Archive for September, 2009

The Captain Goes On Shore Leave

After two full days at sea I awoke Tuesday morning to this wonderful sight.

Land Ho!

Our Disney Cruise made two stops in the Virgin Islands and one stop in the Bahamas during our week at sea.  Our first port of call was Tortola on Tuesday.

Tortola is the largest island in the British Virgin Islands1.  I knew nothing about the island when I arrived, and I knew very little about it by the time I returned to the ship in the afternoon.  Of the seven hours I was off of the boat, I spent less than an hour of my time in Tortola.  The other six-plus hours were spent on this little beauty.

That my friends, is a fifty foot catamaran and the highlight of my trip.  Meg’s idea to book a six hour excursion on this wonderful boat is probably the best decision she has ever made2.

I’ll admit, I was a bit skeptical at first.  After seeing the devastating effect that hiring a Caribbean tour boat can have on relationships in the documentary film Captain Ron, I was initially leery of the boat’s operator.  It would take a lot to impress a fellow Captain such as myself.

In reality, I was consistently thrilled for the entire six hour tour.  We motored out of the dock and the sails were hoisted once we hit the open waters.  Sailing in the open crystal blue water of the Caribbean is damn near perfect in my book, and the view’s not bad either.

The only thing that stopped the catamaran excursion from actually being perfect were the fifteen or so other guests from the cruise ship tagging along with us.  Several of them felt the need to loudly tell each other boring stories and indulge in inane chit chat3 instead of enjoying the ride.  One heavy-set, older gentleman actually read a book the whole time!  I wish everyone would have been content with simply staring at the natural beauty, but it was only a minor annoyance.

For the first couple of hours we sailed around the outer islands and hit a couple of great snorkeling spots.  The second spot was near a bunch of ocean caves and made for the best snorkeling I’ve ever done.

I saw a huge fish attack a sea urchin and actually kill the spiky bastard.  So friggin’ cool!  After the snorkeling we headed to a private island for some lunch.  This being my first vacation with my new camera, I was actually able to shoot some video.  Here’s our initial approach.

This little island was home to a beach club that was closed down for the season.  On the plus side, it was gorgeous and completely empty.  It looked like a Corona commercial.

On the negative side, the bar was closed for the season.  So there I was in a Corona commercial on an island with no beer.  What a waste!  Luckily, I soon discovered that the boat’s first mate had a hidden stash of rum…

After six hours of living the Captain’s dream, I was sun burnt and exhausted but still not ready to return.  We reluctantly returned to the cruise ship and both took a long shower and an ever longer nap.  All in all, it was definitely the highlight of the trip, and it’s in the running for the highlight of my year.

After such an amazing Tuesday in Tortola, Wednesday was bound to be a bit of a letdown.  We spent the day on the island of St. Thomas in the American portion of the Virgin Islands.  Still exhausted from the previous day, we elected to wander around the port town and do some shopping.  I loaded up on lots of cheap souvenirs and duty-free alcohol to bring home as gifts. Duty-free is the way to be!

And as an added bonus, the shops were stocked full of cheap beer.  The first shop I hit actually had individual bottles of Carlsberg for $1.50.  Jackpot!

Besides the shopping, there wasn’t much to do besides wander around.  There was still plenty to see, including the filthiest ice cream truck ever!

After two days on shore, Thursday was back out to sea all day headed for the Bahamas.  This morning our ship docked on Castaway Cay.  Not familiar with this island?  That’s because it’s not an island anymore, it’s the property of Disney.  Mickey Mouse and Co bought an island previously used for drug smuggling and turned it into a sanitized, family fun port of call.

I was a little cynical before we arrived.  In person Castaway Cay ends up coming off as beautifully clichéd.  It looks like a four-year-old’s drawing of a beach, which I think is what they had in mind.

We initially decided to make the long hike down to the adults only beach4 but turned around when we saw that it was already packed full.  We settled in on the far side of the kids’ beach and spent the day doing typical beach activities.  I read a book, drank a Corona, took a nap in a hammock and just generally enjoyed the view.

While Castaway Cay would not be my first choice as a destination, it’s really hard to complain about a tropical island with free food.  So cheers to the Disney Island.

Which brings me the evening, sitting with my lovely wife in our stateroom for one more nite.

Tomorrow our cruise will come to an end when our ship returns back to Port Canaveral.  We’ve had a magnificent week and I’ve been thrilled to be on the ocean for so long.  In short, it’s been the ideal vacation for the Captain.  So thanks again to our benefactors.  This champagne’s for you!  Cheers!

Ciao,

The Captain

1  Our tour guide constantly referred to the islands as “Da-Bee-Vee-Aye.”  It took me about an hour to realize he was saying “The B.V.I.”

