Monday, December 31, 2007

Hawaii: Left over photo

As an aside on the trip, I find it fascinating how digital has changed how kids deal with photography, scenery, and trips. When I was a kid, I didn't get a camera until about 12 or 13, and then just enough film and flashbulbs to take maybe 12 pictures. And you waited a couple of months to find out how your pictures came out because you couldn't see the first ones until you took the last picture on the roll, and then another couple of weeks for processing. (Admittedly, I'm old, and things had improved a bit by the time digital was phasing out film.) But today, Kasia can have a cheap digital camera at age 4; her camera shows her what she took immediately, and she can take about 5000 photos with the memory chip I got her without any further investment in film or processing. Tigana, at age nine, has developed quite an interest in architecture because she has been photographing it since she was six. We first loaned Tigana a digital camera when touring Casa Loma years ago, on what was going to be a fairly hopeless attempt to interest her in family history (her great grandfather had worked there back in the day) and it was a revelation to us how having the ability to take pictures suddenly engaged her in the tour. Instead of being bored, she proved an excellent photographer and set out to document her journey. The ability to constantly experiment with the camera and to receive instant feedback must imply that these kids will have a fundamentally different experience of photography and (hopefully, though I recognize, not necessarily) get a lot better at it a lot faster than anyone in my generation could.

Hawaii: Sunsets and Rainbows

The licence plates say, "rainbow state" and it's no exaggeration. I don't think that there was a single day that went by that we didn't see one or more spectacular rainbows. But they could also have called it the sunset state (though I suppose some of the connotations there are not quite as good!) because every night had a spectacular sunset too.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Kasia's Song

"Anywhere you go,
Anywhere you go,
Anywhere you go,
There you are!"

She sings this one a lot. So I asked her about it and she said, "You'll have to talk to my people."

"Your people" I asked.

She pointed to her shelf of 'My Little Ponies'. "Those are my people. You need to check with them."

So I'm thinking maybe we have spoilt the kids a little with these vacations in Hawaii and staying in conference hotels etc, that they are starting to think of themselves as upper class. So I said to Mary we have to take our kids camping for the next vacation, or maybe a Motel 6 kind of level.

"Let's do the camping," Mary replied. "At least then the bugs belong there...."

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Cruise: Other Passengers

One of the things I found intriguing about the cruise was studying the other passengers. There were any number of middle class businessmen and their families as one would expect, but I also noted some others who seemed, um... well, to have more colorful careers. I am sure the two Russian families and the Colombians were probably insurance agents or some such, but the two bikers wearing full colors were, well, bikers. And I couldn't help noticing that the bikers were exceedingly polite to the Russian and Colombian families. Made you wonder, you know?

And then there was the very muscular black guy who never smiled and had a tattoo of a seal on his arm -- navy seal maybe? He had the build and the security guy look, and we are talking Hawaii with its major naval bases, so not entirely implausible. But this guy kept looking this way and that like someone doing a threat assessment, but he's, you know, in a hot tub on a cruise ship, not guarding the president. And did I mention he never smiled, even though accompanied by his wife and child? I overhead his wife ask him in the hot tub, "Aren't you glad you came, now?" to which he replied, "Whatever. Just so long as you're happy." It was kind of sad. I mean, he was undoubtedly sincere in wanting to provide his wife with the vacation she wanted, but he was so obviously bored/doing it for her sake, that he was clearly bringing her down...would it have killed him to pretend that he was enjoying himself? Not only would it have made for a much better time for her and the child, but he might have enjoyed himself more.

And in the dinning room, there was the huge Japanese family, obviously sponsored by the patriarch who was enjoying himself immensely, and everybody was happy happy happy -- except the one daughter-in-law who was the picture of misery. Part of me is thinking, 'go with the flow -- you're in Hawaii, it's warm, the food is decent, how bad can granddad be?' but of course, I guess it can be very bad.... Judging by her unguarded expression, she'd pretty much rather be anywhere else in the world than at that table. Though she would make an effort to look engaged if anyone looked at her, which they mostly didn't.

