December 16, 2017

Disembarkation And Home

I'm awake before my alarm sounds. A shower, pack the last few items in my carry-on, and off to breakfast. I'm scheduled to be one of the first groups off the ship, but my bus isn't scheduled to leave until about 10:00, so I won't hurry.

I say goodby to some fellow passengers and to my cabin steward for the past three weeks, Junior. The line on the ship has thinned out and I am able to just walk into the terminal at my own pace. Then reality hits.

About 30 or 40 passengers find ourselves staring at a blocked escalator. A port employee starts screaming at us to go back. All are confused, the signs very clearly directed us to this escalator. We go back across the upper level of the building, towards the other escalator. Access to that is also blocked, but a reasonable employee removes the barrier so passengers can proceed.

I quickly find my luggage. There is a line marked for "Global Entry" passengers. I confirm with a port worker, yes this is the right line. There are actually three lines today. One for passengers with Global Entry cards, one for passengers that are using a relatively new phone app to collect passport and declaration information, and a third for all other passengers.

My line is short, with maybe 50 passengers in front of me. The other two lines probably have 500 passengers each. The three lines snake around the floor, eventually leading to a couple of workers directing passengers to one of the two Customs agents.

I mange to be out of the building in 30 minutes. Many passengers wait in line for over two hours.

Some days Port Everglades has 6 or 8 ships unloading passengers at the same time. Today the Serenade is the only ship. Only two customs agents available. There appears to be something obviously wrong here.

It is cool but comfortable as I wait for my bus. Eventually it arrives and we board. Then we wait some more. There are still passengers waiting to get thru customs.

The driver left the engine running so there would be AC in the bus. Suddenly it dies. No one was even close to the drivers seat. I have a flash back to my excursion bus of a few days ago. Am I jinxing buses on this trip? The driver gets it started and there is no further issue.

We make up some time by minimizing our lunch stop time in Ft Pierce. I arrive in Orlando at 2:45. Another wait for my daughter to arrive with my van. I'm home by 4:00. though the shuttle bus definitely required more time, it really is an easy and economical way to get to the port and back.

The next cruise I have booked is March 12, 2018 for two months headed to North Africa and a number of ports in the Med. Note that I did not say that would be my next cruise. Three months is a long time to be stuck on land.

Day 21 – At Sea

This is the last day before returning to Ft Lauderdale. The weather is sort of dreary. Mostly cloudy, temperature about 70, and it looks like rain. The seas are still calm.

Today I figured out what is wrong with the Internet service here on this ship, and actually probably all Royal Caribbean ships. The truth is nothing is wrong with it from Royal's perspective. They sell two different access packages. "Surf" and "Surf & Stream". Caring only about basic email, not really surfing the internet, and definitely not streaming any content, I purchase the "Surf" package. Of course Royal wishes that everyone purchase the more expensive package.

To help achieve this goal they restrict the total bandwidth allocated to purchasers of the "Surf" package. More than a few users, and performance tanks. All in an effort to push sales to the more expensive package. I was upgraded to the "Surf & Stream" package, and internet access is very acceptable.

Just as a note of interest I had to wait in line twice to talk to the person at the Internet desk. Everyone else was complaining about the same issue. Her stock answer was to buy the more expensive package, most passengers did without hesitation, I refused. After having to deflect a number of lame excuses like the problem was that my computer was too slow, and I must be using an outdated browser, I was begrudgingly upgraded at no additional charge to the "Surf & Stream" for my last 20 hours on the ship.

The cruise lines are getting as bad as the airlines with extra charges, soon they will be charging us for a shower, and have an extra charge if you want a meal. In a step ahead of the airlines they already have eliminated the peanuts at the bars.

Most travelers carry a lot of stuff that they don't plan to to use, but have just in case. This includes things like cough drops, band aids, safety pins, Tylenol, etc. One that I have been carrying for years, but haven't used for sewing until this trip is an emergency sewing kit. I needed to make a repair to one of my shoes. It worked, and will last until I get get to my cobbler, but I do have a suggestion to pass along if you carry one of the store bought emergency sewing kits. Invest in some quality needles instead of the cheap ones that come in the travel kits. Having never had to do any sewing at sea before, I was disappointed to find the eyes of two of the needles were closed with metal flash from poor manufacturing. I didn't expect a high quality needle, but I had expected basic functionality. I'll fix that before my next trip.

Royal sells Tee Shirts to raise funds for the World Wildlife Fund. On this ship the officers will even sign them if you wish. I'm very happy to report the sales were excellent, at least 200 passengers participated, and a gentleman a few steps ahead of me in the line bought 100 shirts! Yes, all signed. I bought several shirts but skipped the signatures.

This afternoon I have to pack. Much easier than before a trip, providing I have enough room for the extra shirts and towels I will return with. Though he is cute, I will leave the mouse behind.

We get an extra hour tonight as we need to turn our clocks back to Florida time. There is another Hanukkah service tonight and another Christmas Carol sing. I won't say I sang, but did voice some of the songs. The passengers wanted to sing more, but there is a schedule that has to be followed. Only a few passengers are staying on for the next cruise, there will be 40 diamond Plus passengers, and 6 Pinnacles, a fraction of the number here the last two cruises. There will be over 500 kids though, compared with about a dozen this time. School is out for Christmas vacation.

I turn my clock and watch back an hour, set the alarm for seven, and call it a night. Another cruise over except for the trip home.

Day 20 At Sea

The seas are very calm this morning as we head back to Florida. The skies are partly cloudy and as the morning progresses we pass thru several areas of showers. The temperatures are around 80.

I have a tour of the bridge today. Our guide is the newest member of the staff. Ben, is a "Cadet", the official term for an interning college student. His career path is quite interesting in comparison to the paths of most senior officers. Unique to the United Kingdom, he was hired by Royal before starting maritime school. Royal is paying for his education, paying his salary while he gets his required "sea time", and most likely will retain him once his education and internship are complete in several years.

Several years ago ships were still maintaining paper navigation charts. The Serenade does not. In fact they don't even carry paper charts anymore, relying 100% on electronic charts. The staff claims they can still navigate with compass and sextant, but I would imagine that to be difficult if there were no charts to work with. I know there are redundancies, but...

The bridge was pretty quiet during my visit. No ships, floating debris, land, or storms within either visual or radar range. Nothing but nearly flat seas for miles in all directions. Good, but boring. Yes, the bridge was decorated for Christmas.

A little later there was the usual captain's corner. Well attended, but of course there wasn't much else to do at the same time. In a move I have never seen anyone attempt before, a microphone was taken over by one of the participants from the private poker group. He spent 10 minutes telling us how great he was and that he was more qualified than the ship's captain. He then went on with a speech of how smoking was bad for us and that we should all demand of Royal that they make all their ships 100% smoke free. He asked the captain several times to support his position as he rambled on and on. Finally the other passengers had enough and started yelling at him to sit down and shut up. Probably Royal didn't see this coming, but has had it happen before, and just let him ramble until the other passengers had enough. The incident ended without Royal hardly even acknowledging his tirade.

A few other more meaningful tidbits, questions often asked, but seldom answered. This ship can cruise for over 30 days at a running speed of 20 knots without refueling. That works out to over 16,000 miles. Because of the uniqueness of having two turbine engines, the most efficient running speeds are 20 knots, maximum speed when running one engine, and 24 knots if having to run faster than 20 knots and both engines must be run. When docked, hotel services can be maintained by a diesel engine that was not part of the original build but was added during a refurbishment.

Though not the best in the fleet for fuel efficiency, the gas turbines and the higher quality fuel they must burn, make her environmentally very clean.

There is supposed to be a meteor shower tonight. I don't know if the skies will be clear enough, but I will venture outside to take a look. Also being just 12 days before Christmas, Santa is going to be making a visit in the Centrum just before dinner. Another photo op for the ship photographers.

