Cruising with babies: Sailing on NCL Escape, January 2020

Continuing from the pre-travel planning post, let’s talk about Escape and our experience onboard in January 2020. Here are the high level categories I’ll cover:

  • Boarding and first tasks
  • Guppies Nursery
  • Muster drill
  • Sharing a cabin with infants
  • Food and drink
  • Great Stirrup Cay and Silver Cove
  • Venues and onboard activities
  • Escape vs. Bliss
  • Retrospective

Again, I’m writing more to preserve the good memories rather than offer specific advice for your next upcoming trip. With that out of the way, let’s push forward!

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Cruising with babies: Pre-travel planning for NCL Escape, January 2020

“Norwegian Escape Departs – Tortola, BVI” by bvi1942. Licensed under CC BY 2.0. Image cropped.

Where do I even begin?

I started writing this post in early January 2020 to extensively document our pre-cruise travel experience. After we returned home in February, I spent a few late nights writing with the goal of getting it published prior to our March 1-8, 2020 sailing on Norwegian Joy (yes, we had two cruises just over a month apart.) As we got to the end of February, I had a large chunk written and organized, but didn’t quite get it finished before we sailed again.

Returning to Canada from Los Angeles and our cruise on Joy, we were quickly thrust into a world where one night you’re out having wings with friends – and the next day you can’t find toilet paper (for bewildering reasons) and can only see loved ones through Zoom calls.

Things have improved slightly since then but I’m certainly sick of these “unprecedented times.” The cold yet carefree days of January seem like they were years ago. Much of what I’ve written here will no longer be relevant as cruises resume, but it seems like a shame to let this languish as a draft. For those of you continuing to read, I hope that it reminds you of better times on the ocean, and provides some insight into how we traveled with twin infants when they were under a year old.

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Experimenting with AWS Control Tower and Lightsail

I’ve been trying desperately to catch up on my personal email these past couple months, since it’s rare (with the addition of two babies to our family) to have large uninterrupted blocks of time in which to hack. One of the recurring messages has been a “high CPU” notice from Linode every few days. In my experience this can mean a variety of things, ranging from “your site got quite a few visitors in a short timeframe” to “the backup process is going wonky” to “someone hacked your box and is trying to use it to mine cryptocurrency.”

Rather than put a whole bunch of time into investigating the root cause, I know the system needs an entire OS upgrade and we’re running a bunch of services that are no longer in use like IRC and Jabber servers – these have been replaced, at the cost of our freedom-as-in-speech, with Slack.

So, in the spirit of “cattle, not pets”, my goal is to decommission the Linode VM and move into AWS, and automate as much as I can while doing it. Having the suite of services all in one place is ideal even on a $20/month budget, and there are a number of services like Lambda, IAM, Parameter Store and DynamoDB where I could make good use of them and never pay anything directly.

Many of the people I support with web hosting aren’t willing or able to give up WordPress, so we’ll have to maintain that capability, but I’d also like a migration path for myself to a static site generator that publishes to S3/CloudFront. The best server is one you don’t have to run yourself.

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Repurposing a Lanner FW-8758 as a Linux server

My employer recently divested themselves of some end-of-life hardware and several of my coworkers and I came into the possession of Lanner FW-8758 1U “network appliances”. These seemed like they’d make pretty good Linux servers, and I figured I’d document a little bit about the platform and process.

My other home servers are currently a Supermicro 5017C-MF and an IBM x3650 M2, which are both quite noisy. The FW-8758 has four small system fans plus a PSU fan, which together still seem somewhat quieter than the Supermicro. I haven’t put the system under any serious load yet though.

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Cruise review: NCL Sky to Florida and Bahamas, February 2019

Two cruises in less than sixty days? Not entirely unusual for us, but this experience on the Norwegian Sky was a departure from usual in numerous, positive ways.

After being subjected to constant tales of delightful experiences aboard a NCL ship, our good friends Jon and Steph expressed interest in taking a break from winter weather. (I highly suggest you also read Steph’s first-timer review over on CruiseCritic, as well as peruse her copious collection of dailies and dining menus.)

We eventually settled on a 5-day February 2019 voyage that met both timing and budget requirements, and surrounded it by two days in Miami – one day before and one after the cruise.

Sky also offered a unique opportunity to compare our recent experiences with the newfangled, race-track-equipped Bliss. The Sky is one of Norwegian’s oldest ships in service – possibly the oldest depending on how you calculate Spirit’s age. Fortunately for us, our sailing was the second to happen after a dry dock from January 22 to February 7, which meant that a good portion of the ship would be newly refurbished and ready for us to enjoy.

The age and smaller size of the ship did not diminish our enjoyment, and we had a number of “Vacation Hero” experiences where staff and crew went above and beyond to make things stress-free and provide excellent service. It’s a tough decision as to whether this takes the title for “best cruise” for me, since other NCL cruises we’ve taken have their unique high points. If you’re debating Sky, though, assume that any review prior to February 2019 is prior to refurbishment, and give this ship a fair chance. My only regret is that we didn’t have a longer cruise.

