Saturday, June 18, 2016

A Global Pandemic!

We’ve all read the headlines in our local newspaper, or caught a glimpse of it on the news. Maybe you saw something mentioned on Facebook, or other social media: Zika, Ebola, H5N1 and other pathogens rearing their ugly heads. These diseases pop up in distant locales, oftentimes with exotic names like Khartoum, Beijing or Mumbai. Usually we’ll hear about one or two of these happening at the same time.

Now, imagine if you will, four previously unknown pathogens emerging at the same time, spread across Africa, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. These four unique “bugs” break out in multiple cities, and soon begin spreading throughout their respective region. A team is dispatched from Atlanta to the four initial locations to try to assess and stop these diseases. Unfortunately, two of these new diseases undergo explosive amplification and turn what was a local outbreak into an epidemic through an infectious chain reaction.

Our small team from Atlanta struggles valiantly to keep up with these outbreaks, but with limited resources are soon overwhelmed. Infections spread to North and South America, and more outbreaks appear in Europe. The epidemics have now turned into a global pandemic. The medic on the team is able to treat patients in Kolkata with limited success, but the patients in Mumbai are in grave danger. A quarantine specialist managed to limit the spread of infection in Mexico City. The Researcher on the team is close to developing a cure for the “red disease” in Atlanta. That won’t do much good, though, as the “blue disease” has covered all of Europe and made the jump to both New York City and Montreal. The team knows they are beaten, but refuse to give up until the end.

Was this the movie Outbreak or Contagion? Nope. It wasn’t a Stephen King or Dean Koontz book, either. Thankfully, what I just described to you was a scenario from the board game Pandemic.  I first heard about this game from a friend of mine (thanks, Steve!) and as soon as I read the description, I knew I had to have it. Since I do infectious disease research for a living, I guess it’s no real surprise that I would be drawn to this game. Several of my colleagues at work also enjoy it, so finding extra players is easy. Not only does Cindy enjoy the Pandemic universe, but my sister and her husband got hooked on it as well.

Thankfully, it's just a game.

The Pandemic “universe” consists of the base game, Pandemic, and three optional expansions: On The Brink, In The Lab and State Of Emergency. We have the On The Brink and In The Lab expansions, and State Of Emergency is on my wish list. While Pandemic can be played as a standalone, you still need it to play any of the expansions.

For those like me who grew up playing Monopoly, Life or Risk, the biggest adjustment to playing Pandemic is that it’s a cooperative, and not an individual effort. The base game is for 2 – 4 players, and all the players work together to win or lose. Each game is different due to the random draw of game cards. For example, there are seven role cards: Contingency Planner, Dispatcher, Medic, Operations Expert, Quarantine Specialist, Researcher, and Scientist. Each role has its own unique abilities and actions. Depending on the luck of the draw, your team can be versatile and strong, or limited and weak. Obviously, some mixes are much better than others, but as in real life, we don’t always have the perfect “dream team” to work with. Face it, we all have that “one” co-worker, don't we? Other cards determine where infections will occur and how often an epidemic will break. There are several ways to lose the game but only one way to win. While each player has ultimate control of their own “character,” you are allowed and encouraged to discuss with the other team members what you will do in your move. You win or lose, though, as a team.

We lost!

The goal is to discover cures for four different diseases, represented by cubes in red, blue, yellow and black. That’s the one way to win this game. There are only 24 cubes of each color, and you’ll see why that number is important below. The following comes directly from the enclosed game directions.

Your team loses the game if:

  • ·         Not enough disease cubes are left when needed (a disease spreads too much)
  • ·         Not enough player cards are left when needed (your team runs out of time)
  • ·         8 outbreaks occur (a worldwide pandemic happens)

Now that you have a basic overview of the game, I’ll walk you through setup and play. After shuffling the role cards, each player is dealt one card. This randomizes the team mix and makes each game unique. The “infection deck” contains cards for each city on the game board. This deck gets shuffled and three cards are turned over. Three disease cubes are then placed on each of these cities. Three more cards are turned over and two disease cubes are placed on the indicated cities. A final three cards are turned over and one cube is placed in these cities. That makes 9 cities and 18 cubes in play as the game begins. Depending on the random draw of cards, one disease color may be much more prevalent than another. Sometimes there’s an even distribution of colors, but typically we’ll see more of one color than the others. This is important because having many of the same colored cubes can precipitate an “outbreak.”

