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.

November 02, 2017

Two Weeks Later

I should be in the Gulf of Mexico headed to Galveston, but I have been home for two weeks since my unexpected visit to a trauma center in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada.

After several more Doctor appointments, and three visits to the lab for more blood work, I can now safely report with 95% certainty that my whole episode was the result of a side effect to a medication combined with the effects of a nasty cold.

The cold is gone, my ears have returned to normal, and I no longer, and never will again, take the suspected offending medication.

I still am awaiting the results of the last round of testing, but should have them in about a week. When I asked my Doctor if I should view the whole thing as a pothole in the road, or the start of a downhill slide, she laughed and emphatically said it was just a pothole, and that I may resume my travels.

I now carry two additional medicines in my emergency travel kit, just in case something like this ever happens again. I leave in three weeks for two back to back cruises on The Serenade of The Seas. First, to what's left of the Eastern Caribbean islands, and the second to the southern Caribbean including my favorite port of Curacao.