The Emerald Princess 7–Day Caribbean Cruise 2015 Review

The Emerald Princess 7–Day Caribbean Cruise 2015 Review Atticus James

First I would like to start with an open comment for Princess Cruise. Fire your American staff. I could always find them on the ship by simply listening for the arrogant smug cocky jerks who help legitimize the stereotype that all Americans are pompous jerks. Rant over.

The Trip

I was invited on the Emerald Princesses last Caribbean cruise for this season. We left out of the port of Houston and made out way to Honduras, Belize and Cozumel before returning to the port of Houston for disembarkment. From Houston the ship left for their Mediterranean voyage.

The Food

While this review is not a comparison I do feel I should mention that Royal Caribbean does much better at all the food services with the exception of the formal dining room dinners. I do not know if the bakers just really were that bad at making bread or if that is normal but the bread was always terrible. The room serve food was about as good as a gas station lunch or breakfast. The sampling of fruits in the buffet were watermelon, honeydew and pineapple. None of which was really that good but you cannot blame that on the ship. The buffet foods were fairly boring to me but I did enjoy the Belgian waffles every morning.

As some of you might know I tend to work out about 5-7 nights a week and my workout partner wanted me to do a weigh in before I left and when I came home thinking I would gain weight. sadly because the only meals I looked forward to eating was dinner I only lost weight since I continued to work out on the ship.

Shopping

There are very few things I like shopping for. That list is: Food, guns/gear and electronics.  Outside of that I will buy what I need when I need it. If it is expensive, I will do enough research to know I am getting the best deal and I will be done.

While sitting in the terminal waiting to board the ship we were given a scavenger hunt that had to be turned in by “3pm” that day to be entered to win prizes.  Of course I wanted to do this, thinking I might be able to win an excursion or something. No, it was all a ploy by Princess to get you to go to their jewelry stores and in port “shopping partners”. This annoyed me more than I care to admit. I don’t like being tricked into sitting and listening to some guy droning on about shopping.

We chose not do any excursions on this trip, but to see what was offered in each port.

In Honduras, it appears that Princess and Carnival have created their own port “city” with all of their “partner stores” so you only have one choice if you want to see anything in the country and that is to take the excursions. Last time I was in Honduras for a cruise at least we docked at real port town you could visit that didn’t just have Diamonds International and all the other jewelry stores. There is a nice beach there that was created. A reef has been artificially created that we found and had a fantastic day of snorkeling.

In Belize we anchored 5 miles away and tendered to shore which was a real port town. I got my passport stamped because I had nothing better to do in this town in walking distance.

When we got to Cozumel I was worried about being kidnapped. If you stay in the guarded “port city” it was fine. But the minute you step into Cozumel you can understand why Americans are kidnapped down there.

If you are looking to experience any of these countries I do not recommend using a cruise line to do so.

At Sea

I enjoyed being at sea more than getting off the ship. I enjoyed the view as we sailed thru the drilling platforms. I loved watching the water being churned up off the stern of the ship. I really adored the beautiful sunbathers. I digress.

Emerald Princess 2015 Atticus James

I did not bring someone to spend time with on this cruise. I went with my family and everyone kind of had their own thing doing what they wanted to do. I spent a good part of my time alone (on purpose) just walking around exploring the ship. I highly recommend bring someone to be with.

Formal Dining Room

Our dinner was at 5pm everyday due to the size of our party. This was not very conducive if you wanted to go to the singles meeting. If you tell me I could have just skipped one night to meet people, I will question your sanity as to why you would think I would give up the tasty food to meet people.

Our head waiters name was Hamit from Turkey. He took very good care of our table as half of my family have dietary restrictions (allergic to chocolate, cream cheese, gluten, things like that) My grandmother is gluten free so Hamit came to the table every night so she could order the next nights meal it to her dietary restrictions. This was an incredible service and I was very thankful for it.  I know trying to please everyone on a ship with 3000+ paying passengers can be a little difficult.
Our waiters names were Edgar and Caesar, both from the Philippines. Edgar was a great waiter. He treated us like family and joked and made dinner very enjoyable every night. Caesar didn’t talk much but he was always on top of refilling drinks and getting the food from the kitchen. If your waiter recommends something it is a fairly good bet that is what you should try. If you like to try different foods and not a boring eater Princess will offer you many food adventures.  Edgars recommendations were always fantastic. He always knew that my father and I would always order shrimp cocktail along with whatever else he suggested.

As I said before, dinner was the only food I looked forward to in the formal dining room and I truly believe Hamit, Edgar and Caesar had a big part in that.

