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Tom Ogg

Age: Baby Boomer

Occupation:Self Employed

Number of Cruises: Many

Cruise Line: MSC Cruises

Ship: MSC Lirica

Sailing Date: n/a

Itinerary: South and Central America

Tom Ogg
CruiseReviews at aol.com

Summery in Advance:
There has been a lot of discussion about the Lirica and much of it negative. I found that the Lirica exceeded my expectations in most areas and that the cruise line was making every attempt to continually improve in areas it has identified and targeted for improvement. With the addition of Mr. Sasso (former President of Celebrity Cruises) I suspect things will change dramatically and that the Lirica (and ships to follow) will be formidable competition in the Caribbean mass market. I can�t wait to cruise her again to see what changes are made.

Everyone that I talked with on the cruise that liked it was well traveled and flexible. We ran into one couple that was booked on the cruise back-to-back and told me in no uncertain terms �you tell people not to listen to the complainers on the message boards, this cruise is GREAT!� Here is how you will know if the Lirica is for you.

You will not like it if you:
Love everything about a Carnival Cruise
Haven�t really traveled outside the United States before
Do not want to experiment with International cuisine
Do not want to experience another culture
Expect Las Vegas style reviews nightly
Are looking for a 5 star service and dining experience
Don�t like going to ports where English isn�t widely spoken
Don�t like it when folks speak a language other than English

You will enjoy it if;
You loved the old Costa Cruise Lines, but miss the Italian flavor it once had
Are well traveled and enjoy diverse experiences
Want to experiment with international cuisine
Want to experience a multi cultural environment
Speak more than one language
Want unique and interesting itineraries and ports
Are happy entertaining yourself and enjoy intimate performances


MSC Lirica in Cartagena, Columbia

The Setup:
I was the group leader and seminar facilitator for a group of 38 cruise professionals on board Mediterranean Shipping Cruise�s new Lirica. I had read some very negative reviews of her and was anxious to see what we would experience. The Lirica offers a very exotic itinerary to the deep Western Caribbean that includes such interesting ports as Cartagena, Columbia, Panama�s San Blas Islands, the Panama Canal and Puerto Limon, Costa Rica. We also called on Ocho Rios, Jamaica and Nassau, Bahamas on this itinerary.

Getting to the Ship:
I flew from San Diego on Southwest Airlines to Ft� Lauderdale with stops in New Orleans and a plane change in Orlando. The flight was non-eventful and we arrived in Ft. Lauderdale as scheduled. I had a reservation at the Holiday Inn Express on 17th Street near Port Everglades, as it had been recommended highly on one of the discussion groups that I belong to. I didn�t find the hotel satisfactory for the amount of money I paid and would not recommend it to anyone. My room was noisy, my telephone did not ring, the breakfast (included) was below acceptable standards (even for a free breakfast) and I am not sure how safe and secure the hotel is. In fact, a couple staying at the hotel was robbed in the parking lot on the evening I was staying there. Their car was approached by two men as they were getting out, the windows were broken and over $50,000 in jewelry was stolen from them. While I was unaware of this event until the morning while checking out, it didn�t surprise me. :

I checked out of the Holiday Inn Express and took a taxi to the M.S. Lirica in Port Everglades. Wanting to get on the ship early to finalize the group�s arrangements, I arrived at the terminal at 11 am to find hordes of passengers still debarking from the prior cruise. I then found out that these passengers were on the motor coach transfer to Western Florida and were taking the motor coach returning after dropping off the coming weeks passengers. The port finally opened for new passengers to clear security and begin checking in for the new cruise at about 12 noon. By this time, there were a good number of passengers ready to check in and the process went reasonably smoothly once inside the passenger terminal. I was in boarding group #8 and was finally called to board the ship. I made my way down the corridor and across the gangway to enter the grand foyer of the M.S. Lirica.


The MSC Lirica anchored off San Blas Islands, Panama

The Ship::
The Lirica is the first of several new ships on order for Mediterranean Shipping Cruises. With a rich history, as one of the largest cargo lines in the world and also a seasoned European passenger line operating in the Mediterranean, MSC is looking to penetrate the lucrative U.S. cruise market. The Lirica reflects MSC�s rich Italian heritage and offers a unique cruising experience.

