December 07, 2015

Vision of The Seas Day 7

Day 7 Aruba – The ship arrives at 7:00 and the tours start leaving at 7:30. There are 4 bus loads of passengers taking the "Best of Aruba" tour. I am supposed to meet Marilyn in the terminal building at the staging area for tours at 7:45. I'm there about 10 minutes early. I know she is up and about as we pass in the Windjammer a little after 7:00.

The first 3 buses leave, the fourth is loading and it is now 7:55. No Marilyn in sight. Sorry Marilyn, you are a big girl, I board the bus without you. The bus pulls away to begin our tour. It would be sad if she missed the bus, but I really hold out that we just missed each other. It was a last minute decision the afternoon before for her to even take this tour, and she specifically booked this one because I would be on it. I wonder what happened.

About an hour later at one of the tour stops, I see Marilyn walking across the parking lot. When she saw the buses were starting to load, she thought maybe she had missed me and got on the first bus before I even arrived.

The tour hasn't changed much since the last time I took a similar tour about 3 years ago. Like Bonaire and Curacao, much of the island is desert. The east shore is barren rock and is constantly being pounded by the heavy surf from the prevailing easterly winds, much of the vegetation is cactus and reminds me of the Arizona landscape. The large hotels tend to be on the west side of the island where the seas are calmer and the beaches are plentiful.

Our tour stops at the Aruba Aloe factory, actually I think every tour stops here. We are presented with a short tour, a sales pitch that reminds me of the snake oil salesmen seen in the wild west movies, and of course the opportunity to make a purchase. I decline as usual.

The weather remains unchanged, warm, sunny skies, and a constant breeze to provide some relief from the sun. My tour guide is good, and I get the impression from Marilyn that her tour guide was excellent.

Besides Adrienne and Steve there are another young diamond member couple that we see almost every night for drinks. Regina and Scott are on their honeymoon, having been married only a week of so. They auditioned and were selected for the Love and Marriage show. I didn't see the live show, but as usual it is played over and over on TV throughout the rest of the cruise. There are now 2000 people that know more about them than they ever thought they would divulge. Probably some things that I would find embarrassing to even write about, so I won't.

Dan, the Maitre D' leaves me a message as he promised. He assures me that when I arrive in the dining room at my reserved time of 5:45 I will be seated properly. I arrive and escorted to a table not far from where I was seated the night before. I sit down, and quickly evaluate the surroundings. The guests are different and we have a different waiter. Four of the guests have ordered, and two others are still reading a menu as I sit down.

Is this the way it is supposed to be? No. Is it as bad as the previous night? No. Is it slightly better. Yes.

We all introduce ourselves. The lasagna is excellent, and uncharacteristically I order one scoop of chocolate ice cream for desert.

During dinner I learn several of my table mates had overhead my conversation with the manager the previous night. (Dan, not me, chose to have our discussion in the middle of dining room.) I was thanked for speaking up as they had similar problems but were too timid to say anything.

I go to the theater 35 minutes before show time to hopefully get a choice of seats. Wrong again, there are just a few scattered seats around the theater. I decide to take advantage of being a Diamond Plus member and sit in the section usually reserved for us. Wrong again, another perk for being "Loyal to Royal" has been removed, at least on this ship. There is a section for suite guests, but not for any of the Crown and Anchor loyalty groups.

I find a seat in the last row of the balcony and enjoy an excellent headliner show. Jerry Goodspeed, a comedian and ventriloquist. For those of you that are not familiar with the routine, Each ship usually has a resident show that will play every week for years. The other nights are filled in by "headliners", acts that come on board for one show. They usually join the ship at one port, do a show, disembark at the next port and then go to another ship.

I don't have the ability to put captions with images, so I will just write a little bit here. The cactus is typical of much of the landscape in Aruba and the other islands. The lighthouse is in the process of being refurbished. It is a popular tourist attraction that has been closed for many years. There are two things that should be noted. First it is Sunday, and very few people are willing to work on Sundays in Aruba. Some shops are opened just for the tourists, but most local businesses are closed. Secondly note how the scaffold is being built. Each piece is handed man to man to the top of the tower. No cranes or bucket lifts for this job.

Curacao Images

The white piles are 99.9% pure salt awaiting loading onto ship for export. The pink coloring of the evaporation pools is caused by a bacteria that only grows in water of extremely high salt content. 

The natural harbor divides the colorful city of Curacao. 

The floating bridge, originally built in the late 1800's is now used only for foot traffic. It opens frequently to allow marine traffic to pass. Dozens of tanker ships bring crude oil from Venezuela and carry finished products to the US and Europe.

A modern high arched bridge carries vehicle traffic across the channel. 

The Vision of  The Seas in Curacao

Vision of The Seas Day 4 - 6

Day 4 - I spend part of the second day at sea writing the last post. Then I decide to work on some model train stuff. I am in the process of writing documentation for the Club's sectional layout. It basically exists in scattered bits and pieces, but needs to be cleaned up, consolidated, and printed for member use in the years to come.

