to Japanese to Indian, all prepared and served by what I believe to be the entire population of the Philippines. Ironically, we had considered visiting the Philippines for this vacation, and I’m glad we didn’t because apparently everyone from there is on this boat. I think the last person to leave Manila was Shirley, our perky trivia host from last night.

I’d intended to blog daily while on this cruise, but we’ve been exceptionally busy keeping up with our rigorous schedule of eating. Also there’s been a lot of trivia. The capital of Nepal is Kathmandu. Glenn Frey sang “The Heat Is On.” You’re welcome. I don’t mean to brag, but there were audible groans from the other contestants when Hadas and I walked into the Pearly Kings Pub yesterday afternoon for 2 p.m. General Knowledge trivia. We tied for first, despite barely being able to understand the questions posted by Maria, our gawky, energetic and heavily-accented Romanian host who sounds like the bride of Dracula doing open mic comedy down at the local Chuckle Hut.

Meanwhile, we’ve been having probably 500% more fun than we expected to. When not eating we’ve been enjoying the nightly shows in the giant theatre near the bow of the boat — Singing! Dancing! Aerialists! — reading by the pool, listening to live music, watching cheesy onboard game shows or working out in the well-appointed onboard gym. We also did a day excursion into Cozumel called Salsa y Salsa where we learned how to make five kinds of salsa, how to salsa dance, how to make strawberry margaritas and how much alcohol it takes to turn Andrew into an extrovert (approximately 1/4 teaspoon).


We haven’t just been enjoying each other’s company, either. After a few days on the ship we’ve had a chance to develop some deep and meaningful loathing for a few recurring characters who keep showing up at meals, activities and events. There’s the belligerent woman with the walker who was at a 5 p.m. knitting social and then reappeared at trivia the next morning. There’s the odd coot in the plaid shirt who heard us practicing improv games on the ferry ride back from Belize City and decided it would be perfectly appropriate to approach us with his favorite dirty joke immediately upon returning to the ship. And there’s the gentleman who, upon learning we were also from the Pacific Northwest, decided to catalog for us the history of every sports team he has ever rooted for — college and pro — dating back to the Minneapolis Lakers.

We’ve decided that cruising is basically Very Short Attention Span Dating. In the course of an evening we can spend 15 minutes in a piano bar listening to Lisa York cover Neil Diamond tunes, then slide over to the local pub for 15 minutes of 80s trivia. Then a quick hop into Spinnaker lounge for bit of dancing to a 70s funk band and then a short stroll into the theater for a 45-minute magic show. There’s no cover charge, no lines, no pressure to buy drinks, no valet parking and no dress code. It’s like channel surfing your life.

The crazy thing about all of this is that we’re on a boat, and every morning we wind up in some new exotic port. Tuesday we had the aforementioned “Andrew Dangerously Operates a Mortar and Pestle While Drunk” experience. Wednesday we walked around Belize City and enjoyed its gritty charm, which is to say we hightailed it back to the ship when we discovered that the ratio of grit to charm was about 97-3. Today we alighted in Roatan, a long island in Honduras, where we had a fabulous snorkel tour to see amazing schools of fish, barracuda and stunning coral in warm, crystal clear waters. Easily the highlight of the trip so far, just ahead of learning that Mr. Minneapolis Lakers used to be an L.A. Raiders fan.

The other thing about being on a boat — sometimes it rocks back and forth like a boat. The first time this happened, on day three of the cruise, neither of us were sure if we were feeling the boat moving or the after effects of a morning of salsa-adjacent margaritas. We were sitting in the Stardust theatre awaiting the start of that evening’s aerial act, and the rope hanging down from the top of the stage was swinging to and fro like a pendulum in an earthquake. As entertainers ourselves, we appreciate the added degree of difficulty of performing on a stage that’s gimbaling wildly.

This trip has been unexpectedly fun, and Hadas is already on a reconnaissance mission, asking frequent cruisers aboard this ship which other cruise lines they recommend, by which I mean which ones let you eat all the things all the time. We’ve got two days left on this sailing, including one more land excursion, and then it’s back home. I expect that we’ll spend most of the time in the ship’s gym, not because we’re working out that intensely but because you are literally forced to walk through the all-you-can-eat buffet after the gym. Whoever designed this boat is a certified genius.


You can read Hadas’s blog about Cruisefest 2014 here.

Thailand Day One: Long Day’s Journey into More Day

Friday, 1:54 p.m. PST – Somewhere over the Pacific Ocean

We’re 30 minutes into an 11-hour flight to Tokyo and they’ve already shut down the entertainment system for a 15-minute “hard reboot.” If they can’t get Two and a Half Men to play consistently I have some serious questions about whether this plane will make it to Japan.

