An Unexpected  Trip To Canada:  This Must Not Be Cabo

This Doesn't Look Like Cabo San Lucas

 

            I was extremely excited about going on our seven day cruise to Mexico on Carnival Cruise Line's new ship SPLENDOR. My wife and I had been on the seven day run before, but sailing on such a new ship attracted us.  The thought of beautiful beaches, warm tropical days, great Margaritas (on the rocks not frozen and no salt, mmm),  and playing  two of  Mexico's finest golf courses drifted through our minds.  Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, and Cabo San Lucas are three outstanding destination cities in Mexico, not to mention all you can eat on the ship!  It just doesn't get any better, life is great isn't it?  We were booked, confirmed and ready to go.

            It was all over the news, “Deadly Swine Flu Virus Breaks Out in Mexico”.  I had my flu shot, but supposedly the flu vaccines that were being given did not protect you from the H1N1 virus (Swine Flu).  Mexico put out the “Closed” sign and went on sick leave as a nation.  What about our cruise?

Where were we going to sail to if not Mexico, and do they have golf courses?

            Carnival called us personally and the representative was very professional.  The call went something like this:

“Hello, yes this is Mr. Rallis....Carnival is diverting the Splendor due to the flu outbreak?...I understand....Where are we going, Hawaii?...

No?...Well, where then?...Splendor is going to Canada, Victoria and Vancouver British Columbia with a stop in Astoria, Oregon.  That sounds like a great change, but I am disappointed about Mexico.

           

              Canada has become a favorite destination of ours. Last year my wife and I took a delightful cruise up to the Maritime providences of Canada on Carnival's Victory from New York, and fell in love with it. People are very friendly and the countryside is different from anything I have seen.  When we were on the cruise, the weather back home in the Central Valley of California was hot!  The temperatures hovered around 110 in the Central Valley for the week when we left for New York.  It was cold in the North Atlantic and chilly on land in St. Johns NB and Halifax NS.  The nip in the air was a welcomed change from the heat of the valley and our cruise was one of the best we have taken, very laid back and relaxing.  Neither my wife or I had ever been to British Columbia and it was on high our list of places to visit, so truthfully we were not disappointed that we were going north instead of south.

            June 14th, the day of our departure from Long Beach arrived.  We live about a four hour car ride from The Port of  Long Beach, California and the journey to the ship is always filled with a sense of expectation of what is to happen during the cruise, seven days of  fun on the Splendor the newest Carnival Funship.  After checking in at the V.I.P. Center at the terminal, it was time to board the ship.  Wow, that ship is  HUGE!  Walking across the gangplank, which is a hike in and of itself, the ship just kept getting bigger and bigger the closer we came to it.  Finally, we were on board.

            We hadn't eaten since breakfast in Bakersfield, so when we got on the ship we went directly to the lunch buffet. Each day, you could choose from the normal  American fare such as Carved Roast  Beef (a different carved meat each day) and other American delights, to a different buffet section dedicated to International foods which changed each day (Italian, French and other nationalities).  There also was a grill that specialized in hamburgers and hot dogs (all the trimmings including onions, chili and sourkraut), a deli where you could get a large variety of deli sandwiches, an Indian food  section, a rotisserie serving rotisserie chicken and other side dishes, and of course a 24 hour pizza station.    What a selection of salads, entres and deserts.      The food on Carnival is outstanding!

            We found our cabin (a cabin on the Lido Deck with a balcony) and settled in.  This was the first time that my wife and I had booked a balcony cabin, and were very much pleased.  It was larger than the interior cabin that we normally book, and had room for a good sized couch.  We were very  happy to have the extra space.

           Splendor was scheduled to sail at 5:15.  But wait, before you depart there is that fun (and U.S. Coast Guard mandated) tradition of the lifeboat drill.  If you have ever cruised, you know what I mean and if you haven't you will find out. My wife and I asked if the crew if they needed our help giving the lifeboat drill talk since we have heard it so many times but they thanked us, were OK and did not need our help. Finally, you could feel the ship pulling away from the deck and we were underway, sailing away out of Long Beach Harbor into the open Blue Pacific. The boat drill was over and it was time for the traditional “Sail Away” Carnival Rum Punch Bon Voyage drink.       

            Luisa LeJeune, the representative at Carnival Golf was extremely helpful and made sure that whatever I needed on the cruised was taken care of before we left.  She arranged for me to meet the on board professional so that he could take care of me on the ship.  As soon as the ship was in open water, I went to talk to him.

            The purser contacted the pro and we met on the Lobby deck and had a great conversation about the cruise and what to expect and about the on board cruise program.  Rick Currin was his name and he was a member of the South African P.G.A.   Rick treated me like a king, and when we sat down and talk some serious golf Rick knew what he was talking about. The trip was made extra special by him, especially where golf was concerned.

            Rick put on two seminars during the cruise.  The first one, on Monday while we were at sea, was about the grip and the swing itself.  His thrust was getting through the ball and getting away from the “casting off” problem most average golfers suffer from.  I found it helpful because I am a “slicer” and this “casting off” motion is a primary culprit.  I used the drills and it actually helped my swing and helped to drop my scores when I returned home.  I didn't attend the second seminar, which was on the short game, because we were sailing into the Columbia River and I didn't want to miss this highlight of the cruise.  I heard from other golfers on board who attended that it was a great seminar, and Rick gave them some key tips. 

            Carnival arranged two lesson sessions for me with Rick aboard the ship. One of the lessons was canceled, because of bad weather, high seas and a badly rocking boat.  This was beyond both Rick's and my control and since the boat was rocking  on the count of high seas that day we thought it was a good idea to cancel  Friday's lesson. Both our sea legs were severely challenged.  Saturday's lesson went well and I was thankful for it.

