August 27, 2016

Two Days at Sea

The skies remain clear and sunny, the seas calm and the winds slight as we pass North of Cuba and South of the Florida Keys. The Captain is predicting good weather for today and tomorrow as we head back to Port Canaveral. We have managed to out maneuver the storm that dumped a lot of rain on our initial destinations in the Eastern Caribbean. Now that passengers experienced the good weather we enjoyed, and the rainy wet weather we have avoided, everyone appears to be happy.

During the course of several refurbishments, more and more public spaces are being converted into revenue generating venues. I'm not a board game or card player, but several years ago there were two rooms, one primarily for board games, the other with numerous tables for the card players. One of the rooms has been converted into a rather permanent construction office for outside vendors that are working on the ship, and the card room has been left with only 1 table and 5 or 6 chairs. Needless to say the card players are rather frustrated, especially those that are not able to use the diamond lounge.

I must admit after being on a small ship with about 20% of the number of passengers as here, and then a mid sized ship with half the passengers, The Freedom seems quite crowded. There is almost always a wait for an elevator, a line to enter the dining room, and very limited seating in the Concierge Lounge and Diamond Lounge. I have tried to go to the Diamond Lounge on several occasions, and found no available seats. Of course the pools are packed, but I don't use the pools on a ship as I have access to several nice clean uncrowded ones at home.

Tonight is the second formal night. Most passengers are looking forward to Lobster, needless to say, being allergic to fish and seafood, I'm not. Probably three cheese tortellini or prime rib. Drew Thomas is our entertainer for tonight. He has been on the Freedom for several years. He is a good magician or illusionist, whichever you prefer. The theater is packed long before he begins his show. He has changed his show a little since last year, but it is basically the same.

On the morning of the last day at sea, the captain and some officers hold the Captain's Corner where guests can ask some questions. Some of them can be hilarious, or scary, depending on your perspective.

One guest stated he booked a port side balcony so he could overlook the port while we were docked and asked the captain why he docked on the starboard side of the ship instead of the port side as he was supposed to. He docks whichever way is easiest to maneuver the ship.

Of course someone always asks who is driving the ship since the Captain is here talking to the guests. Other officers.

Another guest wanted to know if the ship washed towels as her friend always brought washcloths and towels with her because she was told the ship never washed them. Yes, tons on laundry everyday.

Another passenger wanted to know if the drinking water was really recycled and purified waste water as she had been told. No, waste water is purified to drinking standards and discharged into the ocean.

At one point when asked about the change in itinerary, the Captain let it slip that the decision was made last week, several days before we even left Port Canaveral. A fact they usually don't divulge to the passengers.

The weather is near perfect again, and the forecast for our arrival in port is a typical Florida forecast, hot, humid, with a chance of late afternoon showers.

Most of the day we have been moving forward at less than 5 knots. I suspect the gulf stream is probably moving faster than that. Normally the Freedom only takes one day to go from Cozumel to Port Canaveral, but we have taken two since we were diverted from the Eastern Caribbean.

I expect to be home, unpacked, and laundry finished by late Sunday afternoon. My next cruise is booked for October, but that may change tomorrow, I never know.

August 26, 2016

Cozumel Mexico

Our ship arrives early in the morning after a short cruise from Costa Maya. The ship is cleared by 7:00 am, long before most passengers, especially this one, are awake.

By late morning there are two other ships in port, the Carnival Splendor and the Carnival Freedom, not to be confused with the ship I am on, Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas.

The temperatures are very pleasant in the lower to middle 80's with a nice breeze from the East, off the ocean. The skies are mostly sunny with a few light puffy clouds. For a little while it looks like a shower might be approaching, but it never materializes.

The Internet is much better today, yesterday is was not very good. Connecting was easy but the email speeds were terrible. Raoul, the concierge host, said he talked to the IT people and there was nothing wrong, but for some reason many of us had the same issue. I have seen several "Harris" contractors on board, they are often the contractor for communications systems. At least he asked.

I spend the morning reading a couple of NMRA magazines I brought with me, and spend much of the afternoon working on a project for the Model Train Club.

For many of you this may be a disappointment, but so far there is no bad or questionable behavior to report. Maybe all the strange characters are sticking to Holland America.