The show tonight is Bobby Arvon. I have seen him about a year and a half ago and didn't care for his show, but I give him a try. It hasn't gotten any better so I leave after 15 minutes. I venture to the top deck to see if there are any meteors to be seen. After allowing my eyes to adjust to the darkness there aren't even any stars visible. No chance of seeing meteors.

Tomorrow is another sea day.

December 13, 2017

Day 19 – Oranjestad, Aruba

The passage during the night was slow and smooth as predicted. Despite our on time arrival, the ship is a little late in being cleared for passengers, probably because of the number of ships in port.

TUI Cruise lines "Mein Schiff 3" is docked right behind us at the main pier in Aruba. TUI is another brand owned by Royal Caribbean. Silverseas "Silver Muse" is docked at the next pier, and Holland Americas "Rotterdam" is docked on the other side of the Silver Muse.

One of my personal landmarks in Aruba is still in place. There is a sandbar 100 yards or so off the pier. There is one lone tree that looks like it will float away any minute, but somehow hangs in there year after year. I noticed it on my first visit about six years ago, and was initially very surprised to see it was still there on a subsequent visit. Most likely I will be back next year to check on my favorite tree.

After breakfast at Park Ave in the Solarium, I'm off the ship before 9:00. The sun is hot, the temperature already above 80, and there is very little breeze. The dock and shopping area pretty congested with passengers and vendors trying to sell tours and taxi services. The street car line is operating frequently, complete with a new double decker car. The streetcar trucks squeal at a high pitch as the cars make the tight corner to enter the turn around loop. Each car is full to capacity with tourists. In years past it was rare to even see the trolley operating.

I am probably back on the ship by 11:30. A shower is definitely the first order of business. The internet has been almost unusable the past several days. With the majority of the ships passengers ashore I try again, still painfully slow, but at least it works. I have a message from my PCP. (primary care physician) She is checking up on me, I respond by email. Just one of the reasons I like my doctor.

I decide a nap is in order for the afternoon, I think the first on this trip.

I mentioned that the lounge had been particularly rowdy the other night. Tonight I learned that one of the primary contributors to the rowdiness was earlier removed from the dining room because of his behavior there. Action that Royal seldom takes, but probably should more often.

As we approach departure time a few passengers are being paged. I have no idea whether they were actually on the ship, as has happened to me, or they missed the boat. Our departure was further delayed by a few minutes by several playful dolphins that were swimming near the bow thrusters. The captain waited until they swam away, not wanting to harm them during our departure.

I was reminded last night of the benefit of having Diamond and Concierge lounge staff being the cream of the crop. I stopped at the Centrum "R Bar" to get a can of club soda to take to the theater before the show. The server gave me a plain bottle of water, pouring it into a large glass with ice. I questioned him, and he insisted that it was club soda. Another server was nearby, overheard the conversation and pulled him aside to explain the difference. When he was opening the can of club soda he managed to not only knock over the large glass of water but also the can of club soda. Several of us got wet. He was not a happy bartender, and definitely more upset that any of the guests. A situation where the frustration of making a simple mistake caused more harm than the mistake itself.

The show tonight was "Abbacadabra". An excellent headliner show that imitates the group Abba. The theater was full with standing room only. They has flown into Aruba today, boarded the ship about 2:30, and performed their first show at 6:30.

As we begin our two day trip back to Ft Lauderdale the seas are essentially flat at less than 3 feet.

December 12, 2017

Day 18 – Willemstad, Curacao

When I awake at 8:00, the ship is already cleared for passengers to get off the ship. As I take the elevator to deck 11, something does not look right. I have been in this port many times, the view is wrong. Am I confused? Were we diverted to a different port?

After a hot fresh waffle for breakfast I go to deck 12 to investigate.

Three or four years ago Curacao began restricting the number of cruise ships that were allowed to call here. There was a main pier for one ship, and several others could dock in the channel. There was concern that the cruise ships were restricting commercial traffic in the channel, and these dockings were being curtailed. Obviously the political winds have changed. Since I was here a year ago, a new pier has been constructed, it is being build past the existing pier, further from the entrance to the channel.

It is still under construction, but we are tied to it. The view of shore is not what I am used to, it is 750 yards further from the channel entrance.

The Adventure of The Seas is moored at the old pier, and Silverseas Silver Muse is docked in the channel just past the floating bridge.

From the new pier where we are docked it is over a mile walk to the floating bridge. No shuttles, and taxis are a minimum of $20. No choice but to walk it. The temperature is about 80, the skies mostly sunny with some clouds.

I spend about three and a half hours walking into and around Curacao. The city appears to be very prosperous. Shops that had been closed for years are now open again. The passing clouds drop a little rain, but it is good. Just enough to cool off, but not get soaked.

On the way back I run into my four neighbors from Clermont. We sit and have a beverage and then continue on our way. I leave them in one of the many jewelry stores and resume my walk back towards the ship.

By late afternoon many passengers are still ashore, taking advantage of our 10 PM departure. For some reason the Concierge lounge is unusually rowdy tonight, rowdy but not over crowded. I have no explanation.

Pinnacle members always have a lunch with the officers on each cruise. The message being given to them is that the cutbacks on amenities has reached the end, and something new is coming that the Pinnacle members will be very pleased about. No details were shared by Royal. Time will tell.

I mentioned that the ship has been decorated for Christmas. I forgot to mention there are also banners recognizing Hanukkah, and Jewish services are being held for the passengers that are interested.

The repairs that were made to the beverage dispensers in the Concierge lounge only lasted about 2 days. Since then they have resorted to pouring all mixes from cans. Maybe there was too much pressure on the repairman to finish before the ship left dock.

The show for tonight was canceled as the lead singer is still in quarantine. Quarantine is standard procedure for any passenger or crew member that is diagnosed with any illness that could potentially be contagious. It is one reason that many passengers won't visit the medical center when they should. They would rather make a hundred others sick instead of giving up a day of their vacation even though most cruise lines will give a prorated credit for the time in quarantine. It's a problem for which I don't have a solution.

Night time departures are not that frequent, and I intended to watch the sail away tonight at 10:00. I promptly went to the railing on deck 12 at about 9:55 to find that we probably had left 20 minutes earlier. Good passengers, they obviously all returned to the ship early.

Tomorrow we will be in Aruba, our last port of call before returning to Florida in four days. Aruba is only a short distance from Curacao. The seas are perfectly flat tonight.

December 10, 2017

Day 17 – At Sea

During the night the seas subsided to less than five feet. The 15 knot wind is on our stern as we head West Southwest towards Curacao at 18 knots. The temperature is 82, and skies are mostly sunny. A perfect day in the southern Caribbean. Yesterday we were at the extreme eastern location of the cruise, tomorrow we will be at the most southern location.

This morning I had the opportunity to take a tour of the galley. With the language barrier and the high noise level in the galley I missed much of what was said, but did pick up a few interesting facts. On every ship there are always a number of guests with special dietary needs. On this ship all special requests are prepared by one chef and his staff in an isolated area of the galley. As we toured he was cooking 2 eggs for a guest for breakfast. Yes in an 8 inch pan, rare in a galley that feeds thousands.

Turkeys were being roasted for lunch. Just like at home there is lots of juice that bakes out. While we take extra care to not spill any drippings in the oven, here they deliberately dump off as much liquid as possible when removing the trays from the roasters. It all goes to a catch pan in the bottom to be dealt with later. I would guess they were roasting about fifteen turkeys at the same time.

Many ships have a separate galley for the buffet, this ship does not. Everything for the Windjammer on deck 11 is prepared in the galley on deck 4. Because of the added logistics you wouldn't expect this, but Royal does a better job of serving hot food in the buffet on this ship than they do on most others.

