I was deeply saddened by the passing of a much-beloved brother in law on April 24.

I knew Fred Albi for over 30 years, and always enjoyed his company. A college athlete, longtime educator, school principal, small businessman, foodie, travel expert, beloved husband and father – Fred lived life to the utmost and always maximized his potential. He left us far too soon.

Above is one of my favorite photos – taken at daughter Hannah’s first communion in 2003.

My profound condolences to Maria’s sister Pat, and my own dear nieces Rachel, Hannah and Leah. RIP my old friend.



A Day In Ponta Delgada

Ponta Delgada, on the island of San Miguel (Azores) is a favorite stopping point for Transatlantic cruises. We tried to visit it in 2010 on the Equinox, but bad weather prevented our ship from docking in the tiny port behind the breakwater. Maria and I finally got here with the Infinity in 2013. This was Dave and Sarah’s first chance to visit the town of Ponta Delgada so we made the most of it.

A couple of small freighters were in port with us.

The  early morning clouds were breaking up and it looked as if another fine day was in store.

On the starboard side we could see the town in the morning sunshine.

Once we got off the ship and headed down to the old town, we were able to see the Jewel from the land for the first time in a week.

The city gates mark the entrance to the town of Ponta Delgada.

Next door is the 16th-century church of Saint Sebastien, with its bell tower.

A view inside the church proper.

Following our church tour, Maria and the kids did some souvenir shopping.

We then carried on to visit the Convent of Our Lady of Hope.

Inside the Convent is the famous statue of Lord Christ of Miracles, which was given to the nuns in the 16th Century by Pope Paul II. The statue is processed through Ponta Delgada on the 5th Sunday of Easter.

We visited yet another nearby church – the lovely Sao Jose. All of these places date from the 16th/17th century.

Then a different sort of cannonical moment – outside the fort of Sao Bras.

The original fort was built in the 1550s to protect the town from pirates and it is still used by the Portuguese Navy as a base. Did not see any pirates around, so it’s still working I guess.

Time for a break after all this history.

On the way back we discovered a play area which the kids had to try out.

Teddy seems thrilled with the slide – Not!!!

Susannah on the other hand….

While the kids were playing, a couple of horses dropped by.

We didn’t have time to swim with the dolphins though. It was time to get back to the Jewel. Next stop, Gibraltar.

Days at Sea

No doubt about it. To like a Transatlantic cruise, you gotta love sea days. You’ll have plenty of them between Miami and the Azores.

Of course, when the weather is as good as it usually is on a spring crossing you can kick back and enjoy the sea air and the views from the balcony. Here is a sequence of sea days on the cruise.

March 30

March 31

April 1

April 2

April 3

April 4

Pretty smooth, all in all. You might notice the changing lighting. Although each photo was taken about the same time of day, the sun came up later as we cranked the clock ahead 4 nights in a row. This got us on Ponta Delgada time, but it was a little hard on the body. The kids kept sleeping in later and later so that even Teddy was dragging himself out of bed at 9AM.

We soon settled into shipboard routine. Sleep, eat, read, drink, play (if you’re a kid.) Rinse and repeat.

Since we were Elite Plus cruisers on Celebrity, Royal Caribbean gave us Diamond status on their line – so we got a fair number of perks, including access to the Diamond Lounge – nice. However, due to the popularity of the Jewel and Transatlantic cruising in general, we had a lot of company on the ship who were also Diamond cruisers. This turned out to be a good thing, as RCI gave us extra vouchers for specialty coffees and drinks, plus opened up a portion of the dining room for a special Diamond breakfast each day. The Diamond “happy hour” was transferred from the Lounge to the larger Schooner bar at the stern of the ship – no crowding.

We got together in the Windjammer for lunch – or Maria and I went to the dining room a few times.

Pizza and french fries were always a big hit.

Maria helped Teddy with his school presentation on the holiday.

And if you were still hungry, well there was always ice cream on tap.

On formal night we got dressed up in our best.

We enjoyed the company of our neighbors in the dining room – Mario and Sandi from Fort Lauderdale. They were celebrating their 58th wedding anniversary – Wow!

Our wait staff Tiffone from Trinidad and Man from China – loved the kids and were always friendly and helpful.

And after dinner, we could hardly wait to see what Igusti had left in our stateroom after he set up the beds.

And so it went. Next stop – Ponta Delgada.




The Jewel

Royal Caribbean International is the big sister brand to our cruise line of choice all these years – Celebrity Cruises. RCI has always had the reputation for big ships, big features, big family fun. As early the 1980s they were building and sailing the largest ships at sea.

At the start of the 21st century, RCI carried on – constructing some 140,000 ton behemoths. Then for a time they stepped back and built 4 90,000-ton ships. I believe their reasoning was to have some more ships in the fleet that could go through the old Panama Canal locks, plus sail in cooler waters.

Jewel of the Seas was one of the 4 constructed at that time. In size, she’s very similar to the Celebrity M-class. In one way this meant that the Jewel constituted a nice introduction to RCI for a Celebrity cruiser. On the other hand, it made comparison and contrast quite easy. My first few hours aboard seemed like a strange dream where I was sailing on Celebrity Constellation – but was not.

RCI has an unusual way of numbering its cabins, too. On Celebrity one side of the ship has odd numbered cabins and the opposite side has even numbered. On RCI the outside cabins are even numbered and the interior cabins are odd numbered. You can walk a long way trying to find your stateroom. Trust me.