I grab a burger at Johnny Rockets about 3:30. This will be my dinner for tonight. Not because I don't want to go to the dining room, but because the only ice show I can make is during my dining time. Even though the show hasn't changed much in years, it is one show that I don't mind seeing over and over because the skaters are so good. Most of them have competed at the world or Olympic level before getting into the ice show aspect of the profession.

We leave Cozumel at about 7PM for our journey back to Port Canaveral. The weather forecast is not too specific at this point in time, but we may be traveling through some stormy weather off the South and East coast of Florida depending on how tropical depression 99L develops or doesn't. I am sure the captain will keep us informed, and divert us elsewhere if needed. So far the seas have been calm for the entire voyage.

I don't remember this being the case in years past, but the only entertainment tonight in the main theater is the showing of a movie. Star Trek in 3D. Another cost reduction measure?

August 24, 2016

Heading West Towards Mexico

Our first of several days at sea. The seas are calm, the skies mostly clear with some broken clouds. Our course is taking us just off the northern coast of Cuba. The Havana skyline is visible in the distance. Gradually restrictions are being lifted on travel to Cuba. Some cruise lines already offer regular service, but the cost is pretty high compared to other Caribbean cruises.

I head to the buffet for breakfast, it is very busy even though it is after 10 AM. I grab a couple of freshly cooked eggs. Fortunately another perk for many cruises is reserved seating in Giovanni's Table. Now if they could just devise a way to avoid the endless jams at the elevators.

Having just looked at tonight's menu, I conclude that Royal has made significant improvements in the menu choices since last fall. So far no temptation to dine in the buffet instead of the dining room. The main dining room on Deck 5 is dedicated entirely to My Time Dining now, where last year it was just a half of the room. That being said Royal is pushing very hard for the My Time diners to make a reservation at the same time every night. Sounds contrary to the spirit of my time dining, but fixed dining times are certainly much easier to manage, and historically Royal has faltered with managing My Time Dining.

My usual stop at the Concierge lounge before dinner. Several other old friends are there that I haven't seen since last fall. Kaye is pushing real hard to be Pinnacle by the end of the year. If she is able to make all the cruises she has booked over the next 4 months, she will make it before Christmas. She is one of the most driven passengers to become Pinnacle as soon as possible, that I have ever met. Personally I don't get it, but to each his own. I was told there are 31 Pinnacle cruisers on this cruise, I have no idea how many at the other levels as I skipped the reception for the Crown and Anchor members. I have tried to go to the Diamond lounge on two occasions, but it has been packed and they are not using adjacent areas for the overflow, so there are a substantial number.

About a year and a half ago Royal started a project of adding scrubbers to the diesel exhaust. A little over a year ago a fire broke out in that area of the ship. Today they still have the area blocked off and signs indicate there is construction in progress, but I have seen no workers. I wonder if the scrubber project has been scrubbed?

The show tonight is one I don't remember seeing. A comedian and guitar player. With dining early I have to attend the later show. It is only 70% full. The next time he performs and I am on the ship there will be one less person in the audience. He wasn't very good.

We arrive in Costa Maya before schedule, but clearance of the ship is about 45 minutes later than scheduled. The docks can handle two ships at the same time, but we are the only one here. Being an unscheduled stop, they scrambled to have all the shops and tours open today, but tourist from the cruise ships is all they have here. I honestly must say that I really don't remember much from the last time I was here, so I go ashore and walk the shops and venues at the pier. Actually better than some ports. There is a public pool, a small area with lounge chairs overlooking the harbor, and of course the many shops and vendors. The village center is about a 30 minute walk or a $5 cab ride away.

The weather here is much lake it had been in Florida all summer. Hot and humid, fortunately there is a nice breeze off the ocean and it is quite pleasant in the shade. I am back on the ship in time for a slice of pizza for lunch.

I have found the Diamond lounge is a good place to write. During the afternoon they are only 3 or 4 other people here. Today another couple reading their emails and answering phone messages, and another gentleman noisily taking his afternoon nap.