Saddest of all was the one older lady who must once have been a beauty but whose current excesses of makeup, hair, and clothing suggested a combination of denial and desperation that was not becoming. I occasionally saw her seated with a large family grouping, so obviously along as someone's grandmother or aunt, but she spent most of her time alone, supposedly sunning on the deck, but like my navy seal, continually scanning the deck for someone or something: Potential prospects or wondering where the rest of the family was, I couldn't say. But I never saw her enjoying herself...even amongst the family, she seemed an obvious outsider.

And, I suppose it should have come as no surprise that several of the kids on the ship were little monsters. I know my girls are spoilt, but I like to believe that they are not yet spoilt rotten. But several of the youngsters on this trip had obvious social problems -- bullying being the most predictable and common. These kids had a sense of entitlement that went beyond expectation to the fundamental belief that they were better than anyone else, and that all other kids should pay them homage. At the other end of the scale was a girl slightly older than Tigana who wore a constant frown, and cringed from any motion in her vicinity, and had victim written in block letters on her forehead. Watching her enter the other kids' sphere of influence was like watching a bather enter a pool of piranha. Tigana was mostly oblivious to these interactions, gravitating naturally to the one or two other nice girls, or when they weren't around, complaining to me that the other kids available were ignoring her. Well, that worked for me: I was just as happy that she wasn't hanging out with these jerks. In particular I recall one stereotypical fat-boy bully holding court in the hot tub while half a dozen girls hung on his every word, and two lesser males took up station behind either arm. They're like 11 and 12 years old and already playing out their life scripts. Very, very sad.

Cruise:Trip Home

The ship docked early in the morning, but we didn't have to leave until about 9AM to get to the airport for our 11AM flight home. Another advantage of our penthouse status was not having to line up for departure at a designated time, like everybody else, but just go when we wanted, knowing that our bags would be waiting in the VIP section whenever we came down. Mary had arranged for a limo to pick us up, on the grounds that it only cost $10 more than the regular shuttle bus, and as long as we were living the life of the rich and famous, we really ought to go all out.

Arriving at the airport, we discovered that our flight was delayed three hours -- which meant that we could not possibly make our one-hour connection in Vancouver. The Air Canada desk hadn't even opened yet, and when it finally did, they weren't able to do anything for us anyway -- all they could tell us was to check with the desk in Vancouver...which of course meant we would have to leave the secure area with our luggage after leaving customs and start from scratch -- at midnight on December 22, so, basically, hopeless.

So Mary, having watched far too many episodes of Amazing Race, got on her cellphone to Air Canada in Canada, and managed to book a flight for us out of Vancouver at 10 the next morning, and booked a night at the Fairmount (airport hotel in Vancouver) before the rest of our flight had even cleared the initial lineup in Hawaii. We then went off for a leisurely lunch in the airport, browsed through a bookstore, set the kids up watching a movie on the computer, and generally found ways to kill three hours. We still were the first to arrive at the gate (once it opened for our flight --security conscious American airports don't let you sit down until the previous flight has departed). We approached the desk about getting seats together (they had randomly slotted us in, so we were separated from the kids) and the attendants efficiently issued us new boarding passes so we were all together. The trip was okay for me as I took care of Tigana; bit more challenging for Mary keeping Kasia entertained.

We arrived in Vancouver at midnight and were funneled into an enormous line-up for immigration/customs. There must have been a 1000 people ahead of us as the Christmas rush maxed out every flight, and there were only three windows open as immigration was down to the Christmas-week-midnight skeleton crew. It took about an hour to get to the head of the line, and about 30 seconds to be processed. But after hours on the plane, and hours more in the airport awaiting our delayed flight, we were all very tired.