Right as I was writing this review, MSC announced the appointment of Mr. Rick Sasso (formerly President of Celebrity Cruise Lines) to head up MSC�s U.S, expansion. This appointment will certainly make dramatic changes in the areas of this review that reflect the need for change. This appointment was a very wise move on behalf of MSC and promises that MSC will take a place among the major players in the U. S. cruise industry. It will be quite interesting to see how MSC progresses under Mr. Sasso�s direction.


The MSC Lirica in Ocho Rios, Jamaica

First Impressions
MSC has enjoyed a place among budget cruise lines in Europe and I was keen to experience the new Lirica. My expectations were lowered by a number of negative reviews I had read reporting poor service and below-standard dining. I was expecting a budget experience and a ship that met that criteria.


The MSC Lirica's Grand Staircase

Upon boarding the Lirica I was knocked over with its beauty. The ship is of the same quality as you would expect from a premium mass-market product (Holland America and Celebrity) and it is one of the most beautiful ships in its price category. The quality and beauty of the Lirica is probably one of its own biggest hurdles. When you are sitting anywhere on the ship, you would think you are on a premium line based on your surroundings. Yet, the pricing of the Lirica is competitive of budget lines. It is a paradox that I believe Mr. Sasso will bring into parity.


Cabin 8122

Cabin 8122
I was located on deck 8 in an oceanview cabin. My cabin was configured to accommodate up to 4 people with two lower twin beds and two more upper twin beds that could fold down. Many of the cabins on the Lirica offer triple and quad accommodations that are configured as mine was. There was ample space for me to store my clothes in the closet and .the drawers in the cabinets offered more than enough room for additional storage. My computer and printer were accommodated on the desk without effort and there were ample 110 volt outlets. The beds and bedding was quite comfortable. I could have elected to have had the two twins turned into a queen size bed but elected to keep it the way it was, using the other bed for storage of the volumes of stuff that I had brought to work on.

The bathroom was consistent with those you would expect to find on a mass-market ship. I especially enjoyed the wrap around glass enclosures in the shower, rather than the usual shower curtains one would expect. There is ample storage in the bathroom for toiletries and such, however I always recommend bringing a hanging toiletry bag, as it makes it so much easier to keep everything orderly during the cruise. The television offered a wealth of channels and ongoing movies to enjoy (many in Italian). All in all, the cabin was quite adequate, but would have been tight with four people in it.

A Tour of the Ship
The Lirica is quite easy to navigate with the exception of the center elevator bank that only serves a limited number of decks. However, getting around is quite easy and she retains many features that folks remember from the classic liner days such as aft fantails on almost every deck. Join me as I take a tour of the ship. First I will go all the way aft and take the elevator to the very top.


Miniature Golf Course

Deck 13, Ponte Minigolf

This deck is really extra space on the ship. All the way aft, there is a small miniature golf course that is fun to play. All the way forward some lounge chairs are found.


The Blue Club

Deck 12, Rossini Deck
Again, all the way aft is the wonderful Blue Club. The Blue Club is the ship�s disco and also serves as a meeting venue when other rooms are occupied with groups. We had our seminars in the Blue Club and they worked great! The club is quite large and will accommodate hundreds of people, but the way it is laid out, it never seems crowded.
The Blue Club Bar One of the best features of the Blue Club is its many small cubbies that are set up for intimate conversations for small groups, On the port entrance to the Blue club is the video game room that offers a good number of video games for the younger set. The jogging/walking track lies just forward of the entrance to the Blue Club and is heavily used in the morning and late afternoon. There is a good amount of lounge chairs around the perimeter of the jogging track for sunning. Passenger cabins make up the forward section of the deck.


Le Bistrot Buffet

Deck 11, Vavaldi Deck
Ah, the Bellini Deck. First of all, the Le Bistrot Cafeteria is located all the way aft on this deck. This is where breakfast and lunch is served (also in the main dining room).


La Pergola Restaurant Bar

Beside the two main buffet lines in Le Bistrot, there are also two other dining venues, one committed to pizza and associated foods and the other to omelets and specialty egg dishes in the morning and hamburgers, fries and the like for lunch. Known as La Pergola Restaurant, they are a great place to eat on a crowded day at sea.


The Lirica Pool Area

Forward of the dining area is the main pool area of the Lirica.