Ready to play

Now that the initial disease locations have been set, it’s time to play. Each player can perform 4 “actions,” such as travel to another city, treat disease, build a research station, and so on. At the end of the 4 actions, more cities get infected as determined by drawing the infection cards. You can see how random this game is, just by the nature of shuffling multiple decks of cards. Play continues with the next person.

Depending upon how tough you want your game to be, you can choose to play with 4, 5, or 6 “epidemic” cards that are shuffled into the player deck. These epidemic cards cause more cities to become infected with each turn and increase the likelihood of re-infection of other cities. This really adds excitement to the game, as just when you think you’ve got everything under control, it blows up in your face. Also shuffled throughout the player deck are special “event” cards. These cards are helpful, in that playing one may allow you to skip your infection cycle, or move another player without having to use an “action” to do so. Some event cards are so valuable that you tend to hold on to them until a critical need arises. What one person deems a critical need, though, may not be what the rest of the team considers a critical need. Some of our discussions about using or not using an event card have become very, ummmm, well, let’s just say “focused.”

Play the card!

Even with our sometimes intense discussions, it’s all in the name of fun. It better be in the name of fun, otherwise why are we playing it, right? Yes, this is a fun game to play, even when we are losing. As the game progresses, hopefully we are finding cures for the diseases so we can win. Notice that there’s not an actual time limit to the game, in that no little hourglass is slowly draining, or no time clock is counting down. You do feel a sense of urgency, though, as every time a player finishes his or her turn, they draw two player cards. Remember above, where one way to lose is to run out of player cards? This seems to be the most common way to lose. That big deck of player cards dwindles rapidly, or at least it feels like it does.

Running out of time!

By this time, I hope we are discovering the last cure and calling it a win. Sometimes we do, oftentimes we don’t. There are few games I lose that are still fun. Our average game lengths are usually around an hour. We’ll take our time discussing strategy and optimizing our next few moves. One of us will take a bathroom break while another may refresh our drinks (“Medical Margaritas,” anyone?). We’ll usually play two or three games in an evening, depending on everyone’s energy level.

So that’s the basic game. It’s entertaining, intense at times and always different. The expansion sets don’t so much change the basic game as add to it. I’ll describe some of the highlights of the two expansions I have, which definitely make the game not only more fun but definitely more challenging. One big help is the addition of new role cards. These new role cards get shuffled into the base set to add more roles, and more abilities to the team.

On The Brink:

An additional player can join the game, increasing the total number to 5. The new roles are: Archivist, Containment Specialist, Epidemiologist, Field Operative, Generalist, and Troubleshooter. In addition, there’s an optional scenario that incorporates a Bio-Terrorist into the roles. Other enhancements include the option to add seven (yes, seven!) epidemic cards into the player deck. Besides the Bio-Terrorist challenge, you can opt to play with a special set of epidemic cards that incorporate a virulent strain or mutation challenge. These new cards make it harder to develop a cure and increase the chance of an outbreak. The mutation challenge adds a 5th disease to be cured. These pretty purple cubes add a BIG challenge to the game, as there are only 12 cubes instead of 24 like the other diseases. (Remember that rule about losing the game if you run out of disease cubes?) We haven’t played the Bio-Terrorist challenge yet, so if anyone reading this is up to a night of Pandemic, just let me know. Cindy and I will be ready and willing to host a Pandemic party and let the good times roll. You can bring dessert.

