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Tom Ogg

Age: Baby Boomer

Occupation:Self Employed

Number of Cruises: Many

Cruise Line: Oceania

Ship: Insignia

Sailing Date: March 1st, 2006

Itinerary: 16 Day South America

The Setup:
I was sailing on the Millennium from Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro for Carnival and found that Oceania had a cruise that originated in Rio the day following the departure of the Millennium. It didn't take much imagination to link the two together for a month long adventure in South America. I booked myself into a balcony stateroom on deck 8. I then arranged to jump ship in Rio with Celebrity who was very cooperative.

Getting to the Ship:
I debarked the Millennium the morning of January 31st and made my way to my hotel for the evening in Copacabana Beach. After checking in, I decided to walk the length of Copacabana to Ipanema Beach to take some pictures for PortReviews.com. I had been invited to meet some of the group members from the Millennium at a restaurant in Copacabana for a farewell toast and made my way there arriving at the appointed time of 2pm. It was great to say goodbye to the folks that stopped by. After saying bon voyage and waving to the group as they headed back to the Millennium, I realized that I had put my glasses in one of their bags. I immediately grabbed a taxi and asked him to hot-foot it to the port with the hope that I could catch them before they boarded the ship. It was a long shot, but worth a try as I didn't relish the idea of doing a 16-day cruise with no glasses. I was in luck. The second I got out of the taxi at the port I saw them and was able to easily retrieve my glasses. They were surprised to see me though. After a final good bye, they boarded the ship with a couple of minutes to spare and I hailed a taxi back to Copacabana.

I had the driver drop me at the extreme northern end of Copacabana Beach and walked through the flea market There was a huge commotion taking place on the beach-side walkway and I went over to see what was going on. A large Samba dance group was forming and there were hundreds of people getting into position in front of and in back of a large truck the was blaring loud Samba music. I fell in with the group and walked with them for a while. It was very exciting. Before I know it, we ran into another group that was heading in the opposite direction down the beach. I then realized that this must have been the famous street scene part of Carnival. I stayed out until well after dark enjoying the energy and partying. I went back to my hotel (not in the best of neighborhoods) and passed several other groups forming on the back streets of Copacabana. It is common knowledge that the back streets of Copacabana are off limits to tourists after dark because of an extremely high crime rate. However, I did not feel threatened in any way on the walk back to the hotel.

I decided to go against common sense and go out into the night in Copacabana. I only wore sandals, a bathing suit and a tee shirt. I was quite tan from spending a good amount of time in the sun and didn't wear any jewelry whatsoever. I figured that as long as I didn't speak to anyone, no one would guess that I was a tourist. It turned out to be one of the most memorable nights of my life.

I slept quite late after staying up most of the night and after breakfast and a walk in the morning sun, packed my bags and checked out of the hotel at noon. I grabbed a taxi back to the port and checked in for the Insignia. It was then that I realized that I had forgotten my inoculation paperwork that I usually carry with my passport. Since I had sent it to get more pages inserted (out of spaces to be stamped) and then to obtain a Brazilian visa, I forgot to put the cards back into my passport case. One needs to have a valid Yellow Fever certificate to enter Manaus, Brazil and since I was without mine, I needed to obtain one as soon as I boarded the Insignia, which I did.

The Ship: The Insignia is a smaller ship at 30,000 tons and only accommodates a total of 684 guests at one time. She offers a crew of 400, which promises excellent personal service to her guests. With a space ratio of 44, she is comfortable and never feels crowded. Since I like smaller ships, I find this size ship perfect, as it is large enough to offer diverse dining and entertainment opportunities, yet small enough to get into interesting ports and to promote a feeling of intimacy amongst its passengers. She handles well in rougher seas, yet can get up the various rivers to call on inland ports most large ships cannot get to.