One of the most popular activities this cruise has been watching movies in the cinema. They show movies 4 times a day, and at each showing there are a number of disappointed guests that can't watch because the theater is full. Very popular, and they don't even serve pop corn.

The Christmas holiday is approaching, and the spirit is beginning to spread throughout the ship. A guest in the lounge the other night was sporting a red Christmas outfit complete with blinking lights, tree earrings and Santa hat. All personnel in the shops are wearing matching red hats. A Christmas carol singing get together for guests was held, but at 10:30, too late for me. Background music on information TV channels is now Christmas carols, as is the music between entertainment sets.

A nice day to be outside, the pool and lounge chairs are full with many passengers soaking up the sun.

One of the production singers is sick and quarantined to her room so the show had to be re-blocked without her. No understudies here. I saw the show last week so chose not to attend tonight.

Tonight was Italian night for dinner. As always the Lasagne was excellent.

Tomorrow we arrive in Willemstad, Curacao. The destination that was my excuse for taking these last two cruises, not that I need much of an excuse.

Day 16 Bridgetown, Barbados

The ship is cleared by a few minutes after 8:00. The weather is absolutely perfect. There are a few scattered clouds, the temperature about 80, and a nice steady Easterly breeze making it feel even cooler. My tour is scheduled to gather at 12:15 on the far side of the terminal. Mayo Clinic does this in Rochester Mn, and I am sure there are other facilities, but once in the Barbados terminal they have very wide colored stripes painted on the floor. If you have a tour, you follow one stripe, If you are going off on your own, follow a different color. Of course both stripes take you past all the shops on the pier.

We are one of five ships in port today. The P& O Cruises "Britannia" occupies the best dock, The other smaller dock, close to the terminal, is occupied by the 5 masted "Royal Clipper", the world's largest sailing vessel. Definitely the most elegant ship in port. Directly in front of us is the SilverSeas "Silver Wind". Across the harbor another 5 masted schooner "Wind Surf" is docked. A very busy day in Barbados.

I leave in plenty of time to wander the shops before my tour. Because we are so far from the terminal, a shuttle bus takes us to the terminal entrance. A service I do appreciate.

I wander the stores, and even make a $3.00 purchase, a Dark chocolate candy bar. I haven't had any dark chocolate since I left home, and decide to treat myself today. I guess it will be lunch, strictly by the time it is consumed.

The tour group is split between two buses. I deliberately choose the second. The first bus has a few empty seats, the second is only about two thirds occupied.

I have done a very similar tour before, and everything goes as scheduled for the first two hours of the 3 hour tour. The roads in Barbados are very narrow, rough, and with lots of curves and blind intersections. The driver uses the horn a lot as the roads in many spots are not wide enough for two vehicles to pass.

He leans on the horn and it won't stop! For the next 15 minutes we drive down the road, horn blasting, and then pull into our last scheduled stop, a church. I'm sure the horn was appreciated. Everyone gets off the bus and immediately walks as far away as possible to get away from the noise. The driver removes a seat cushion and crawls under the bus. He does stuff, and eventually the horn stops.

He restarts the bus only to find that the brakes no longer work. Time to call for help. Several impatient passengers keep asking him questions, and he has to walk 50 yards from the bus to talk to the office. When he returns we are informed that another bus will be sent.

Another bus at the church is about to leave, and is headed back to the pier. The impatient passengers want to switch and ride back on the other bus. Several are allowed to do so.

The driver keeps working under the bus. By now 45 minutes have elapsed, and the replacement bus that was supposed to be here in 15 minutes hasn't arrived. The driver feels he has it fixed. Now never mind that there are no less than three parts just laying on the ground when he announces the bus is ready to go.

We board and he starts down the road, gets about 500 feet over the crest of a long windy hill and stops. I think the brakes lock up. That is usually the way air brakes fail, if they loose air, the brakes are applied with maximum force.

Under the bus again, this time with the help of a "mechanic" from a nearby house. Finally the replacement bus arrives and all are told to board the other bus, even the driver. We are supposed to be on the ship in 15 minutes, we know there is no way.

The rest of the trip to the port is uneventful. The replacement bus is much newer, and seems to be moving a lot faster, I guess the driver is trying to hurry. We are quickly passed through security and head into the terminal building. The shops are all closed, no last minute shopping today. The terminal building is nearly devoid of life as we walk through headed to the remaining shuttle bus to take us to our ship. The shore excursion manager is there with us. I am the last to board the ship, number 23 of 23 missing passengers. Yes late, but 1 minute before departure time.

No, I really didn't sabotage the bus to add some excitement to this cruise, but up until this point you will have to admit it has been rather boring. And some people question the extra expense involved in taking the cruise line tours instead of booking privately.

We are pulling away from the dock before I can get to deck 12 to watch our departure. I head to the lounge for whats left of cocktail hour.

One interesting fact I learned on the tour today is that all the McDonald's and KFC stores have failed. The locals don't eat hamburgers, and KFC did not offer enough choices. A local chain now has several outlets that offer much more variety while retaining McDonald's playground concept.

Tomorrow will be a day at sea as we head to Curacao. The ship has very little motion tonight.

December 08, 2017

Day 15 – Castries, St Lucia

Our passage last night was smoother than the past several days, I would hope that the passengers susceptible to motion sickness feel better. The temperatures are expected to be in the low 80's and there is a 75% probability of rain according to the internet weather forecast, but according to the "Cruise Compass" the weather is forecast to be cloudy with no mention of rain. Is the Cruise Director just exhibiting wishful thinking?

The Oceania MS Riviera is sharing the port with us today. In comparison she is much newer, 25% smaller, carries half the passengers, and almost the same number of crew.

Today the water taxis are running. Last week they were nowhere to be found. The ship is pretty empty, I elect to stay on board today. A trip to the gym, and if I can believe their scales, my avoidance of the dining room is working very well.

A number of passengers are on a campaign to get Royal to stock diet tonic. I am one. A Pinnacle member, Miss Katie, packs a case of bottles with her and puts a bottle in her purse when she comes to the Concierge lounge so she can have her vodka and diet tonic. Of course this has made her luggage overweight for the airlines more than once, and gets her luggage set aside and not delivered to her cabin. As she explains it, "I get called to the naughty room to claim my luggage". Needless to say she is not a happy camper with this issue.

Most other cruise lines stock diet tonic but Royal hasn't. Yesterday in a conversation with the food and beverage manager I was told he would ask Miami as he gets this request frequently. Maybe there is hope. Incidentally the F&B manager was the first officer I have seen visit the Concierge Lounge since I have been here. On many ships several different officers will visit each night, just to keep in touch with customers.

There are several drills for the crew today. All watertight doors are tested. A bomb search is conducted. Several areas of the ship were evacuated, and there is an exercise in directing passengers to the lifeboats and loading them. Of course passengers don't participate, just the crew.

Before the end of the drill a heavy downpour passes, lasting about 20 minutes. Some of the crew couldn't avoid getting soaked. When the captain dismisses the crew he tells them to enjoy the rest of the day in "sunny St Lucia". I see his humor, but I'm not sure about all the wet crew members.

Later in the afternoon there are a number of local officials, and one canine, taking advantage of a free meal in the Windjammer. It is a common practice that occurs in many ports.

There are a number of amenities I get because I am an high level Diamond Plus customer with Royal Caribbean. A few of them I can select from a list, others are at the discretion of the ship. When I was on the Vision I changed my selection from a beach towel to six cans of Sprite Zero because I was concerned about room in my suitcase traveling home. On these two cruises I was given not only the Sprite Zero, but also 4 beach towels. Why I don't know, maybe they just want to get rid of them. I'll make them fit as my youngest daughter, Alyssa, has use for them. The Sprite Zero might be left for my cabin attendant, Junior.