2.  Well, besides marrying this guy, of course.

3.  The teenage girl on the boat with us would NOT SHUT UP.  It was annoying, except when would bring up the Bob Marley t-shirt.  Apparently we drove by a street vendor selling Marley t-shirts on the way to the boat and this girl was determined to get one on the way back.  She kept begging her parents to buy this Bob Marley t-shirt like it was ultra-super-rare, when in reality they sell Bob Marley shirts at most Hot Topics, Hemp shops, Spencer’s Gifts, Head shops and Mall kiosks.

4.  I know “Adults Only Beach” sound like a porn title, but trust me when that there was nothing remotely sexy about it.

The Captain Is King Of The World, On A Boat Like Leo

It’s been 17 months since the last time I was on a boat.  That boat was considerably smaller than the boat where I am currently relaxing.

Today is Thursday, and I’ve been aboard the Disney Magic cruise ship for five days now.  In that time I feel as though I’ve done so much yet so little with my time.  Such is cruise life.

I’m having a surprisingly good time for my first time on a cruise despite the fact that his ship is filled front to aft with screaming kids and Disney nonsense.  But before I openly mock a large portion of what I have seen thus far, I would like to take this moment to thank my benefactors.

Megan’s parents, Paul & Trudy, are members of the Disney Vacation Club and used a couple of year’s worth of points to book this trip for the four of us.  Here’s a pic of our very generous sponsors enjoying a wine tasting on Tuesday.

Even though I don’t like 99% of what Disney produces1, a cruise is pretty much universally wonderful.  So thanks be to them.

We boarded our ship, the Disney Magic, in Port Canaveral last Saturday after a brief stay in Orlando.  We headed out early that evening, and spent the next two full days at sea.

Unlike most cruise lines, Disney allows guests to bring on their own alcohol on board.  That alone has easily saved me $100, especially considering that the first two days I had nowhere to go and no plans.  I’ve stuck mostly to Rum and Cokes, but we brought some powdered Hurricane and Margarita mixes for a little variety.

The ship itself isn’t nearly as tacky as I imagined.  And while the movement of the ship has caused me to lose my balance several times, it didn’t take that long for me to adjust.

Considering the horror stories I’ve heard about the state rooms on cruise ships, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with our room

A couch, a fridge, a swivel TV and a giant round window is pretty ideal.  About the only thing more I could ask for is a huge private deck.  Luckily, Paul & Trudy’s room has one, complete with a gorgeous aft view.

A private view and cheap drinks:  my own little paradise.

Actually, most of the cruise has been fancier than that to which I am normally accustomed.  For example, we have three separate staff assigned to us for the cruise – two waiters that serve us every night and a room steward that cleans our room twice daily.  Our Filipino room steward Sompomp (which he pronounced, no shit, as Sump Pump) is the man.  Every nite he treats us to a personal display of the little seen art of towel origami.

Most of the activities on the ship involve either lying around, eating lots of food, or watching adults in character costumes doing exaggerated dances.  Naturally, I’ve stuck with the first two2.

There are plenty of good places to lie around, including a kids-free pool and a couple of mid-ship decks like the one where I am currently typing.

And as for food, there has pretty much been a constant barrage of chow from the moment we stepped onboard.  Two buffets and three grills serve food at pretty much all hours of the day, and they even had a midnite desert buffet that seemed perfectly catered for Megan.

All this food has equated to me being constantly stuffed to the gills every day, mostly with seafood.

Besides eating and drinking, I spend most of my time on the ship relaxing and people watching.  Most of the people on the ship fit3 into two groups:  parents with their young children or adults without children that are a little too enthusiastic about Disney.  Pictures of kids with Mickey are cute; pictures of grown men who get dressed up to take a picture with Mickey are just mind-numbing.

Unfortunately, people in ridiculous costumes have been the norm.  For example, Tuesday nite’s dinner had a Pirates of the Caribbean theme so I decided to get into the spirit by wearing one of the cheesy cruise shirts I brought and a bandana.

Normally I would feel silly wearing this outfit in public, but this was actually quite tame by cruise standards.  About half of our dining room was decked out in full theatrical pirate costumes.  It looked like a cross between a pirate day-care and a pirate retirement home.  Check out this pirate father who managed to incorporate his baby backpack into his wardrobe.

Where Arrrrr the diapers, matie?

Even though most of the cruise has been a little foolish, I’ve still really enjoyed my time on the ship.  With that being said, I will say bon voyage for today.  Tomorrow’s blog will be about the actual purpose of this trip: the tropical islands!  Until then, I will leave you with yesterday’s sunset from the aft deck.  Cheers!

Ciao,

The Captain

1  I’m still a fan of The Jungle Book, as well as the last half of Fantasia.  And Pixar has done some great stuff recently.  Still, Mickey Mouse can eat a bag of dicks.