The Cabin: I booked myself into cabin 8027, an ocean view cabin with a balcony. The cabin was of nice size (however, smaller than one would expect on a luxury line) and the balcony quite functional. The biggest improvement in the cabin )since Rennaisance) was in the bedding itself. High quality (thread count) sheets, a wonderful duvet and to-die-for down pillows make for one of the most comfortable sleeping experiences at sea. There is a large desk with 2 110-volt outlets (2 European outlets as well) and lots of storage in the sitting area as well as a small table and sofa. Each cabin offers a safe that can be programmed for the passenger’s use and a television with numerous channels going 24 hours per day. There was also a DVD player and an extensive DVD library to select from. My cabin had a DVD with the entire library on it and all I had to do was select a DVD and then check it out. I enjoyed a terrycloth bathrobe in my cabin

The bathroom is smaller than those on luxury lines, but still quite comfortable. Full bathroom amenities are offered such as shampoo, conditioner, bath and shower gel and body lotion. There is a hair dryer in every bathroom but it is not the highest quality, but there was also a hand held styling dryer in the drawer of the cabin as well. So there is no need to bring your own hair dryer if you use one extensively. Hot and cold water controls are excellent and there is ample storage for all toiletries and cosmetics between storage in the bathroom and at the desk in the sitting area. Closet space is ample for two people on a longer cruise and most luggage will fit under the bed making for additional storage if it is needed. All in all, the cabins are very enjoyable.

The Restaurants: The Insignia offers several dining venues that really set it apart from other cruise lines. I would rate the dining experiences as lower luxury rather than upper premium. If a sophisticated menu, excellent presentation and wonderful service are important to you, then you should definitely explore Oceania’s itineraries and pricing. Here is a breakdown of the various dining venues.


The Grand Restaurant

The Grand Dining Room: This is the main dining room on the Insignia that does not require any reservations. It is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and offers fine dining from a complete menu for all meals. I enjoyed dinner in the Grand Dining Room on several occasions and consistently had fabulous meals. There is always a quartet playing soft dinner music in the restaurant giving one a feeling of relaxation and sophistication. One could take an Insignia cruise, never dine at any of the other restaurants and come home completely satisfied with their dining experience. While the menus speak for themselves, rest assured that the presentation, service and overall dining experience matched the menus.


Toscana Restaurant

Toscana: Toscana exceeded my expectations. I only dined in Toscana once and thoroughly enjoyed the meal. Again, There were always two additional “nightly specials” that were offered in addition to the menu items that were excellent. The filet mignon basically melted in your mouth and could be cut with a butter knife and all of the meat and fish entrees were of the highest quality. Toscana required a reservation, but there was no service charge of any kind associated with dining in Toscana.


Polo Grill

Polo Grill: I felt the Polo Grill was my favorite restaurant on the Insignia. I was only able to enjoy it once; otherwise I would have gone no further than the Polo Grill. Again, at least two “nightly specials” were offered in addition to the menu items, but there would be no reason to go beyond the main menu for anyone. Only the highest quality meats, fish and poultry were used and the presentation, service and ambiance were superb (Joanie and I even had the worse table in the restaurant and loved it). Reservations are required for the Polo Grill, but no service charge was in effect.


Table Setting in Toscana and Polo Grill

Tapas Restaurant: Here was another one of my favorites. I dined in Tapas on most evenings. The evening brings a complete transformation to the Terrace Café with china, silverware, exotic glassware and linen table coverings creating a wonderful upscale restaurant on the terrace (and in the Terrace Restaurant as well). The chairs are adorned with specially fitted covers that convert them from nice outdoor seating into lavish dining chairs. Since there was no published menu, you will find seafood (such as shrimp, fish, clams, mussels, lobster, scallops, possibly a seafood paella and more) salads, meats, vegetarian dishes, vegetables, it just goes on and on. There is a huge dessert section that was very well attended. The Tapas Restaurant is set up buffet style, no reservations are required and there is no service charge. Several evenings saw "themes" from local cuisine to international themes.