Overnight more Christmas decorations were added. A ginger bread village and tree at the entrance to the Schooner Bar. Lots of candy canes and gumdrops make the ground cover, and of course the buildings are all ginger bread and icing. A masterpiece from the galley. A blow up Santa is poised at the ships wheel. Just don't tell the kids how much candy is there, it will disappear.

Live plants were also added, not fresh flowers like Holland America does, but about a dozen potted poinsettias placed around the ship.

By early afternoon the frequent passing showers turned into a pretty steady rain. A warm rain, and I assume a clean rain, but a wet rain none the less. Most passengers are dripping by the time they make it back to the ship.

Just as we are about to leave port there is a bright rainbow that appears to come right down to the deck of the ship. Of course – no camera.

Appetizers in the Concierge lounge suffices as dinner. The show tonight, at 6:30 in the main theater, is Billy Prudhomme a combination comedian and juggler. The show was very enjoyable. After the show I book an excursion for tomorrow in Barbados, hopefully it won't rain.

We are headed in an east south easterly direction at about 9 knots. The ship is rolling and pitching about the same as last night. About a 3 degree roll and a 1 degree pitch. Some of you may remember that 20 months ago on the Amsterdam I devised a simple way to measure the pitch and roll. Subsequently I learned there is an app in my phone that will measure it directly. How technology is improving our lives.

Tomorrow we are scheduled to arrive in Barbados about 8:00 AM.

December 07, 2017

Day 14 – St John's, Antigua

The ship is cleared shortly after 8:00. Throughout the night the ship continued to pitch and roll as it has been for the past several days, but now we are motionless as we are tied tightly to the pier. The skies are mostly cloudy with the sun peaking thru on occasion. There is a brisk wind making the 80 degree day feel like 70.

By the time I look outside the fuel barge is tied alongside and we are being refueled. After breakfast I venture off the ship for about an hour. We are in the same berth as last week except we have docked bow first instead of stern first. The AIDAdiva shares our pier, and the Riveria and the Adonia are berthed on the next pier. I suspect they are european cruise ships. Refueling takes all day, the ship must be thirsty.

The shopping area is very crowded with visitors, despite an occasional morning sprinkle. By afternoon the skies have cleared into a beautiful Caribbean day. Other passengers report that prices are very high here, and few purchases are made.

Royal had made another cutback in amenities for their best customers. Several years ago upscale shampoo, moisturizer, and hair conditioner were automatically delivered to each cabin. Then the policy changed to be that each guest would have to ask for the upgraded toiletries, now the policy is that they are only available to guests with over 340 nights that ask.

I really don't care, even when I was given 9 containers of shampoo on the vision 6 weeks ago, but there are some passengers here that expected the convenience so they didn't bring their own. I'm a nice guy and ask Junior for lots of conditioner, and pass it on to other needy guests.

Laundry bags for free wash dry and fold are similar. They used to just be in your cabin, now you have to specifically ask for them. I guess too many people were using them to pack wet swimwear.

The seas are more calm tonight as we head to Castries, St Lucia, the ship is barely rocking. Our arrival is expected at 8:00 with a ship clearance by 8:30. I have no specific plans at this point, but will get off the ship for a bit.

Day 13 – At Sea

The seas remain at about 10 feet throughout the night. This morning the skies are cloudy and threat of rain is imminent. The 35 mph easterly wind is blowing on the port side of the bow. Temperatures are in the high 70's. The same conditions with some showers are predicted to prevail until we reach St John's, Antigua tomorrow. The ship is rocking enough that only the drunk passengers walk in a straight line.

I head outside on deck 5 for a walk. The wind is brisk, and there are several other passengers on the deck. As I approach the forward third of the ship spray from the waves is blown over the deck. The once dry deck, and the dry me, are now soaked. I'll dry.

Two passengers were injured in the gym this morning when they fell off treadmills, possibly initiated by a roll of the ship. One passenger didn't have the presence of mind to let go of the handrails and was scraped up pretty badly by the belt moving under her until Glenn, another passenger turned the treadmill off.

The other passenger was taken to the medical facility by wheelchair, her status unknown.

Neither passenger was properly using the equipment, what can I say.

The Concierge Lounge is not crowded again tonight. I have no explanation as to why other than it is a different group of passengers. The top Tier party is scheduled for this evening instead of being in the morning as it was last trip. I will pass on the production show of singers and dancers as I had seen it last week.

The seas remain the same throughout the day and are expected to remain the same throughout the night. Just fine with me, as I actually prefer the ship to exhibit some motion. Of course there are some passengers that are disturbed by the slightest movement.

Tomorrow's forecast for Antigua is for mostly cloudy skies. Our arrival is anticipated for 7:00 am with clearance for disembarkation by 8:00.

December 05, 2017

Day 12 – At Sea

Temperatures are in the upper 70's, skies mostly sunny with a few passing clouds. The wind is fairly strong, nearly on our bow, as we head south easterly towards Antigua at 20 knots. The seas are about 9 or 10 feet keeping the ship in a constant state of pitch and roll. The elevator cables cry out occasionally as they slap against each other, and occasionally you can witness a passenger reaching for a hand rail for stability. Walking on the outside decks is possible, but one must hold on to any hats or ball caps else they will become ocean contamination. The Solarium is packed, and the pool is busy.

The Vortex lounge, or generically as I often call it, the Crown Lounge, has been busy all day with private functions. Most likely meetings and other activities associated with the poker tournament. I find a spot in the Diamond lounge to listen to a few more book chapters and read through the shore excursion guide.

Tonight is a formal night followed by the captain's reception. The headliner show is Kyle and Mistie Knight, illusionists. I plan to attend.

This afternoon I learned that some information I had learned from a most reputable source, the Concierge Club bartender, and passed on was inaccurate. It is true that there is a private poker group on the ship this week, but they have no association with the World Series Of Poker, and the stakes are very small in comparison. Other information is accurate. Their games run from early morning to late night in the conference center.

The lounge is busy but not overcrowded as during the last trip. My neighbor Charlie and his wife are still here this week, and as I head to dinner I run into several other friends from Clermont, Dave and Mary Lee. Yes, cruising is a small world.

The show tonight is excellent, probably one of the best illusionist shows I have ever seen.

Tonight we turn our clocks ahead one hour as we move further East into the next time zone. Most passengers will sleep very week with the rocking of the ship.

Tomorrow is another sea day.

December 04, 2017

Day 11 – Turn Around Day

It is Monday December 4, 2017. This is the day between two consecutive cruises, the last day of the first, and the first day of the second cruise. Somehow that sounds like the same day is being counted twice. The crew refers to this as turnaround day.

The weather is near perfect in Ft Lauderdale. Being a Monday, we are the only cruise ship in port today. Most ships are here on Saturday or Sunday. I have done back to back cruises before, but each time the process is a little different. We are instructed to meet in the pub at 9:15. We are checked off on a list of passengers staying on the ship, not once but twice, two different lists. We are all given our new sea pass cards (room keys), and a numbered sticker to wear.

Once all other passengers have disembarked we head to the gangway and have our old cards scanned to indicate we are off the ship. Once just inside the terminal we wait for a customs agent to come check our passports. Shortly we are informed there will be a delay because all the agents are tied up dealing with drugs that have been discovered in a disembarking passengers luggage. I have to admit it, that I am surprised given the demographics of the passengers.

After no more than a 25 minute wait an agent arrives, looks at each of our passports and we are allowed back on the ship. All in all, a pretty easy process.