Pool Area

There are actually two separate swimming pools, as well as, 2 Jacuzzis that are heavily used. There is a good amount of deck lounges to use as well. The Lirica issues deck towels in your cabin, so when folks leave the pool area, they always take their towels with them making finding a deck chair easy and fast. The pool bar (La Canzone Del Mar) is always busy and there are a good number of attendants serving drinks to the crowd around the pool, but without being invasive.


The Children's Club

Moving forward on the port side of the ship, one finds the children�s club. This is a very colorful spot that children seemed to really enjoy. Forward of the children�s club are the steam room, sauna and relaxation areas. While I didn�t take advantage of this part of the ship, those that did were sold on the relaxation room. They worked out, took a sauna and then relaxed in the relaxation room to soothing music and simply loved it.


Fitness Club

The fitness club resided on the starboard side of the ship most forward and offered enough equipment for a moderate workout. Behind the fitness club working aft is where the Lirica Health Center and beauty salon called home.

Deck 10, Bellini Deck
Deck 10 is made up entirely of passenger cabins

Deck 9, Albinoni Deck
Deck 9 is made up entirely of passenger cabins

Deck 8, Paganini Deck
Deck 8 is made up entirely of passenger cabins


The Lirica Lounge

Deck 7, Scarlatti Deck
All the way forward on deck 7 resides the Lirica Lounge. This is one of the main entertainment venues, but not the main show lounge. It is a beautiful lounge and offers entertainment nightly.


The Lirica Lounge Bar

This is where the Captain�s welcome aboard party takes place and it is a wonderful place to hang out.

Aft of the Lirica Lounge is all passenger cabins.


The Broadway Theater

Deck 6, Puccini Deck
This deck is totally committed to public rooms. Again all the way forward on deck 6 is the upper deck of the Broadway Theater. This is the main showroom on the ship and is beautifully appointed. It offers great sightlines in an intimate environment.


The Coffee Corner

Just aft of the Broadway Theater is the Coffee Corner. This is the ship�s specialty coffee bar and one can get a latte or cappuccino any time day or night. The prices are very reasonable and it is a very popular place most of the day,


Le Cabaret

Moving aft still, next comes the Le Cabaret. This is one of the main dance venues and there is music here every night. This is also the venue for the art auction and other �at sea� events. It is a very pleasant room indeed. The card room and ship�s library are on the port side of Le Cabaret.


The Las Vegas Casino

The Las Vegas Casino takes up as good amount of space on this deck and was very busy when it was open. There seem to be a good number of gaming tables for this sized ship and there were ample slot machines that many people loved. The Casino bar always seemed to be busy as well.


L'Atmosphere

Just aft of the casino is L�Atmosphere. I didn�t discover this bar until late in the cruise, but if you like soft and romantic dance music in an intimate environment, this is the spot for you.


The Internet Cafe

Just aft of L�Atmosphere is the ship�s Internet Caf�. There are several terminals and I never found the caf� so busy that I couldn�t sit down and take care of business without waiting. While the charges seem somewhat high, access is fast and the system works quite well. My Internet bill ended up being far less than I have spent on other ships for this length cruise.


The Lirica Photo Gallery

On the Starboard side of the ship is the Photo Shop and Gallery.


L'ippocampo Restaurant

All the way aft is the location of the L�ippocampo Restaurant. The restaurant is beautiful and the tables inviting. There are few �bad� tables and with configurations of 2, 4. 6 and 8, you are sure to find the right table for your desires. The Maitre d� is an awesome gentleman who will be sure to take care of you. However, if you choose to tip him, you will get even better results.


La Bussola Restaurant

Deck 5, Verdi Deck
Moving down the stairwell in front of the L�ippocampo Restaurant takes us to the dining venue known as the La Bussola Restaurant. Both restaurants serve the same menu and you are assigned to one or the other when your table is assigned while checking in. If you prefer changing restaurants or tables, the Maitre d� is most accommodating. There are two seatings for both restaurants (main at 6 pm and late at 8 pm on this particular cruise)


The Beverly Hills Bar

Directly in front of the restaurant is the Beverly Hills Bar. This is a great lounge, but is rarely crowded. We met here for pre dinner cocktails many evenings and sometimes had it all to ourselves. The duo that played there were playing to an empty house on more than one occasion.

The Beverly Hills Shops surround the bar on the starboard side offering a sundries shop, jewelry store and clothing store. However, I found a dearth of logo items and other items one would expect would be staples on a cruise ship. Once again, I believe Mr. Sasso will make immediate changes here as well.


