November 17, 2015

Freedom B2B October 11 & 18, 2015

Boarding was non eventful at Port Canaveral. Before sailing there is the usual muster drill. Just as the announcements were being made that the drill would be in 15 minutes, the clouds opened up and the rain came down in buckets. I was on the channel side of the ship, and the rain was so heavy I could not see the shore a few hundred feet away.

Fortunately at the conclusion of the drill we were permitted to pass thru the dining room and avoided having to walk in the rain. Many people standing close to the railings got wet.

For dinner I was seated at a window table with four delightful table mates, and we were blessed with one of the brightest double rainbows I have ever seen. Of course I didn't have a camera with me. You would think with my professional photo lab background I should know better than most that a picture is worth a thousand words. Another habit I need to change if I am going to make blog writing successful.

Our table enjoyed each others company so much, and our waiter and assistant waiter were so good that we decided to dine together every night even though we had initially booked "my time dining".

Before and after dinner I meet some passengers that are neighbors at home. Of course I never see them there, I need to be on a cruise ship to see them.

There are about about 200 Diamond, 100 Diamond plus and a handful of Pinnacle Loyalty Club members, a very typical and manageable number. Several passengers have been here for several weeks and will be among the 60 passengers doing back to back cruises next week as well.

Most of the staff is unchanged from a month ago. Well the important staff anyway. The servers in the Diamond and Concierge lounge and most of the cabin stewards and dining room staff. The cruise director is still on board, and the captain, well I'm not sure except to say I know we have one.

Most importantly Kelly is still at the piano keys. I have known Kelly and his wife Ann for a number of years. Kelly plays the same rotation every week, but not exactly the same. He will do tributes to The Beatles, Elton John, Neil Diamond, and of course Jimmy Buffet, along with many piano bar favorites. While the themes may repeat the music is always changing to please the crowd. Just a few weeks ago Kelly celebrated his 5th year with Royal, and as always with Ann in the audience.

If you haven't guessed, on any ship that has a piano bar, that is often where you will find me in the late evening.

Despite my intentions to get off the ship more often, my feeble efforts were easily thwarted this cruise. The Weather forecast for Grand Cayman was wind and rain. I made my decision to stay on the ship. The weather actually turned out pretty nice. A few people got caught in some rain but for the most part the day was good. A passenger was injured just before sailing and needed to be taken ashore for medical treatment. Our sailing was delayed about an hour and a half, time that was made up en-route to our next port.

A group of us make plans to meet at a local bar in Cozumel for happy hour. Not what I often do, but an excuse to get off the ship with a mission entices me to make the commitment. After we tie up and it is nearing time to think about disembarking, the heavens open up with high winds and heavy rains. I'm not usually one to back out, but there is no way I'm going out in this weather just to get a beer at a local hangout, even if it is happy hour at 1:00 PM.

The rain and wind howls all day. Some of the cabins that were added during the last refurbishment are flooded. We hear this is a common occurrence due to an engineering oversight that can't be addressed until the ship is in dry-dock again.

Many of you are probably aware that there was a fire on the Freedom several months ago. Several passengers that were on The Freedom that week have nothing but praise for the officers, and crew in handling the situation. A sharp contrast to what has been reported on other cruise lines. While an official report hasn't been released it is assumed by most that the fire started in the area where exhaust scrubbers are being installed. Work that continues everyday. This has resulted in portions of deck 14 outside being closed, and with the card room on deck 14 being converted into a temporary construction office.

As we head back to port Canaveral we hear an announcement from the captain that the ship will be taking a sharp 180 degree turn. A makeshift raft with a number of people on board has been spotted and the US Coast Guard has requested The Freedom to rescue the passengers. A small boat is launched, and over the course of several trips, 7 Cuban refugees are brought on board. They have been at sea for 10 or 11 days in an attempt to reach mainland USA.

They all are checked out by the medical staff and given food, water, and clothes. Several hours later the refugees are transferred to a Coast Guard boat to be returned to Cuba. Not happy to have failed in their attempt for freedom, but very greatful to be rescued and alive after their ordeal at sea.

