January 30, 2017

Two Days At Sea & Home

As we leave St Maarten for the 1200 plus miles back to Port Canaveral we will be cruising at near top speed for the next two days. I can't say the seas are calm, but the ship doesn't pitch or roll a bit, primarily a result of her large size. The skies are mostly sunny both days with temperatures expected in the mid to upper seventies.

I spend an hour or so on the bridge. The Carnival Sunshine is about 15 miles in front of us, and another cruise ship about the same distance behind. Being an American with English his first and only language, Captain Rob Hempstead is the easiest to understand of the many Captains I have met over the years. After school, one of his first jobs was on a container ship where he found himself for seven months with no one to talk to as no one else spoke English, and he could speak no other language. He chose to leave the container industry and eventually found his way to the cruise line industry with Royal Caribbean after a stint as Captain on fish factory ships in the Bering Sea.

I also take a free galley tour, another benefit of being a Crown and Anchor Diamond Plus member. I sympathized with the Chef that led our tour as he too is allergic to seafood. He can't even sample what he fixes for the guests. He is also responsible for incoming food quality. Actually rather typical, but the Oasis loaded 27 semi trailer loads of provisions for this cruise.

On the Oasis class ships they have a separate galley for each dining venue including three galleys for each deck of the main dining room. On many ships a single galley serves multiple venues and multiple levels of the main dining room. Of course this is much harder on the staff as they are going up and down stairs all the time.

There are other groups doing paid galley tours, either just as a tour, or as part of a specialty lunch package. Ship tours have become a good profit center for the cruise industry. Years ago such tours were free for everyone.

The Captain's corner Q&A lasted nearly an hour. Surprisingly there was not one stupid question, but there are questions from other captain's. A captain of Great Lakes ore carriers had a question about staff organization, and an airline captain wondered why we just didn't reverse our itinerary when weather prevented us from going to Nassau when scheduled. I think he didn't have a full grasp of the fact that the ship can only get so far in a day when we can only travel at 21 knots.

The performance of Cats was stopped and subsequently canceled part way through the show yesterday because of some type of mechanical failure in the theater. All subsequent performances of "Cats" and the other production show "Come Fly With Me" were also canceled. I saw Cats when I was here just over two years ago so it doesn't matter to me. As has been the case many times, a large percentage of passengers did not stay for the entire performance for either of the two performances of Cats earlier in the week.

By Saturday afternoon the temperatures have dropped into the low 70's. The weather forecast is predicting temperatures in the forties when I arrive in Port Canaveral. Yes I remembered to bring a jacket.

I elect to go to the buffet instead of the dining room for dinner. The offerings are more enticing than in the dining room. The buffet is busy, but not overwhelmed. I head back to the Diamond Lounge for a last drink.

Some signage around the ship indicates a restaurant, "Wonderland", in the space that is now actually the Diamond Lounge. The Wonderland exists on The Harmony, but never was installed on the Oasis and Allure during the last refurbishment as scheduled. The inaccurate signage just feeds the rumors that the future of the Diamond Lounge is doomed, a rumor that has been around for several years. Time will tell.

I return to my cabin to pack, at most a 20 minute task.

I have been assigned a relatively late disembarkation as Royal does not offer priority disembarkation on the Oasis. I don't really want to carry my own luggage off the ship, so I will be patient and leave at my assigned time.

I head to the dining room waiting area. The Process is very slow. After the self assist passengers get into the terminal everything comes to a screeching halt. The terminal is jammed and customs is functioning at a snails pace. Passengers are held back at the entrance to the baggage area, and the waiting line extends all the way to the waiting area on the ship. About 10 am when all passengers should be off, but only about half are, the ships staff gives up and just tells everyone they can get in line whenever they want regardless of their assigned number.

Eventually I get to the luggage area, find my luggage, hail a porter, and avoid what probably would have been another hour or two wait in line for the four customs agents processing the 5000 passengers not using a porter. (There is a separate agent for guests using porters, and the line is short since the number of porters is very limited.)

I am home by about 1:00, drop my bags, change clothes and head to Alyssa's new house to help her with some painting preparation questions.

I am home for about a week and then departing Feb 4 on The Freedom Of The Seas back to the Eastern Caribbean. I used to think the Freedom was a large ship, this time it will seem small and definitely be less crowded than the Oasis has been.

January 27, 2017

St Thomas, St Maarten

It is a very short run from San Juan to St, Thomas. We arrive about 8:00 am and the ship is cleared before 8:30. There is a slight breeze under clear skies and temperatures are expected to be in the upper 70's and low 80's.

I plan to go to the Solarium for breakfast, but find it closed for a private function. There are two large groups on board, each with about 300 passengers. One is a group from the Villages, the other is a Jewish group. Knowing little of their faith I don't know what the occasion is but they are having special functions several times each day.

Yesterday I had breakfast at Johnny Rockets, one of the lesser known breakfast spots on the ship. They offer primarily eggs, pancakes and french toast. Today I am forced back to the Windjammer. Fortunately it is not quite as busy as many passengers scrambled to get off the ship as quickly as possible.