That said, Jewel is a fine ship – lots of glass to let in the light, plenty of wood paneling, and a real nautical feel to it.

It’s a Meyer Werft built ship like the Celebrity Solstice class, so it has a nice central atrium that goes up 9 decks.

No tree in the center, but a nifty metal sculpture accessorizes things.

The Solarium has a Siamese vibe going for it.

There are plenty of deck chairs for sea breezes on sunny days.

There is a big screen near the pool for movies every night. It wasn’t as popular on this cruise because the ocean crossings tend to be cooler in the evening.

Another shot of the poolside theater.

Our cabins were adjoining with a communicating doorway – cozy but well appointed. On grandkid slept above us, and the blue sofa pulled out to accommodate another one.

The big bed was a handy spot to work on your school Powerpoint presentation for when you got back. Our cabin attendant Igusti was great at making towel sculptures too!

Although the Jewel lacked some of the “gee whiz” features of the RCI giants – like surfing simulators, zip lines, and ice skating rinks, there was plenty to keep the kids busy such as a swimming/wading pool.

Mini-golf. Nonna loved this too.

A water slide exclusively for the younger set..

And the rock climbing wall – available on every RCI ship. Veronica turned out to be a demon climber – hard working and persistent until she got to the top.

Everyone in the MacDonald – McLean extended family enjoyed the Jewel. So much so that RCI will definitely be part of future cruise plans. The McLeans want to look into the Oasis class – biggest cruise. ships ever built. Grandpa and Nonna will likely investigate another one of the smaller ones because they like the service and the relaxed vibe of a ship like Jewel of the Seas.

Unfortunately, Jewel of the Seas has made her last Transatlantic cruise for a while. She’ll be based in Dubai next winter. Oh well.








Hark! Hark! It’s Time to Embark

Teddy was up at 5 AM on the morning of the 29th. Grandpa was slightly less enthusiastic. Once the sun came up we were able to see our cruise ship across the way.

After a leisurely breakfast at the hotel, we were ready to go. It’s not far to the cruise port, where we checked in our luggage.

The first part of the check-in process went well, but after we got our SeaPass cards we were not able to board the ship. We ended up being warehoused in a large waiting hall for some time. During our wait, we met Peter and Kathy, a retired couple from Clemson SC. They were very nice, but cruising being what it is, we did not see them again – even though we assume they were on the ship with us for two weeks!

By the time we were able to board, we found the Windjammer buffet totally crowded. Fortunately, we got an outdoor table on the stern and the kids had lunch.

A Carnival ship was moored right behind us and two other Royal Caribbean monsters were in port as well.

Nice views of sunny Miami from the upper decks.

It was a lovely day for a sailaway.

Mariner of the Seas getting underway at the far eastern end of the channel.

After settling into our stateroom, and attending the lifeboat drill, we were all set. Here we go on our 20th cruise and 6th Transatlantic – but our first on any other cruise line except Celebrity.

Miami Nice

We’ve cruised enough from Miami that we know the score – where to stay before the cruise, how to get to the hotel from the airport, how to get to the port itself. So it’s a pretty low-stress day after we get off the airplane.

Here’s the view from our hotel room at the Holiday Inn – Port of Miami. It isn’t the nicest Holiday Inn we’ve stayed in. It’s an Eisenhower era building reminiscent of the art deco hotels in South Beach – but it’s clean and comfortable, and the staff is friendly.

Can’t beat the location either. It is right across the street from the Bayside Mall and only a short cab ride from the cruise terminal.

After we got checked in we headed over to Chili’s at Bayside for a little Tex-Mex.

Nice view from the patio at Chili’s.

After lunch, we headed to a well-loved and remembered play area in a park down the street. In fact, the kids first went there in 2015 with Dave’s parents. They believed for a while that “going to Miami” meant visiting this park.

Veronica likes it too.

Not to mention Susannah.

Even Daddy got into the act.

Sarah and Maria hit the local pharmacy to stock up on Bonamine and cold meds. Dave took the kids swimming in the hotel’s pool. Grandpa had a nap.

Later on, Teddy got takeout pizza from the Mall food court and the girls had McNuggets from the world’s sleaziest McDonald’s not far away. I accompanied Sarah to get the Mickey D’s stuff. Can’t miss an opportunity like that.

Then it was off to bed. The Jewel of the Seas will be in here tomorrow.






And Away We Go

On Wednesday March 27 we dropped Mr. Oates off at his caregiver Shari’s home and headed for Montreal. It’s possible to get to Miami from Ottawa airport but a lot harder to get back from Europe, so Montreal’s the way to go.

We had time to check out our old neighborhood in Beaconsfield and have dinner in Mike’s Restaurant in Kirkland. Hard to believe we lived there over 40 years ago now.

Then we were off to meet Sarah and family in Dorval. We stayed overnight there because our Miami flight was pretty early on the 28th.

Kids were raring to go – adults not so much.

Granddaughter Veronica is an aspiring photographer. At age 8 she already has a good eye for composition. Grandpa is giving her a few tips, and she’s learning fast.

And so we are off to Miami. More later on.

To Rome then Home

We are back in Almonte after nearly three weeks on the high seas and in Rome. Maria and I took a Transatlantic cruise with Sarah, Dave and the grandkids.

We flew from Montreal to Miami.

And then cruised to Rome on Royal Caribbean’s Jewel of the Seas.

Finally, we spent a long, long weekend in Roma.

We are still pretty jet-lagged but back safely. As soon as I’m up to it, I’ll write an account of the trip here on Almontage. Stay tuned…

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