Nonetheless I’m in a chipper mood because I’m ON MY WAY TO THAILAND. It’s day one of my annual winter trip away from rainy Portland (currently masquerading as snowy Portland) and I couldn’t be more excited. The entertainment system failure notwithstanding, so far Delta is killing it with a hilarious new safety video that seems to have been inspired by the movie Airplane. Sight gags galore plus a cameo by Alex Trebek. What’s not to like?

I’m also excited because I’ve upgraded my travel repertoire with the following improvements:

A noise-canceling headset

It reduced the loud roar of the engines to a soft purr and means I can listen to the in-flight entertainment (when operating) at a comfortable volume. There is also a commercial for the very brand of headset I purchased, playing before movies on the entertainment system (when operating), so I feel like a smug shopper.

A supremely dorky travel pillow

It looks like an inflatable giraffe bladder, but during the second leg of this flight from Tokyo to Bangkok I intend to sleep like teenager.

A new, smaller travel backpack

In my never-ending quest to pack lighter, I bought a smaller version of my already-small carry-on backpack. I’m going to Southeast Asia — it’s not like I need to bring bulky sweaters. My bag is ultra-light, except for the 35 pounds of food that I’m carrying with me just in case they do not offer food in Thailand. Luckily, I probably will have eaten all of it by the time they serve dinner on the plane. Hadas says I have a luggage fetish. It is not a fetish. I merely appreciate a fine selection of quality bags and enjoy choosing the perfect one for each trip based on the destination.


Global Entry

On my last trip I was sitting in my hotel room with nothing to do, and it occurred to me that I was probably a Frequent Traveler, seeing as how I was sitting in a hotel room in the midst of a frequent trip. So I went online and signed up for the US Customs and Border Control’s Global Entry program. After submitting a lengthy online application in which I listed my employment, residence and travel history, and coughed up $100, I was conditionally approved in late November. And thanks to a stroke of luck I was able to get in for my in-person interview this past Monday. The interview, with a cheerful Border Control officer at the Portland Airport, was mainly an excuse to give me a pamphlet about the program and take my fingerprints. Now a proud Global Entry member, I get two benefits: One, I am eligible for TSA PreCheck, which means at the airport this morning I got to to through the special line where you can leave your shoes on, your laptop and liquids in your bag, and just generally speed through security like it’s 1999. And two, when I return to the US I can fly (figuratively) through customs and immigration at a Global Entry kiosk instead of waiting in line with the other poor saps from the plane. So far TSA PreCheck was a big win, and I’ll report back on Global Entry when I globally re-enter in late December.


My cell phone now works in any country with no crazy jacked-up international roaming rates. T-Mobile FTW!

So thus properly outfitted for a trip to Thailand, I thought I should address the most frequently asked question I’ve gotten, which is:

“Thailand? By yourself? Are you crazy? Aren’t they having riots?”

It’s true that they’re having some protests, but the tear gassing is apparently localized to some very specific areas of Bangkok, and I’m only going to be there for a day and a half before heading north, so I expect it’ll be a light tear gassing at most. Besides, last I heard the protestors and the government had called a time out from hostilities to celebrate the King’s birthday.

Regardless, the chances of me actually getting to Bangkok are still dubious at best. Even ignoring the question of whether this plane is airworthy, there’s the small matter of China and Japan being locked into a tete-a-tete over some disputed islands in between the two nations, so apparently our pilot has to radio Beijing when we’re flying over the disputed islands to say “Hey y’all, we’re just a friendly Delta plane with a balky entertainment system — please let us through.”

And if that wasn’t tricky enough, it was dicey as to whether I would even make it to the flight this morning since Portland suddenly decided to turn into the second coming of Siberia and the roads threatened to make a 15-minute drive to the airport into an all-morning affair. Whoever said getting there is half the fun probably needs to evaluate their definition of fun.

Needless to say I’m expecting to experience a world of culture shock upon landing in Thailand. With a year to prepare for this trip I’ve learned a good 15 words of Thai, ten of which are the numbers one to ten (feel free to quiz me). I plan to spend a fair amount of time pointing at food and hoping it is not roast beetle knees.

All righty, the entertainment system is back up and Cougar Town is not going to watch itself. More details to follow if we make it.

Delta’s pretty fancy times for Economy Class. I slept through the mid-flight ice cream service:



Saturday – Somewhere in Asia

Somehow I missed out on Saturday with the time difference. Seriously, I left home Friday morning and woke up on Bangkok on Sunday. If anyone finds my Saturday, please mail it to me.

Sunday 5:20 a.m. – Bangkok

So … I made it. The entertainment system sort of worked, except that it would show you a different movie than the one you selected. This probably came as a surprise to the parents who were trying to cue up My Little Pony for their kids and got Showgirls. I watched Pain and Gain, and Now You See Me on in-flight entertainment roulette.

Nonetheless, the rest of my travel day was pretty smooth, and I do mean day. The sun stayed up for the entire flight to Tokyo since we were flying directly west. A quick two hour layover in Tokyo and then an easy seven hour flight to Bangkok during which I mostly slept and here I am!

