New York, New York

Saturday – in honor of John’s 37th birthday – we went to NEW YORK. Almost a year since our last visit. October 2007, boarding the Norwegian Spirit on our way to New England & Canada. As exciting as that trip had been (taking in the sights of the NYC passenger terminal and Penn Station), this time we wanted MORE.

Behold the American Museum of Natural History.  Isn’t she PRETTTY??  YES_SHE_IS!

We got to the museum early. We’d debated the merits of driving v. taking the train and finally decided just to drive. Mostly b/c it allowed an extra hour of sleep. There’s a parking garage located conveniently beneath the museum, so we were able to park all day for just $46 bucks. WOW. My lovely friend Pannonica had set aside Super Passes for us and let me tell you. NOTHING BEATS FREE. The “insider touching privileges” and executive washroom access were just icing on the (proverbial) bday cake. Make no mistake, Biologists are ROCK STARS.

The museum is massive, so we had to prioritize. Several sections are similar to the Academy of Natural Sciences here in Philly, as well as the Penn Museum and the Smithsonian. So we skipped those. NO NOT ALL OF THEM.  A few we walked through, doing the YES I AM PAYING ATTENTION dance. The place is just way too big to see in one day. So we did the best we could. We took in the scenic tour of the Food Court. I recommend getting there as soon as it opens, before the bagels are fondled too much. At lunchtime the place is an absolute zoo. I wanted to try the empanadas, but as the line was 5 deep, I gave up. The half of a bacon cheeseburger I pried away from my husband was o-kay. But not an empanata. We checked out one of the gift shoppes. The girls wanted cool moving-picture book marks, which were indeed neat, but at $6 a piece left me aching for an empanada.

2 meals in the food court and one gift shoppe visit later, we took in the actual museum. Which is very quiet and clean 1st thing in the morning. Disintegrating into a combination swap-meet/ Macy’s parade atmosphere as the day wears on.  We saw as much as humanly possible w/ 2 children in tow and swarming hordes of on-lookers. The highlights included the breathtaking Hall of Ocean Life. Also, the Dinosaurs Alive! IMAX film, which positively enchanted my older daughter, though not my husband. Always a critic. We all very much enjoyed the Lizards & Snakes: Alive! special exhibit, which, I confess, has left me longing for a Burmese Python. The whole museum – from the dioramas to the miles-long array of minerals, to the beauty of the building itself – is awesome. Fascinating. Overwhelming.  By the time we left, I felt like someone who’d tried digesting 5 billion years of history w/ one too few Tums.

BUT THERE’S ALWAYS ROOM FOR DESSERT.  And what trip to New York is complete w/out a visit to the sweetest place on earth (at least for a child) – FAO SCHWARTZ.  We made our way through Central Park, ambling towards 5th Avenue. It was simply lovely. The undulating trunks of the American Elms, the couples in love, the roller dancers making fools of themselves. AHHHHH. What a day to be alive.  Even the teeming crowds outside the Plaza weren’t enough to throw off our bliss.

Until we arrived at FAO SCHWARTZ.  I must confess that my daughters were MORE THAN A LITTLE skeptical regarding this particular store.  They kept asking, over and over – What IS THIS??  WHERE ARE WE GOING??  IS THIS FUN>> IS IT FOR KIDSSSS>????  As though we’d lost our senses.  TRUE the name does sound more like a financial institution than a toy store.  But once we stood outside the glass walls, and the girls had spotted the doorman dressed as a toy soldier, they knew GAME ON.  Once inside, we managed to make our way through the two stories and come away unscathed.  The ladies agreed to one small Playmobil set each. I was awed by the life-size Lego recreations of Chewbacca, Hagrid and the Harry Potter gang. But enough is enough.

Next stop: American Girl Place. Anyone who knows me can JUST IMAGINE WHAT I WAS THINKING. And you would be right. But I kept it BUTTONED. Through 4 floors of crass commercialism, personal shopping, doll hair salon, and cafe. I simply smiled weakly and let Daddy treat his daughters. Afterward I needed a drink. BAAAAAAAAD. We walked up 5th Avenue, past stores I will never be able to afford, surging with the crowd. We ate dinner at a cozy Irish place, which YOU KNOW HAD ALCOHOL. We stood in Times Square, gazing open-mouthed at all the neon and craziness. And then we walked, slowly, back to the car, taking in the sights. Watching the blocks morph from tacky souvenirs into respectable stone. And silently wondering what life must be like for those fortunate enough to live in such splendor.

My First Cruise

We left a week ago, October 28th, for 6 nights of fun onboard the Norwegian Spirit: departing from New York, with stops in Halifax, Nova Scotia; Bar Harbor, Maine; Boston; and Martha’s Vineyard.

I’d never taken a cruise before, had never really considered taking one, but my parents (former cruisers) were treating the whole family and how could we say no to that? I was psyched to visit Nova Scotia, a place I’d always wanted to see, in addition to Acadia National Park. And so we went, no need to ask twice.