2.  I actually ran on a treadmill my first morning, but the motion and speed of the ship made it very disorienting so I haven’t been back.  Plus, there is a pizza bar by the pool…

3.  Fit may be the wrong word, since a good 50% of both groups barely fit into XXL t-shirts.  And to think I was worried about feeling heavy on this cruise.

The Captain Is Betting On The Cards

Tonite is the last time I can watch a Cardinals game for at least a week.  I’m leaving on a weeklong cruise tomorrow, which means I will probably miss the Cardinals being the first team to celebrate winning their division.

Damn!  Still, I’m not complaining.  As of today the Cardinals have won eight of their last ten games and have best record in the National League.  The Cards have been on an absolute tear since after the All Star break.  Since that time I’ve been telling anyone who will listen that I think the Redbirds are headed to the World Series.

Now that the team seems destined for greatness, the bandwagon is in full effect in St. Louis.  As a fan who’s been watching the team all season I’ve see many reasons why I think the Cardinals will make it back to the World Series.  What a perfect topic for a Top 5 List!

Top 5 Reasons I Think The Cardinals Will Play In The World Series In 2009

1.  Management Made Some Key Trades And Spent Some Money

Starting in 2007, the Cardinals’ owners and front office have put a renewed focus on player development in their Minor League system.  This has produced some high quality players currently on the Major League squad, including Brendan Ryan, Skip Schumaker and Ryan Ludwick.

As much as I liked this renewed focus on player development, it seemed at times that the front office was too focused on player development.  I mean, how long can a team wait around for guys like Chris Duncan to develop?  At the same time, the Cardinals have been reluctant to spend big bucks for major league talent.1

After two years of making little to no splash at the trade deadline, the Cardinals got aggressive this year.  In one month’s time, they landed two great everyday players in Mark DeRosa and Matt Holliday.  These acquisitions in turn made it possible to talk future Hall of Famer John Smoltz to sign with the club too.  The Cards had to give up a couple of great prospects, but the resulting upgrade has turned the team into serious contenders.

With guys like Pujols, Wainwright and Carpenter already putting together an amazing season, management realized the potential of the 2009 squad and made the right moves.  I think a trip to the World Series will likely be the result.

2.  Almost Everyone Is Having A Good Year

Sometimes winning is as simple as having your best players play their best.  That is definitely the case this year.  Check out the MLB Leader board today:

Cardinals lead the Majors in three separate categories:  Home Runs, Wins and Earned Run Average.  That’s amazing!

I’ve come to expect Pujols to have a good year every year, and he’s been quite consistent this year.  More surprising is how consistent the Cardinals’ pitching has been in 2009.  The front of the Cardinals rotation has been damn near perfect.  Wainwright, Pineiro and my man Carpenter are probably the best 1-2-3 in baseball and definitely I’ve ever seen in a Cardinals uniform.  And our closer, Franklin, seemingly came out of nowhere to become the best closer of 2009.  If pitching truly wins championships, then the Cardinals are looking pretty tough to beat.

Perhaps most impressive is the fact that the Cardinals have a legitimate candidate for all for major awards.  Pujols is almost guaranteed to win MVP again this year, LaRussa has a good shot for Manager of the Year, Wainwright and Carpenter are poised to duke it out for the Cy Young award, and Colby Rasmus has an outside shot at Rookie of the Year.  The best Cardinals are also the best in baseball.  That’s how championships are built.

3.  Rule of Three

For the last five decades a pattern has emerged with the Cardinals and the World Series:  The Rule of Three.  In the modern baseball era the Cardinals have gone to the World Series three times in even numbered decades.  In the Sixties, the Cards won pennants in 1964, 1967 and 1968.  In the Eighties, the Cards won pennants in 1982, 1985 and 1987.  So far this decade, the Redbirds won pennants in 2004 and 2006.  Going to the World Series in 2009 would complete the cycle.  It’s in the cards!  Much like the Cubs never winning the World Series again, winning the pennant is destined to happened.2

4.  The Crazy Facial Hair

Sometimes it’s the crazy little luck charms that give a team it’s mojo.  For the Cardinals it seems that facial hair is just that luck charm.  The 2006 champion squad had Spezio’s bright-red-soul-patch to bring them luck.

This year several Cardinals have embraced the luck of the facial hair.  Our closer, Franklin, has earned the nickname Redbeard the Redbird on account of his wild goatee.

And the rest of the team has taken to growing moustaches.  It started with Ankiel back in the beginning of the year

And at one point was adopted by the entire starting pitching staff.  Even my man Carpenter sported lip-whiskers for a couple of weeks!

Since then the facial hair has become a bit tamer, with only Ryan and LaRue still rocking the moustache.  But the mojo still seems to be working and I’m pretty sure we’ll be treated to several playoff beards.  Hopefully even a moustache or two!