And I knew I was in trouble when I heard a little voice from knee-level saying, "Daddy, I don't want to stand here any more." Pointing out that nobody was enjoying standing in line; that we had to stand in the line to get home; that it was probably against the law to leave the line; and the importance of not wandering off, joining another family, and never seeing us again, did not seem to help Kasia comprehend that she had to stand in line and that there was nothing really we could do about it. So after the 50th repetition of "I don't want to stand here any more", she apparently felt her message was not getting through, and so felt the need to punctuate the comment with a fist to my leg. "Daddy! I do NOT want to stand here any more." *Punch*

"Hey, stop that! That is not constructive. Look, I've explained that there is nothing -- ouch!"

So the last thirty minutes or so of the wait is punctuated by the rhythm of a tiny fist hitting my leg at regular intervals. The expression on Kasia's face is not angry or tantruming or anything of the sort, just this tired determination to be heard and her problem addressed.

(Tigana, it must be said, was dealing with the situation like the seasoned traveler she is, and was helpful and cheerful throughout the journey home -- aside from the entirely understandable chorus of "I don't want to go home, I want to stay in Hawaii!".)

So. It was probably a good thing that Mary had booked the Fairmount, so we could crash immediately, rather than trying to continue on that night, as did so many others from our delayed flight. Having so many people miss their connections, they put on extra flights at 3AM, which would have meant arriving in Calgary at 5AM. Followed by a two hour car ride home to Lethbridge -- well, actually it's a three hour drive from the Calgary airport, but I doubt that we would have made it all the way in the condition we were in.

Once through customs (25 seconds, thankfully, after clearing immigration) and a very long walk from the International Terminal to the Air Canada windows to confirm that we were still booked on the 10AM flight the next morning (we feared that they might have been cancelled, given the provision of the extra night flight) we went to our hotel room and slept for five hours. In keeping with the rest of the trip, the Fairmount room was extravagant (not that we actually paid more than what a normal room would have cost) and

Next morning, onto the plane and home. Off the plane, Mary takes the kids to the washroom and collects our baggage, while I zip out to the Park and Fly lot to retrieve the car. Which is stone dead. I discover the dome light has been left on. So, I call the CAA, and a truck eventually shows up to provide a boost. But it is definitely fortuitous that we didn't arrive at 5AM -- as Air Canada would have planned it for us -- to find our car dead.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Cruise: Kauai

We spent the morning on the beach at Kauai. Tigana met another girl from the cruise her own age and they become fast friends, playing together happily. I was amazed both kids could be on the same ship for a week and only meet the last day, but I guess the girl and her mom had taken advantage of all the excursions and had spent relatively little time on board. Back on board in the late afternoon, we took the kids to a Pizza party organized by the Kids Crew, then watched the scenary as the ship pulled out.

Kauai has the best scenary of trip (not that my little pocket camera is up to taking it in), the ship making a point of going along the Northern coast while a Hawaiian cultural representative provided a commentary on history, etc., before turning back to its route home.

We then took the kids to the Kids Crew for PJ night; Mary and I had planned a romantic dinner on the balcony, but we had to cancel due to inclement weather (major winds), so ended up just eating in the buffet.

We got back to the room to find the cutest towel animal so far. The stewart had left a big towel animal (hare or antelope?) prominently displayed which drew our immediate attention, so the second one went almost unnoticed…thus adding to the sense of a mouse sneaking out of the bed!

Highlight of the day was when Mary took Tigana back to see W.T. Greer in the piano bar and he invited her up to sing with her. Getting to sing with a professional in front of an audience was a thrill for Tigana. Nice of Greer to pick up on her singing aspirations and to say she had talent.

Thursday, December 20, 2007


My birthday today, so feeling a bit old.

Mary gave me the morning off again as a birthday present, so I spent the morning writing while Mary took the kids to the beach. Writing on a balcony in Hawaii could quickly become addictive, and I started telling Mary she really should apply to the University of Hawaii -- and I'd just take early retirement and write.

We spent the afternoon aboard ship again at the pool, and I again had an afternoon of mixed terror and pride as Kasia taught herself how to swim.

