Friday, June 13, 2008

Cruise Day #1, Southampton

As mentioned in my prior post, we made our way from the Allen House to the Norwegian Jade effortlessly this morning. The train took about an hour and fifteen minutes from London Waterloo to Southampton Central. Once we arrived at Southampton, we jumped in a taxi and headed to the port (which took all of about 5 minutes). We dropped off our bags, went through security for our carry on luggage (the failed to notice my wine – shhh!), checked-in (brief wait), and then sat around in the embarkation lounge for maybe 15 minutes. They started boarding by color coded embarkation cards about 30 minutes early. We were in the second group to board (I believe due to our NCL Latitudes membership).

On boarding (and with complimentary sparkling wine in hand), we went to check out our aft balcony cabin. For those not up on cruise lingo, “aft” usually refers to a cabin at the very back (stern) of the ship. Such cabins are prized for their views, a full 180+ degrees encompassing what’s seen on both sides of the ship, albeit while sailing away from said sight. The cabin wasn’t ready yet. So, we headed to the “Welcome Aboard Lunch” (the first salvo from the NCL food cannon’s broadside) in the Grand Pacific dining room. The room is Hawaiian-themed but in an opulent sort-of-a-way (complete with a statute of King Kamehameha and large-scale paintings depicting scenes of Polynesia). In short, it’s the nicest main dinning room we’ve personally seen on a cruise ship. I forgot to mention: on the way out to lunch, we met our room steward (but failed to catch his name, though I will make a point of doing so). He seems to be both friendly and helpful.

Back to lunch… Libby had a quiche with pancetta to start, followed by tilapia in a lemon-pepper sauce with jasmine rice (NCL’s “Cooking Light” selection for the meal), and finished with a peach and blueberry cobbler. I had the same main and dessert selections, but I started with a taro chip and fruit “salsa” appetizer. All were scrumptious, especially the cobbler.

After lunch, we explored the ship and started to get our bearings. However, rather than inject a bolus of description here about various details, I’ll meter out a discussion of various elements over the next few weeks as they prove relevant. That way, I’ll know that I have something to write about (and you faithful readers will have a reason to keep returning). :-)

The very important yet usually annoying muster drill was held at 3 o’clock. Mercifully, we were stationed inside the ship (in the Grand Pacific dining room to be specific) from whence we were able to participate in the “maneuvers” (listening to instructions while wearing an uncomfortable flotation device) while remaining seated in comfy, upholstered chairs. Once the drill was over, we headed back to the cabin to watch the sail away from our deck. As always, it’s fun to be underway, and I think I captured some pretty good images and video on the way out.

We also unpacked our luggage, which showed up outside our door in record time. Here again, I was fortunate as I was fully expecting to be called to the “naughty room” for bringing contraband (a bottle of Oban Single Malt Scotch) on board in my suit case. Had I been summoned (as others indeed were), I would have needed to surrender my bottle until the ship returned to Southampton, which would have been just fine as I got it for one heck of a price (despite the exchange rate) anyway. But, it looks like I’ll be able to enjoy it from the comfort of my cabin’s balcony (so… shhh… again!).

We spent the remainder of the evening before dinner relaxing. We then went to eat around 8:30 or so. By that time, most of the restaurants were clearing out. So, we could have eaten almost anywhere. However, since we’d had a big lunch, we opted for one of the “included” restaurants (as some of the specialty ones have a cover charge – better to save those for a different day). After wandering around for a bit, we opted for Paniolo’s Tapas and Salsa. It’s more or less a Tex-Mex type of place, or as I like to call it: comfort food. It was pretty good. Libby had nachos, a caesar salad, and BBQ ribs. I managed to “get by” with southwestern spicy spring rolls, tortilla soup, lobster (yes, lobster!) tacos, and a caramelized margarita tartlet for dessert. The spring rolls were great. The rest (both Libby’s and mine) were generally what I'd call good.

Editorial note: I define “great” as a taste that 1) is distinctly memorable and 2) something I would go to some length for in order to eat again. In contrast, “good” is 1) nothing especially memorable but nonetheless tasty and well-prepared and 2) something I would consider ordering again. I don’t believe in “ok” or “average” ratings, as I find that such central measures often make for woolly thinking and indecisive conclusions. Thus, my remaining two categories include “bad” (not very tasty, yet edible) and “foul” (beyond bad, inedible) – hopefully, neither of which will be exhibited on this cruise.

Well, it’s getting late here… I’m off to bed.

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