The Grand Foyer and Registration Desk

The Grand Foyer and Registration Desk lie just forward of the Beverly Hills Bar. Along with the Registration Desk is the Tour Desk for booking optional tours and the ship�s bank. The bank is available for currency exchange and is only open limited hours. HINT: Make sure you know when the bank is open so as to have the proper currency in port.


The Lord Nelson Pub

All the way forward on Deck 5 is Lord Nelson Pub. This great pub is authentic and is a great place for pre-dinner cocktails. There is a wonderful bar (hardwood floors and all) and several nooks and crannies to meet in. Overall, this was my favorite bar on the ship and I think everyone enjoyed it.

Dining
This was one of the biggest complaints I had read about in the reviews that I had read prior to boarding the Lirica. In truth, I was expecting a welcome aboard buffet of white bread, bologna and American cheese. Of course, the reviews greatly exaggerated the quality and quantity of food that is offered and my personal dining experience (with a few exceptions) was quite in line with the product I was cruising on. I suspect, this is the area that Mr. Sasso will change the fastest and most dramatically, so I would look forward to a much better dining experience as MSC evolves its U.S. presence. In your quest for information regarding dining on the Lirica, I would only read the most current information and then expect improvements on your cruise.

On this particular cruise, those that wanted traditional cruise fare were disappointed. Those that were looking for an Italian and/or international dining experience were happy. The dishes offered in the restaurant were northern Italian dishes that were more subtle than the Americanized Italian dishes we have come to know and love. The pasta is heavier and the sauces seem to be blander, If I had to try to described a dish that would be representative of the experience, breaded stew would come to mind. It is heavy, somewhat bland and filling. The selection of fish, as an example, included many filets of perch, sole and other fish that Americans consider less than their first choice. However, anyone that has traveled to Italy knows, these fish are their first choice and they are considered to be excellent. That said, one can find something to enjoy at every meal and the breakfast and lunch buffets certainly offer a wide variety of choices.

The Service
Here is another area the Lirica is sure to change under the management of Mr. Sasso. The service level on the Lirica is all over the board. The dining room waiters run from excellent to just OK, The waiters are very Italian and have no problem showing their attraction to the more attractive female guests. While this is always fun, I saw several instances where it became awkward for the males escorting them. One of the ladies in our group was repeatedly asked to become involved and it was quite clear that the waiters were quite serious about it. If you are not used to the ways of Italian men and might be irritated with your wife or companion being �hit on� by the waiters, you might be offended on this ship. On the other hand, if you are an attractive woman looking for some fun with the crew, you will love this ship.

Bar service was again, very spotty. Our wine stewardess in the dining room was exceptional, but in some of the bars they were inattentive. At one of the pool side bar-b-ques, the server was downright rude, while the guy that made the omelets at the outside breakfast station was downright superb and could have easily worked for the luxury lines. I suspect that this will change dramatically in the near future. HINT: Gratuities are a major issue on this ship. They are not added to your shipboard account at the end of the cruise, but handled in the traditional way of presenting gratuities at the end of the cruise. We collected full gratuities from our group and presented them to the Maitre d� on the second evening for our tables, letting him know that the waiters could expect more at the end of the cruise for exceptional service. I would highly suggest tipping at the beginning of the cruise on this ship. I also gave the wine stewardess a $20 �down payment� on her exceptional service and was spoiled to death from that point forward. Where just about every other cruise line automatically adds 15% to every cocktail and bottle of wine that is ordered, MSC Lirica does not. There is a service charge of about 5% that is added and I suspect this is why service levels vary so much. I would strongly suggest picking you servers and tipping them generously and early on this cruise in order to get the kind of service that will make you happy.

Like everything in life, if you take responsibility to train your servers and let them know what you want, they are anxious to please you. On the Lirica a few dollars rewarding good service will take you a long way.

WARNING: I normally take my tux and other cruise wear on the ship unlaundered and have them cleaned and pressed on the ship. While my tux came back fine, I had a pair of Tommy Bahama pants that were laundered instead of dry-cleaned and they came back like shorts rather than pants. The Lirica does not use laundry slips, but rather your room steward picks up the laundry bag for processing. If you do have items dry-cleaned, make sure your room steward knows what you want done.