Ate at Little Italy again with kids for my birthday dinner, and this time we had excellent service from Anthony the waiter (who was everything our previous waiter had not been). Then the kids wanted Kids Crew, leaving Mary and I to wander the deck, a nice birthday activity. We took in the singer, W. T. Greer, in the Pink Champaign Lounge, and he was so good Mary eventually fetched Tigana out of Kids Crew to hear him. Tigana was duly impressed when she requested a song (God Bless the child) and he was able to sing it without benefit of actually having the words or music to hand.

Cruise: towel animals

Like baloon animals, only made out of towels. The steward would leave these for us on the beds when he came to turn down the beds each evening. Unfortunately, the pictures of the early towel creatures were among those that I lost fooling with the camera settings. But here are a couple that I was able to retake.

Towel Elephant

Towel cool dog.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Cruise: Kona

Kona is a tender port, which means there is no dock,and you have to go ashore aboard the cruise ship's tenders –actually three of the powered lifeboats, each of which holds 60 people or so. Once again, our elevated status as residents of a suite meant that we got to skip the line-ups and board the tenders whenever, rather than wait for an assigned section. Ah the joys of being rich -- or at any rate, living like we were rich.

rear view of a tender mounted on the cruise ship as a lifeboat

We spent the morning shopping in the local artisan market, buying various knick knacks, etc., and wandering around the town.

The highlight was eating snow cones (I use the Canadian expression somewhat loosely, since they are in no way equivalent) at Scandicanian Shaved Ice. The 'small' size was the size of Kasia's head; the medium that Mary and I shared was roughly the size of a basketball. Each ball of shaved ice comes with three flavourings (from a choice of about 30 exotic flavours) and Kasia asked for 'rainbow' so the lady layered red, yellow and blue flavorings to produce a five color rainbow (e.g., blue + yellow = green); we ordered ours with chocolate Macademia nut ice cream in the center. These are unlike anything we have ever had before, and an obvious must have in any warm climate. Mary and I told the owner that they ought to franchise their invention (the ice machine etc) and she told us that they had made arrangements to franchise but the franchise organizers had insisted on their being in business at least one whole year before they went public -- so that they could have a 'year plan' laid out for the franchisees and to demonstrate that the theory actually worked, etc. Time's up in March, so if anyone is looking for a failsafe summer franchise....

Unfortunately, I accidently erased all the photos of the shaved ice, the tenders (I had some great close ups of the interior, operating instructions etc that I intended to work into my novel) and the local sights when I had some free time to experiment with the camera settings. Tigana was a tiny bit exasperated with me. "Dad, even I know you down load all the pictures before fiddling with the settings on a new camera, and I'm nine! Duh!" well, what can I say? But it was a very relaxed and enjoyable day.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Cruise: Maui: day two

breakfast on the balcony

We have breakfast in out on our balcony most mornings, brought by the butler. Well, we have to find something for the butler to do. And it cuts down the number of meals in restaurants we have to have with the kids. At age four, one restaurant meal a day is about the limit of Kasia's good behavior. So we have a good breakfast, some kind of snack around 1 or 2; then supper.

I have generally enjoyed the ship’s food, though I am lead to understand by more experienced cruisers that the food is not up to the usual standard, especially in the premium dinning rooms which require reservations and additional cover charges. I found they tended to fall down on some of the tiny details that distinguish five star restaurants. For example, I was twice handed menus where grease stains obscured portions of the page, which one wouldn’t expect in anything above a roadside diner; and the Italian restaurant provided quite poor service, screwing up the order (forgetting some items, bringing appetizers with the main course, bringing kids food after the adults; kids’ drinks appearing just in time for desert, etc.). Mary found the food in the premium dinning rooms a bit predictable, lacking complexity of five star dining.
the infamous espresso machine

Similarly, there are very minor problems with the suite. The chief annoyance for Mary is that her upgraded espresso machine doesn’t actually work – the first day it ground the beans and dispensed a fresh cup, but has refused to work ever since. A regular drip peculator that actually worked would have been better. I noticed that there was supposed to be a glass door between the toilet and the washbasin, though it’s absence is not a major issue since we just close the door to the bathroom.