In The Lab:

Once we played through several rounds of the base game, and added some challenges with On The Brink, four of us decided to add In The Lab and see what happened. We lost….multiple times… short order. I guess we are just gluttons for punishment. In The Lab adds an additional game board to the base game, new challenges and five new roles. These new roles are Field Director, Local Liaison, Pilot, and Virologist. An additional role, the CDC, is used for solo play. Wait, whaaat? Solo play? Yes! This expansion allows for solo play, although I don’t see how that would be much fun. To me, this is a “social” game. In fact, this expansion allows 1 – 6 players. Maybe the solo game is for those who are home sick and need something to do while recovering. How ironic would that be?

I mentioned earlier that In The Lab adds an additional game board to the base set. This is the “lab” where the diseases are processed. Diseases must be characterized, sequenced and tested before a cure can be discovered. These steps add a tremendous level of realism to the game, as it reflects what happens in real life. Unlike my real life work in the lab, though, we can have snacks and adult beverages while “working” in the Pandemic world’s lab. Just be careful not to get “Cheeto-dust” all over the game board or cards.

Lab access: Granted

Let’s get started!

One cure found

Another cool addition this expansion brings is a new set of disease cure markers. The base set supplies these little flat markers in the shape of a vial. In The Lab replaces these flat markers with realistic looking plastic vials. These do nothing to change the actual game play, but look freaking awesome! In fact, I will use these new “vials” for any version of the game I play.

Do you want even more challenge? Sure, why not? In The Lab lets you add the Bio-Terrorist to the mix if you want, and add the virulent strain challenge as well. Since we got our butts kicked so thoroughly playing just the basic lab challenge, I think we’ll hold off on adding these other twists until we can win the basic lab game at least once. Another variant we haven’t tried yet is the team challenge. This variation divides the players into teams who still try to control outbreaks and discover cures to gain “prestige.” This adds a competitive element to the game in that the teams compete against each other. As with the other challenges, the mutation and virulent strain challenges can be added. The only variant not allowed during the team game is the addition of the Bio-Terrorist.

I can only imagine what State Of Emergency will add to the game. The product website adds this line: “This expansion is NOT for the faint of heart…” Wow, my kind of game! State Of Emergency adds a few new roles and challenges, including one where diseases spread from animals to humans. Did I mention that this is on my wish list? I’ll be happy to accept this and write a nice, detailed blog on it if someone wants to send it to me. Just sayin’…..

If you are a fan of board games, I highly recommend the Pandemic universe. You’ll never play the same game twice, and can customize the game with the different challenges to suit your excitement level.

Note: This is strictly my own opinion of the Pandemic games. I receive NO compensation from Z-Man Games, who owns and distributes the Pandemic games, in any form whatsoever.

If you like reading about board games, here are links to a few other blogs I wrote on various titles:

Playing with Fire...

Surviving in the Dead of Winter

Want Fries with That?

Here be Dragons

Until next time…..

carpe cerevisi

Friday, June 3, 2016

Final thoughts on our Carnival Breeze cruise, 5/15 - 5/22/16

I’ve never been in an earthquake, but I wonder if the sensation of a “mild” one would be similar to what we felt that Sunday morning on the Breeze just before we woke up. We got to bed around midnight, having squeezed as much fun out of our last sea day as we could. We were sleeping soundly until……rumble-rumble-rumble……rumble-rumble-rumble-rumble…..

Between the low frequency rumbling noise and vibration, I woke up and knew the ship’s thrusters were working to maneuver the ship to the pier.  Our alarm was set for 7 a.m. to allow us adequate time for a quick breakfast before debarkation. Since it hadn’t gone off yet, I knew the ship was getting in early as usual. I went back to sleep until….

Rumble-rumble-rumble-rumble-rumble…..on and on, for what seemed like an hour, but really was only for a minute or two. Normally we don’t hear the thrusters as much as we tend to book cabins midship on higher decks. We had to make some late changes in our booking, though, so the only available cabins were on Deck 1, starboard aft. This put us much closer to the thrusters so we really heard and felt them while we were in the cabin.

