Archive for April 30, 2014

Southern Caribbean, Part 1: On Board the Eclipse

     We recently returned from a cruise to the southern Caribbean. It was really a vacation for relaxing, so we didn’t blog during the cruise.  Actually, since there were 8 ports in 9 days there was little time to do any blogging.  But we had a good time, visited a number of ports we had not seen before and came away with good memories & fun pictures.  So I decided to preserve some of the photos on line before I forget what they are. 

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     We sailed on on the Eclipse, a Celebrity ship.  It is pretty huge (about 3000 passengers).  They handle the crowds quite well: we never had difficulty finding two deck chairs together or finding a seat in the buffet (called the “Oceanside Café” here).  We had previously sailed on the Equinox, an almost identical Celebrity ship, which we liked a lot.  But since then we have sailed twice on the Prinsendam, which carries only a little more than a fourth as many passengers, and as a result we were much more aware of – and annoyed by – the large numbers of passengers. Still, the cruise was quite enjoyable.DSC06793_edited DSC06810DSC06809

     The elaborate evening meals in the main dining room (the “Moonlight Sonata,” if you can believe that) were generally very good, although the food in the buffet was inconsistent (not as consistently good as we remembered from the Equinox). We were seated at at night at a large table for ten with an interesting international group: couples from England, Wales, Scotland & Norway. But the table was oblong instead of round & the dining room was very noisy so it was difficult to have a general conversation.  The Eclipse is equipped with a gigantic atrium extending through about 10 decks. Glass walled elevators line two sides of the atrium with a grand staircase on the opposite side. There was musical entertainment there every night before dinner, usually either Ray Brown, Jr., adopted son of Ella Fitzgerald & jazz bassist Ray Brown, or their very good dance band, and you could watch from the overlooks on all of the decks above.

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     We had a balcony on this cruise, which was a nice place to sit & read or enjoy the scenery (mostly water).  Unfortunately we were on the starboard side of the ship & the setting sun was usually on the port side, so we didn’t see many of those beautiful Caribbean sunsets. The Eclipse has a lovely wood paneled library that is open to the atrium (although there is no librarian & a terrible selection of books). On the deck right above the library is the main outside pool deck, where passengers occupy hundreds of deck chairs and there is a stage in front of the atrium windows where, among other things, there are Zumba dance/exercise classes. Dancers above, intellectuals below! Come to think of it, that pretty fairly reflects the priorities on this ship.

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     The top deck (deck 15!) has two items that are unique to Eclipse & its sister ships of Celebrity’s Solstice class.  The first is a lawn of real grass, where guests play bocce & there are sometimes small concerts.  I understand it is very difficult to maintain, which is what one would expect.

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     The other unique item – and to our minds the best thing on the ship – was the Hot Glass Show put on by the Corning Glass Museum. They have built an open air glass blowing studio into the top of the ship next to the lawn.  Fire safety restrictions forbid any open flames, so there are no acetylene torches or gas-fired ovens like you would normally find in a glass studio. Instead, they developed an electric oven just for these ships. They even built into these ovens a camera at the back (covered by thick heatproof glass) that show on a video screen what is going on inside.

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     We found the glassmaking process endlessly fascinating & attended as often as we could.  During each 2 hour show each of the three glass artists – Aaron, Jamie & Ryan – would make one glass item, each of which was unique.  As an example, here are some pictures of Aaron making a large striped glass bowl.  The next day he made a top for it with a stopper and a seahorse sculpture. The glass starts out as a small softball-sized hunk on the end of a blowpipe.  All the decorating is done while it is small, then it is slowly inflated using breath through the pipe and centrifugal force from twirling the pipe. It is then transferred to a solid pipe and the top is fashioned from the spot where the original pipe was connected. Finally it is put into the annealing oven to cool down over about 12 hours. While working the glass it must be kept at a temperature well above 1000 degrees since it will begin to crack at that temperature, so the reheating oven is maintained at more than 2000 degrees & the annealing oven begins at 900 degrees. Hot work! When cooled the glass is often a very different color than when put into the annealing oven.

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     The next day Aaron made a top for the bowl. First he made a curved plug, measured to fit just inside the bowl’s opening, which he covered with a flat white top similar to the base that would sit on top of the bowl.  Then he added a glass sculpture of a seahorse that he had made in the meantime. The items made at the glass show are not sold, but many are given away to lucky passengers (sadly, not us) in raffles during many of the shows.  At the end of the cruise there was a charity auction of the 7 best pieces. Aaron’s seahorse bowl was purchased for more than $400, about what most of these pieces brought, and we were assured by the glass artists that in a gallery they would have cost 2 or 3 times as much.

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Here are some pictures of passengers watching the show (including Mary). It is located on the top deck right next to the lawn. The glass making is more difficult because of the swaying of the ship & the cross winds. To combat the latter there are glass partitions, higher on the ends than in front of the audience, and higher glass walls along the edge of the ship. Sometimes things don’t go smoothly. We saw Ryan making an elaborate glass fish sculpture, which fell off the pole in the oven when it was almost done (sorry, no pictures of that). Aaron quickly used a pipe to push it out of the oven so that it wouldn’t contaminate the oven, and it dropped to the deck breaking off several pieces.  We were aghast, but Ryan calmly added a little hot glass to another pole which she used to pick up the sculpture, then set about redoing the parts that had broken.  You would be hard-pressed to discern in the final product that it had been broken.

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     OK, enough about the ship.  On to the ports, the main point of taking a cruise.