Anyway, after breakfast, Kasia went to Kid's Crew, and Mary and Tigana went shopping in Maui, while I took the morning off staying on board to process pictures, blog, and so on.
Kid's Crew facility

Having spent the previous week with just us, Kasia has missed Montessori school and interaction with her peers and so has begged more time in KidsClub on board the cruise ship. Mary, ever the stragetic planner, anticipated this reaction and planned our trip to end on the cruise precisely so the kids would let us get a few evenings to ourselves. The 2 to 5 year old club seems to do a lot of very simple stuff that really engages the kids, such as dressing up as clowns (“circus night”) or superheros (“superhero night”) and then parading through the ship in costume. (The same procedure seems to work well with the 21-30 crowd who are similarly marched through the ship by their wranglers wearing Hawaiian shirts and shouting “pub crawl”.) When I had to pull Kasia out of KidsClub “bluesclues mystery morning” yesterday for our Whale Watching Cruise, she was quite put out.

In the afternoon, Tigana entered one of the cruise director's contests and won a medal for "best splash", beating a 150lb kid. There followed several hours of swimming, and in the evening Mary and I fed the kids, dropped them off (at their insistence) at Kid's Crew again, and ate a satisfactory dinner at the Lazy J steakhouse, another of the ships upcharge restaurants. This time the service was excellent, the steaks so-so -- but then, we're from Alberta, so it is hard to meet our standards for steak.

Ship's pool

The kids love swimming in the pools, a mixed blessing from my non-swimmer’s viewpoint. Kasia has taken to throwing herself off the edge and swimming lengths, a process somewhat complicated by the fact that she can’t actually swim. But she has made impressive progress in the last two weeks towards actual swimming, diving fearlessly to touch the bottom of the pool, then surfacing on her own for air, then going under to splash forward a couple of feet, then up for air, etc. until she has traversed the pool. She just needs occasionally to grasp some handy fixture (usually my conveniently placed arm) to pull herself up when she has miscalculated and needs to come up for air immediately, and I’m just not certain that she has realized that she can’t always count on something being there if Mary or I are not in the pool with her. I have endeavored not to allow her to see my constant state of terror during these activities, however, as I have no wish for her to inherit my paralyzing fear of water. But maybe a little common sense anxiety would be better than her fearless overconfidence?

in one of the ship's 4 hot tubs

Part of Kasia's problem, the Basils suggested, is that her earlier experiences with reflex anoxic seizures has taught her that if you stop breathing it is okay because you just start up again a couple of minutes later. That this does not actually apply under water may not have quite penetrated. I also worry when Kasia tries to throw herself off the side of the pool into the freezing water before I can get to the pool, since one of the triggers for RAS is sudden cold water on the face. (Though Kasia has been seizure-free for a couple of years now....but it's not the sort of thing you want to risk in a pool.)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Cruise: Maui: Whale Watching

Took Prince Kuhio Maui-Molokai whale watching tour. The tour shuttles arrived at the dock at the precise moment scheduled, and the rest of the trip was equally efficient. The crew appeared genuinely interested in both whales and our safety; the onboard concession was dirt cheap and so good Kasia ate two hotdog combos, an unheard of intake at a single sitting, and that after a good sized breakfast.

The tour started with an orientation by the company’s naturalist, Katie, who was superb! I learned more about humpbacks in that 15 minutes than from any PBS special, and somehow seeing the whale’s tail spread out before you in person has a lot more impact than seeing something on TV.

There were also two volunteers from the Whale Sanctuary on board to assist the naturalist, and they did a great job of floating around the boat answering questions as they occurred to us, as Katie provided intermittent commentary over the speaker system. Both of the volunteers were drawn to Tigana’s fanaticism regarding shark conservation, and consequently spent a disproportionate amount of the trip talking to my girls. (Most of the others on the boat seemed less interested in availing themselves of this resource, and entirely focused on getting pictures of the whales.)

