Cruise notes: NCL Bliss, February 2023

Beware: I didn’t get this cruise documented in a reasonable amount of time after sailing, so have lost some context, but still want to keep track of all sailings for key reminders and later reference.

Norwegian Bliss was, at the time we sailed her in 2018, the best sailing I’d been on yet. It certainly outranked our previous five cruises from an amenities and service perspective, and was one of the reasons we started and ended with NCL for future bookings. When we were able to arrange a child-free sailing with some of our best friends, Bliss emerged at the top of the pack, despite not being the newest ship or best value in that timeframe. Thus in February 2023, we embarked Bliss from PortMiami.

Unfortunately after that 7-night sailing, Norwegian cruises haven’t had quite the same shine in my mind. It’s not at all that it was a bad cruise, but there were some truly mediocre experiences and blatantly obvious cost-cutting measures that hadn’t been present on any of our previous sailings.

Perhaps this is the “new normal”, or an aberration on this ship or specific sailing, but the changes and onboard experience made a (fairly) brand-loyal customer think twice about which cruise line to book with next. I was glad, in a way, that I didn’t have any more CruiseNext deposits to use after this sailing. I absolutely value the quality time we got to spend with friends on this trip, but this experience on Bliss left me wanting more.

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Cruise notes: NCL Breakaway, November 2022

Beware: I didn’t get this cruise documented in a reasonable amount of time after sailing, so have lost some context, but still want to keep track of all sailings for key reminders and later reference.

Our first time in New Orleans was a delightful experience full of culinary excellence. Like many of my travels, though, the initial city is mainly a precursor to boarding a ship. After two days in Louisiana, Norwegian Breakaway would be our home for a week’s time. This was the same vessel Kayla and I took our semi-belated honeymoon on in December 2016.

On the voyage we revisited Harvest Caye and Cozumel – where we would repeat one of our first shore excursions, Salsa and Salsa. We also made good use of Vibe, saw and enjoyed SIX, and once again made out pretty well on NCL’s air program. The biggest complaint from this sailing was probably the pervasiveness of smoke from the casino – midship Deck 7, and the venues immediately above and below it, are noticeably affected.

I absolutely would consider sailing from New Orleans again. It was a great way to start a vacation, and really the main detractor is that Breakaway just lacks a few key features from Norwegian Joy and newer ships.

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Cruise notes: NCL Joy, July 2022

Beware: I didn’t get this cruise documented in a reasonable amount of time after sailing, so have lost some context, but still want to keep track of all sailings for key reminders and later reference.

We return to Norwegian Joy for a summer trip to Bermuda from New York City. This time, Kayla and I actually got off the ship and poked around for a while. Our triumphant return to NCL after just shy of two years and four months – and on the same ship – was also our first opportunity to experience Platinum Latitudes status after Norwegian’s adjustment to the program tiers.

It was a very reasonable cruise, but definitely not perfect, and certainly with some downgrades from pre-pandemic voyages. It was evident that supply chain issues and other logistics problems have impacted the availability of food, beverage and how Norwegian is able to staff the ships.

We also paid a premium for the date and destination, but the heat and humidity at this time of year were more intense than what we were looking for. With the exception of our 2018 Alaskan cruise, every other sailing we’ve taken has been in the winter or spring months, and in future I think we’ll keep cruising in the colder seasons or put Alaska back in contention.

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New Windows install, February 2024

I’ve been out of the Microsoft/Windows world for a fair bit of time – my primary work machine is an M1 MacBook Pro, I spend at least part of my day in some type of Linux terminal, and while I do have a personal Lenovo T14 laptop and a desktop running Windows 11, it’s mainly to run “Chrome” or “game” or “Office” and the underlying operating system matters much less.

A few months back, though, I picked up a couple Samsung 970 EVO Plus NVMe M.2 solid-state drives on sale, and took the opportunity for a fresh installation of Windows. My additional hope was that the new installation (on a desktop with a Core i9-9900K, 32GB RAM, GeForce GTX 1080 Ti) would actually seem performant, like I recall used to be possible on reasonable hardware in the Win2K/WinXP/Win7 days. On the desktop, a not-unreasonable number of tabs would often result in a text editor or browser, and so starting clean on a fairly performant SSD, then reviewing the latest hivemind guidance for security and performance seemed like it would be worthwhile.

I did remind myself that crucially, when I was running Win2K Pro, I also didn’t have a pair of 4K-resolution monitors running at 150% scaled resolution; at best I was doing 1280×1024 on a Sony Trinitron (but at a much higher refresh rate!) That era of software also didn’t contain embedded Chromium or Electron components, which chew system resources as a tradeoff for ease of development and cross-platform functionality.

I also expect that most of my tasks for this machine absolutely could be done on Linux – it is probably worthwhile to set up another SSD with a recent desktop distribution and a lightweight window manager – but desktop Office and video games are things I want to actually do with this machine.

What follows are a few notes that got me along the way as well as some personal opinions on why I made certain choices.

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Cruise review: Celebrity Edge, April 2022

This sailing with my wife Kayla and father-in-law Cliff was the end of a saga that began in August 2018 and wrapped up in April 2022 with a successful voyage on Celebrity Edge.

I had been excited to sail an Edge-class ship since seeing one in person in December 2018, but was hoping for an experience that wasn’t as full of upsell attempts as our Alaskan cruise on Infinity. With Edge, Celebrity has replicated things we like about Norwegian Cruise Line, brought forward differences we appreciated from Infinity, but still had a few odd, unexpected, traditional, or negative elements.

Celebrity’s All Included offers, great complimentary food options, ships with unique features and decent technology will be thoughtful considerations when booking a future cruise. While I expect Norwegian will still be our primary choice for sailing, it certainly helps to know what else is out there. Celebrity is a solid backup plan if NCL devalues their overall product too much for us as customers.

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Cruising solo: MSC Meraviglia, February 2022

Join me for my first-ever solo sailing and first time on MSC – probably the most reasonably priced and best overall value cruise I’ve taken so far. It’s certainly a cruise line with notable quirks, but they’re definitely a top contender for a future solo trip or family vacation.

Don’t believe everything on the Internet you might hear about MSC; I definitely wish my 4-day cruise on Meraviglia had been longer, and for the price it couldn’t be beat.

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Cruise review: NCL Joy, March 2020

After our January 2020 experience with babies on Norwegian Escape, merely 29 days later Kayla and I were boarding Norwegian Joy on the other side of the continental US. Madness? Questionable life choices? Cruise fixation? All of the above?

The opportunity to sail on a Breakaway Plus class ship with “all 5 perks” (feat. Premium Beverage Package) presented itself, and I found it hard to decline. So let’s take a bit of an alcohol-clouded, specialty-dining fuelled, Vibe pass-imbued look at a week on the “westernized” NCL Joy – with day-to-day parenting responsibilities temporarily relieved by doting grandparents.

(This post is being published over two years after the sailing, but I mainly wanted to finish it as a record of our trip – as well as to document one of the last cruises that sailed from the US in 2020 before the pandemic shutdown.)

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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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