Dining on the Fantail of the Terrace Cafe

The Terraces Restaurant: This is the ship’s buffet for breakfast and lunch and was very popular with everyone.


Terrace Cafe Omelette Station

Breakfast saw a great assortment of fruit, hot foods (eggs, bacon, sausage, ham and such) cold cuts, cheeses, various bread choices (to-die-for croissants) and a cooked-to-order egg and omelette station. There was always fresh juice available and coffee/tea was served at your table.


Terrace Cafe Buffet

Lunch saw another buffet with excellent choices and quality. There was also a pizza station open for lunch as well. One of the nicest features of the Terraces Restaurant was the use of fine china, silverware and excellent glassware on the linen tablemats. There were no trays and there were plenty of waiters if you needed help with your dishes finding a table. I dined every morning outside on the terrace and loved it, as did everyone else that did so.


Waves Grill

The Waves Grill (at the pool): I tried to get a copy of the menu to publish with this review, but was unable to. Suffice it to say that the poolside grill offered the usual hamburgers and hot dogs with fries, but it set itself in a whole new category with its great salad bar and offerings of healthier choices such as grilled panini, halibut and mahi mahi and other superb offerings. There was also a salad bar with pre-mixed salads and cut vegetables that I really enjoyed. An ice cream station offering 6 different flavors of ice cream and sherbet were offered daily.


Insignia's Pool Area

The Pool Area: The pool area on the Insignia is a wonderful feature.. First, the sun lounges are extremely comfortable and are long enough for a larger person to relax without being penalized for their size. There are many lounge chairs for two that couples loved, which is a feature that I have not seen on other cruise ships. The towels are also large and of high quality. The pool service was always available but never intrusive. I think I was only solicited to purchase a drink once during the entire cruise, but every time I wanted to order something there was someone nearby to help me. The teak wood and improvements to the pool have added a new quality that Renaissance simply did not have.

The Bars and Lounges: Once again, Oceania has done an excellent job in structuring their cocktail and wine prices vs. selection. The wine list is extensive, but not overpriced with numerous bottles available at prices below, or at the mass-market lines. Cocktail prices are comparable to mass-market lines, but the quality is far superior. As an example, most mass-market cruise lines offer an inexpensive chardonnay for around $6 to $7 a glass, but the glass is small and the wine yucky (is that a wine connoisseur’s term?) Oceania offers a large glass of quality chardonnay for around $8.50 per glass. It sounds like more money, but in truth, the serving is much larger and the wine is far superior. Here are the lounges in the order that I enjoyed them.


The Piano in Martinis

Martinis: I loved this bar. Set living room style, it is where I started my evening every night. The bartendress was outstanding. Known for its numerous offerings of martinis, she poured excellent drinks and was efficient and friendly.


Martinis

She got to know me almost immediately and I was greeted every evening with my glass of chardonnay without ever asking. It was kind of like going to your neighborhood bar “where everyone knows your name”.


The Grand Bar

The Grand Bar: Located right outside the Grand Restaurant, the Grand Bar offers a comfortable environment for meeting dinner mates prior to dinner in the Grand Restaurant. While it didn’t measure up to Martinis on any level, it was still an enjoyable place to meet and converse.


The Bar in the Horizon Lounge

The Horizons Bar: After dinner and the evening’s entertainment, this was the place to go. I made it on a couple of occasions and was surprised at how many folks were enjoying themselves. The orchestra seemed more in their element in this environment.


Waves Bar

The Polo Bar, the Toscana Bar, the Insignia Lounge Bar and the Waves Bar: While these bars existed, I didn’t really avail myself of them, so I couldn’t comment on their level of competence. Since all of the bars worked from the same drink menu (with the exception of Martinis) I suspect the overall satisfaction level was quite high.