I spend a couple of hours on shore, nothing special. The Viking Sky or Sun, I forget which, is docked next to us. At one point I watched as over 300 passengers were escorted to waiting buses to take a tour. A big tour group considering the ship probably only holds a thousand passengers.

I head to the Diamond Lounge about a half an hour early. I find a seat, but one of the last ones. Again many passengers will be turned away. We are treated to a special treat as the divers, gymnasts, and swimmers are practicing in the Aqua theater.

Dining room food and service is good. It probably helps that the last two people at our table still have not made an appearance, I expect at this point that they won't. We learn that the ship left Port Canaveral with 6,437 passengers. No wonder it is crowded! That number decreased by two that passed before we reached San Juan. Again not unusual considering the number of passengers on board.

Two passengers were missing when it was time to leave port today. I don't know if they actually missed the ship, or were just missed by security when they boarded. Either is a possibility, I have had security fail to check me in properly on a previous occasion, and the ship was not aware that I was actually on the ship.

Tomorrow morning we arrive in St Maarten at 8:00 AM. The weather is expected to be the same, the cold front that was coming from the North that caused so much havoc in Georgia and Florida has pretty much dissipated or stayed to our North.

The captain docks early, and passengers begin going ashore by 8:00 AM. The weather is OK but not great, it sprinkles a little about every 20 minutes or half hour. Just enough to make everything wet and keep the humidity high.

The local Coast Guard has boarded the ship and is making an inspection. Something that is done periodically and unannounced at many ports. Often they are treated to free food, an undocumented job benefit. There are 5 other large cruise ships in port, several of which I have been on. With the sprinkles, the crowds, and having been here before, I elect to stay on board this morning and get off later in the day when the showers have stopped.

Just as I am returning to the Oasis a large Naval vessel cruises past the harbor entrance several miles off the coast. I can't tell what flag it is flying, and I really don't know naval vessels, but the fore and aft decks have some very large guns. Since this does not stir up any activity in the harbor I must assume they are friendly.

After dinner I catch the Ice Show. It hasn't changed, but I still enjoy it. The skaters are very accomplished athletes.

For the next two days we are at sea on our journey back to Port Canaveral.

Day 2 At Sea, Day 3 San Juan

The morning finds the skies mostly cloudy with a very strong wind. The temperature is in the low seventies and the humidity very high with periodic showers. The majority of the pool deck is closed, I suspect to keep towels, hats, and other apparel from blowing into the sea. Even in Central Park the wind is very strong. Access to most outside areas is closed off. Yes, the remainder of the public spaces are very crowded.

Despite the rough seas and strong winds, the ship exhibits very little roll or pitch, and the creaking and moaning is minimal. Add one for the advantages of the mega-ships.

I have discovered several issues in my cabin, and go to the front desk to have them taken care of. Unlike every other Royal Caribbean ship I have been on, there is no priority line for any guests. The wait is probably about 15 minutes. The 8 inch wide cabinet door beside the mirror is missing the screws in the top hinge and falls precariously when opened. The soap dish in the shower hangs at a 45 degree angle, too steep to hold a bar of soap, and the odor of sewer gas in the cabin is significant.

The soap dish is easily repaired, but after spending half an hour replacing the existing hinge part for part and screw for screw with a new one, the repairman announces it is fixed and leaves, I open the cabinet only to have the door fall off. When the same crew member returns a second time, he adds the missing screws which was all he really needed to do the first time when he chose to replace the entire hinge.

It is just day 2, but I am already painfully aware of the differences between this and smaller ships. I guess my memory has forgotten about my previous weeks on Oasis class ships, but I don't remember having to always wait for elevators, wait in line just to get in the Windjammer, or fight crowds to walk to the other end of the ship. These inconveniences are probably greatly accentuated by having spent almost four months on The Amsterdam, always with less than 1000 passengers instead of the 6000 pluss passengers that are on this ship.

Is "Cats" and the other entertainment worth it? I'll reserve judgment until it is time to book more cruises.

Tonight is formal night. I deliberately neglected to pack my suit. I expect I will be one of about 2000 passengers that don't "dress up" for formal night. Last night there was the usual showing of tee shirts, baseball caps, and cut off jeans in the dining room. I won't stoop that low, but the tie is at home.

Beef tenderloin is excellent tonight, the service acceptable. Again two seats at our table remain empty. Dinner is finished early enough to make a stop at the Diamond Lounge, but too late to try and catch the Aqua Show. It is much less crowded than earlier and there are a few available seats. One after dinner drink will suffice.

I catch about an hour at the Jazz club and head to the cabin to retire for the evening. I find the message light blinking on my phone. A call from the front desk checking to verify that the cabinet door has been fixed, and about 6 messages from unidentified kids playing with the phone. The first time in recent memory to have this happen.

In the morning there is a program for the Crown and Anchor members in the Aqua Theater. Some of the divers do a few high dives for us and we have the usual introduction of officers and staff. I learn there are about 450 diamond members, 125 Diamond Plus and 17 Pinnacle. No wonder the Diamond Lounge is too small. An interesting tidbit, Molly, the Future Cruise director on the Oasis, is the same Molly that for the past two years has recorded the future cruise program that is shown on all the Royal ships around the world.

