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.