The Insignia Lounge


The Entrance to the Insignia Lounge

The Insignia Lounge: The Insignia Lounge was the place for all the events on the ship. The evening's entertainment took place here, as did the Captains Welcome party. It is an intimate venue and those sitting near the front almost feel a part of the show. There are great sightlines in the lounge and excellent acoustics as well. There was never a need to go early to reserve a seat as there was always plenty of tables and chairs to go around.

The Entertainment: Oceania has made quite a statement regarding the kind of entertainment they wanted to provide their passengers. The daily newsletter, Oceania Currents does an excellent job of keeping everyone abreast of the evening's entertainment and activities.


Oceania@Sea Internet Cafe

Oceania @ Sea, The Internet Café
This was really the only negative I experienced on the Insignia. First, access was expensive compared with other cruise lines. I am a heavy Internet user (surprised?) I purchased the maximum package offered, which was a 500 minutes for $300 and $.60 per minute over my contracted amount of time (the normal rate was $.95 per minute). I felt that this was expensive to begin with, as most cruise lines offer programs in the $.25 to $.40 per minute range for bulk purchases. After I signed up for the package, I realized just how slow access was, when it was available. This is the only real negative on the ship that I have experienced and I would rate it a nuisance, but not a deal-breaker. HINT: If you are a heavy user, bring your notebook computer and log on using your normal package using the wi-fi hot spots on the ship. In this way you can copy your e-mail into Word, write a response while you are off-line and then send it when you reconnect to the Internet. It will save you hundreds of dollars if you do it this way.


Fitness Center

The Fitness Center: The fitness center is well equipped with just the right equipment and promises everyone an excellent workout. Adjoining the Fitness Center is the Spa and their is a door from the Fitness Center into the men's and women's locker rooms where one can find a steam room and shower complex. The showers offer several different types of shower heads that will massage your sore muscles. There is no charge to access this area and it is a great way to end a work out.


The Insignia's Library

The Library: Simply the most beautiful library on any ship anywhere! This is where two 24/7 computers that one can access the Internet from are located.


The Computers in Insignia's Library

These came in handy for folks that wanted to gain access to the Internet while classes were taking place.


Insignia's Casino

The Casino: While I am not a gambler, I did witness several people that seemed to be winning in the casino on the tables.

The slots were heavily used when the casino was open and everyone seemed to be having fun.


The Card Room

There were an abundance of card players on this cruise and while the card room (adjacent to the Internet Cafe) was a wi-fi hot spot, it was always full of folks playing bridge or other card games.


The Guest Relations Desk

I interacted with the Reception Desk on a number of occasions and they were always friendly and helpful; even to the point of helping me tape my broken eye glasses together every day.


The Shore Excursion Desk and Waiting Area

The Insignia offered a complete array of shore excursions that were managed by a friendly and knowledgeable staff. One of the things I really liked about the shore excursion staff is that they did everything within their power to accommodate independent passengers that wanted to go out on their own. This included maps and information about reaching the sights in each port.

The Passenger Load: Having just come off of the Millennium I was quite keen to see the differences in the passengers on both ships. The Insignia seemed to have an older crowd than the Millennium, but I suspect that it probably had something to do with the fact that the Millennium was really a cruise to Carnival, while the Insignia cruise was an Amazon adventure. Realiing that cruising the Amazon is usually pretty far down a traveler's wish list, it made sense that the passenger load would be an older crowd. Also, a 16-day cruise is quite long for anyone actually employed for a living. That said, the passengers were a nice group of folks and I made a couple of long term friends during the cruise.

The Cruise:
Wednesday, March 1st, 2006; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

I had arrived in Rio on the Millennium several days prior to the Insignia cruise and was forced to disembark the Millennium and spend an evening in the Atlantico Copacabana Hotel. I had a great time wandering the streets of Copacabana enjoying the Carnival Street Scene as it unfolded before my eyes. I was up early, took a long walk to Ipanema Beach before returning to my hotel, packing, checking out and grabbing a taxi to the Port. I was dropped right at the port entrance at 12 noon only to find out that embarkation would not start until 2pm. I checked my bags and used the Internet Cafe within the port terminal and was first in line when check-in started.