We did see several whales, though I wasn’t able to get pictures. I saw the first whale’s tail climb out of the water, splash down, and then –sorry if this sounds a bit mystical – could feel the whale turn and swim by the boat, while everyone else looked off in the wrong direction. I kept wanting to watch where I “felt’ the whale’s presence, but the captain steered off in the opposite direction, until the whale was out of range – but I could feel here out there. It was very strange. That was followed by a couple of other really good sightings of whale pairs. A very successful outing, in my view.

The trip was slightly nerve wracking for me, though, as I was in charge of Kasia for the first half of the trip, and she kept insistinig on wandering around the ship leaning agains the much too short -- in my father’s-eye-view – railing. When the whales actually showed up, they caught her interest, and then she cuddled up to one of the sanctuary volunteers and fell asleep on her lap.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Cruise: Hilo: Anniversary

December 16th was our 10th Anniversary, so we dumped the kids in the "kid's Crew" babysitting for the evening, and had a quiet dinner for just the two of us. We chose La Bistro, one of the premier restaurants on the ship that require an upcharge, but although the food was decent --especially the French onion soup -- it could not compare with the meal at La Mer a few nights earlier. Or Roy's. Or the Thai restaurant. Okay, not really fair comparisons since we had chosen the Honolulu restaurants based on the Basil's recommendations and they were all top restaurants in their categories, but one expects cruise ships to be top too. I'd rate La Bistro as equivalent to what you'd find in a Westin Hotel, so good, but missing some of the finer details --e.g., crème brulee was not the correct temperature and therefore right consistency. But nevertheless, a nice romantic dinner, especially given that we were on a cruise in Hawaii.

Cruise: Hilo: Volcano National Park

Mary had booked a tour of Volcano National Park for our Hilo stop as a treat for me -- visiting a volcano has been a lifelong ambition of mine. She booked the tour through Roberts rather than the more expensive version through the Cruise line. Unfortunately, Roberts loaded about 8 other tour buses first, so our tour left 45 minutes late. Since the driver was still required to have everyone back at the ship on time, our time at each stop was very attenuated -- e.g., only 20 minutes at the Volcano museum which was just long enough to line up for the bathrooms, but not long enough to see any of the actual exhibits. It was extremely frustrating for a museum-loving guy like me. Similarly, the stop en route at the Manua Loa Macadamia nut factory was a bit of a bust because the factory was closed on Sundays, and there was not sufficient time allotted to take the self-tour (windows into the factory with video commentary in 6 languages), just time to shop in the gift shop for ice cream. Another minor annoyance is that during the drive back to the ship the driver decided to sing off-color Don Ho songs -- since half the bus consisted of young kids, I'm not sure the sexual innuendo was the best choice.

But those complaints not withstanding, the highlight of the tour was a walk through a lava tube and the visit to the crater. Pretty damn amazing!

Rain Forest on way to volcano
Mary and the kids walking through a lava tube -- sorry about the blurring, but it was too dark to take a good shot without a tripod.
The volcano landscape looked like we were on another planet
I found the existence of these plants in this very harsh environment a kind of affirmation of the tenacity of life.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Cruise: The Ship

I was surprised by (a) how big the cruise ship was, and by (b) how much stuff was crammed into the ship. In addition to the many restaurants, there was a chapel, a cultural center (with displays on Hawaiian history), a large library, a games room, an Internet room (prohibitively expensive though: 75 cents a minute for very slow access -- I did not avail myself of it, in spite of serious withdrawal symptoms); a large central atrium with grand staircase and glass elevators, and so on.

Caddilac dinner

Cultural Center

games room


Another view of the library

The Grand Staircase

The ship deck at night

Cruise: The Suite

We started the day with our second breakfast at Eggs 'N things, again luckily arriving just before the big line ups.

The Cross-Cultural Research Conference was over by noon, and we were off to the cruise portion of our trip. Woohoo!