            I normally don't take lessons.  As I have said, I am 55 years old and my handicap varies from 16 to 21 depending on the time of year and how much golf I play.  Whatever Rick sees and tries to change in my swing is going to cause my scores to go up up for at least six weeks because of the learning curve.  In order to make the change permanent, I would have to practice and use it on the course.  This would mean six weeks of ugly scores at which time I would think it wasn't going to work and go back to my old swing anyway.  The idea here is to P-L-A-Y golf and to enjoy the frustration of the game. I will never play on the PGA, Nationwide, or Champions tours or even the LPGA tour (darn!).  Course time is more important to me than range time and what's the difference if I shoot a 95 or and 85 I am at least playing the game and on the course.  That birdie or par on the 18th hole after a bad round always keeps me coming back.  Besides, the golf gods get angry if you get the best of them too often.

            At this point, Carnival should be acknowledged for doing such a great job of being flexible in a time of total chaos.  They took an itinerary that was totally improvised, and turned it into a cruise that was very  memorable. We will never forget this particular cruise, and how Carnival made the whole thing transition so smoothly, at least almost everything.  The golf program was a different story, and I thought that Rick handled many difficult situations that arose that were beyond his control with great professionalism and I must say courage.  His sense of humor, positive attitude and give and take never  showed signs of weakening, as well as putting on two informative seminars.  Besides, had we gone to Mexico and everything gone off as planned, we would have not experienced the improvised fun and activities on board that were not part of the Mexico cruise.

            Our first port of call, on Tuesday, was Astoria Oregon located at the mouth of the Columbia River.  Navigating the mouth of the Columbia river requires some skillful seamanship in that the mouth is very wide and the tides are treacherous.  Coming from central California where the width of the widest river is measured in yards and feet was quite a contrast to the two mile wide Columbia.  As we were tied up at the dock you would look at the river and ask yourself it this really was a river.  It is so wide.  Astoria was a quaint little town that was very reminiscent of a New England fishing village.  We walked into town and experienced the color and history of the town.

            Our next stop, Wednesday morning, was Victoria British Columbia Canada . Conversation within the golfers on board buzzed with the anticipation of playing one of the the most picturesque golf courses in Victoria, Olympic View.  The course is north of the city in a wooded area full of tall pines, overlooking the Puget Sound.  Its signature hole has a huge natural waterfall behind the 17th green, quite a setting and quite a course. After reading the brochures about the course and seeing the pictures and written descriptions on the internet, we were all stoked about playing the course.

            Unfortunately, were unable to play Olympic View.  It seems as though the course had scheduled a huge tournament that would take up the whole course and close it for the day.  This information didn't reach Rick until the day before we were supposed to play the course.  Arrangements were made to play a sister course, a beautiful Jack Nicklaus design outside of Victoria, but the cost of playing it was extremely prohibitive and there were  no takers. I was disappointed, as you can imagine but it allowed for more time to explore downtown Victoria.  I wound up in a Pub in downtown Victoria hoisting a few pints of Canadian beer.   Victoria is a beautiful city that has a strong British feeling to it, and I recommend visiting it. Downtown is famous for its hanging rose baskets and it is home to Buchart Gardens, world famous for its beautiful plants and flowers.    The tie-up ropes to the dock at Victoria were slipped, and it was on to Vancouver. 

            I will always remember coming into Vancouver Thursday morning.  It has been called the San Francisco of Canada because you must go through a narrow channel and under a huge suspension bridge called “The Lion's Gate”.  We golfers on board were once again full of anticipation because we were going to play another “don't miss” golf course with tall trees and green fairways winding its way through the hills and shores of Puget Sound named Furry Creek.  Let's play some golf

            Rick met us down in the lobby.  He broke the news to us.  We weren't going to Furry Creek, because of a technical problem in which he was informed of late the evening before by e-mail.  We  were still going to play golf at a wonderful course, it just wasn't going to be Furry Creek.  We would be playing its sister course Mayfair Lakes. 

            As we left Vancouver, the landscape became flatter and flatter.  We got further out of town and into an agricultural area.  It was  very green, but very flat.    As it's name implied there were lakes, many, many lakes.  After getting over my initial disappointment of playing a FLAT course(most of the courses in the Fresno,California area where I live are flat, and I was looking forward to playing a mountain course)  , I must say that I enjoyed the course and it was a very challenging layout, at a slope of 122 from the 6241 yard white tees.  There were several spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and the skyline of Vancouver in the distance.  After playing the course, we returned to the ship and what else, ate!

            Friday and Saturday were spent out to sea.  The weather was warm and sunny, except for some choppy seas on Friday morning.  Having days at sea like this really gives you a chance to enjoy what the ship itself has to offer.  You can fill every moment of you time with some on board activity or you can just do nothing and relax, and of course you can always eat.  It is no different when the sun goes down after a brilliant sunset.  The ship takes on a new life with all kinds of nightlife, shows, a lively casino with all the array of games from slots to blackjack, and of course, eating.  This is a great way to wind down and put a relaxing finish to your cruise vacation which ended back in Long Beach, California. on Sunday morning.

            My hat is off to Carnival on this one.  The whole cruise could have been a disaster, but was instead a triumph.  It is not an easy thing to run a 113,000 ton ship on a regular itinerary, let alone one that has been totally improvised.  And I would like to thank Luisa LeJeune again for her help in putting this together and most of all to Rick who showed an unflappable flexibility and “Hit me with your best shot, I can take it” attitude.  He made the golf experience something to write about!

            I have one last question. Does anyone know where I can buy some good Canadian Bacon?