It’s very common for the Galveston ships to use their thrusters to pivot around and back into the pier so the ship is facing outwards, towards the Gulf, for departure. You can watch a time lapse video of the Carnival Triumph docking in Galveston here to get an idea of what I’m referring to. In the video, notice that the tugs are there only to lend assistance “just in case.” The ship’s thrusters are what are allowing the ship to pivot about and move sideways like that.

One more episode of rumble-rumble-rumble-rumble and all was quiet again, until our alarm went off a few minutes later. That figures….

All four of us, Barbara, Keith, Cindy and I, made our sleepy way up to Lido for a final breakfast. Having had such a huge dinner at the steakhouse last night, I wasn’t particularly hungry. A little coffee and a pastry and I was good.

The original plan for Diamond/Platinum/FTTF guests was to meet in the Ovation Theatre at 8:15 and we’d be escorted off the ship just after the self-assist passengers. As is typical on debarkation days, many of the elevators were reserved for baggage handling, and the few left open for passengers were all full. We eventually managed to squeeze into an elevator for the ride down to Deck 3. We arrived at the theatre entrance by 8:10 and were told the “priority guests” have already been escorted off. Say what??

Ultimately, though, it ended up being a non-issue, and the line to get off the ship was already moving and we just merged into it. We were off the ship and in baggage claim by 8:20, and found a porter easily. Since so few passengers were off the ship, we breezed through customs (no pun intended) and were walking to the parking lot shuttle bus at 8:40.

Timing is everything and in this case helped keep us dry. The porter mentioned how much rain Galveston got in the past week and just a short look at the dark, stormy skies indicated more was on the way. The shuttle bus got us to the parking lot in just a few minutes and with the car being only a few steps away from the bus, we managed to get the car loaded in short order.

The first drops of rain started to fall as I drove down Broadway, heading off the island. We got home around 9:40, unloaded the car, and it was done. Another fun and enjoyable cruise in the books. I checked Facebook and saw that we apparently missed the worst of the rain, as Galveston was getting pounded with thunderstorms. Wow, timing is everything.

A few final thoughts:

This was the first time our cabin (1445) was uncomfortably warm. Even with the thermostat at the coolest setting, we had to call Guest Services twice to rectify this. Eventually our cabin got cooler, but still not as cool as what we are used to. To Carnival’s credit, though, they gave us some OBC for our “inconvenience.” That was kind of them to do.

I mentioned in yesterday’s blog that I thought the Gold VIFP members should be allowed to attend the Past Guest Party. Now that our VIFP status has changed, I’m not directly affected by this, but in my opinion, Carnival is wrong to not invite Gold members to attend.

I’m glad Carnival brought back the live Caribbean steel drum music on Lido! Thank you, Carnival! This is the perfect music to listen to while cruising in those warm, blue waters. It sets the right tone for island life and gets me ready to enjoy all the Caribbean has to offer.

Where to next? We’ve booked an 8-day Southern Caribbean cruise on the new Carnival Vista out of Miami for December of 2017. Although we’ve been to Grand Turk previously, the other ports of Aruba, Curacao and La Romana will be new to us, and new places to dive are always exciting. Our dive club is looking at another group cruise next year as well, for the same itinerary we just finished. I’ve already placed my vote for a May cruise and I really hope that’s the date that wins. August is another time frame being considered, but we avoid cruising during hurricane season.

I hope you, my readers, have enjoyed reading my cruise blog as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. It was fun writing each day’s events and giving people a glimpse of why we love cruising so much.

Please stay in touch, though, as I have many more topics to blog about. Do you have any ideas about what you’d like to see in my blog? Drop me a line and let me know what sounds interesting.

Until next time……

carpe cerevisi

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Day 7: Our Final "Fun Day at Sea" on the Carnival Breeze

It never fails to amaze me how a 7 day cruise goes by so much faster than 5 days at work. I tell people all the time that a bad day cruising (if there is such a thing) is still better than a good day at work. I love my job, I really do. It’s interesting, it’s challenging, it’s rewarding and yet it’s still…….work. But enough about that. We still have one more  sea day to squeeze in as much fun as we can. We have drinks to drink, food to eat and slides to slide!