I am leaving last names out since I did not ask if they would like to have their full names published but I am sending another review to Princess directly that will have their names.

I celebrated my birthday with my family on the ship and when you have a birthday on the ship they have a chocolate dessert cake to die for.

Princess Birthday Cake 2015

If you have never been on a cruise ship before I will share something that not everyone might know. you can order as many plates of anything on the menu as you want. If you want to sample a few different items you can do that. As much as you want. (if it is not on the menu however they may not offer that item after that day). Yes, that goes for dessert too.

Unlimited Soda & More Package

I apparently do not drink enough during the day to make this worth the cost. At $8.05 per day for the package you can get soda, mocktails (non alcoholic cocktails), shakes, juices, floats and hot chocolate.    While it seems like you can order drinks mostly anywhere it takes so long to get them that it is almost not even worth the time to wait. I did have a shake everyday and that was nice.

Snorkeling

While in Honduras one of my family members asked the tour desk on the ship if there was any good snorkeling locations that was not on a tour and he flat out lied. When we got off the ship we walked to the beach. As you look at the ocean to your left you’ll see the ship and the swimming area but if you swim to the right of the dock you will find a very nice shallow reef. I don’t do snorkels so I brought a pair of my old competition goggles from my gym bag and just swam around looking at all the fish and coral. It was awesome.

The Entertainment

I do not enjoy musicals or plays. I do love comedians and GOOD illusionists.

On the ship we had comedian Miguel Washington. This was the first show I went to on the ship because everything up to that point had been musicals and I don’t care how beautiful the dancers are it just is not my cup of tea to sit there and watch people sing and dance. My parents said they were good, but not as good as they have seen on past cruises.

I went to see his show with my parents and I have never truly seen my mother laugh so hard in my entire life. His jokes were good  and clean, but Texan so… not politically correct. If you get the chance to see him live anywhere I highly recommend him. He was a good comic.

Also on the ship we had Michael Barron “illusionist.” My momma told me if you ain’t got nothin’ nice to say don’t say NOTHIN’ at all. If you see him don’t sit too close to the stage, try to sit in the middle seats further back in order to keep the “illusion” alive.

Overall Thoughts

This trip would have been more fun with someone to share it with but overall I liked the ship.
The food for the most part was boring but when it came to dinner you could bet I was going to walk out of there full.

Ports were about shopping which I don’t like but hey everyone wants to make money. Just please stop forcing it down my throat.

Best part of the ports was the snorkeling in Honduras. Next time I go on a cruise I will do the excursions.

Princess Cruise Line seems to be more of an older demographic. This isn’t bad if you are looking to have a quiet relaxing time but if you are in your youth and looking for fun this might not be for you. They cater to a more quiet group.

A Gentlemen’s review of Apple’s iPods, iPhones and Mac computers

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Intro into Apple

Growing up I living in a PC household. I remember my first PC was my folks old Windows 95 when they got their new Windows 98. I did my homework on that computer and I loved it. I had all kinds of cool games and I grew up thinking PC was where it was at. In my teens I bought my first apple product after my Microsoft Zune bit the dust 2 weeks after purchase. I am happy to say I have only purchased 2 iPods and both are still running.

My life before the iPhone

In the spring of 2010 I bought my first smart phone, the Apple iPhone 3GS. I tend to spend upwards of a few months weighing the pros and cons of spending any large chunk of change. In January 2010 my contract was up and I wasn’t sure if I really needed the iPhone or if it was just a toy. I spent a week visiting my Grandfather who is an Apple nut like myself. I read every article I could find in his stacks of Macworld magazines.

At that time I was using my folks laptop to check emails on my trip, which would have been easier had I owned a smart phone. I even got to play around with my great uncles iPhone while he was visiting. This was when I got the green light in my head to go out and buy one.

Apple Care and other protections

When I buy an iPhone I get the $99 Apple Care plan and then I immediately head over to my local electronics store and buy a Zagg screen cover.   What is the point of spending that much on a device you carry everywhere if you have no plans on protecting it?

To this day I can tell you I have had my 3GS replaced twice and my 4S replaced 3 times (my 6 is less than a month old). I live about 10 minutes from an apple store which makes it quick and easy to get a phone fixed or to just go and check out the latest products.

My father who is the only android user in the family had a problem with his S4. It took about 2 weeks for it to get replaced by mail and cost him more on top of the protection plan he had with his carrier.