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Windows 7 – missing desktop icons hotfix

Apparently Microsoft has pulled down the necessary hotfix to disable automatic scheduled maintenance shortcut deletion (eg: if you have multiple unused or “broken” desktop shortcuts) from KB2642357. This has affected me in an environment where a number of users link to applications, folders or files on network drives.

I republish the x64 version of the hotfix so you can use it where necessary, then set the “IsUnusedDesktopIconsTSEnabled” and “IsBrokenShortcutsTSEnabled ” DWORDs to 0x0 in the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\ScheduledDiagnostics Registry key and avoid this spurious behaviour that I’d once written off as user error.

Windows6.1-KB2642357-x64.msu (enclosed in ZIP file)

Cruise review: NCL Bliss to Eastern Caribbean, December 2018

As summer started disappearing in Southwestern Ontario, Kayla and I began to pine for another week on the ocean featuring better temperatures. With some finagling of work schedules and liberal use of credit card travel points, we secured an inside cabin on the new Norwegian Bliss for the week before Christmas.

This was our fifth NCL cruise, and the combination of ship and staff made it arguably the best sailing we’ve been on. We’ve gotten into a good position with pre-trip planning and now have a decent handle on Norwegian’s processes and amenities. Bliss is a decent refinement of the Breakaway class, so it was fairly easy to navigate having been on similar ships.

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Cruise review: Celebrity Infinity to Alaska, August 2018

After finally publishing the 11,000-word epic that was the NCL Getaway review, I found there was far too much content for friends, well-wishers and Reddit stalkers to tolerate, even when split into seven parts. Perhaps I should have called it – BuzzFeed clickbait style – “7 Weird Things You Must Know About Cruising Or You’ll Fall Off The Ship!” Of course, then I’d have to pad the content with ads and create a quiz to find out which ship best represents you.

This review of our cruise on Celebrity Infinity to Alaska is about half the size, and will involve a number of comparisons between Norwegian Cruise Line and Celebrity Cruises (since those are the two lines we’ve sailed on so far.) I’m definitely glad we did the cruise with Celebrity, even at the least so I have a better idea of a premium RCCL product, as well as an understanding of what older, slightly smaller “hardware” has to offer.

I would likely sail Celebrity again if the right opportunity presented itself, but with a few changes based on this experience. My wife Kayla was a bit more negative on Infinity, mainly due to the constant upsell of specialty dining. 

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Cruise review: NCL Getaway – February 18, 2018 [Part 7 – At Sea and Return to Miami]

This post is part 7 in a series of 7 about our vacation on the NCL Getaway, from February 18-25, 2018. You can read the other parts here:

Day 7: From buffet to steak

Our last full day was at sea, involving a trip to the buffet for both breakfast and lunch. Again, there was nothing exceptional to point out at either meal, but both of us didn’t have any complaints about the food. We always seem to find quite a few things we like and the buffet has no shortage of options. It seemed like the bar stock at the Garden Cafe had deteriorated by lunchtime as there was a much more limited selection of beer available. Other bars didn’t seem to have the same issue throughout the day but it was a noticeable change upstairs, possibly indicating the impending end of the trip.

In the early afternoon we did a circuit of the Waterfront on deck 8, finding the Sugarcane Mojito Bar to be too windy, and the Sunset Bar to be less of a sunset and more of an oven-like heat and light experience. Kayla went to try and find a seat with a happy medium between the two extremes, while I milled around the Sunset Bar. Another indicator that the cruise was wrapping up was that the bartenders were actively soliciting people to fill out comment cards.

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Cruise review: NCL Getaway – February 18, 2018 [Part 6 – Cozumel]

This post is part 6 in a series of 7 about our vacation on the NCL Getaway, from February 18-25, 2018. You can read the other parts here:

Day 6: Fishin’ in Cozumel

One of our more in-depth excursions this trip was to take a fishing charter while in Cozumel. We’d done some research and settled on Cozumel Charters, selecting a 4-hour bottom fishing tour on an economy-class boat good for up to 4 people. We picked the bottom fishing option over deep-sea fishing, again mainly due to online reviews claiming that there was a higher likelihood of catching something. I am pleased to report that the collective knowledge of the Internet did not disappoint and we had a great time.

After submitting our details and 30% deposit by credit card, we got a confirmation email shortly afterward, containing a list of detailed instructions including where to meet the charter, what to bring, keeping the fish (they’re yours) and where to get them cooked if you’d like to eat your catch. There was also a handy PDF acting as confirmation and an invoice. The rest of the payment is made in USD at the port when you get picked up.

Our instructions were to take a taxi to Puerto Abrigo after disembarking the ship. There’s a bit of up the stairs, dodging the shops, and down the stairs to get to the taxi pickup at the port, but the first person who asked if us if we needed a cab was in fact a legitimate port representative. The 10-minute ride there cost $10 US plus tip; there is a whole conversion racket and they don’t take credit cards, so you might do better with pesos if you already have them. As of May 2018, apparently the standard rate was $15 US so I don’t feel like we did too badly.

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