As usual, we got up around 8 to the alarm. I was ready to get up and enjoy our last day at sea. The four of us headed up to Lido about 9 and we hit the Blue Iguana for some breakfast burritos. As a native Texan, I have to say I’m impressed at the quality of breakfast tacos and burritos offered by the Blue Iguana. Their salsa bar has some tasty, and most importantly, spicy salsas. It takes a LOT for me to call something spicy and a few of these actually make the grade.

My breakfast today

Let’s see, who’s been paying attention to my blogs? What do you think happens next? Come on, you can do it. That’s right! We went back to our cabin to change into swimwear. Now I know some of you are wondering why we don’t just put on our swimwear and go up to Lido like that. That’s a perfectly reasonable question and my best answer is….you’re not gonna believe it……we just don’t. I think part of that is because Cindy would rather wear something other than her “coverup” when actually eating in the Lido area.

We staked out a good spot in the shade and we were ready to hit the slides. I wanted to ride both of them and take some video with my GoPro. Due to high winds, the slides and ropes course were closed on our first two sea days. By the time we reached Mo Bay, though, and for the rest of the cruise, the slides were open.

Handy tip: Make sure you wear either water shoes or secure sandals (like Tevas) if you plan on riding the slides. The deck and stairs get hot! I made the mistake of trying to go up some stairs barefoot and had to turn around halfway. I thought my feet were going to blister before I got to the bottom. Yep, I immediately put my Tevas back on and kept them on. I only took them off when I got into the pool.

All four of us rode the slides, and Keith and I rode each of them more than once. I shot some cool video on both slides, both with the GoPro facing forward and with it facing me. I’ll eventually edit these into a brilliant, seamless video worthy of Steven Spielberg and upload it to YouTube……eventually. We had plenty of fun on the slides and just as much fun standing under the “Power Drencher.” This giant bucket is constantly being filled and when it reaches a certain point it’ll tip over and soak everyone nearby.

On the last sea day, Carnival has their “Chocolate Extravaganza” in the Lido buffet starting at noon. You can find just about any kind of chocolate cake, pastry or cookie, as well as a chocolate fountain for dipping fruit. As much as I like chocolate, my favorite treat from this extravaganza is a bowl of candied walnuts and almonds. I’ll fill a small bowl of these and munch on them with some ice cream.

All those stairs up to the two slides starting wearing me out after climbing them multiple times. I think soaking in the pool would do nicely, so in we went. It must’ve been the combination of a warm sunny day and many people in the pool, because it was bathwater warm. It wasn’t “hot tub” level, but it would take much to get it there. Even with that, though, it was still refreshing. We hung out in the pool a little longer before heading back to the cabin.

We have a full evening, so we need to pack for disembarkation tomorrow. Any luggage we don’t want to carry (which means everything but our carryon) needs to be outside our cabin by 11 pm.  We’ve done this enough that it didn’t take too long, and once that chore was out of the way we continued with our fun. We’ll leave our packed luggage in the cabin until just before 11, then set it outside.

When we are diving, we are very careful about how much we drink. We were done diving, at least for the cruise, so Cindy and I got cleaned up and went to the RedFrog Pub (RFP) for some final day libations and a helping of their Caribbean chicken wings. These are really yummy and I make it a point to order them at least once per cruise. They’re not really jerk wings, but definitely have a spicy sweet flavor that makes me think “Caribbean” when I eat them.

We enjoyed the RFP, eating wings and drinking a “Painkiller” or two until it was time for the “VIFP Diamond and Platinum Reunion.” Until last year, the Gold members were always invited. We’ve been cruising with Carnival since 2007, and Gold members since 2009 and always enjoyed this party until last year. Carnival claimed that having so many Gold members made this party a “service challenge” so they changed the way the party was conducted and eliminated the Gold members. I realize Carnival can do what they want and we can basically “take it or leave it.” That’s fine, I guess, but I still found it insulting. Granted our last cruise in 2015 was the only one where this directly affected Cindy and me, but I still think Gold members should be allowed to the party. Carnival, as much as I enjoy your product, I think you are dead wrong here. That’s my humble opinion, but I stand by it.