Passing through immigration in the Bangkok airport was as easy as any country I’ve ever been to. I was through the line in less than 10 minutes with my new passport stamp. I grabbed 9900 Baht from an ATM (still figuring out the conversion rate, but I think it’s somewhere between five dollars and my life savings) and caught a taxi to the Silom City Hotel.

Extremely notable fact: THEY DRIVE ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD HERE!!! AAAAAAAAAAAGH! That made the taxi ride a bit of an adventure, even at 1 a.m. It also means that the moving walkways in the airport and the escalators are also on the wrong side, and I can neither confirm nor deny that I spent five minutes walking around level two of the airport trying to figure out how to get down to level one. In the process, I got stopped by security and asked to show my passport, because apparently I looked suspicious trying to figure out how to ride an escalator. Quality tourism.

After checking in at the hotel I slept another two hours, from 2 a.m. – 4 a.m. (11 a.m. – 1 p.m. Portland time) and then awoke to start my day. It’s gonna take some time to shake off the jet lag. Note to self: learn the Thai word for “siesta.”


Three Ways to Solve This Rapidly-Escalating NFL Officiating Crisis

For those who missed it, Monday night’s wild Packers-Seahawks game featured extremely sketchy officiating and a disputed 14-12 Seahawks win when Green Bay was called for too many men on the ice during the final play.

As the officials’ strike drags on past week three with no end in sight, it’s time to make the best of a bad situation. Here are three ways the NFL could immediately make the replacement officials situation not only palatable, but awesome:

1. Hire Donald Trump as the Supervisor of Officials

Sure, the officiating sucks, but that’s because we’re invested in the games, not in the officials. Let’s turn this season on its head by putting ourselves in the officials’ shoes. Who better than The Donald to shepherd them through the challenge of learning to ref real NFL games under the pressure cooker of screaming fans, angry players and frustrated owners. We’ll follow them through their weekly meetings, pre-game preparations, halftime adjustments and post-game debriefings. We’ll watch their families sitting anxiously at home during the games and we’ll learn all about the “real” jobs these officials have during the week. All the while, Donald Trump gives them helpful tips on how to make it in the brutal world of NFL officiating.

Then boom! It’s Tuesday morning. Judgement day. All the officials cram into Trump Tower, and after evaluating their performances The Donald lowers the hammer and fires the most inept official. Tell me you wouldn’t be glued to your television all week long.

2. Celebrity Officials

Did you hate that final play of the Monday Night game? The one where one official ran over and called it a touchdown and the other one ran over and called it an interception? Now imagine how much more awesome that would have been if the two officials were Charlie Sheen and Snooki.

Need I go on?

The storylines would practically write themselves:

  • B and C-List celebrities would go crazy trying to get themselves onto an officiating crew. Imagine this phrase in Gilbert Gottfried’s voice: “After further review, the ball was grasped with two hands.”
  • 80s. TV. Reunions. Bring together the cast of Love Boat as an officiating crew, with Gavin Mcleod as your head referee, Lauren Tewes as your back judge, US Representative Fred Grandy as your linesman and Ted Lange as Isaac, your umpire. Put the TV stars in their original costumes and I am guaranteeing that every person in America subscribes to the NFL Sunday Ticket package on DirecTV. 
  • City-specific assignments: Do you want to see the cast of CSI: Miami ref the Miami-Jets game? You know you do.

3. Pick Fans From the Crowd

For anyone who has ever said “I could do a better job than these bozos,” now’s your chance. Before the game starts, the stadium PA announcer would call out seven names a la The Price is Right and you’ve got your officials for the game right there. They would come running out of the stands one by one, outfitted quickly in referee uniforms, handed a whistle and the game begins!

You’ve got a decent shot at your officials being some combination of:

  • A 380-pound guy wearing a beer hat who has been drinking steadily since the tailgate party started at 8 a.m. and who keeps blotting at his forehead with his yellow referee’s flag.
  • A 79-year-old grandmother wearing the home team’s jersey and waving a foam finger that is 1.5 times her actual weight.
  • A kindergartener with face paint who spends the entire game sleeping.
  • A French exchange student who does not understand how zee American Football works but finds it “passé.”
  • A crazy college student with the team logo shaved into his head who tries to tackle the opposing team’s returner during the opening kickoff.
  • Second Lady Jill Biden, who has been sitting in the owner’s luxury box for the requisite network camera cutaway.

Would they be any worse than the existing replacement officials? Would you not feel some empathy watching your friends and neighbors attempting to ref an NFL game? Would this not become the hottest ticket since Willy Wonka?  Tell me you wouldn’t enjoy watching this!

If we’re going to be saddled with replacement officials, let’s make it awesome. Call NFL headquarters and insist that they replace the replacements with one of the scenarios above. Thank you.