The big plan was to take a cruise out of Tampa for my mother Dora’s 80th birthday. With removing shoes, the 3 oz. fluid rule, and on and on, world traveler Dora is no longer much a fan of flying. So this was perfect – she’s about a half hour from Tampa. Further, this RCI Jewel of the Seas cruise was Thursday to Monday, not screwing up too many work/school schedules. In all, we were Dora; her slightly older sister, Betsy; my brother Padraic and his wife, Cindy; Bob, my late sister’s husband and Pad’s college roommate, and his fantastic wife, Maggie; nephews Gene and Thomas; and husband Fernando. And while Dora’s big 8-0 was Saturday, the festivities really kicked off with Thomas’ 17th on Thursday.

Actually, they kicked off in Tampa. We got Dora a ride down to Tampa to meet our plane Wednesday afternoon. From there, we took a cap over to the Hampton Inn & Suites Tampa/Ybor City. What a great location! We could walk over to Hamburger Mary’s for margaritas in no time. Even got a snap of the birthday girl and the little mister.

Dora poses with Hamburger Mary

Fernando poses with margaritas












View from Hamburger Mary’s

Cool doors at Ybor City’s Czar 

Not part of the Ybor landscape during my college days, sadly
















With P & C in from Texas around 10:30 that night and the rest in from San Diego after midnight, we had some time to kill. After Dora hit the hay, Fernando and I moseyed a block away to G Bar. It wasn’t too crowded, being Wednesday, which was perfect. On an off-night, though, could that have been Andy Bell we saw walk in and head to the back? I tweeted for some help; Aiden James responded that Andy Bell lives in Miami these days. The irony is that on our prior cruise, Atlantis’s Allure of the Seas in February 2011, Andy and Aiden were the entertainment. Furthering the irony, super-cute bartender James later told us that Mr. Bell is apparently dating a G Bar owner. Small world.


G Bar James giving us the low-down. D.C.’s loss of James is Tampa’s gain!

Later that evening, took the late arrivals to Old Manhattan Pizza, who were very accommodating and hit the spot perfectly. Then off to bed. Thursday, we took advantage of the Hampton Inn shuttle to get us all to the Port of Tampa. The port wasn’t crowded, but it seemed like there was one line after another with sort of Mister Magoo security. The x-ray made sense. Beyond that, the port didn’t seem to be running the tightest ship, as it were. Uniformed RCI staff were, however, very cheerful and efficient. We were onboard in relatively sort order. Oddly, boarding the gigantic Allure was quicker.

Streetcars adjacent Hampton Inn Ybor City

View of downtown Tampa after boarding 











Leaving port, we passed by Citgo’s pretty holding tanks

Passing high-end Tampa real estate as we depart












You must click this video — passing under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge with 6 feet to spare!

Some impressions of the Jewel of the Seas: The size was perfect for all our cruise virgins. It was large enough to impress and be comfortable, not so large that we lost anyone. I worried a bit as the family first gathered early that Thursday evening for a post-departure drink in the Schooner Bar. Our Brazilian waitress needed everything painstakingly described. Geeem-let? Both Fernando’s dirty martini and Maggie’s lemondrop arrived with olives. O, my. I was beginning to fear for my reputation, have sold the family on the cruise idea. We’re so very thankful for discovering Lorenzo at the Champagne Bar later Thursday. He remained out go-to guy throughout the cruise, totally on top of his game.

The ship’s atrium was tickling Bob’s vertigo

Main dining room is great for lunch on RCI — nod to Dr. Hou and Chad!












A gray day at sea

Fernando checks the deck plan for a place to park his new Scoot-n-Go












Trying to shake Betsy, Dora and Fernando out of their awful moods with a pic 


Seaworthy shopping











Amazing Lorenzo in the Champagne Bar                    

Balcony breakfast each morning












Click Fernando for a tour of the cabin! No robes, no flat screen :-(

In Cozumel, old salt Dora – this must’ve been her fourth or fifth time to the island – explored by cab with Betsy. Bob, Padraic, Gene and Thomas kayaked and snorkeled. Cindy, Maggee, Fernando and I hit “Salsa and Salsa,” offering a lesson in seven salsas and two margaritas. I understood this was followed by beach time. I didn’t understand in included a salsa dance lesson. Good thing. They loaded us down with margaritas and in the end Maggie and I rallied as dance partners in our horned-rim glasses. We were the awkward couple at Mexican prom. As Fernando pointed out to Cindy as M & I tried to make our way through the simple steps, “Look at the stiffs.” We closed out Cozumel with a  quick jump in the gulf at by the port – just me, but the water was too beautiful to ignore – and an illicit birthday tequila shot for Thomas at Señor Frog’s. We declined the body shots. (Ask Fernando if you want to see pics of the guy who did not decline.)

Parked at Cozumel next to Liberty of the Seas

Cindy and Fernando conspire at port, ahead of “Salsa and Salsa”












Arriving at Hotel Cozumel & Resort for the class. Note to the infirm: many stairs

Alexis, our native Cozumelina (with Wisconsin roots) instructor












Get to work, salsa grinders

coconut, pineapple, melon, cilantro, chili, garlic











Table captains with maracas — Maggie for us — get some orientation. (click to play)


Fernando is star of the class for his particularly hot salsa. (click to play)












And, well, then we were forced to dance. (click to play)

Fearless Table Captain 2

Industrious peoples of Quintana Roo











Fernando did not enjoy himself

Salsa is sweaty work












View from the salsa factory. I can see my ship! Couldn’t see Russia

Exiting the resort, which boasts the largest pool on the island











Back at Señor Frog’s


Bob and Maggie spy a body shot











Fernando sees it too


Gene plays it cool with his post-tequila lime











Liberty of the Seas beats us out of Cozumel

Fine. More sunset for us.











Dora, Betsy and Fernando appreciate another, far windier, sunset


But inside there is champs in Bob & Maggie’s cabin, courtesy Stephanie B.!












And then Fernando found some glasses that did nothing for him

Packing Sunday night, we made the sad realization that Fernando and I had left our winter coats at the Hampton Inn, Padraic left some jeans and a sweater. In Amazing Race fashion, however, Fernando and I were able to bolt from the boat Monday morning and collect everything from the Hampton Inn front desk, all packaged up to go. It was my first Hampton Inn and they did a crackerjack job.