The Passenger Mix
This particular cruise saw about 60% Americans and the balance Europeans. There are numerous different cultures and announcements were made in English, Italian, German and French. However, the Lirica makes every attempt to not make announcements, so it is rarely invasive. There were very few children on board and everyone seemed to get along well. The shore excursion were available by language spoken, so instead of going with folks from all countries, the Lirica segregated folks by the language the tour guide spoke. All in all, it was quite like being anywhere in Europe on any given day. The Cruise
Thursday, April 1st, 2004; Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
I was in my cabin, had set up my computer and printer and made my way to the registration desk to find the group coordinator or Hotel Manager�s representative to arrange for our cocktail party and meeting space. I was able to secure a 5 pm time and place of meeting, so I returned to my cabin to unpack and get ready for the cruise. I met with Lirica�s representative and then prepared flyers for the group to let them know about this evening�s cocktail party and the seminar dates. After getting ready for the evening, I made my way to the Lirica Lounge for our cocktail party. Some of the Lirica�s staff was in attendance, as well as the 38 agents making up the group. In addition to an open bar cocktail hour and hot and cold appetizers, we were treated to our own private hour with the Lirica�s orchestra playing wonderful tunes that allowed us to enjoy their musical talent, as well as converse. It was a wonderful venue and experience for our group�s first meeting.

At the conclusion of the cocktail party, we made our way to the L�ippocampo Restaurant and our respective tables. Our first dining experience was wonderful. One lady at our table insisted on sending her entr�e back for this or that reason three times. While it was totally embarrassing for the balance of the table who all found their entrees prepared quite nicely, our waiter was as gracious as he could be and took the challenge to satisfy this woman as a personal opportunity to show everyone at the table how professional his skills were as a waiter. The conversation continued until we ended up being the last table in the restaurant and decided to call it a night.

Friday, April 2nd, 2004, Day at Sea
I awoke to a sunny morning and decided to simply take the day to relax in the sun and get some work done on a rewrite of a book that I had written. I took breakfast in the La Bistrot Cafeteria on deck 11 and enjoyed fresh fruit, yogurt, a slice of cheese, a croissant, orange juice and some coffee. I would like to state here and now, that the food on the Lirica is fine. One of the complaints that I have read about the ship was that the food in the buffet was inedible. That is absolutely nonsense. The selections on the Lirica lean more toward a European or Italian palate (I suspect that those that complain about the food are the same folks one sees in buffets on mass market lines with food piled a mile high) and diet. You will not find an unlimited selection of fattening food high in calories and fat content. That said, if huge buffets are your thing, you might not like the Lirica, but if you are concerned about what you put into your body, you will find the Lirica to be everything you could want and more.

I spent the day in the sun by the pool and enjoyed a lunch at the La Bistrot Cafeteria. I enjoyed a huge salad from the salad bar and a generous portion of mixed vegetables with a piece of fish. Once again, the food was excellent, just not the same portions and amount of fattening foods one would find on a mass market line.

I spent the late afternoon in my cabin working on my computer. Nancy Norris was also on this cruise and spent a good amount of the day collecting gratuities from the passengers to prepay them for the cruise, as we wanted to set up a �round robin� environment where folks could jump from table to table within our group during the dinner hour. The Maitre D� had graciously conceded the opportunity to do this and was appreciated by everyone. We had another excellent dinner with rich conversation and lots of laughing. One of the incredible features of the Lirica is the wine list. We were enjoying a bottle of Chardonnay that cost only $12, including gratuity! There were several choices of wines under $20, including gratuity making their wine list the most generous of any cruise line I have ever sailed. The sun had zapped me of my energy and I decided to turn in after a quick nightcap in the Blue Club.

Saturday, April 3rd, 204; Ocho Rios, Jamaica
Some of the group members had cruised together before and had invited me to join them at the Margaritaville Restaurant and Bar in Ocho Rios. Margaritaville is fairly new in Ocho Rios and offers everyone attending excellent food and beverage refreshments. There is a swimming pool, Jacuzzi and a water slide that runs through the entire restaurant. It is a very fun place located in the Ocean Island Shopping Center that is located at the foot of the entrance to the port.

We walked to Ocean Village to visit the flea market and stores surrounding the market. Stopping at another bar in the port before returning to Margaritqaville for a tasty lunch of fish and coconut shrimp, we decided that the Ocean Island Shopping Center was a major and positive addition to Ocho Rios.