Unfortunately, I had forgotten to bring my Yellow Fever inoculation card with me. I always keep current on just about every inoculation one can get because I surf Mexico's polluted waters around Puerto Vallarta and the State of Nayarit, but forgot to put it in my passport because I had to have some pages added to it and obtain a Brazilian visa.. Since a Yellow Fever inoculation is necessary to visit Manaus, I was forced to obtain another inoculation as soon as I boarded the Insignia. It was simply my fault and Oceania Cruises did exactly the correct thing. I checked out my cabin and then made my way to the Terrace Cafe for a late lunch. This was the start of what would become my daily routine. I had brought a good amount of work with me and had started on another book so intended to become the proverbial hermit on this cruise. I have done it before and as long as you don't get involved with other people, one can get a ton of work done in a short period of time. So, I ended up back in my cabin working until it was time for a glass of wine and dinner. I went to Tapas for dinner and had a wonderful time by myself.

Thursday, March 2nd, 2006; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Given I had just spent a good amount of time in Rio, I decided to gain a head start on my projects and worked all day. I worked in the early morning, had breakfast in the Terrace Cafe, worked, took a Jacuzzi because my shoulder was cramping from keyboarding for so long and on it went. The day breezed by and I got a ton accomplished. The Insignia had its SOLAS life boat drill shortly before departing Rio and I took a break to enjoy the sail-a-way. The view of Sugar Loaf as you depart Rio is absolutely breathtaking. I slept like a new born baby.

Friday, March 3rd, 2006; Day at Sea
This was an exact duplicate of Thursday.

Saturday, March 4th, 2006; Salvador, Brazil
I was looking forward to visiting Salvador for several reasons. First, I wanted (and needed) some physical exercise and intended to walk several miles to get it. Secondly, there had been a post in Cruise-Chat.com about a month ago from someone who was going to visit Salvador on a cruise and was looking for information. There were no responses, so I thought a thorough review would go a long way to disclosing the necessary information for any future cruisers.

I am happy to report that Salvador is an excellent port and is also very easy to do on your own. The Old Town Historic District is a UNESCO site and is well worth a visit. I wrote a very thorough review of Salvador and her sights that you can read by clicking the above link to the www.SouthAmericaPortReviews.com website. I spent the best part of the day exploring Salvador and returned to the ship right at dusk. I was bushed from a full day enjoying Salvador, so I ate an early dinner in Tapas Restaurant and turned in early

Sunday, March 5th, 2006; Day at Sea
I was settling into my routine at this point and spent most of the day working in my cabin taking breaks to enjoy the ample sunshine. I spent my evening enjoying some conversation and wine in Martinis before dining in the Grand Restaurant and had a wonderful time and company.

Monday, March 6th, 2006; Recife, Brazil
We arrived in Recife right on schedule and a group of us had decided to negotiate for a local tour of Recife and Olinda. We negotiated for a van to take us where ever we wanted to go and we immediately set out for Olinda. We visited Olinda for about an hour before moving on to Recife's sights and then on to the beach area. All in all, it was a great day other than two couples from Florida that just simply couldn't get back to the van on time. It got to the point where everyone else was ready to leave them to make it back to the ship on their own. Very rude of them to not consider everyone else. It reminded me why I dislike traveling with folks other than those that can respect the group's wishes. I made a mental note to not go with them again.

Tuesday, March 7th, 2006; Day at Sea
I was up early and enjoyed the very early morning up in the Horizon Lounge. Each morning, coffee, juice and rolls were out for early risers to enjoy while enjoying the view. I so enjoyed the morning that I made a decision to do it every morning for the balance of the cruise. This proved to be a good decision, as each morning became more and more interesting as the cruise unfolded. After breakfast, I decided to lay in the sun for a couple of hours before going to work. The weather had been stellar for the entire cruise and today was no exception. It was hot and sunny. I spent way too much time enjoying the day and didn't get much accomplished other than making some new friends by the pool.

