All posts by Tom Dills

In Praise Of Small Airports

Passenger waiting area. Melbourne Orlando International Airport, Melbourne, Florida

On our most recent trip to Florida, Kathy & I decided to fly, rather than make the 9-ish hour drive down unpredictable I-95. As a result, we had the very pleasant experience of using the Melbourne Orlando International Airport (MLB). What a nice airport and a refreshing change!

Passenger waiting area. Melbourne Orlando International Airport, Melbourne, Florida
Passenger terminal hallway. Melbourne Orlando International Airport, Melbourne, Florida
Think we can get on the Glasgow flight? Departure board. Melbourne Orlando International Airport, Melbourne, Florida

The Melbourne airport is modern and clean with everything you would expect in an airport – except crowds! With the exception of the occasional charter flight from the UK or elsewhere and a few non-daily flights, the airport appears to be largely a private and corporate plane base. There are a number of Northrup Grumman plants nearby as well as a number of space-related companies. Other than that, the commercial activity appears to be Delta flights to and from Atlanta, and American flights to and from Charlotte. It was quite a contrast to the madness of the Charlotte airport!

We arrived to a nearly empty terminal, found our checked bag in “Baggage Claim” (there is only one!) and found a pleasant covered spot to sit while we waited for the free airport shuttle to our hotel. On our return trip, the shuttle drivers at the hotel assured us that there was no need to arrive 2 hours ahead. Skeptical, I took him at his word, and sure enough when we arrived just over an hour before, we walked right up to a check-in counter, staffed by a real person, and turned in our bag. We then proceeded to the TSA checkpoint, where there were more TSA employees than passengers. We breezed through TSA Pre-check and waited in a mostly quiet waiting area. No clueless wandering passengers, no repeated announcements about maintaining possession of your carry-on, none of the drama of Charlotte. And no crush of impatient passengers trying to board. Nice!

Tarmac. Melbourne Orlando International Airport, Melbourne, Florida
View of Melbourne Orlando International Airport on our flight to Charlotte from Melbourne

Kathy & I decided that we could return to Melbourne any time. We found the hotel to be very nice, staffed with friendly people and in an excellent location on the beach. We’ll also take a look at other small airports we could fly to for a few days’ getaway!

Selfie (or Photo) spot. Melbourne Orlando International Airport, Melbourne, Florida
Selfie (or Photo) spot. Melbourne Orlando International Airport, Melbourne, Florida

The Ocean Blue

Blue Water. Melbourne, Florida

We’re packing up and getting ready to head home, but it’s been a very nice visit to a new (for us) place. We spent time with friends, had some beach time, ate some good seafood and even got to see a rocket launch! I didn’t take any photos of the launch because it happened at 3 am and would have only showed an orange ball against a black background! But it was great to see, since it was the closest we’ve been to one (we’re about 30 miles from Kennedy Space Center).

I’ll have some more photos and stories once I get home and get the files into my computer. Processing photos on my tablet is a bit cumbersome. And takes away from my beach time! 😉

Hurricane Evacuation Plan. Squid Lips Seafood Restaurant, Melbourne, FL

 

Postcard From Melbourne, Florida

Beach Time! Melbourne, Florida

Kathy and I are in Melbourne, FL enjoying a few days at the beach with our friends Jo Anne & Brent. I’m trying something a little different (for me) this trip and am planning to act like a tourist and take photos only with my phone. Took this on the beach before the occupants returned. Over-processed in Lightroom Mobile, which I suppose most tourists don’t do. 😉

A (Nearly) Perfect Headline

Frog and Onion Pub and Restaurant. At Royal Naval Dockyard, Bermuda

I suppose if I were a Twitter-er I could post a comment about it there, but since I’m not, I’ll post it here. I love a good headline, especially in this era of meaningless “clickbait” headlines. This one is pretty tough to beat:

Clichés to Avoid Like the Plague

I kinda don’t even care what the article is about. But I love the headline!

Taking Jim’s Picture

Triangular. Abandoned train trestle supports in Staunton, Virginia

A few weekends ago, Kathy & I visited Staunton, VA to meet up with our friends Jim & Lisa, who drove down from Pennsylvania. We like to find interesting towns to visit for a few days when we have a chance to meet up. Last summer we met in Lewisburg, WV, and we’re planning a trip to Kentucky for later this year.