While upgrading to the iPhone 6 at my bulk foods club the guy behind the counter asked if I wanted the protection plan they offered. He tried to tell me how it was better so I started asking him questions from past complications I have experienced with my phone. I asked how long it would take to get a new phone or if they would even warranty it. After 10 minutes he looked at me and told me that he has to try to sell their protection plan. I know from experience the Apple care is better protection for me.

My Home Office Set Up

Screens from left to right

Envision Professional series 19” LCD (Windows)
iMac 27” (2014) with 16GB RAM and 1TB Fusion HHD/SSD, 3.2GHz quad-core Intel Core i5, Turbo Boost up to 3.6GHz Intel Nvidia GeForce GT 755m 1GB GDDR5
Dell 17” LCD (Windows)
Hisense 50″ K610 Series Smart TV (connected to the PC and Mac for screen sharing as well as cable)

On the Desk

UBL iPod dock
Seagate 2TB External HHD (Windows)
Seagate 2TB External HHD (Mac)
Sony STR-DH130 2-Channel Hi-Fi Receiver (TV, Mac, PC, UBL)

Windows

Acer Aspire X3400 8GB RAM and 2TB internal HHD
Windows 7 Home Premium

PC MAC PC

As you might have figured it can be confusing at times which mouse or keyboard you need for the project you are working on or trying to get the PC mouse to drag something from the iMac on to the PC. I have found that after a few months with the split of the Windows monitors that my brain didn’t really see the iMac in the middle as part of the mouse movement anymore.

Why iMac?

This is the second iMac I have owned (the first being a Mid 2007 24” iMac w/ Yosemite, 4GB RAM and 500GB HHD). I received the first one as a gift from my grandfather in 2013 when I was starting my process of looking at Macs. This was a great way to get into the Mac world and see what I was missing, without having to drop $1800 on a new iMac.

I have been working on videos for my other company and I needed a better way of making quality videos than my old windows movie maker. When working with any amount of footage the more CPU speed and ram and hard drive space the better.

I am able to produce better quality videos in a shorter and less frustrating amount of time using the the Mac and the PC side by side. I like to think of my Mac as my creative computer and my PC as my work computer.  This is not to say Mac is not great for work. However, I spend most of my time writing blog post on my Windows Live Writer to upload to my websites. I use my Mac for the “pretty stuff”. I have CS5 Photoshop and a number of other programs that help me edit video and pictures with ease. I have the more boring Word docs on my PC.

Are Apple Products Worth the Cost?

I get asked that question a lot since I use them. I will share with you what I tell most people.

For me? YES! I love that I can backup my phone and know that if I drop my phone and it breaks that I haven’t lost everything. I love the fact that I can get a replacement for my product if it is broken that day and all it takes is an appointment to the local Apple store.

I love that if I am having problems with any of my devices, Apple Care or not, I can get help 24/7. But the biggest reason I think they are worth the money is that they are like a car, if you take care of them they will last you a good long time.   Out of the box, they are simple and I like the K.I.S.S. principle (Keep it simple, stupid).

Final Thoughts

I am an Apple user and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

$25 worth of Hell

Review of The PARADISE GARDEN LAS VEGAS BUFFET AT FLAMINGO LAS VEGAS HOTEL AND CASINO

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My Dad and I have visited Las Vegas about 4 times in the last 7 years. We are not drinkers or gamblers and we typically only go there for work conventions like SHOT Show.

One of our rituals WAS going to the Flamingo for crab legs. In years past we would go there and each eat an abundance of crab legs and our waiters would joke about us having to crab walk out of there with how big our guts got.

The 2014 trip was very different. I had planned to review the buffet with my staff Thursday night of our trip, I contacted the hotel and we were sent to the Concierge of the Flamingo, Deborah Bergen.  She did everything in her power to help me on my quest to write a few reviews of different buffets on the strip. Next time you are in Las Vegas go and visit her as she did a wonderful job.

We were seated quickly since there were not that many people there at 7pm on a Thursday. We ordered our drinks, which took 10 minutes to get to us, in an area where our waiter had only one other table. As we were coming back from getting our first (and last) plate of crab legs, I overheard the patron next to us order two beers for his dinner. I sat down and saw the crab legs were not even cut so you get get to the meat like it use to be. The four of us are prying the legs open for small worthless slivers of crab leg. I gave up on my crab legs.  I decided to try some prime rib, which I couldn’t eat because the meat was raw.  I found out later that server had to grill each slice of prime rib to make it edible.
I enjoy sushi and when I saw it on the buffet line I was looking forward to having it.  Another disappointment. The sushi was a dried out, flavorless roll.  I moved on to deep fried chicken, which was over cooked. By this point, the patron next to us still had not gotten his first beer. I have finished my iced tea and was waiting for a refill.  The waiter was hanging out alone in his cubby hole for drinks and dishes.