This party was pretty much like what we used to attend, except there were less people there, obviously. One really cool thing, though, was we ran into another member of our dive club! We both looked at each other, and almost at the same time said “I didn’t know you were on this cruise!” It was cool seeing Mark there, and we visited briefly as the party ended. The Breeze is a big ship, and unless you know someone is on the ship and actively look for them, you’d never know it otherwise.

We still had a little time before dinner, so Cindy and I sat down in the Breeze Atrium to listen to 2Country4Nashville some more. I mentioned them in my “Grand Cayman” blog, but they absolutely deserve another shout out here. I appreciate how they take requests, and I asked them to do the Wabash Cannonball. They did a fantastic job with it, and LeAnne even had a train whistle to accompany Jo-el’s vocals.  I really hope they get a long term gig with Carnival, or barring that, I hope they make it down to our area. Cindy and I would happily pay to hear them sing again. Keith and Barbara found us, and we all enjoyed listening to them until we had to go to dinner. Our reservations at the steakhouse were for 7:30 and it was just a short walk to get there.

Like Cucina del Capitano, the steakhouse carries an additional fee. Carnival charges $35 per person extra, but it is very much worth it. Also like Cucina, if you decide to eat there, the most important tip I can give is be hungry! Portions are big and you will be stuffed by the time you leave.

First course: Baked onion soup

Second course: Caesar salad

Main course: Cowboy rib chop

Dessert: Hazelnut cheesecake

What a way to wrap up another fantastic cruise! The food, as usual, was divine, and the relaxed pace of dinner allowed us to truly enjoy the moment. By the time we were finished, we had enough time to go to the cabin and place our luggage outside. We could still make the last comedy show if we went directly to the comedy club without stopping anywhere, including the RFP (awwwww!). So, striding purposefully, we made it in plenty of time to get a good seat. We watched Mark Simmons and enjoyed his act. I hope we get to see him on another Carnival ship soon!

Our cruise is over tomorrow, and we need to be up by 7, so it’s definitely time to call it a day. It’s been a blast and I could easily do another 7 days on the ship, or 14, or 21, I’m not picky.

Coming up next, my final thoughts on this wonderful cruise.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Day 6: Cozumel on the Carnival Breeze

Believe it or not, I actually wanted to get up by 8 this morning. Even though I wrote about not being a morning person on weekends or vacation in yesterday’s blog, I got enough good sleep last night to justify waking up to the alarm. Our arrival into Cozumel won’t be until 10, but we need to be ready to jump in line pretty close to 10 so we can get off the ship as soon as we are allowed. I didn’t want to have to rush through breakfast just to get stuck at the end of a lonnnng line of people itching to get off the ship and start their day in Cozumel.

It seems, though, that the Breeze was taken over sometime in the early morning by a heard of towel animals. When we went up to Lido for breakfast, I noticed this heard had completely taken over the midship pool area. Then again, I kind of expected this, as I witnessed a similar phenomenon on our last cruise.

I always enjoy seeing the towel animal invasion on Lido. It’s as much a part of cruising as the hairy chest contest. Barbara, Keith, Cindy and I were able to enjoy a relaxed breakfast on Lido, not worried a bit by the time, and talk about our upcoming dives today.

Around 9:40, we were performing the ritualistic slathering of sunscreen and making sure everything in our dive bag was ready to go. One advantage of our cabin being on Deck 1 is that is where the line to get off the ship starts. We as passengers aren’t allowed onto Deck 0 (crew spaces) until given clearance by the ship’s staff that we may disembark. The line grows quickly, though, and we have the advantage of already being somewhat close to where the start of the line will form. Luckily, the ship arrived just a little early and the Mexican officials cleared the ship for disembarkation very rapidly. We were off the ship just a couple of minutes before 10 and walking down that long pier to the taxi stand.