With time on the ship without other passengers I take the opportunity to take some pictures of the ships interior. The dining room, the centrum, the blue cows, etc. I will post some of these after I return to Florida in mid December. Of I do have to correct something I wrote earlier. There is a slide on this ship! I just hadn't seen it before.

In addition to preparing all the cabins for new guests, this is also when the ship is re-provisioned with all sorts of supplies. It is a good thing, as last night I learned that the ship was totally out of a number of adult beverages, fortunately nothing that I cared about.

There are no less that 15 trucks lined up on the pier to bring new provisions. There are also 2 trucks hauling away the recycled materials. Hmm. 15 trucks in, 2 trucks out. Does it then make sense that the equivalent of the other 13 trucks was carried out in the bellies of the 2000 passengers that just got off the ship? Probably so.

There are also some trucks here that are not for provisioning, but for repairs. A team of 3 divers spends at least several hours under the stern of the ship. Doing what, I have no idea. A service truck from Coke has several repairmen working on the dispensers in the Vortex Lounge and the Concierge Lounge on deck 13. Something about a broken dispenser caused a pump to burn out. I'm sure a straight forward repair, but he does need to be off the ship by about 3:00. I wonder if the thought crosses his mind to delay the repairs and miss disembarking before the ship leaves?

Lots of areas are cleaned today while there are no passengers. The pool deck and pool furniture is one area where everything is pressure washed. Probably actually does a good job of removing all the suntan lotion from the previous 10 days.

Not something we would normally think much about but certainly makes sense when you see it. The life guards are all practicing and being instructed on CPR. A skill I hope they never need.

There is a special lunch for the back to back cruisers. The only extra perk we get, lunch without having to fight the crowds in the Windjammer. You would think this had never been done before. The hostess in the dining room asked to see our invitations, we weren't given one. She wanted to see our number sticker, most of us took them off once we were back on the ship. She asked to see our old sea pass cards, most of us left them in the cabin. She finally gave up and conceded we wouldn't be there unless we were the back to back cruisers as no one else would know about the lunch. About half of the consecutive cruisers attended. I wish I hadn't, the smell of fish was almost too much for me, an indication that maybe it wasn't real fresh.

This week the ship is hosting a "World Series Of Poker" tournament. One of the trucks on the pier brought their gaming tables, TV equipment, and other supplies. The tournament will be held in the conference rooms, and has no ties with the ships casino.

Another truck on the pier this morning was a brinks armored car. Bringing cash for the poker tournament or headed to the bank with the cash gathered from passengers in the last ten days? Maybe both.

The muster drill is at 3:15. This captain is efficient, the drill only took ten or twelve minutes. Our departure time isn't listed in the Daily compass, but probably will be about 4:00.

I am going to try and avoid the dining room all week. Skipped it tonight, only time will tell how successful I am.

We have almost exactly the same number of Loyalty passengers as last week. Tonight the lounge was packed by 4:30, but fairly empty after 7:00 while last trip it remained packed until after closing. The Coke service man did his job, there is now a working fountain drink dispenser in the Concierge lounge. Last week all the mixers and soft drinks were poured from cans.

Tonight's entertainer is Scott Henry, the same comedian we had the other night. Exactly the same lines, I listen to most of it, but escape before being trampled by the stampede at the end of the show. An advantage of sitting in the last row of the balcony, my departure disturbs no one.

The next two days will be sea days as we head to our first port of call, Antigua, the last island I visited last week.

As I prepare to retire for the evening, there is no motion to the ship as we head south.

December 03, 2017

Day 10 – At Sea

This is our second sea day on our return to Ft Lauderdale. The temperatures are a little cooler, in the low seventies. The skies are mostly clear with a few scattered clouds. The wind is out of the North East making the apparent wind on deck about 35 mph. The seas still have a five or six foot swell with two to three foot waves, enough to give the ship some motion.

Probably considered an ideal day by most passengers the pool is crowded and every lounge chair is occupied or covered by a towel. The lobsters in the dining room tonight will not be the ones that scour the sea floors looking for food, but the two legged ones that sat in the wind and the sun too long today.

It has been learned that this is the last scheduled cruise for our Captain Tor Olsen. He is retiring from being a regular captain to accept a promotion. My understanding is that he will be working with multiple captains in his new position, and not assigned to just one ship. Sort of a Captain's Captain.

There will be about 65 passengers staying on for a back to back cruise. More about that process tomorrow.

Unfortunately we are losing our servers in the Concierge Lounge. Next week there are 150 guests here for a private poker tournament. They will not be using the casino, but playing in the conference center. This has resulted in all the beverage servers being reassigned for the next cruise to accommodate the endless poker games.

We pass several other cruise ships headed south. One was a Carnival ship, and I think the other may have been a Royal Caribbean Oasis class ship but I am not sure. The seas have flattened out by the end of the day, and luggage is beginning to be placed in the hallways by dinner time. Our show tonight is Scott Henry, a comedian. He is better than most.

Since we set our clocks back one hour tonight I will stay up for the band playing Jazz music in the Safari Club from 9:30 to ?? It's nice not to have to pack.

December 02, 2017

Day 9 – At Sea

December 2, The first of two days at sea as we head to Ft Lauderdale for turnaround. Most, but not all, passengers will disembark and return to whatever is their land based life, and a few crew members leave for a much deserved vacation. A few passengers will remain onboard as the crew prepares the ship for an onslaught of new guests. All cabins are cleaned, the stores are re-provisioned, the new crew members introduced to their new duties and the entire staff prepares to greet about 2000 new passengers.

It is absolutely another beautiful day in the Southwest Northern Atlantic ocean. There is about a three to five foot swell, but no waves and negligible wind. The air temperature is a very comfortable 80 degrees, and the skies are mostly sunny with a few scattered clouds.

This morning the top tier party is held in the theater to recognize the Crown and Anchor loyalty program members. Of the 2100 passengers on the ship 1400 are crown and anchor members, 23 Pinnacle, 180 Diamond Plus, and 308 diamond. With the Diamond lounge holding about 30 guests, and the Concierge lounge holding about 50, it is obvious why there is seldom an available seat.

The pool is busy today, with nearly every deck chair occupied.

Tonight is the second formal night with the usual dinner option of lobster. Never for me though, I have been good, and stayed away from the dining room except for the first night.

Tonight the show is a production show with the singers and dancers, but not with a live band. Instead the music is prerecorded. Actually the end result is good as the band doesn't overpower the singers.

This evening the temperature has dropped to the mid 70's, the seas have increased and the wind has picked up and is directly on the bow. The ship is starting to pitch, roll, moan, and groan a little. Some passengers will be complaining in the morning, while many others will have the best night's sleep of the cruise. The seas have slowed our speed just a little. Probably the stabilizers are extended but I have no way of knowing for sure.

Tomorrow is another sea day.

Day 8 - Saint John's, Antigua

After another incredibly smooth overnight passage we arrive in Saint John's under partly cloudy skies, a slight breeze and temperatures in the mid 80's. The stern of the ship can't be more than 200 feet from the nearest Diamond International store. It can't get much easier than this for the shoppers.

The Norwegian Dawn and the Crystal Serenity occupy the other pier. Antigua will do well today.

After breakfast I spend an hour walking the shopping area. What a pleasure compared to St Lucia. The vendors selling tours, taxis, and merchandise are friendly and polite. I expect their efforts will be better rewarded.

I now realize that the steady drone of a diesel engine I hear in my room is not either of the two main engines, which are turbine engines, but the axillary engine used to provide power when the main engines are not needed, or when more power than 1 main engine is required, but not enough to run both main engines. The sound does not bother me, and there is no vibration.

Today we are being refueled, or bunkered as the maritime industry calls it. I have seen this process a number of times, but picked up a detail that makes sense but I had never witnessed before. The oil barge has 8 storage tanks. Before the hoses are connected to transfer fuel several of the Serenade's crew remove 3 samples of the contents from four or five of the tanks. I must assume they are then analyzed before transfer can begin.