By now, our evening consisted of pre dinner drinks in one of the lounges on the Lirica, followed by an excellent dinner in the restaurant with lots of conversation and laughs. This evening the folks I was sitting with wanted to enjoy the evening�s entertainment, �Many Personalities of Holber Show� starring Holber and Angelo. This creative skit was entertaining leaving one wondering how Holber could change costumes and personalities so quickly behind the small dressing curtain that sat on the stage. After the show we went to the Beverly Hills Bar and listened to the talented group �Duo Fantasy�.

Sunday, April 4th, 2004; Day at Sea
This was our first seminar meeting in the Blue Club that had been set up for us by the Lirica. After a quick breakfast, I went to the Blue Club to make sure everything was ready for our meeting and was pleased to find that everything had been attended to and was ready to go. The seminar went quite well with lots of networking and fun. The afternoon in the sunshine by the pool went by too quickly and before I knew it, I was preparing for this evening�s dinner and cocktail hour.

I had decided to try a different table and tablemates and sat in a different area of the restaurant. Our waiter was noticeably grumpy and not particularly interested in his performance as a server. A couple of people at our table began to complain about it. It never ceases to amaze me how folks will allow the actions of a waiter to influence their ability to enjoy their meal. I mean, why would anyone empower another person to affect him or her in such a way. I threw out the challenge to see how long it would take to turn this guy around with positive reinforcement. One of the ladies at the table engaged him with smiles and questions and we followed with compliments and support. Within five minutes, our service went from lousy to world class. The waiter really appreciated the positive feedback and rewarded us with exceptional service that ended in a rousing round of applause from our table when we completed our meal. The experience really drove home the point that if you let poor service exist without taking positive action to correct it, you are just as responsible for it as the waiter is. The next time you are on a cruise and are receiving poor dining room service and someone at the table starts complaining. Take charge of the moment and retrain the waiter and complainers by focusing on the positive side of the opportunity.

We stayed late in the restaurant and once again missed the evening�s entertainment opting for a nightcap in the Beverly Hills Bar instead.

Monday, April 5th, 2004; Catagena, Columbia
This was my first visit to Cartagena and rather than do a standard city tour, I opted to take the Cartagena Beach and Boating tour. This turned out to be a great choice. We departed the ship and walked a short distance to a small pier where a large panga waited for us to board. We then started our trek to a beach where we would spend a couple of hours sunning, snorkeling and generally enjoying the tropical environment. We went by several pueblos and a walled enforcement that protected a small village before kicking the boat into full speed for about 45 minutes until we arrived at the island itself. The panga backed down its anchor so that the stern was almost on shore. She was then tied off making for a safe exit onto the sand.

Everyone exiting the panga was met with beach vendors selling all sorts of things; beaded necklaces and bracelets were abundant, fresh shrimp, lobster, and oysters were everywhere and there were many young ladies offering to massage you for a nominal amount of money. These Columbian vendors were quite effective sales people and were anxious to complete the sale. We decided to get a beverage and relax in the sun while we got oriented with the beach area and started talking with some of the venders. It seems that these folks lived quite a distance from the beach and walked for 2 � hours with their wares to have the opportunity to sell to the tourists that arrive there daily. Most of them make the products they sell and are trying to support families on their earnings. They turned out to be very friendly and respectful people. I purchased a number of necklaces and bracelets for the upcoming �ideas for prizes� seminar at our next meeting. I took a long walk on the beach, as the snorkeling was primarily over beds of sea grass and wasn�t very interesting.

After a couple of hours, it was time to board our panga and make our way back to Cartagena and our ship. We passed the villages that we had seen on the way out to the island and then turned into the downtown area of Cartagena where we could see quite a bit of the old section. Passing several large yachts and a large marina we finally made it back to our ship. After a quick lunch I made my way over to the port�s duty free and shopping center where one could purchase everything Columbian with no problem. I used the communications center and finalized some business that came up that needed to be taken care of.