In Cozumel, we prefer using one of two dive operators. Depending on availability, we’ll book with either Scuba with Alison or Chucho Divers. Both are top notch dive operators and both will accommodate cruise ship schedules. The last couple of times we’ve been in Cozumel we’ve used Chucho. As I mentioned about Cayman Turtle Divers, both Chucho and Alison treat us more like friends and family than just another customer. Both used to be based out of Caleta Marina, but both are now at the “new” marina adjacent to Caleta. It’s a short cab ride from the cruise terminal to the marina, so traffic isn’t a problem.

We could easily see our ship from the new marina. Of course, it’s not like the Breeze is a small ship, and it does tend to tower over the terminals we dock in while visiting the various islands in the Caribbean.

As our cab drove up to the new marina, Chucho was waiting for us, and insisted on carrying Cindy’s dive bag to the boat. I wasn’t going to let him carry my bag as well, so I carried it like I’d normally do in other places.

Meet Chucho

We were diving with 4 other people from Oklahoma, who had been diving with Chucho all week. Today is their last day of diving before they fly home. Hhhhmmmm, four Texans and four Okies on the same dive boat?  I wish I would’ve known this ahead of time. I would’ve made sure to wear my UT Longhorns shirt.

Hey, I know that boat! Looks like we are diving off the Choco-Ha again. We were on that boat in 2013, the first time we used Chucho. Chono, the boat captain, was still behind the wheel like he was the first time. It’s like a family reunion here. Once the Okies arrived and got settled on the boat, we talked about where we wanted to dive first. We are diving nitrox 36 (air with 36% oxygen) today for both dives, so that will limit our depth to about 100 feet. 

Note: Before one of you dive professionals comments with something like: "Oh, come on, Patrick, you know the MOD (maximum operating depth) of Nitrox 36 at 1.4 ppO2 is 95 feet, not 100 feet." Yes, I do know that. Hence the "about" qualifier. See, Dave, I did pay attention in class. Besides, my dive computer would start griping at me if I exceeded my MOD.

Since Keith and Barbara haven’t had a chance to dive the C-53 yet, and since we haven’t found the geocache there, that was my first choice. Chucho said the current there today would be a challenge, so we decided on Paseo del Cedral for our first dive. We’ve done this site twice before, so I knew this would be a drift dive. The last time we dove this, which happened to be with Chucho, we were flying along the reef! The current was ripping along that day and it made me feel like Superman flying above the city. Today, though, the current was more sedate, and we had a nice, slow drift along the reef. I like slower currents, as it makes it much easier to swim against it if I need to go back for a better photo angle.

Being the conscientious diver, I monitored my computer frequently during the dive, as I do with every dive. Did I mention that I already like diving with my new GoPro Hero 3 (white)? This dive makes only the third dive using it. Grand Cayman yesterday was the first chance I had to dive with it. Any of the stills in this and yesterday’s blog that were taken under water are captures from the GoPro.

Yep, looks good to me!

Funny thing about diving in Cozumel. I never really thought much about this, but after watching video from both Cayman and Coz, it occurred to me how much “noisier” the reef is in Cozumel….at least to me. The reef crackles like Rice Krispies and with more boat traffic, it’s definitely not as quiet as Grand Cayman seems to be. Any other divers out there reading this that would like to add their comment? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Chucho deployed his SMB and those in our group lowest on air started ascending to their safety stop under it. Most of us carry our own SMB, but the typical protocol is for the divemaster to deploy his. Cindy and I were the last out of the water and once everyone was back on the boat we cruised over to a beach resort for our surface interval. Chucho had fresh watermelon and cantaloupe for us along with bottled water. My favorite fresh fruit on a surface interval is pineapple, but watermelon is a close second. Cozumel has many resorts with piers for dive boats, and it is common practice to tie up to one of these piers and let the divers relax on something besides a dive boat. The Choco-Ha is a Panga style boat, so it isn’t overly large to begin with. By letting us relax at the resort, Chucho and Chono had room to change our tanks out.