Staunton (pronounced STON-ton) is a pleasant and vibrant town located along I-81 just north of Roanoke and is about halfway between Jim & Lisa’s home in Pennsylvania and our home in Charlotte. In addition to a nice downtown with good restaurants and interesting shops, Staunton is home to the American Shakespeare Center, the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Mary Baldwin University. Oh, and the Camera Heritage Museum.

We spent a few days walking around the town, saw a play at American Shakespeare Center’s Blackfriars Playhouse, had some good meals and visited some interesting shops. We were there on St. Patrick’s Day and enjoyed a dinner at a restaurant with a live Celtic band.

Triangular. Abandoned train trestle supports in Staunton, Virginia

One afternoon we were walking around town, and at some point came across these old railroad trestle supports. I don’t remember the words, but Jim asked me if I thought they would make a good photograph. I had seen them but hadn’t responded to them yet, so Jim’s question woke me up. Yes, they were quite interesting, and as it turned out I was able to make a few photographs that prove the point.

Just like with the photos of Bill’s tree in my last post, sometimes it is someone else’s eyes that discover the photo, and my job is to do something  with it. Looks like I may have to make another print! 😉

Triangular. Abandoned train trestle supports in Staunton, Virginia

Bill’s Tree

My next door neighbor’s tree, silhouetted against the evening sky.

One evening a few weeks ago, Kathy & I were sitting at the kitchen table after dinner, likely finishing some wine before venturing off the do the dishes. The sun had recently set, and the sky was crystal clear. As we sat there, one of us (I’ll give Kathy the credit) said something about how interesting our neighbor’s tree looked against the sky. I sat there, looked at it and at some point said “I’m going to get my camera.”

My next door neighbor’s tree, silhouetted against the evening sky.

It took me just a few minutes to drag out the camera and tripod, attach the L-bracket and set it up on the patio. There was no wind, so I didn’t have to worry about movement, and I made a couple dozen frames. They aren’t technically perfect – I could have used a little more depth of field – but they do have a bit of a zen-like look to them.

It’s another lesson in being willing to make a photograph when it presents itself, even if it is right outside our window.

My next door neighbor’s tree, silhouetted against the evening sky.

Artistry At Sea

The Solarium aboard Celebrity Apex

This is (finally) the final post of photos from our February cruise marathon. Completed galleries can be found on my Adobe Portfolio page for anyone wanting to see more.

Light fixture over the Martini Bar aboard Celebrity Apex
Light fixture over the Martini Bar aboard Celebrity Apex
Artwork aboard Celebrity Apex

Cruise ships have always had vast art displays on board. Even back in the early days of steamship travel, ships were known to have decor consisting of paintings, sculptures and murals. Modern cruise ships seem to be carrying this artistic theme even into their design. More and more we are seeing sweeping atriums, huge glass observation decks, and dramatic architectural features that are much more about form than function.

Pendulum-like sculpture aboard Celebrity Apex
Pendulum-like sculpture aboard Celebrity Apex
Pendulum-like sculpture aboard Celebrity Apex
Pendulum-like sculpture aboard Celebrity Apex

On our Celebrity Apex cruise, I tried to capture a bit of the flavor of t his art, as well as some of the design elements. Here is a small collection of what I saw.

The main pool deck area aboard Celebrity Apex
‘Eden’ lounge and restaurant aboard Celebrity Apex
Aboard Celebrity Apex
Collection of Champagne seals formed into little chairs. Le Grand Bistro dining room aboard Celebrity Apex
Artwork aboard Celebrity Apex
Artwork aboard Celebrity Apex
Artwork aboard Celebrity Apex
Artwork aboard Celebrity Apex
Aboard Celebrity Apex
Artwork aboard Celebrity Apex
The Theater aboard Celebrity Apex
Artwork aboard Celebrity Apex
Artwork aboard Celebrity Apex
Artwork aboard Celebrity Apex
Artwork aboard Celebrity Apex
Artwork aboard Celebrity Apex

Sailing On The Apex

Our stateroom #7231 aboard Celebrity Apex

I’m getting close to the end (you’re welcome) of the photos from our cruise marathon this past February. I’ve posted three galleries on my Adobe Portfolio page for anyone who just has to see more.