Now, as mentioned previously, the whole idea of adding a cruise to our trip came up when Mary tried to book the Superferry to one of the other islands, the idea being that we would work at Wiakiki, and then keep our vacation portion psychologically separate by going to a completely different island. But the Superferry had been forced to cease operations while environmental impact studies were undertaken, so looking around for alternatives, Mary found a bargin curise offer. Well, we rather liked the idea of checking into one additional hotel, and then having it move from island to island while we slept so we could get a really good sampling of Hawaii. And Mary had always wanted to go on a cruise, so I agreed that that would be a very suitable way for us to spend our 10th anniversary.

[Between you and me, this was a huge relief because it is my understanding that the male is supposed to do the anniversary planning, and I am completely hopeless at this sort of thing. I had bought the Dummies Guide to Cruises about a year before thinking that that might be a nice surprise gift for our anniversary (shamelessly stealing the idea from a colleague) and was thinking about the Disney cruise, but in hiding the book from Mary, had completely lost it and the idea until about October, at which point Mary already had Hawaii pretty much worked out. Given my previous track record on significant birthdays and anniversaries, had the Hawaiian option not presented itself, I’m guessing we would have pretty much have ended up with the Family Deal at our local Tim Horton’s. Oh, wait, Tim Horton’s doesn’t have a family deal. Well, something. Um, our anniversary is December 16th for sure, though, right?]

So Mary discussed various heavily researched options with me and we agreed to go for the additional expense of an outside room with a window as opposed to a porthole or an inside cabin with no view, given various bloggers’/reviewer’s comments about claustrophobia and so on. Mary chose the queen sized bed with two fold down bunk bed option to accommodate all of us.

And then….having booked the room, the travel agent phoned with an upsell: Would we be interested in an upgrade from our current cabin to a larger one with a balcony for $X. Mary explained that upsells were a standard procedure in the cruise business, and that it was common for people to sit by the phone hoping for a call offering an upgrade to the next level or occasionally a couple of levels, for half or less of the usual differential. Well, suspicious though I generally am of bait and switch marketing, it sounded like a significant improvement, and what the hell, it was our 10th anniversary and we had promised not to buy other anniversary gifts or significant Christmas gifts this year, so I told her to go for it.

Main room, showing hideabed, seating, big screen TV, corner of Queen bed (588 square feet)

It was only when the phrase “your butler” entered the conversation that we began to appreciate just how good a deal we had gotten. They had bumped us up not the usual one or two levels, but twelve (from Category N on deck 4 to Category AD on deck 10). The only level higher than the one we were now in is the “owner’s suite”, and it isn’t available for four people, so this was as high as it was possible for us to go. And way beyond what we would have been prepared to pay, 10th anniversary or no.

kids on main bed; birthday decorations are for my birthday which fell on the trip, as did our 10th anniversary
When Mary showed me the comparison on the ship's website, I couldn’t believe it. Well, I couldn’t believe I had agreed to the original room when she showed me the picture (click on "virtual tour" for "category N" bottom of the page), because I hadn’t appreciated that “queen bed” translated as “no actual floor space left” or that “fold down bed” meant “fold down over top of the queen bed” so your face is two feet from bottom of kid’s bunk. That original cabin looked very much tinnier in the photo than I had visualized when Mary said it. But as for the room we got!

'study/work' area

Our balcony which was actually larger than our originally booked cabin (188 square feet to 144) (And as previously mentioned, ignore date stamp on photos-- I was using a new camera and hadn't yet figured out how to change the date or turn stamp off.)

Walk-in closet/luggage area

Corner of the bathroom; basically big as any hotel bathroom with full bath/shower, separate toilet stall (not shown).
For a virtual tour click on category AD "Penthouse suite" -- the room shown differed from ours only in being reversed left to right and having a regular coffee machine instead of our (supposed) upgraded expresso machine.

Along with the upgraded suite came upgraded status... as residents of the suite, we automatically got our own boarding times, so when we showed up at the ship, we bypassed the huge line-up to board, and went directly to a special counter where, after being efficiently processed, we were introduced to our butler.... Pretty sweet! We also got to book reservations for any night in any of the upgraded resturants, in comparison to normal folks who could only book two nights we were able to get everything we wanted when we wanted without issue. And so on. Nice to see how the other half (well, half of one percent) live.