Our second dive site today was Yucab, another site we’ve dove before. I like Yucab, and the reef is quite beautiful. There’s practically no current there, so it’s a very easy dive. Keith had some equipment issues from his last dive, so he sat the second dive out. I enjoyed listening to his and Barbara’s conversation about whether or not she would dive. Since getting her certification, she’s only had Keith as a dive buddy, so Keith was concerned about her being uncomfortable diving with someone else.

Keith: Now honey, even though I’m not diving, you should still dive without me, I won’t mind, in fact….

Barbara: SPLASH!

I guess that settled that. Cindy and I splashed right behind her and off we went. I wish I would’ve had my GoPro going so I could record the look on his face. Barbara did just fine, though, and had not only Chucho looking after her, but Cindy and me as well. She was never more than a couple of kicks away from any of us.

This dive lasted just over an hour, and felt like 15 minutes. There’s always so much to see, and if your head isn’t on a swivel, you are going to miss something (although chances are you’ll still miss something cool anyway). Chucho is good about pointing out interesting fish, though, so pay attention to your divemaster, boys and girls. Having said that, I feel no shame taking the obligatory selfie once in a while. Why not, digital photos are cheap.

Scuba selfie!

Climbing back in the dive boat after this dive, I was contemplating asking Chucho to return to the marina for a third tank for us. Since Keith would have to sit that one out as well, I thought the better of it and we called it a day. Chucho had a cab waiting for us by the time we got back to the marina and unloaded our gear. If you need a recommendation for a dive op in Cozumel, you won’t go wrong with Chucho. He’ll take great care of you and give you some fantastic dives.

We got back to Puerta Maya (the cruise terminal area) and did a little shopping there. Cozumel is a great place for souvenirs, especially t-shirts. Wow, it’s almost 3:30 and even though “all aboard” isn’t until 5:30, we still need to rinse our dive gear. The best place to do this, at least for us, is the Lido pool. I’ll usually go to the aft pool because it is less crowded. There are fresh water showers by the pool, so I’ll stay in my swim trunks and just stand under the shower rinsing our gear. We’ll then spread it out on the sun loungers and let it dry in the sun while we get back in the pool. It’s too close to dinner for a big lunch, but I’m hungry! A slice of pizza will do nicely and it’s just a short walk to the pizza place on Lido.

We let our gear dry until 5, then hauled everything downstairs so we could get cleaned up for dinner. It was mostly dry, and more importantly had all the salt water rinsed off. A cool shower felt good and got all the salt water off of us as well. We got dressed and headed to the MDR.

Carnival’s “American Table” menu features cuisine from the ports of call, so since we are in Mexico today naturally one of the entrĂ©e selections is steak tacos. I’ve had these before and they are actually pretty tasty for being something prepared on this scale.

Appetizer: Baked meatballs in a smoky tomato sauce – Yummy

Main: Steak tacos (2 orders of 2)

Dessert: Blueberry pie a la mode – most excellent!

Barbara, Keith, Cindy and I said goodbye to our other tablemates, as tomorrow night we are having dinner at the steakhouse. You’ll hear more about it in tomorrow’s blog. After dinner we strolled around on Promenade Deck (deck 5) for a bit and eventually made our way into the Ovation theatre on Deck 3 forward for the main show. This was a magic act featuring two magicians called “Two Men Without Assistance.” They put on an entertaining show, and I’m glad we decided to watch them. There’s just one more sea day left before our cruise ends. Time really does fly when you are having fun.

It’s been a long, but fun two days of diving, and all of us are ready for a little down time in the cabin. I want dive back in, no pun intended, into Heart of the Maya to see what other trouble Mike Scott has gotten into. Mr. Douglas, you’re killin’ me here. I’m losing sleep because I can’t put my Kindle down until it keeps hitting me in the face.

Coming up tomorrow, our last “fun day at sea” and my final thoughts on this wonderful cruise.