The main engines on the Radiance class ships don't use conventional bunker oil, but a much lighter fuel like kerosene, similar to what jet airplanes use. I can imagine how quickly the engines would die if they were fed the heavy bunker fuel consumed by most marine diesels.

The Serenade is one of several ships in the Radiance class. I have become to appreciate why this is a favorite class of ship for many frequent cruisers. She only carries about 2100 passengers, a small number compared to the Freedom's 4,000 and the Oasis class ships which approach 6,000. She has a relative large amount of public space, definitely more per passenger than most other Royal ships. The cabins are just a little larger, enough to be make them a little more comfortable. So far they haven't taken any of the public space and turned it into more cabins like has been done on the larger Freedom class.

Theater seating is comfortable, there is a separate room for cinema, there is an English pub in addition to the Schooner bar for nightly entertainment, and she carries the usual compliment of specialty restaurants, bars, shops etc. along with the enclosed solarium with retractable roof.

Both the Diamond Lounge and Concierge Lounge is on deck 13 with an outside view, and the Concierge Lounge also has additional outside seating, weather permitting. Of course neither lounge is large enough, and on this cruise the Hotel manager has decided to do nothing to accommodate all the upper lever Crown and Anchor guests. No ship is perfect, but this one has a lot going for it.

In all fairness I must add that if you are looking for zip lines, water slides, and wave riders, or ice rinks, this is not the ship for you. However there is a rock climbing wall, mini golf, billiards, and basketball.

The top tier party is scheduled for tomorrow, so I should learn how many loyalty passengers are on board. 25% of our passenger manifest is international, representing 36 different countries. This is higher than usual for Royal Caribbean cruises in the Caribbean.

I'm sure it's done every day, but the Concierge gets a good cleaning today. All the glass is cleaned and the brass polished. In a little mix up during the last refurbishment all the window curtains were removed, probably for cleaning, but never reinstalled. So if it is sunny, the sun is unbearable during happy hour in one lounge or the other. Was this an error, or was this a deliberate move to try and discourage use of the loyalty lounges? It will be years, if ever, before we learn the whole story.

All the cabin air handler filters are being replaced on my deck today. I don't know how often this is done, but I imagine every month or so. Yes, I had to look, and there is no mold lurking behind the closed panels as I saw on a ship of a different cruise line. A cruise line that I won't sail anymore.

The Norwegian Dawn also gets refueled by the same barge after they are finished with the Serenade. Yes their crew also drew samples from a couple of the tanks. I will probably always look for that step every time I see a ship refuel.

At 7:00 we begin our two and a half day trip back to Ft. Lauderdale. The ship is rocking a little tonight, not too obvious to me unless I stop and watch the self leveling billiards table. Each end of the table probably goes up and down four to five inches. The system actually does a good job of keeping the table level, level enough so the balls don't roll on their own.

The main entertainment tonight was David Howarth a piano showman from Southampton. He does a good job, but as often is the case the drums, and trumpets of the backup band are amplified so much, much of the piano music was over powered.

We will be cruising at just about 20 knots for the next two sea days.

Day 7 – Bridgetown, Barbados

We arrive in port about 7:00, and dock at the first spot closest to the pier shops and excursion buses. Right behind us the Jewel of the Seas ties up to the same pier. The Europa 2 is moored a little further away. Not really too far, but far enough that a shuttle is provided for them.

By 8:00 passengers may begin disembarking. The skies look ominous, with dark clouds rolling over the island. By 8:30 the rains come, and come they do. A very heavy steady rain that lasts until after noon when it begins to pour. The rain continues until we depart at 5:00. Nearly every passenger that ventured off the ship returns soaked, but most handle it in stride with few complaints.

Despite the rain, today is lifeboat training day for the crew. All the lifeboats on one side of the ship are launched to give the crew practice. Often I would observe, but not today in the rain, I listen to some more of my audio book.

The lounge is extra busy tonight as we have lost the outside seating to the rain, and the only show this evening is the ever present love and marriage game, not a favorite of the frequent cruisers. The free drinks in the lounge is the most attractive option.

I learn that most loyalty passengers did get a plate of cookies even though I didn't. But just to keep everything fair, others didn't get bottles of water or chocolate covered strawberries. Except for just a screw up on someone's part, no one has an explanation for the discrepancies. Maybe just another cutback, only give the little perks to some but not all of their loyalty guests?

As we head North Westerly towards St Johns, Antigua, the seas remain very slight, the rain has stopped and our speed is 21 Knots, very close to the ships maximum of 24. Our expected arrival time is 9:00 AM. The forecast is for mostly sunny skies and temperatures in the mid 80's, time will tell.

November 29, 2017

Day 6 - Castries, St Lucia

This morning the skies are mostly sunny with a light breeze and temperatures in the mid 80's. Just what one expects in the Caribbean.

Navigating into port in St Lucia is very unique. Because of the location of the channel in relation to the flight path of the local airport, the ship is required to get clearance from the local air traffic control tower before preceding into or out of port. There may be other ports like this in the world, but certainly not very many.

We get our clearance and we arrive nearly an hour early this morning, and the ship is cleared for disembarkation before 8:00 AM. The captain has avoided any delay caused by plane traffic.

With the majority of passengers disembarking the ship for early tours, I go to the Solarium for breakfast. There is only one other passenger there. It is OK with me if passengers never discover the Solarium.

The main dock in Castries is being expanded to handle Quantum Class ships next spring, so we are docked across the bay at a pier that is used mostly for cargo containers. The buildings are old and run down, many with large holes in the metal roofs. Crews are busy all day moving containers in and out of the port by truck. I imagine as soon as we leave, a container ship will take our place.

On the pier, the peddlers of tours, taxis, and merchandise are much more aggressive than I remember on previous visits. I have become hardened to it and politely say "no thank you" and then ignore the repeated requests. There is supposed to be a water taxi to the shopping area on the main pier, but it is nowhere to be found.

An hour or so of wandering the shops and I head back to the ship empty handed except for a few images on my camera.

There is the much smaller Star Breeze owned by Windstar Cruises docked at the main pier. When I say smaller, she carries 208 passengers and has a crew of 164. Her total power is less than that in the Serenade's bow thrusters. But with a crew to passenger ratio of almost 1 to 1, the service should be more attentive.

I have occasionally pondered such travel but can't justify the expense that can approach $1,000 per day on some itineraries. I'll stick to the 1000 passenger and up cruise ships.

At 6:00 I head to the Windjammer for dinner. Other than the first night I haven't been in the dining room for dinner. After dinner I stop in the Diamond Lounge, there is actually a few seats available, but I elect not to stay. Instead I go to the Centrum to listen to Anna on the piano.

The entertainment tonight is Nick Lewin, a combination comedian and magician. I would rate him as OK. The show moves very slowly but he has intertwined some of the usual slight of hand magic with dry humor. About two thirds of the way through the show he falls off the front of the stage. No it was not part of his act. Fortunately he proclaims to be unhurt but I imagine he will be pretty sore tomorrow.

Leaving St Lucia we head nearly directly east to Bridgetown, Barbados, our most easterly port. The seas remain slight, there is no motion to the ship, and our speed is about 9 knots. Our expected arrival time is 7:00 AM.

November 28, 2017

Day 5 – Martinique

Fort de France, Martinique. We arrive on schedule about 11:00 AM. The sky is heavily clouded, and we run thru several heavy rain squalls as we approach the island. There is a rainbow just off the port side of the ship, but of course it is not bright enough for a decent picture because I do have my camera.