I had been invited to have dinner with some of the staff of the insignia and met them in the Grand Bar for pre-dinner cocktails and then on to dinner. I had a great time as they had all worked for Renaissance Cruises before joining Oceania.

Wednesday, March 8th, 2006; Fortaleza, Brazil
I was amazed at my first view of Fortaleza from the sea. I anticipated a quaint fishing village and was presented with a large city with a high-rise buildings that lined beach for miles. Brazil continued to amaze me. I got off the ship and immediately negotiated for a taxi to take me to the Central Market in downtown Fortaleza. What an unbelievable marketplace. I had not read much about it, but was overwhelmed by its size and diversity. I decided to spend the day walking and exploring Fortaleza and it turned out to be a good choice. I walked for miles exploring the downtown area and then along the beach front back towards the port. In all, I walked about 12 miles and was bushed when I got back to the ship.

Thursday, March 9th, 2006; Day at Sea
This was the first of three at-sea days in a row and I decided to spend the morning in my cabin working before going to the pool area to enjoy the sunshine. The day went by quite quickly and before I knew if I was getting ready to attend the Repeater's party that was held in the Insignia Lounge. I arrived a little late, enjoyed the presentation and then moved on to the Grand Bar area to meet the GM and a group of passengers for dinner at the Captain's table. I had a great time and enjoyed the company.


Miles From the Amazon on the Open Ocean

Friday, March 10th, 2006; Cruising the Amazon River
I had heard quite a bit from other travelers about cruising on the Amazon, but wasn't really prepared for the enormity of the river. The water entering the ocean is quite muddy and a distinctive color of brown. We entered the muddy water dozens of miles from the mouth of the river and it seemed almost endless. I just can't imagine how much sediment it must take to color that much water and to think it occurs each and every day. It is simply amazing. We eventually entered the river itself and were able to see land on one side of us. We cruised all day and into the evening. Once I finished dinner I made my way up to a very empty Horizon Lounge, ordered a glass of chardonnay and watched as the river unfolded before me. This was probably the best moment of the cruise for me. Every now and then I would see lights along the shore and wondered what life was like for the people creating the lights. It really made me want to come back and explore the Amazon more.

Saturday, March 11th, 2006; Cruising the Amazon River
I woke up right at dawn to the sound of someone yelling outside. I jumped out of bed and went onto my balcony to see two kids in a small dugout canoe paddling down the river only 30 feet or so off the starboard side of the ship. They were hooting and hollering as loudly as they could and were having the time of their lives. I sat on my balcony and watched as two more canoes drifted by minutes later.

Sunday, March 12th, 2006: Santarem, Brazil
We arrived in Santarem and docked just outside of the town. I was ready for some exercise, so I decided to walk into town and see what I could see. I debarked the ship and began walking. Santarem has a wonderful floating market and also an expansive public market, but that was about it. The big attraction here is the "wedding of the waters" as the river that joins the Amazon is a clear water river and the rivers flow side by side for miles without mixing. When you arrive in Santarem, you see the spectacle and those that took the river boats to see the "wedding of the waters" felt that they saw exactly the same thing upon arrival. I was glad I didn't do the tour. I had heard that the white sand beaches located at Alter do Chao were fabulous, so I decided to make the 38 kilometer journey to see them for myself. There had been a considerable amount of rain the Amazon region recently and the water was quite high. When we arrived at the beach area, the beaches were all under water. The town was somewhat interesting, though.

Back on the ship I had time for a long Jacuzzi before dressing for dinner and meeting my new found friends in the Martini Bar. I slept great all night.