Frustrated, I apologized to my staff and promised that we will never be returning. The cost of the buffet is not worth the hassle of bad food. Normally I would have gotten a manager involved but I wasn’t sure how long it would take for them to find him and we still had other plans for the night.

If you are in Las Vegas and planning a trip to a buffet your best bet is to stay away from the Flamingo.

Lifetime Fitness review

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Growing up, I was heavily involved in extracurricular activities such as Boy Scouts of America and a club swim team. I swam for almost 7 years and enjoyed the workout but not the competition.   When I aged out of the team I needed a new home to swim and keep physically fit.  One of my Eagle scout brothers and best friends at the time took me to visit our local Lifetime Fitness club.

After a few trips to this fitness club I had fallen in love with the place and had to get a membership. I had the membership for many years until I broke my back and had to drop it while I healed. I used to work out before my injury from 11pm until 2am most nights and I loved it. The gym was always empty and quiet so I could focus on my needs vs. having to wait for a piece of equipment and losing the drive to have amazing sets.

Other Gyms

In 2011, I needed to get back to the gym and start getting healthy and fit again.  I joined my city’s rec club, which for someone coming from a fitness club was a joke, with the 8 machines and the dumbbells that only went up to 40 pounds. The room always smelled like a locker room and the equipment was worn out from the years of people using and abusing it.

I never felt like I was doing anything so I joined a big name fitness gym with my mother since she wanted to get fit alongside me.  She could use me as a trainer of sorts to help her on her path to fitness. She and I would work out from 2pm until 3pm most days because that was the time this gym was less packed and not filled with bodybuilders who like to make sex noises when they fondled the 115 pound dumbbells  (You know who you are! The other gym members and I all want you to stop that!).

Gym Amenities

Keyed-Lockers to me don’t make or break a gym for me; but I do like being able to shower and change at the gym after I have sweat my body weight on the gym floor. I would rather have a locker for which I didn’t have to bring my own lock, but since this big name gym is not super expensive I understood the need for personal locks. Towel service again is not a make or break, but the peace of mind to know that if you leave your towel on a machine that you can grab another is nice.  It’s also nice in the shower knowing you will always have a fresh clean towel that you don’t have to tote home wet is great.  However, if you are on a budget and you have to bring you own to afford the membership, it isn’t the end of the world.

The most important aspect for me in a gym is having different exercises for different muscle groups, which keeps me from plateauing and becoming bored. This big name gym was a step in the right direction but it never felt right to me. I love to work out, and I think if someone feels the same, a gym or fitness club like Lifetime Fitness should almost feel like a second home.  It should be a place where you are comfortable enough to work out and never feel uneasy.

Hours of Operations 

 

I have always been a night owl and I find most of my best work comes from the quiet night. When I found out this big name gym closed at 9 most nights I was rather sad but determined to make it work. I find that I sleep better after I have worked out. 

I don’t suffer many muscle aches, since the hours after the gym I tend to be at my computer and then in bed sleeping. When I wake the next day, I feel some ache and think maybe I should skip working out that night to rest up.  Once I really start moving again, the ache goes away and I am ready for my day.

Returning Home

The beginning of February 2014 I threw in the towel with the other gym and made my way back home to Lifetime Fitness. While the club is more expensive that what I was paying, I truly see for my own personal health that it is worth my money.

I am paying 4 times what I was at the other gym but Lifetime Fitness it is not just a gym. When explaining Lifetime, most people see it as an expensive GYM where you waste your money. I understand that if you don’t plan to use it like I do and spend the time there it would be seen as expensive.  Lifetime Fitness in my area is a country club of sorts, the affluent moms of the area love to come up there and socialize and get fit at the same time.  It can seem snooty at times, but once you realize other members don’t care what you are doing and just get back to working out it all turns to white noise. For the males in all of us, I just have one thing to say about this place… YOGA PANTS!

One of the things I really like here is that there is such a variety of equipment for each area of the body.  An example is that I can do a week of just leg workouts and never do the same exercise twice, like you would in a smaller gym.

Growing up as a Lifetime Fitness member I can honestly and truthful say that Lifetime is a major part of why I am alive today. I use to work out 5-6 nights a week with friends and I built up my back enough that it helped in saving me when I broke my back. The doctor told me that the muscles I had developed certainly saved me from being paralyzed and maybe even from being killed in the accident.