By late morning the winds have dropped to 20 knots from the high of 35 knots yesterday. Temperatures are in the low 70's, the seas are a little calmer, and despite running at full throttle we are behind schedule to reach San Juan. Such is the life of cruise ships, we are always at the mercy of the weather and other things out of our control.

We finally reach port about 4:30 PM. The seas are now calm, and the winds slight at about 10 knots. We dock next to the Freedom, a great photo opportunity. In two weeks I will be back in San Juan on her and may just post the pictures then and leave everyone wondering how I was able to take them.

I am skipping the dining room tonight as I have reservations for the Aqua show at 7:00. (Most often the shows are scheduled very late, often past my bedtime.) I suspect many passengers will spend the evening on shore. The shops will be open until 7:00 or 8:00 and we are remaining in port until at least 11:00.

Dinner in the Windjammer is good, the tenderloin being as good or better than served in the dining room last night. The Aqua show is excellent, and I don't think has changed a bit since the last time I was here. Arriving 25 minutes before show time I got one of the last seats which actually was one of the best, 4 rows back, just past the splash zone, right in the center.

A little later I catch the headliner show in the main theater and then head back to the cabin.

Eastern Caribbean on the Oasis

It has been six weeks since my cruise on the Celebrity Eclipse. Christmas was celebrated, The decorations packed away, the train club had a major two day show last weekend, and my daughter Alyssa closed on her house Friday, January 13th. No she is not superstitious.

Even though her house is only 6 years new, she has correctly chosen to completely paint and carpet before moving in. One of the advantages of living with a parent, there are no deadlines.

Probably 15 years ago my doctor advised me to no longer be climbing ladders, but we all know we do everything our doctors suggest. I do what I can to patch walls, change door locks, and remove closet shelving in preparation for painting.

Packing for my cruise doesn't start until Sunday morning on the day of departure January 22nd. Fortunately I have packed often enough that it is a pretty easy process. As I drive to the port the weather is threatening with a fast approaching strong cold front that has already produced heavy storms in Georgia and North Florida. I arrive at the Park Port Canaveral Parking by Radisson and within a few minutes I'm on the shuttle headed to the ship.

The Oasis is one of the largest cruise ships in the world, and has been based at Port Canaveral for only a few months. The traffic is a little congested, and the process to clear security is a little slow, but not nearly as bad as I have seen some other times. Once past TSA security, check in and boarding the ship is a breeze. There is a line to enter the Windjammer, but once inside there are available seats.

My stateroom is ready by 1:00 and the real shock was that my luggage arrived at my cabin by 1:30, the earliest that I have ever received luggage.

I very rarely pick a specific cabin, just taking what is available or randomly picked by my travel agent or some automated system. The cabin location is good, but it is the smallest I ever remember. There is about 16 inches of walk space beside the bed, and only 18 inches of clothes rod. It will be adequate, as my cabin needs are rather minimal.

The Oasis has been refurbished since my last time on her. The Diamond lounge has been moved to a smaller location. New suites and space reserved for suite guests has taken over what used to be the Crown Lounge.

My assigned station for the muster drill is the Aqua Theater, an outdoor venue on the aft of the ship. The skies look like they will start a downpour any second, but the drill is completed and I return to inside before any rains come. The Captain announces that our scheduled stop in Nassau has been canceled because of the front moving south over the region, and instead we will add a stop in San Juan. He is going to run full speed to in an attempt to stay in front of the cold front. Our expected arrival in San Juan is 4 PM and we will stay until 11:00 PM. I didn't hear a single person complain about the change as it is very probable if you have ever cruised the Caribbean, you have been to Nassau.

Right after the muster drill I head to the Diamond lounge. When I arrive it is already 75% full. I think more people are turned away than are able to find seating. The layout is very poor for the bartenders and servers. They are trying to work in the same space that people are trying to get to the appetizers. I am sure everyone is eventually served. Personally I find it amusing that one of the most recently designed ships has such a poor arrangement for the staff. I would expect that a new design would provide a better work flow not a worse one. One of the disadvantages of having an engineering background, I analyze things too much.

I head to the dining room at 5:30. The prime rib was good, and the service a little slow as is expected on the first night. A young lady from the Philippines is our head waiter. Very refreshing in that she was helping by serving ice water as she visited her tables. As seems to be my fate, two people never showed up for dinner, the remaining five of us had an enjoyable time.

Very large ships like the Oasis are able to offer bigger production shows compared to smaller ships. Cats is the main theater show, and will play several times this week. The shows are included with the cruise fare, but it is advisable to make reservations if you want to attend at a particular time. Often even those passengers without reservations are able to find seating. I make reservations for the main shows later in the week.

Because of the high winds the aqua theater show has been canceled for tonight, and will be rescheduled.

I retire early, long before the Jazz Club, Piano Bar, and English Pub swing into action.