Martinique was added at the last minute to our itinerary instead of our scheduled ports of St. Kitts. There just were too many ships docking in St. Kitts. The port has dock space for 2 ships, and a tendering dock that can handle one additional ship. Had we followed the original itinerary, there would have been four ships trying to tender with only one dock for the tenders to load and unload. It would not have been a good experience.

There is one other ship here, P & O Cruises, Azura, which is docked at the only pier close to the center of town. We are docked closer to the industrial area which is a 5 or 10 dollar cab ride away.

The shore excursion staff basically advised if not taking a tour, there really isn't much here for tourists. Everyone speaks only French, and we were given the impression the locals are not real friendly to tourists, taking great advantage of foreign exchange rates and the language difference. The local currency is the Euro, and we were told they really don't like dollars period.

I have been here before, but it has been several years, and I can't say that I remember any such negative attitude. Maybe the negative points were exaggerated to sell more tours, who knows. I had already decided that this would be a stay on the ship day. Given the morning weather, that may have been a wise decision, though passing storms are frequent in the Caribbean islands, and usually don't last long.

I actually have decent phone service today, and clean out all the garbage messages that accumulate each day. Yesterday in St Thomas, cell service was sporadic at the port. It would be good for a few minutes, and then totally absent for 30. I must assume another effect of infrastructure damaged by the hurricanes.

When I return to the cabin to recharge my computer battery I am given a minor scare for a few moments. The battery isn't charging. After verifying that the outlet in the room is in fact functional, I attempt one of the usual fix it procedures. Remove the battery, clean the terminals and reassemble. Yes it works! At least for the moment. I have already recognized that battery run time is much less than it used to be. Maybe time for an upgrade....

The weather in the afternoon turns out to be much better, clouds and sun but no rain with temperatures in the mid 80's. The concierge lounge is relatively empty tonight, I think everyone that tries is able to find a seat. The service is even good as all the servers are there before 4:30 when I arrive.

I hear no positive comments from those that ventured into town or took a tour, I can only assume that sentiment held for the majority of passengers as the ship is underway at least 30 minutes early. Not something that is seen very often.

Sometimes the management struggles on adapting to cruises longer than 7 days, especially with entertainment. Tonight our entertainment was described as a show put together by several of the singers from the singers and dancers cast. I give the performers three thumbs up for their dedication and desire to perform, but must give Royal a thumbs down for not scheduling and planning entertainment for the night. Since the impromptu show isn't until 10:15, I will pass as I will most likely be asleep by then.

Our next port of call is St. Lucia. Our arrival time is 8:00 am, and since it is so close we are steaming along at a blistering 7 knots! As has been the case so far on this cruise the seas are minimal with no ship motion. How boring.

Day 4 – St Thomas

We arrive in St Thomas before 8:00 AM and the ship is quickly cleared. The Jewel of The Seas shares our dock at Crown Bay. I didn't catch all the details but there were several reasons we were not able to dock at the main dock near the center of town. A ship being used to house FEMA has taken one berth, construction has further reduced space, and also that the fees have been raised there. Could local politicians want more revenue for the cab drivers?

I decide to walk around the shopping area near the pier, and not take a taxi into town.

Most, but not all, of the major shops are open. Most have electricity, but few have air conditioning. Looking at the hillsides around the port there are many roofs covered with blue tarps. One building looks like the entire upper levels are gone. Around the bay there are still numerous yachts and sailboats grounded on the shore, millions of dollars in property being pounded to rubble by the tides and waves. A nearby government building currently sports a blue tarp roof. A dock is being used as a parking lot for all types of emergency vehicles from electric utility trucks to what I assume to be nation guard vehicles and medical emergency response vehicles.

Visible through the windows of several closed stores are boxes and boxes of merchandise that obviously has been soaked with water. Without venturing past the immediate area of the ships dock, I have no idea the conditions of local housing. Considering the damage to concrete commercial structures I can only imagine it is substantial.

Seeing the first passengers returning to the ship, our collective contribution to the local economy is substantial. Many passengers are talking about their new jewelry purchases, often with the added comment that they really didn't need it, but the purchase would help the local economy.

Now that Thanksgiving is over, the ship is being decorated for Christmas. A large tree towers the two decks of the dining room, and all the railings in the atrium are decorated with lights, balls and greenery. Even Mario, the concierge host, has an 18 inch tree on his desk.

I have heard nothing about the top tier party, and haven't heard how many loyalty passengers are on board. What I do know it there are many many more than the diamond lounge and concierge lounge can handle, and Royal is making no attempt to expand the area to accommodate all the guests. So far in the Concierge Lounge one of the bar tenders starts setting up about 3:00 or 3:30. The lounge is supposed to open at 4:30, but no additional servers arrive until about 4:45. As a result service is pretty slow until after 5:30 when quite a few passengers start leaving for dinner. This should improve as the cruise progresses and some guests just give up on trying to go to the lounge. Exactly what Miami wants.

We leave port about 5:00, headed to our next destination, Martinique. The seas remain slight, and our cruising speed will be just above 16 Knots.

This ship is one of few in the world that is powered by turbine engines. The design was popular for a couple of years, and Royal and Celebrity both have a class of ships with them. Within just a few years the economics of fuel cost changed, and today these are far from the most efficient ships, though they are some of the cleanest as far as air pollution. One of the big downsides is that these are very inefficient while we are in port, or cruising at very sloe speeds. Think jet engines used on 747 aircraft. Our engines are similar.

Pork scallopini for dinner in the Windjammer followed by listening to Anna on the piano in the Centrum. The entertainment tonight is described as an "International Instrumentalist". The reality is that he is a flute player, originally from Ireland and now living in Las Vegas. He was very good, and the audience enjoyed his performance. Truthfully, if he was billed as a flute player, the theater probably would have been empty.

Our arrival is expected at 11:00 in Martinique tomorrow morning.

Day 2 & 3 – At Sea

Day 2 – We are headed in a basic south east direction at about 17 Knots headed for our first port of call, St. Thomas. St Thomas was one of several ports heavily damaged by hurricanes a few months ago. Life has not returned to normal, but enough has been restored so that cruise ships are again calling on this popular Caribbean port.

I go to the Windjammer for a bowl of cereal for breakfast. Finding a spoon is the most difficult part, they are located only at one of the many food service stations, and not by the coffee, the fruit, or the cereal where you might expect.

After a quick breakfast I head to the theater to listen to the shopping talk. Not to hear the sales pitch, but to gather a little insight on how many of the shops and stores are open or will remain closed. Most of the ship recommended stores are open, but not so for the smaller establishments.

This is followed by an attempted excursion presentation. The technology just wouldn't co-operate with the slides changing at will without relationship to what the presenter was talking about. Despite numerous attempts to fix the laptop, it continued to have a mind of its own for the majority of the presentation.

After leaving the theater I take a couple of laps around the ship on deck 5. This ship is a little different than many others in that to walk around as you near the bow of the ship you have to walk up a flight of stairs to deck 6 where the helipad is, and then back down to deck 5 on the other side. Just a little more exercise that is good for me.

I head to the concierge lounge to watch the ocean go by and I run into Charlie, one of my neighbors. I spend the afternoon with him, catching up on the goings on in the community where I live. I have known Charlie and his wife for about 5 years, he lives in the same community as I in Clermont, but I never see him at home, only on cruise ships, usually a couple of times a year. Yes he cruises much more than I do, but he pretty much sticks to the Caribbean these days.

The weather today is ideal, reaching the high 70's possible 80. The skies remain partly cloudy, but there is no prospect of rain. The seas are about 3 feet at the most, and the ship barely exhibits any motion.

Tonight is a formal night, and the Captain's reception. Another photo opportunity and a free glass of champagne if you wish. I elect to remain in the lounge until after 7 and then I stop in the Windjammer for a little dinner. No rolls, and no desert.