This evening�s formal dinner followed the same routine that was now pretty established, pre-dinner cocktails, dinner and then either the entertainment or a visit to one of the lounge venues for a nightcap. As this was the second formal night on the cruise, we opted to take our group photo taken on the steps directly in front of the reception desk and then enjoy a no-host cocktail party in Lord Nelson�s Bar directly in front of the reception desk. Dinner was another pleasant experience and the meal excellent. Finishing dinner in time to attend the evening�s entertainment, we found seats in the Broadway Theater for the presentation of �Music Awards�. This was a full production show featuring music from all eras and was quite entertaining. The dancers were excellent, as was the singing. We were having such a great time that we decided to attend the �Disco 80s� theme disco party in the Blue Club Disco. There was a good number of people in attendance and the dance floor saw a lot of action.

Tuesday, April 6th, 2004; San Blas Islands, Panama
I have been looking forward to seeing the San Blas Islands for decades and this was my first visit. I wasn�t disappointed. The San Blas Islands are inhabited by the Kuna Indians known for their unique and beautiful �molas�. Kuna women make multi colored wall hangings and fabrics using pieces of fabric that are sewn together to produce a very unique look. They use these fabrics for their own dress and also as items for tourists to purchase. Kuna Indians live much the same now as they always have and a visit to their islands is well worth the effort to get there. We arrived on shore and then negotiated to take a tour of one of the outer islands in a dugout canoe. The tour took us to an island that was heavily populated with wonderful thatched roofed huts built close together to create a wonderful close community. It appeared that the main source of revenue for the island was the sale of molas and other trinkets to visiting tourist. It was a very peaceful experience and I found the Kunas to be friendly and very respectful of their visitors. I had come down with a cold and after the tour I decided to head back to the ship for a nap and then to work on my computer for a bit. I had been invited to join a group for dinner, but before dinner, attended a cocktail party on the aft deck of deck eight. I love the exterior decks on the Lirica. They are widely available for every passenger to enjoy and are not taken up by balconied cabins.

Dinner brought another excellent dining experience and more quality conversation. I stopped by the evening�s show for a bit, a variety show, and then called it an evening.

Wednesday, April.7th, 2004; Transit the Panama Canal
Having been through the Gatun locks before (most recently about five weeks ago) I decided to sleep through the process that started around 5 AM. The Lirica made its way up into Gatun Lake and set anchor right off of the Gatun Lake Yacht Club. HINT: If you do not sign up for a shore excursion, you will not be able to debark the ship in Panama. A number of our group had signed up for the yacht club and were called to disembark for the shore excursion around 10 AM. The yacht club turned our to be more of an attraction than a yacht club, as there were markets manned by both Kuna and Darien Indians, on-going entertainment, a bar and snack area and several areas for sunning and lounging along the shoreline. While there was no beach area, there is a large float secured in a roped off area that one can swim to and enjoy the sunshine. All and all, the yacht club was a pleasant diversion to spending the day on the ship, but not really an experience one would remember. Dinner found us back at our table enjoying yet another evening�s conversation and meal.

Thursday, April 8th, 2004; Puerto Limon, Costa Rica
We arrived quite early in Puerto Limon and Nancy Norris had found an attraction on the Internet that she had wanted to experience. Four of us had agreed to share a taxi to the �Almonds and Corals Resort� near the border of Costa Rica and Panama. We debarked the ship, cleared the port area and made our way into Puerto Limon to negotiate for a taxi to take us for the day. We found one that cost us only $120 for the entire day and then set out for the resort. It took about an hour to make our way into the rain forest region along the coast south of Puerto Viejo (a huge American outpost) and to the resort. After signing a million documents holding the resort harmless should we be injured in any way, we made our way to the staging area to dawn our �Crazy Monkey Canopy Ride� apparel. Once we had our helmets, straps and rigging on, we walked up through the rain forest until we came to a tree that had stairs leading to the top of the canopy. We were fastened to �fail safe� wires as we made our way up the various staircases to the very top of the forest.