Since I find the Concierge Lounge to be a comfortable place, I stay, planning to leave about 3:30 to get ready for evening activities. About 2:45 Jeannie, Tom, and several others come into the lounge. Within 5 minutes the lounge is full, and a waiter comes over and asks what I would like to drink. I politely tell him that I will wait an hour or so until cocktail hour, when Jeannie says it is cocktail hour. I look again at my computer and it isn't even 3:00 yet. Then it dawns on me that the "time" karma has struck again. Since I have not connected to the internet, my computer is still on the last time zone. I pack up my computer, order a drink, and apologize to others for not being properly attired for the Concierge Lounge cocktail hour. I'm forgiven, the lounge host either doesn't see that I am wearing shorts or chooses to ignore the fact, and cocktails begin.

I have dinner plans with Adrienne and friends at Chops tonight. We enjoy a good but not exceptional dinner. The appetizers were excellent and creative, the tenderloin only so so, and the deserts ran the full range of tasteless to excellent. None of us left hungry.

Several of us decide to go to see the magician "Puck" at 8:30 in the main theater. Just the same as the previous night the theater was at capacity. We find one seat for Marilyn, Steve and I stand along the back wall in the balcony. Puck was good, but he was upstaged big time by the two lady volunteers he randomly picked from the audience. All he could say was "I picked them."

Day 5 – We arrive in Bonaire on schedule. The skies are partly cloudy with temperatures in the high 80's with a nice breeze. The majority of passengers get off the ship. The shopping area here is small, but very convenient to the ship. I am taking a tour, "Bonaire Highlights", a little later this afternoon. All aboard is 6:30, the same time as my tour returns. No cocktails before dinner tonight, but I have no concern that the ship will leave without me, one of the benefits of booking tours with the cruise line.

Second thought, maybe cocktails when I board, but no dinner. That might be a better plan. I check out the evenings menu, it is confirmed, cocktails and Park Avenue for a snack – no dining room tonight.

Our tour guide is an American transplant from Iowa that moved to Bonaire 35 years ago to operate a dive shop. Eventually he graduated to technical diving, and today only dives occasionally. Diving is still a major attraction of Bonaire. Most divers dive directly from the rocky shore. Until a few years ago there was a world class pink sand beach on Bonaire, but all the sand was washed away during a rare storm.

Cruise ships began to bring tourists about ten years ago. Now about one ship per week, but occasionally as many as four per week visit the island. The smallest of the ABC islands with 18,000 people, the tourist infrastructure is not very extensive. The island offers few jobs that pay more than the minimum $5.00 per hour wage. Salt production, operated by Cargil is still a major operation, and the only export of the island. Much of the island is national park land with goats and donkeys running where ever they want.

The highlight of our tour occurred at a stop at a small cultural museum. While the 20 tourists, the tour guide, and the bus driver were off the bus, it began to roll down a hill. The driver was in fast pursuit and quickly brought the bus under control before there was any damage. Such things can't be planned, they just seem to happen.

December 5, day 6 – After a very slow cruise, we arrive on schedule in Curacao. I quickly learn the floating bridge has been in operation for two weeks after a major repair project. This actually is a couple of weeks ahead of schedule. Another gorgeous day for the tourists. 85 degrees, mostly sunny with the normal brisk prevailing winds from the East. This time of year should be the rainy season, but fortunately for the tourists and unfortunately for the locals, rain has been very scarce this year.

Many passengers are taking one of the dozens of tours offered here, there are several shopping areas within easy walking distance of the ship. With departure not scheduled until 9:30 tonight, I expect many passengers will dine and/or drink in one of the many local establishments.

Tourism is the biggest contributor to the local economy. This is followed by oil refining of crude from Venezuela and exporting refined products to the US and Europe. There is also a major dry dock operation here, repairing over 400 ships every year. On my last vist, they were working on a very large oil platform, this time an ocean floor cable laying ship.

As with the other Dutch islands, all of the buildings are painted brightly colored pastels. The story goes this was dictated by a government official that just happened to have a major interest in a paint company. Regardless whether or not this is true, the result in a colorful palette of building colors.

As expected the passenger manifest for this cruise is heavily biased towards retired seniors. I have heard there are about 6 little kids, and would guess less than 10 percent of the passengers are under 55. This is just to help me adjust my expectations for my world cruise next month where I expect to be one of the youngest passengers.

I have learned an advantage of the more mature passenger demographics. I am not as likely to be the slowest walker in the tour group. This is the first time in my life I have ever experienced this. I now walk faster than half the other passengers instead of being slower than 99 percent of them. There are advantages to maturing. (We try to never use any word that begins with old....)

The downside of having two hip replacements is that I can't even get near a security checkpoint without setting off the alarms. Every time I board the ship I am pulled aside for special attention. I get used to this pretty quickly. I don't know if it just this ship, or the result of some of the recent world events, but a number of passengers have been asked to remove their shoes. I have escaped that, which is rather surprising considering the size of my left shoe. Probably could hold a quart of gin if hollowed out. Maybe another way to sneak booze on board.

The "my time dining" is experiencing major operational problems. After again being seated with others that are served their main course before the waiter even takes my order, I decide it is time for a conversation with the manager of the dining room, an Assistant Maitre D' that formerly was on the Monarch. I hold little hope that he will be able to fix any of the problems before the end of the cruise, but if he is not told he can't even begin to address them. I learn that I am only one of many that have brought the problems to his attention. From what I hear the main dining room is working better. He promised he would be back with me before dinner the next night. Time will tell.