Monday, March 13th, 2006; Boca de Valeria and Parintins, Brazil
We arrived in Boca de Valeria right on time and I immediately noticed that there was another "meeting of the waters" here as well. Then it hit me. Of course there is. You can't drink the excessively muddy water of the Amazon, but the clear rivers that feed the Amazon offer clean, clear and potable water to those residing on its banks. Duh. Indians would always choose to live on a clear water river where it meets the Amazon simply because of the quality of the water. After the Insignia anchored, I boarded the first tender into the port. When we crossed the clearly marked line between the clear water and the muddy water, I got some good shots of it. Arriving in Boca de Valeria is bitter sweet. Yes, the local Indians are there to great you and trade with you (souvenirs for cash) but they have also dressed their children up in local garb so that you can take their picture for money. Those children that are not dressed up assign themselves to a visitor as a "host child". They hold your hand and smile at you and walk with you as you explore the diminutive village. I found it all to be disturbing. If I were going back to Boca de Valeria, I would make it a point to take some tee shirts, baseball caps and educational toys to bestow on the children.

I was back on the ship in plenty of time to enjoy some sunshine on our way to the next port of call, Parintins. By now I had had enough of the folkloric culture of the Amazon and passed on the famous Boi Bumba show that most of the passengers attended. Instead, I walked around this colorful little port and eventually took a pedicab tour (which I highly recommend) of the city. Parintins seemed to capture the very essence of the Amazonian region and is well worth exploring.

I followed my usual routine. First a glass of chardonnay in the Martini Bar and then on to dinner. I had met some wonderful people and we enjoyed one another's company This made dining and the evenings much more enjoyable than being on one's own.

Tuesday, March 14th, 2006; Cruising the Amazon River
I was really falling into a routine. Up for an early breakfast, working in my cabin, getting some sun and relaxation and finally meeting for dinner in the Martini Bar. This is how life should be lived. Excellent conditions for work, wonderful weather, excellent dining and new found friends. It reminds me of why cruising is so great.

Wednesday, March 15th, 2006; Manaus, Brazil
As one approaches Manaus, it is overwhelming at just how large the city is. After hundreds and hundreds of miles of dense jungle, to see such a large city just seems surreal. About half the people that live in the entire Amazon basin, live in Manaus. It is a vibrant, busy, hectic city choked with traffic and noise. I loved being there, but would probably not go back. Of course, the big deal in Manaus is the "meeting of the waters", which I took a pass on. I decided to experience Manaus on my own and was glad that I did. Walking to the main attraction in Manaus is quite easy, but be very aware of your surroundings and do not wear any signs of wealth. There are a lot of people in Manaus that live in complete poverty and you will see them everywhere. One "don't miss" attraction in Manaus is the Opera House. Built around the turn of the century, the Opera House is absolutely stunning and rivals any structure in Europe for sophistication and detail. It reminded me of some of the finest structures in Russia. There is excellent shopping in Manaus for just about every thing you can imagine. In fact, Manaus is the duty free zone in Brazil and many merchants from other Braxilian cities come to Manaus to buy for their stores. The public markets are very interesting and there are a lot of them. I spent the entire day exploring Manaus and had a great time.

I was back on the ship late and began to pack before meeting my new found friends for one last dinner before departing the Insignia in the morning.

Thursday, March 16th, 2006; Manaus, Brazil
I was in the last group to debark the ship and one of my new found friends and I had late afternoon flights from Manaus, so we decided to negotiate for a taxi tour on the way to the airport. We spent some time driving around some of the poorer areas before moving on to the Botanical Gardens. After a good amount of time seeing some of the outer areas of Manaus, we arrived at the airport. We were both flying Varig Airlines.

I am not sure, but I think Varig must mean "incompetent" in Portuguese. It is just a guess, but if it doesn't, it should. We waited in line to check in for our flight for 2-hours before the line even moved. It was the most ridiculous experience I have ever been through. I had booked my airline ticket with American Airlines After another hour in line, I finally made it to the check-in counter, now scrambling to make the flight. That is when I was told by Varig that they couldn't check my bags to my final destination and that I would have to claim them in Sao Paulo and them recheck them with American Airlines. Groan. I was nervous that neither my bags nor I would make the flight as I still had to go through immigration and security and haul out to my gate. I really shouldn't have worried though, because when Varig states a departure time, it only means within an hour or two.