Our stateroom #7231 aboard Celebrity Apex
The Infinite Verandah was a bit of a letdown. When the window is open the climate control in the room shuts off. The shade covering the window at night can only be raised or lowered, so there is no way to use the balcony while someone in the room is still asleep.

I get a lot of comments about the size of cruise ships, especially from people who have never sailed on one, or sometimes have never even seen one. So I thought I would post some photos and make some comments about this particular ship plus show a brief comparison of ship sizes.

Le Grand Bistro dining room aboard Celebrity Apex
A machine almost as nice as Jeff’s!

Celebrity Apex is the second ship in what is known as the Edge Class that was introduced in 2018. The first ship of course was Edge (2018), followed by Apex (2020), Beyond (2022) and later this year, Ascent. There may be more in the pipeline but I’m not sure. Edge Class is the latest of three classes of ship, with the exception of some smaller specialty ships that sail exclusively in the Galapagos (they are on our long-term list but are quite pricey).

‘Eden’ lounge and restaurant aboard Celebrity Apex
‘Eden’ lounge and restaurant aboard Celebrity Apex
Guitarist Bryan James performs in Eden aboard Celebrity Apex

Cruise ships are generally compared in terms of Gross Tonnage (a measure of volume, not weight), length and passenger count. I’m using Celebrity’s ships for comparison, although there are many other ships with different lines, both larger and smaller.

From a previous cruise: Celebrity Constellation, Oasis of the Seas and Celebrity Beyond
The orange structure on the side is the Magic Carpet. It travels up and down the side of the ship and functions as a bar by day, a restaurant at night, and a tender platform when the ship is operating tenders to take guests to shore.

We don’t usually sail on ships when they are fairly new, because in general they are more pricey than ships that have been out a while. But in this case, we were already in Fort Lauderdale for our first two cruises, so by spreading the travel expenses over another cruise we were able to bring the average cost down. And we got a pretty good price for booking fairly late, and it gave us a chance to try out a ship sooner than we might otherwise.

The Solarium aboard Celebrity Apex
The main pool deck area aboard Celebrity Apex
Oceanview Cafe dining area aboard Celebrity Apex
Rooftop Garden area aboard Celebrity Apex
Rooftop Garden area aboard Celebrity Apex
Rooftop Garden area aboard Celebrity Apex

One of the recent trends among some of the cruise lines is to make the ships larger and larger. Royal Caribbean has the largest ships afloat, and will soon be introducing Icon of the Seas, which will carry 7,600 passengers. I’m sorry, but that is stupid big. Not to say we’ll never sail on her, but when our preference is ships 1/3 of the size, we aren’t going to be standing in line!

What always surprises us is that for the most part, the ships don’t feel crowded. Exceptions are sea days by the pool, and “lobster night” in the main dining rooms. Sometimes there is a special event going on in the central atrium (called different things on different ships) and those can get crowded. Other than that, Kathy & I have developed some routines that get us out and about before the crowds arrive (we call them “the nooners” although I’m aware that term has several meanings. 😉 ). There are often out of the way places where it is quiet and uncrowded, although that also means we have to walk a way to the bathrooms and retrieve our own drinks. 🙂

The main pool deck area aboard Celebrity Apex
Passageway along the pool deck aboard Celebrity Apex

The great thing about newer ships, however, is that the decor and architecture are beautiful. The layout, styling and technology have come a long way since we started cruising in 2000. There are more dining choices, more entertainment options, the theaters have new technologies and even the staterooms have fancy gadgets like temperature and lighting controls. It’s even possible to adjust the shades, lighting and temperature of a stateroom using an app, from anywhere on the ship. Not terribly useful, but there are cases where it might be.

Production show ‘Rockumentary’ in The Theater on Celebrity Apex
Cellist ‘Elanka’ performing in The Theater aboard Celebrity Apex
The Theater aboard Celebrity Apex
Cosmopolitan dining room aboard Celebrity Apex
Tuscan dining room aboard Celebrity Apex
Casino aboard Celebrity Apex

There were things we loved about Apex, and a few things that we didn’t care for. I won’t go into a lot of detail here, but overall we liked the ship, but for our money we prefer the smaller and slightly older Solstice Class like Equinox that we sailed on for the first two cruises.

Cleaning the light fixture over the Martini Bar aboard Celebrity Apex