October 16, 2016

Falmouth, Grand Cayman and Cozumel

Our ship arrives in Falmouth, Jamaica just before 10 AM. The temperature is 82 with the high for the day expected to be 84. The sea is as flat as glass, with a breeze so light that flags hang perfectly still. Skies are mostly sunny with a few scattered clouds. A perfect Caribbean day.

Nearly everyone leaves the ship. Over 60 buses are lined up on the pier to whisk passengers to any of over 50 shore excursions ranging from shopping tours, climbing Dunn's River Falls, to enjoying a sand beach at a resort hotel. Maybe a hundred of us remain on board to enjoy the pools and the rest of the ship without congestion.

Tonight is Italian night. The other six guests still haven't made an appearance for dinner, I can only imagine my reputation preceded me. The lasagna is excellent. I had anticipated three cheese ravioli, but it wasn't on the menu. Maybe in one of the nights ahead.

Our entertainment tonight is "Alfred & Seymour". Since I don't remember the name I certainly don't remember the show, so there is a possibility this is a show I have never seen. I will be there.

The internet has been good today, probably helped by most passengers being ashore. Certainly much faster than on The Amsterdam earlier this year.

Thinking of The Amsterdam it is good to not have any ill mannered passengers to write about. I apologize if any of you are disappointed by this reality, but it does make for a more enjoyable cruise. Now, only if our politicians could clean up their acts. Enough said about politics.

Alfred & Seymour were good, especially since it was the first new act I have seen on a Royal ship in a long time. After the show I stop at the piano bar for about 20 minutes, then its off to the cabin for the night.

The morning finds us anchored with two Carnival ships in Grand Cayman. The Dream and The Sensation. Again another near perfect day. High of about 85, mostly clear skies with a light wind.

Having a late breakfast I thought I would skip lunch. I certainly won't waste away to nothing. Well that was a good plan, but by 2:30 I was starved and went to Johnny Rockets for a burger. It actually was the best they have served me in several years. I will even speculate that they are purchasing a better quality of beef, but that would be contrary to the continued cost cutting.

It has been speculated for years that the home office would like to cut back on the benefits for the loyalty program, surprisingly that was confirmed in a conversation with an upper level staff person that will remain unnamed to protect his future.

In the past I have been on ships where passengers are left behind, and others that made it back to the ship with minutes to spare. Today we had 2 passengers that missed the last tender boat, but were shuttled back to the ship in a small boat as we started our journey to Cozumel. They boarded as the harbor pilot was disembarking.

Not having lunch until about 3:00 I skipped rolls, appetizer and desert and just had a little of the three cheese tortellini for dinner. Roger, still my only table mate, had 2 shrimp cocktails and 2 orders of lobster. We were in and out of the dining room in under an hour. Our assistant waiter is about 8 weeks into her first contract. From China she has already experienced enough that she hopes she is not transferred to any of the Asian ships on her next contract, she loves the Caribbean. She is eagerly learning and adjusting to life at sea. Incidentally her English is better than that of many Americans.

Back in the concierge lounge after dinner, we were impressed with a gentlemen dressed in the most elaborately decorated jacket I have ever seen entered. At first it was thought he might be an officer, many medals and and tons of gold embroidery on his shoulders and arms. Much fancier than I have ever seen on any Captain, so it is unlikely it is another officer. It turns out he is a retired five star army general dressed in his "mess whites". Not being a military person I didn't even know such dress existed. Yes, retired from the US army, Joan asked.

Another couple went to Chops for dinner tonight and were greatly disappointed. They had allowed people into to chops, the fanciest venue on the ship, wearing swim suits. Words with the staff produced no explanation or apology. They humorously decided to don swimsuits and robes to have their picture taken with the captain. He obliged, but the photo staff refused to sell him his pictures. The last I head was a phrase about his employment for one of the national TV networks and having a following of several million twitter fans. I don't think this is the end of the story.

Occasionally everyone runs into elevators that have stuck or non-functioning buttons. As frustrating as that can be we have a magical elevator that wins the award for frustration. Just before the doors begin to open the deck is announced, randomly at unpredictable times the announcement is for the wrong floor. Passengers that listen get off on what they think will be deck 11, but find themselves instead on deck 9. At other times the elevator is going up, stops without any doors opening, then reverses direction and goes back down. This may repeat for several cycles and then go to the decks it is supposed to. It has been worked on, but as of this morning not fixed.

Friday morning we are in Cozumel. I thought I might get off the ship today, but after hearing the high temperatures are expected to be in the mid to upper 90's I decided to spend the day on board. The Majesty of the Seas, a sister ship to the Freedom, is berthed on the other side of the pier. Like most "sister" ships she is nearly the same, but there are some subtle differences. She has been updated more recently with water slides and a new splash zone for the kids. Her exhaust scrubbers appear to be fully installed, but I can't say they are operating. The Freedom has had part of deck 13 and 14 in disarray for several years while they work on installing one exhaust scrubber. Most significantly, the clocks are set on different times as The Liberty is sailing out of Galveston.