I wouldn't fly Varig again for all the money in the world.

At any rate, the flight was delayed because passengers were still checking in. Big surprise. The flight finally departed for Sao Paulo about an hour and ten minutes late. Now I was really sweating bullets. Now if you know Brazil, you realize that Sao Paulo is about 4 1/2 hours south of Manaus. Varig had a 4-hour flight that left at the same time for Miami, but good old American thought I would enjoy seeing more of South America and booked me through Sao Paulo instead. When we finally touched down in Sao Paulo, we taxied to the gate and thankfully, I was sitting forward and was able to be one of the first to de-board the aircraft and make my way to an un-crowded immigration area where I cleared immigration and entered the luggage hall to claim my bags to then check with American Airlines to San Diego.

The luggage took almost a half-hour before it started being delivered. I wanted to scream. Varig!

I finally got my bags, ran to American, stood in line for over 30 minutes so that I could be interviewed by a security agent about my luggage. The security agent could barely speak English, so it was a frustrating experience to say the least. I finally passed the luggage security check point and checked in for the flight as a stand-by. Now I was running to make the flight and saw a huge line for security leading to the gates. I went though security by butting in line apologizing and arrived at the gate as they were calling stand-bys. Another two-minutes and I would have missed the flight.

As I walked down the aisle looking for me isle seat with my trusty Ipod and Bose headset, I saw it. There was a woman that must have weighed 450 pounds sitting in the center seat next to my aisle seat. The flight was full. I wanted to cry. I sat down and immediately realized that my arm rest was missing and that the lady's body was taking up half of my seat. Not wanting to be rude, I tried to find the armrest but could not move it because of her girth. She smiled politely, as if to apologize for taking half of my seat.

Unfortunately for me, I have quite broad shoulders, the result from decades of paddling surfboards. There was simply no way that I could keep my left shoulder from sticking out into the aisle. Whenever anyone walked down the aisle for any reason, they would bump my shoulder. While my neighbor slept like a baby, I did not sleep for a second and it was a non-stop barrage of bumps the entire flight. I was very irritated when we finally arrived in Dallas/Ft. Worth. My right arm was sweaty from being buried under the flesh of this lady for 10 hours. It was truly the worse flight I have ever been on. I know that this statement is not politically correct, but if a person is too large to fit into an airplane seat, they should be required to purchase two seats, rather than steal half of mine.

After debarking the flight tired and grumpy I cleared immigrations and went into the customs hall to claim my luggage, clear customs and then recheck my bags. I left the customs area and made my way towards the next gate. Of course, I had to go through another security checkpoint to reenter the gate area. Since I was tired and probably looked horrible after flying for almost 24 hours with little to eat and no sleep, the security people must have thought I was terrorist. First, I was required to place my computer into its own tray to go through the machine and then the idiot security person told me to put each of my three digital cameras into separate trays. then my Ipod in a separate tray, I had to put my sweat shirt and shoes in another tray and then my back pack went through on its own. I walked through the screening process to claim the multitudes of items and trays to repack before I could go to my gate. That is when I was approached to follow the TSA agent for a more thorough search. I was required to completely empty my back pack, explain what each items was, turn on my computer and each of my digital cameras and my Ipod to show them that they were really what I said they were. All of this took about 45 minutes.

Is it me, or is the whole airport security issue a complete joke?

By the time I reached the gate, good old American was once again calling stand-bys. I rushed the counter agent and identified myself as a passenger on the flight and she begrudgingly allowed me to board the flight. By the time I got home, I vowed to never travel again.

Well, I have to say that I am getting ready for another cruise, but I won't fly Varig ever again, unless I have to. VBG.

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