Once on top, we found out that the little roller harness was to be attached to a cable that led from treetop to treetop throughout the rain forest. Our guide was the first to attach and then step into space as he slid along the cable through the treetops to the next treetop station. I would estimate that we were at least 200 feet off the forest floor and while one could not see it because of the thick vegetation, one could imagine where it was. Carole, the first of us to traverse the cable, hesitated and then finally made the leap of faith. Shouts of glee were heard as she disappeared into the forest as she slid to the next station. We all went learning to love the feeling of gliding throughout the rain forest in search of flora and fauna. During the various stations we traversed 11 cables and two suspension bridges hanging hundreds of feet over the forest floor. We saw many types of birds and two sloths. It was certainly a memorable experience well worth the $40 cost. After the experience we had full use of the resort for as long as we wanted and enjoyed some fresh juice and fruit at the restaurant before moving on. It was our intention to dine at a restaurant on the border in Manzanillo that one of our guides had suggested, but the traffic was horrendous as this was a huge holiday for all of Costa Rica and everyone from San Jose (Costa Rica�s capital city) seemed intent on going to the same place. We decided to turn north and try to find a good restaurant in Puerto Viejo, but encountered the same problem. In an effort to save the day, we decided to make our way to Playa Bonita, just north of Puerto Limon and the site of several restaurants. It took an hour to make it to Playa Bonita and we were presented with a crowded beach and packed restaurants. We chose the very first restaurant on the north side of the beach and were assured by the waiter that the comarones (shrimp) was legendary. This was a huge mistake. We were presented with a meal that was barely edible, much less memorable. HINT: Forget dining at Playa Bonita and opt for the restaurant on top of the hill in town that your taxi driver will take you to.

We made it back to the ship with minutes to spare and boarded for the next two days at sea. Dinner continued to be an excellent social experience and since we were all bushed from the day�s activities, turned in early for a good night�s sleep.

Friday, April 9th, 2004; Day at Sea
We were greeted with warm sunshine and the promise of a beautiful sea day. Following my regular routine of breakfast in the buffet and then taking a lounge chair by the Jacuzzis, I was falling into my normal cruise mode. I thoroughly enjoyed the sunshine and ended the day with a glass of wine in the Jacuzzi before heading to my cabin to get ready for the ship�s evening events.

Saturday, April 10th, 2004; Day at Sea
This was the second of our two seminars and we met at 9 AM in the Blue Club for a 3-hour seminar that ended in a rousing session of �Ideas for Prizes� Everyone had a great time (as I did) and it reminded me of how everyone loves to cruise and tends to let other people into their lives when under normal circumstances, it might not happen as freely. I spent the afternoon in my usual spot by the pool and then got ready for our third formal night of the cruise.

Our group met in the Beverly Hills Bar for pre-dinner cocktails and then made our way to our appointed tables for yet another entertaining dinner with lots of conversation. We had decided to attend the evening�s entertainment so finished dinner in time to make our way to the showroom and an excellent show. After a nightcap, I turned in for a wonderful night�s sleep.

Sunday, April 11th, 2004; Nassau, Bahamas
The Lirica had made excellent time in the lake-like conditions and we arrived in Nassau early in the morning. After clearing immigration, the ship allowed passengers to go ashore. I lingered on the ship enjoying the sunny morning by the pool and eventually decided to get off the ship to try to find an open pharmacy to obtain some much needed cold relief medicine. As this was Easter Sunday, I did not put much hope into the effort. Fortunately, I found a pharmacy and was able to obtain the cold decongestants that I needed and immediately felt better. Nassau was vacant even though there were a number of ships in port. Many of the shops were closed and all of the liquor stores were shut tight. Even with the limited shopping opportunities, folks seemed to be enjoying their visit. I was back on the ship and in the Jacuzzi by 1 PM and then enjoyed the afternoon relaxing in the warm sunshine.

Evening brought our last dinner experience aboard the Lirica and also the beginning of the debarkation process, the dreaded packing to go home. Even though we had prepaid our dining staff�s gratuities, many of us opted to tip extra for the fine service we had experienced from our respective waiters. After lingering conversation, I headed to my cabin to begin packing. The evening ended with a sound sleep provided by the cold medicine.

Monday, April 12th, 2003; Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
The morning brought a new cold front and rain, which surprised me, as we had just had 12 days of perfect weather and flat calm seas. I could see my next ship, the Radisson Seven Seas Navigator out of my cabin window and wondered if I could just walk to her. After breakfast, I finished packing and made my way to the Lirica Lounge where some in our group had arranged to meet to wait for the embarkation process to proceed. I was in no hurry to debark, as I would simply make my way to the next terminal and wait to board the Seven Seas Navigator. Around 11AM I debarked the ship and was surprised to still find lines at immigration, but quickly realized that this was the non-USA citizens waiting to clear immigration and that the US citizen line was non-existent. I cleared immigration and customs and began my walk to the Navigator.

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