My maiden voyage was an experience and I’ve certainly come away from it a more enlightened person. The most amazing thing to me was actually living on the sea for a week, on a massive ship, and to think about what it’s like for the employees who live and work there.

For those who’ve never taken a cruise, it’s sort of like being stranded at a resort. There’s more than enough food, plenty of booze and entertainment, but you really can’t leave. If you get bored, if you want to stay longer in port, if you want the effing motion to STOP ALREADY – it ain’t happening! If you cruise in a warm climate, you’ll probably be so busy sunning, swimming, and drinking that you couldn’t care less. But the cruise we took had by necessity more of an indoor theme (it was cold + windy), the water was rough, and we spent a lot of time wandering around the ship, gambling in the casino, and of course eating. Having Meniere’s disease, I undertook the voyage with slight trepidation, thinking overly rich, salted cuisine was gonna throw me for a loop, but the food was delicately seasoned and everything was fine.

The ship itself was beautiful and unbelievably enormous – like a floating hotel, but more.

And the decor was lovely (other than our circus tent bedspread) and subdued with a lot of Asian detail. The trained staff continually amazed me, performing all of the requisite functions without regard to the movement of the ship. It must come with practice, but was impressive nonetheless. The Kids Crew children’s program rocked and the girls couldn’t wait to go back every night. On Halloween they took the kids all around the ship for trick-or-treating and many of them said it was their best Halloween ever (not surprising – they made out like bandits).

Our first night on the ship though.. UGH. I wasn’t seasick – I’d taken a ginger pill or 2 earlier and felt peachy in that regard, but I’d been fighting a cold before we got onboard and wasn’t feeling 100%. The water that night was rough and the wind raged and howled against our balcony most of the night. Between the rocking of the boat and the screaming wind (and the newness of it all to me), by bedtime I was a nervous wreck, convinced I’d be awakened in the middle of the night having to jump ship. By 6:30 am, while most others were sleeping off their hangovers, I was out of bed practically dancing I was so happy to still be alive. I threw on my jacket, headed to the top deck and walked laps for an hour. The sky was gorgeous, and the sea sparkled and stretched for miles in every direction. The dolphins I saw swimming off the bow were just icing on the cake.

The remainder of the trip (save for the last night) was great. We visited the Citadel and art museum in Halifax, bought some Nova Scotian whiskey for my husband. Stood on the top of Cadillac Mountain in Bar Harbor, took in the spectacular foliage, walked all over Boston, as well as treating the kids to the children’s museum, and rode bikes around half of Martha’s Vineyard. We had a blast in the casino, won over $350 on the slots, and enjoyed nightly shows – especially the Second City comedy troupe and Richie Byrne.

But the last night.. When we left Martha’s Vineyard on Friday evening, Hurricane Noel was coming up the coast – and fast. The small transport (temper) boat that we rode back to the ship was being slapped around like a naughty child, and people were frightened. The captain of the Spirit wisely decided our best chance was to try outrunning the storm, which we did manage – blazing from Martha’s Vineyard to New York full-steam ahead. The gale force winds shook us like popcorn, heaving the island-sized boat around like a toy. People kept making jokes about us eating our last supper onboard. HAHAHA – Not funny. After spending a week at sea sanitizing my hands 30 times daily, it seemed unwise to actually press lips to the dirt, but when we arrived in NYC Saturday morn I wanted to kiss the ground.

It’s great to be home, though I’m still swaying back and forth with the movement of the ship. At this moment the room is tilted at a slight angle and I feel as though I may teeter off my seat. Last night while uploading photos from the trip, I felt positively nauseous. It must be an effect of Meniere’s as the rest of my family are fine, but oh how I wish it would stop. How ironic for me to be seasick now – back in PHILLY – when I felt great all week on the boat. Cursed sea legs ear!

In Bar Harbor: The biggest lobster claw I’d seen in my life – you could live off that guy for a week!

My older daughter is obviously thrilled to be participating in the emergency drill. Go Team Z1 !

A photo of the pool on one of the calmer days – looks like the water is trying to liberate itself. John and the ladies went hot tubbing while I snapped pictures snuggled warmly in my parka – it was about 50 degrees outside and WINDY – then of course John had to go swimming in the big pool (which even at 80 felt cold). We were all surprised to learn the pool’s filled with salt water. It makes sense – but we weren’t expecting it.

A pilot boat had to escort our ship each time we entered or left a port. Here’s a pic from Bar Harbor of the escort returning to his boat. It was always neat to watch – and the first time we saw we didn’t know what was going on. I was like hey – did someone miss the boat? are those pirates? Duh. Good thing my parents were there to explain all those little things.

The hardworking Canadian border patrol. This one’s strictly for my sister who marveled (several times) about the quality of the men in Halifax. (She is from PHILLY after all).

For more pix – check out my photo gallery.