The First Days On The Freedom

Saturday is the designated packing day, but that doesn't start until many other chores are completed. Cooking 15 pounds of bar-b-que for all the kids to share, giving the house a quick cleaning, and then just as I was starting to pack, repairing the aerator on the kitchen faucet. It probably has never been replaced, and when accidentally hit, shattered into many pieces. When the water was turned on it sprayed all over the kitchen. No waiting until my return to fix this. Fortunately a quick trip to Lowe's and an adequate, if not ideal, repair was made.

The trip to the port and the boarding process was uneventful. Once the baggage gorillas had my luggage it was basically a walk thru all the steps to board the ship. For the first time in several years all my replacement body parts didn't set off the metal detectors.

Schools have started in Florida, but not in some of the Northern states. I expected some kids on the ship, but not the number that are here. There were seven school buses parked in the cruise ship lot, potentially 350 kids, but only a small portion of the total number here.

Of course very few if any of the kids will be hanging out in my preferred areas, the Diamond Lounge, Schooner Bar, The Crown Lounge, called Olive and Twist on this ship, and the Concierge lounge. After a day the only effect of all the kids is occasionally having an empty elevator arrive with the buttons for all floors already pushed. Something I never did as a kid, but probably as where I grew up there were no elevators.

As always there are a handful of people I know from previous cruises. Even one of my neighbors, Charlie, is here. The truth is I see Charlie much more often on a cruise ship than I do at home in Clermont.

My first stop was to change my dining time from 8:00 PM to 5:30. There were no early dining slots available when I booked a few weeks ago. One of the benefits of being a frequent passenger, they will always find a way to accommodate such requests.

I will never cease to be amazed by the memory of the staff people. When our waiter came to the dining room table for the first time he started his conversation by saying " Mr Stephen, you already know all this but I need to tell the other guests at the table". "Mr Stephen" is almost always how guests are greeted. It has been 10 months since I have been on The Freedom, my memory was jogged, I do remember the waiter, but not sure on which ship or which cruise.

The seas are absolutely flat as we make our way to an Early arrival at Coco Cay, Royal's private island. The majority of the passengers go ashore to enjoy the beaches and a bar-b-que lunch prepared on the ship but served on the island. I find a quiet table in the Diamond lounge to write and work on some of my model train projects.

I have two 24 hour periods of free internet access, so will wait until later in the week to post to my blog. That's another way of saying I love all my readers, but not to the point of spending $17 a day so you could read this a day or two sooner. This also allows me to be a day or two behind, and you won't know the difference.

Last night's dinner and service in the dining room was excellent. Probably no need for the buffet on this cruise.

All the passengers reboard from their day on the island. A I clean up for cocktails and dinner the captain starts talking. It takes him 15 minutes to tell us that Fiona is forming and expected to bring heavy weather to St Martin and St Thomas, our next two ports of call. We are being diverted to Cozumel and Costa Maya instead.

This is what all the cruise lines do when bad weather is approaching, divert their course to calmer waters if at all possible. Of course there are all kinds of reactions among the passengers. Some just don't understand, some are very angry, many just take the news in stride and there are many like myself that just don't care. I'm here for the cruise not the destination, and probably won't get off the ship at all this week.

Formal night dinner is very good. There are some tuxedos, many jackets, and always those few that only own tee shirts.

I attend part of the production show with the singers and dancers. As near as I can remember it is exactly the same as last year and the years before that. Of course the individual cast members have changed several times.

A brief stop at the piano bar and then its lights out.

August 17, 2016

Back To The Sea

I've been home for several months now, definitely missing the sea and salt air. I thought I would describe myself as being "land sick", but fortunately I had the presence of mind to see if there is such a malady. There is, and I don't fit the symptoms at all, so I'll just leave it that I'm missing the sea.

A short week on one of my favorites, "The Freedom of The Seas", sailing to St Thomas, St Martin, and of course with a stop on Royal Caribbean's private island Coco Cay. The Freedom will be relocating from Port Canaveral to Fort Lauderdale in November, for the winter season, and then to Barcelona, Spain for next summer. This will be my last cruise on her, well better that I say my last departing from Port Canaveral.

This morning I received my third warning notice about the Zika virus. Not too concerned about pregnancy, and really not concerned about getting sick with anything, I'll take my chances. I will pack on Saturday, and drive to the port Sunday morning.

My posts from the ship will depend on the availability of free internet. If not daily, definitely at some point, even if it is not until I return home.