5.  The Home Town Crowd

Simply put, the St. Louis fans have been amazing this year.  Even during a recession the Stadium has been full.  The hometown crowd made a great showing at the All Star game and had been even more faithful throughout the summer.  Most predictions had stadium attendance falling short of 3 million this year, but St. Louis seemed assured to shatter that number this year.

The Cardinals have the fourth highest attendance in the Major this year, behind the Yankees, the Dodgers and the Phillies.  And when you consider how much larger those markets are than St. Louis, it speaks very well to the fanbase.  Management has gone on record saying that the increased attendance has enabled them to make the big moves this year that have turned this team into a real powerhouse.  Even though most of the national sports media has ignored St. Louis, the fans have kept this team in spotlight.  It makes me proud to be a resident of St. Louis!

Bonus Reason – Pershing Says So

Back in June, Meg and I took her favorite guy that she supports from her work to a game this summer.  Pershing is a really great guy, and a HUGE Pujols fan.  I asked him what he thought of the Phillies chances at a World Series run and he loudly declared “Nuh-uh!”  Next I inquired about the league-leaders at the time, the Dodgers.  “Nuh-uh!” claimed Pershing.  How about the Cardinals?  “YEEAHHHH!!!” he screamed.  What can I say, he makes a strong argument.

And with that I will say goodbye for awhile.  I’ll be cruising in the Caribbean for the next week, and then I’ll be back in Florida for a few days to visit friends and family.  That’s right, the Captain will finally be back on a boat!!!  So until then…LET’S GO CARDS!

Ciao,

The Captain

1. i.e. going after Kip Wells because A.J. Burnett was too expensive.  Funny how that didn’t work out…

2.  This of course carries a major downside.  If the Rule of Three stands, then the Cardinals won’t go back to the World Series until 2020 at the earliest…

The Captain Is Thirtysomething

Yesterday was my *Yawn* 31st Birthday.  Woo.  Hoo.

Actually, turning 31 was a nice change of pace.  After the big deal that was made last year regarding me turning 30, it was really nice not to overthink this birthday.  For the past couple of years I’ve been dreading the eventual approach of September 3rd.  I fell into that late-twenties trap where I saw 30 looming as the death of fun.

Now that I’m in my thirties it all seems relatively trivial.  The difference between 30 and 31 seems so minimal that it’s not really worth thinking about.  I’ll treat the next several birthdays1 just the same as I did this year; It’s just a day to eat, drink and have a little fun.

This year I decided to start back up a tradition that began in my mid-twenties – the birthday Cardinals game.  As it turned out, the Cards we’re playing an afternoon game on the 3rd, a perfect reason to skip out of work for my birthday.  With my upcoming cruise and house move sucking up most of my paid time off, I was only able to take off a half-day.

My birthday almost always falls at some point over Labor Day weekend, so I am not accustomed to working on September 3rd.  This being the second year in a row that I had to go to work on my birthday, I was quite grumbly on my way into the office yesterday.  My petty moaning quickly faded when my surprise birthday cake arrived.  My new co-worker is an accomplished cake maker, and brought in this little beauty for my birthday.

It’s a cake version of The Captain!  Not only does it look like me, she even included several Captain accessories: I’m reading a cake comic book, there’s a cake kickball next to me, a cake shark-fin for shark week on the couch, and even a cake iPhone next to me!  The only part that is not really accurate is the pants; if I were at home asleep on the couch I would almost certainly be pantsless…

Still, pretty amazing.  She managed to put my favorite thing on my birthday cake:  Me!

I skipped out of work around noon to head downtown to meet up with my friends for a few pre-beers.  My sister was nice enough to join me, as well as my man D and my old Ruiz buddy, Bethany.  It was a business lunch kinda crew, complete with the Cardinals tie.

Yesterday was a perfect day for a game.  The temperature was a cool 82 degrees, the stadium was ¾ full but had plenty of room for us to seat-hop, and the Cardinals’ newest pitcher, John Smoltz, was on the mound.  The Cardinals, who had won eight of their past ten games, of course managed to find a way to lose 4-3.  But seeing as I’ve managed to attend mostly losing games this year, I was not really all that surprised.

I have lots more thoughts about the Redbirds, but I’m planning a much larger blog about Cardinals tomorrow.  Instead, check out this shocking photo of the Cardinals mascot, Fredbird, drinking my beer yesterday.

Looks like he fell off the wagon again.  Perhaps working at Busch stadium everyday was too much for him.

I ended my evening with a lovely dinner prepared by my lovely wife, and retreated to the couch to cease all physical movement.  That’s how you roll when your 31.2

So thanks to everyone for all the birthday goodwill, and thanks to 31 for being one mild ride!

Ciao,

The Captain

1  Probably right up until 38 when I will start freaking out about turning 40.  Still, that’s at least 7 more carefree years!

2  The biggest signs that I’m now in my thirties were the gifts I requested.  I specifically asked for a fancy kitchen trash can and a new showerhead.

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