While Lifetime’s only contribution was being open 24/7 and having the type of workout environment I wanted and needed; I still do thank them for being there.

Friends

The guest polices are more restrictive than that of most other gyms. That is so people don’t leech off someone else’s membership and abuse the clubs equipment without paying for it.

When you work out alone as much as I do, you start needing spotters.  I have made a  number of friends who worked out at the same time and were on similar fitness regiments.

Final Thoughts

This is a place I feel comfortable, someplace I can feel like I am not being judged because I am not a bodybuilder. I see Lifetime Fitness as a second home and I am glad to have the ability and finances to be a member here.

Howard Leight Impact Sport E-Earmuffs review

I had planned to just review the Howard Leight*1 Impact Sport Electronic Earmuffs but plans changed.

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Customer Care

A few months back I got in contact with Howard Leight about getting some earmuffs to review for shooting but what I didn’t know at the time was that I was going to review the company as well. When I contacted the company, instead of my normal getting bounced around and transferred five times until I talked with the right person, I talked with ONE person. I had the pleasure of talking with Customer Care Rep Laraine from Howard Leight.

Empowered Reps

Normally I have to talk with someone in marketing or another division who handles media requests such as this one. With Howard Leight, I only worked with the customer care rep who the company has empowered to be able help the customer not like a number of other large (non-firearm) corporations.  Most companies keep sending you to the next tier up because all the first tier customer care rep can do is ask you if you have turned the product on and off.

I am not going to get on my soap box and talk about that because I really want to just talk about Howard Leight and how I had such a pleasant experience with them.

skip to Earmuff Review

I called Howard Leight and spoke with Laraine about getting the earmuffs and she was more than willing to help me out with this not just because I am a blogger but because Howard Leight seems to only employ customer care reps who CARE. I know this to be a fact because in the few times I did have to call the company and ask for Laraine I would always be greeted by one the of reps who would try to help me in any way they could before I would ask to speak with Laraine.

Consistency

I have contacted Howard Leight a couple of times since my first contact and have spoken to different customer care reps who were just as helpful and knowledgeable as Laraine.

Lifetime Customer

Howard Leight makes great ear protection but they have also made me a lifetime customer because of how they work with the customer.

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Specs: Impact® SportFolding

  • Sleek, extremely low profile earcup design allows for full clearance of firearm stock
  • Automatic 4 hour shut-off increases battery life
  • AUX jack connects to MP3 players and scanners
  • Automatically shuts off loud impulse noise to a safe 82dB while amplifying conversation and range commands
  • Convenient folding design for easy storage
  • One single power and volume control knob
  • Air Flow Control™ technology
  • Black leatherette headband with sporty hunter green earcups
  • Water resistant
  • Easy access to the external battery compartment
  • 2 AAA batteries included

Source: The Howard Leight website

Impact Sport E-Earmuff Review

For a number of years now I have used the surefire earplugs or my good old non-electronic over the head earmuffs because both offer me what I need for shooting.

The surefire plugs are great if I am going to be just shooting and minimal talking on the range and when I have a rifle stock glued to my face.

My  non-electronic over the head earmuffs offer me noise dampening but they are quick to slide off if I need to make a video or hear what the crew is saying, they are overly bulky and you hear every tap of the buttstock to your earmuff.

Adjustable Volume

The Howard Leight electronic earmuffs give me the best of both worlds. I can adjust the volume when I need to listen or almost turn the sound off when I am firing on the line with the three .30-06 rifles going off. The muffs are low profile so the overly bulkiness is minimized to the point it is comfortable to run and shoot with a rifle or to sit on the bench and shoot long distances.

Long Battery Life

We have been using the muffs for about 5 months now and haven’t had to change the batteries yet.

Increased Range Communication

I like the fact that I can adjust the volume easily when I am shooting from the bench and we have other shooters near us.  The spotter and shooter can almost whisper to each other adjustments without having to listen to everyone on the range. I can also turn the volume all the way up and hear the crew from a distance without anyone having to scream commands.

Overall Thoughts:

The earmuffs will run about $50 but for the safety of your hearing and still being able to hear what is going on around you,  they are well worth the investment.

*1 Howard Leight is owned by Honeywell, An American multinational conglomerate company that produces a variety of commercial and consumer products, engineering services, and aerospace systems for a wide variety of customers, from private consumers to major corporations and governments.
Source: Honeywell’s Wiki page