The main entertainment tonight is Gary Williams. He says he has been doing shows for Royal for 20 years, but you couldn't prove it by me, I don't think I have ever heard him before. He sings songs made popular by Frank Sinatra, Frankie Valli, and other singers of the 60's. The theater is nearly full, but no one is standing.

After the show I stop and listen to Anna playing classical piano in the Centrum. She is a very good pianist, and often played on the Monarch when I first started cruising about 5 or 6 years ago. I don't think I have seen her in 4 or 5 years.

Tonight we turn our clocks ahead 1 hour as we move further East. The seas remain the same as we continue on our course to St. Thomas.

Day 3 – still at sea. Having lost an hour of time, I sleep until almost 9:00. The temperatures are in the mid 70's and expected to reach a high of 80 today. The skies are partly cloudy. Again the seas are only about 3 feet, any motion of the ship is negligible, and we continue on our course to St Thomas at just over 16 Knots.

After breakfast the first activity is the Captain's Corner where the ships officers are given the opportunity to answer questions from the guests. Most questions are legitimate, and I learn a few interesting details.

Many of you always wonder about rough seas. Someone asked the Captain what were the roughest seas he has encountered in his career. How about 70 to 80 foot waves! Yes this was as captain of a cruise ship, The Oasis of the Seas. The ship suffered a few broken windows, but otherwise escaped without damage. The largest seas I have ever encountered were about half that during hurricane Sandy.

The hotel director, Phillip Ashcroft, has had his career cross many familiar names. He worked for Premier cruise lines, a line I sailed with in the 80's. Later he worked as a Hotel Director on Disney ships for 4 years. This was followed by a seven year stint on "The World". For those of you that don't recognize the name. The World is a residential ship where individuals purchase apartments on the ship. Its itineraries are determined by the residents, and will frequently make its destination significant world events like the grand prix of Monaco, Carnival in Rio, or the America's cup race in Australia. After being stuck on land in Arkansas for about a year, he joined Royal in 2016.

I was aware that our itinerary was changed 3 times, but further learned that the changes number 6, the most recent being a day before departure. The last change was to bypass St Kitts, and make a port call in Martinique. The reason was simple. 5 other ships would also be in St Kitts the same day, a port that that has docks for 2 ships and barely can handle tendering for one additional one. Definitely a wise choice unless four other cruise lines decide to make the same last minute change.

I have lunch with Carley Boileau, the cruise director. She has a 31 year career in the cruise industry, including being a dancer on Carnival ships at time time I took my first cruise. She and her husband make their home in New Brunswick, Canada where my most recent favorite hospital is located. Probably one of the most professional and polished cruise directors I have encountered. Her experience shows.

Rare for royal ships, but they have an enrichment presentation covering the ports we will be visiting. Jim Clement gives a little history and some geography about our ports of call. Such programs are common on Celebrity and Holland America, but this is the first I have seen on royal outside of Alaska. Better than watching the belly flop contest.

Having a larger than usual lunch, a few appetizers will suffice for dinner. The show tonight is a production show with the singers and dancers. Actually a show I haven't seen before as this is my first time on The Serenade of The Seas. For the most part each ship has its own production shows which rarely change during the life of the ship.

We expect to arrive in St Thomas tomorrow morning at 8:00. this is the first time the Serenade has called here since the hurricanes and is one of the first ships here period. I expect there will be at least one other ship in port tomorrow.

The seas remain slight, and I am happy to report the passenger behavior is good. Surprisingly I did not receive cookies or fruit in my cabin the first few nights, but tonight there was a plate of chocolate covered strawberries, not from the usual Concierge Host or Hotel Director, but from the Captain. I can' tell you why the change.

Day 1 - Back To The Sea on The Serenade

Day 1 - Departure from Ft. Lauderdale. After having my last cruise abruptly interrupted by a medical emergency, it is time to go back to the high seas again. 100% certainty is not possible, but I feel very confident that the same emergency will not reoccur. Now that is not to say that I am immune from any other type of disaster, but that is life and and a passing life threatening situation will not deter me from my favorite pass time.

With yesterday being Thanksgiving, my packing was mostly done two days before departure. After too much turkey and all the trimmings, all that was left yesterday was to put my clothes in the suit case. This morning it took only a few minutes to turn off the water and otherwise secure the house.

It is unusual for Adrienne to have a Friday off, but she does and drives me to the Burger King to catch the shuttle bus. It is not a very nice morning, there is a slight mist or drizzle in the air, but being Black Friday there is virtually no traffic on the Florida Turnpike. I arrive about 30 minutes early, and we wait for the bus.

The bus arrives and once everyone is boarded, there are a grand total of 6 passengers on the 45+ passenger coach. We head south to Ft. Lauderdale, stopping once at a service plaza for about 30 minutes. We make good time, traffic is light. I pass the time listening to an audio book, a new activity I have developed in the past six months whenever I am driving. Presently I am listening to John Grisham's books. I find them easy enough to listen to that they don't distract my driving, and likewise driving doesn't distract much from listening. About an hour or so south of Orlando the weather improves to partly cloudy with temperatures in the mid 70's, a near perfect day.

Once at the port I essentially walk thru the process of security screening, check in, and boarding. A rare phenomena, as I don't even trigger the metal detectors! It is going to be a good cruise. As I I leave the security area there is a table piled high with confiscated items. Clothing irons were the most prevalent recognizable item. By about 12:30 I am sitting in the Crown Lounge waiting for my cabin. Promptly at 1:00 the announcement is made, but I wait for 15 minutes as the elevators will be jammed with everyone trying to get to their deck.

I have never been on the Serenade before, but I have sailed on a sister ship, and the layout quickly becomes familiar. I have a larger interior cabin on deck three aft. In addition to the usual 2 twin beds pulled together to make a queen, the cabin has 2 pull down Pullman bunks making it possible to sleep 4. Being honest, I wouldn't want to share such a small space with 3 others.

I unpack my carry on and head to the Solarium for lunch. As usual, very few passengers are aware that lunch is available at the Park Cafe. There is no wait, and seating is plentiful. I spend the next hour or so refreshing my memory of the ships various venues, and locating my table in the main dining room. Historically one has to wander around looking for the appropriate table number, or ask someone. For the first time that I can recall, a diagram of all table numbers is duct taped to the wall outside the dining room. On a wall where everyone heading into the dining room can see it and locate their table before entering the room. What a simple and labor saving idea. Another task has been shifted from the staff to the passenger.

The muster drill is uneventful. I return to my cabin, but still no luggage. Off to the Concierge Lounge. We are soon underway. The next two days we will be at sea headed for an 8:00 AM arrival in St Thomas on day 4, Monday, November 27m. The seas are slight, and the skies remain partly cloudy.

I decide to go to the dining room for dinner. I am 1 of 5 guests seated at a table for 10. The waiter has no assistant tonight, the reason remained elusive. Despite being short handed the service is acceptable, the pork scalopini was good, but I quickly recognize that the main ingredient in the sauce was salt.

After dinner I head to the theater for the one performance of the opening night show, a comedian, Mike Marino. I don't remember hearing him previously, but that doesn't mean I haven't. I sit in the reserved section at the back of the upper balcony. Unlike shows on the Vision a month ago, the theater is only 80% full.

After the show I return to my cabin and find my suitcase has arrived. I unpack everything and then head to the Schooner bar to listen to the piano player for a few minutes. The bar is barely half full, not unusual for the first night.

Tomorrow is a sea day. We will be running at about 17 knots for the next several days, and the captain predicts that the seas will remain fairly calm. There is minimal motion to the ship, no vibration in the cabin, but there is the constant drone of the diesel engines. An ever present noise, but not one that is bothersome. I hit the pillow before 10.