I really can't count this as "getting off the ship", but in Port Canaveral all the passengers doing back to back disembark, show a customs agent our passports and declarations forms, and then after a brief wait board the ship again. Many of us are in the same cabin, and they are ready when we board the ship, several hours before the cabins for new passengers.

The cruise line has lunch for us in the dining room. A special menu to order from, and most importantly only about 50 people. No fighting the crowds in the buffet as most passengers have to do while waiting for their rooms to be ready.

Our next scheduled stop is Royal Caribbean's private island of Coco Cay. This is a small island and passengers have to tender from the ship. Well that is how it works sometimes. As we approach the general vicinity, the winds are blowing at 50 to 60 miles per hour as they have been all night and the seas are running 20 feet or more. No way are we going to stop. Actually this happens quite often. I knew a lady several years ago that had been on many cruises, and in about 15 attempts she never made it to Coco Cay, the seas were always too rough. Despite all the advanced ship designs we are still at the mercy of weather, the same as the early explorers hundreds of years ago.

All outside areas were closed for most of Monday. Walking outside would be impossible. The strong winds broke one of the revolving doors leading to deck 11, and water sloshed out of the pools more from the winds than from movement of the ship.

One of the advantages of large ships like The Freedom is that she rides very nice in rough water. At most the pitch and roll of the ship is just a few degrees. Many passengers don't even feel it, but of course there are some passengers that find the ship movement bothersome when we are still tied up to the dock.

This week we have over 500 Diamond level passengers and the Diamond Lounge is impossible to get into. Fortunately I also have the option of the Concierge Lounge where Arnie, one of the servers, takes excellent care of the guests. We missed her Monday becaue she was too sea sick to work, but she returns to duty Tuesday. Very rarely do you hear of a crew member getting sea sick.

Arnie is a seasoned employee, having completed numerous 6 to 9 month contracts. Because of all the new ships coming into service, RC has been adding many new employees, and the HR manager tells me that he has over 500 crew members on the ship that are in their first contract. An unusually high number and I am sure a big challenge for management.

As we head south, the seas calm down and the weather is hot but nice. While in St. Thomas I spend the day in or around the pool. Unlike many passengers I do my best to stay out of the sun. The UV index is very high on sunny days in the Caribbean.

It is getting near the end of the 2 weeks and I haven't been off the ship except to see the customs agent. I decide to take a shore excursion in St Marten. I choose one that goes to areas I haven't been to in recent memory. (Of couse recent memory may only be a few weeks.) My tour meets on the pier as soon as we dock. I wait with 30 or 40 other passengers when we are approached by a representative from the tour operator. There is some sort of unrest on the French side of the island and the demonstrators have blocked all the roads. He offers us the choice of a canceling the tour or taking a modified tour that will stay on the Dutch side. I elect the modified tour and we are driven around parts of the island that tourists are never taken to, and probably shouldn't be.

Just as the ship is leaving port I head to the lounge and see Kay and John. They took a cab to the French side before the roads were blocked. When they attempted to return to the ship no drivers would take them. After they met up with a younger couple with the same problem, they devised a plan. They made up a story of the woman being pregnant and needing immediate medical attention from the ship's doctor. Finding a sympathetic driver they headed for the ship. Not being able to get past the road blocks, the driver called a buddy on the Dutch side and the four passengers walked a half mile or so around the road blocks and found the "buddy" waiting to take them to the ship. They made it back with only minutes to spare. I never learned if the two drivers involved were from the Dutch or French side, nor what the demonstration was all about, but with 4 ships and probably over 10,000 tourists in port, the financial impact was not trivial.

Unfortunately I expect several others were not so fortunate in getting back to the ship. Several passengers were repeatedly paged as we prepared to cast off. A strong indication that the ship has no record of them returning to the ship.

The rest of the voyage is uneventful and I reluctantly disembark and return to reality. I did take notes for this post while on the ship, but posted it from home. The next time I am at sea, I will post to the blog from the ship. Well that is the plan anyway.