The Carnival Dream is also in port. When passengers first started disembarking the ships, the line to pass through security on the pier backed up the entire length of the dock. It took about an hour to get everyone ashore.

While sharing information about ships, there was a conversation the other night about new ships on order. Royal has 6, Celebrity 4, MSC 10, and all the Carnival brands 12. Many of these are being built to run on LNG, liquified natural gas. Either infrastructure will need to be built in the US, or all the LNG ships will remain in European and Asian waters.

Saturday is much warmer, and the seas about 4 or 5 feet. The ship pitches a little but not much. The winds on the pool deck are the biggest annoyance.

Disembarkation Sunday morning is smooth and quick. As I get to my car there is a heavy downpour, but as always the shuttle bus drops me off right at my car. I'm home before 10 and begin to unpack.

I leave for a week on the MSC Divina in less than two weeks. Having never been on MSC I promise to also post photos.

The First Few Days

As we leave Port Canaveral just after 6:30 Sunday night we pass the Disney Dream tied up at the very end of the pier. She had left at about 4:30 and passed us while we were still doing our muster drill. Why she stopped, or returned, no one knows but there is lots of speculation. One of the more humorous ones I heard is that someone forgot to bring any cheese for the mouse that runs the ship.

Our delayed departure also delayed dinner by ½ hour. Our sea pass cards had one time, the compass a different time, but no explanation until you showed up at the dining room where they had a hand written note posted at the entrance. I didn't mind as this gave me a chance to have a drink before dinner.

Usually early dining is the busiest, but tonight the main dining room was about 30 percent empty. Possibly because of passengers that canceled because of Matthew, or just an unusually high number that chose to dine elsewhere. I'll probably know better later in the week.

For the past several years I have used my time dining, but this time I chose regular early dining. Unlike every cruise I have ever been on, the staff was not at the door to greet passengers and escort them to tables. Eventually I found my seat at my table for 8. I say eventually as since I had no idea where my table was, I asked, a mistake on my part. I was sent to the wrong part of the room, but eventually managed to find my table, in the corner at the extreme back of the dining room. Six seats remained empty.

The menu has changed a little from what I remember. Probably of most significance is that shrimp cocktail is now only available on 3 of the 7 nights. Not that I care, but many passengers do. Just another little cost containment measure? I can't verify this as fact, but have been told they can find shrimp cocktail for you if you ask firmly enough. I wonder when they will get to the point that guests are asked to bring food with them?

After dinner the Diamond Lounge is less than 50% full, while usually it is impossible to even get in the door. The Diamond Lounge is reserved for Crown and Anchor members of Diamond level and above, and only for those over 21. Carlington, the Diamond Concierge, is kept busy checking sea pass cards, and asking people that don't belong to leave, mostly teenagers. The wait staff is doing their usual excellent job, and there is an abundance of appetizers for those that want them.

The only show the first night begins at 10:15. I guess I am beginning to show my age as I am sound asleep by then, having dosed off while watching the Presidential debate.

As we left port the ship rolls and pitches a fair amount. After we are several miles out to sea the stabilizers are deployed to control the roll, but the pitch continues throughout the night. Being on deck 8, I am easily reminded why I prefer the lower decks. In the morning the captain tells us that the seas are running 12 to 14 feet, and we have about a 25 mph wind on our stern quarter. The Ice show has to be canceled for the safety of the skaters, and the belly flop contest for guest safety. The seas are expected to subside by late evening as we move further South.

The captain was accurate, by dinner time the seas have subsided to a three or four foot chop. Tonight's show is "Once Upon A Time". One of the shows that has been running for years and years. I usually skip it, but decide to attend as it probably has been a year since I have seen it. I arrive twenty minutes before show time, and seating is plentiful. I choose an aisle seat about a dozen rows from the stage. The show hasn't changed a bit, and probably I haven't either. I dose through much of it. No piano bar tonight – off to the cabin and another good nights sleep.

Tuesday morning we arrive at Labadee. The skies are mostly sunny with temperatures expected to reach the middle 80's with a light breeze from the North. Apparently this part of Haiti has suffered little from the hurricane, I see no evidence of any damage. There are several reasons for this, Labadee is on the North side of the island and the South was where Matthew was centered, and this part of Haiti has not been stripped of all trees as much of the South has. I take a short stroll ashore but return to the ship in about an hour. Even though the pier can accommodate several ships, we are the only one here. Royal tries to schedule it that way.

The Diamond and Concierge Lounge are like a homecoming, there are about 20 passengers that I know from previous cruises. There should be one more, but Bruce's father passed a few months ago. Yesterday afternoon he was buried at sea in a private ceremony for the family led by the Captain and his staff. With proper paper work and procedures this is perfectly legal and a service than Royal Caribbean can provide but does not advertise. My condolences to Bruce and the family.

One drink and then off to dinner. Many of my favorites are on the menu tonight, so I will actually have to make a choice. Yes they would bring me multiple entrees if I chose, but I choose not to.

I haven't heard the piano player yet, but will tonight. At this point I don't even know who is playing. Kelly, my favorite pianist is on the Adventure of the Seas this fall.