February 09, 2017

Labadee and San Juan

The weather is near perfect in Labadee. The temperatures are in the upper 70's and there is a light wind. Unlike Coco Cay, Royal Caribbean's other private island, most of the walkways on Labadee are paved. With the weather so perfect I get off the ship and wander around the island. Royal has lots of very profitable things for guests to do here from riding a long zip-line to renting cabanas on the beach. The beach, swimming, and walking are free. Beverages may be purchased with your sea pass card, but cash is required for purchases in the small local market.

Food is brought from the ship to prepare a BBQ for lunch. I should more accurately say the food is prepared on the ship and brought to various locations on the island to be served.

About 4:00 pm we leave Labadee to head to our next port, San Juan. The weather remains very enjoyable. The winds are strong at times, but the 6 to 8 foot seas barely make the ship pitch or roll.

I have dinner in the Windjammer, and attend the Ice Show. Studio B is nearly identical to the ice rink on the Oasis, but this show has been playing for many years and not all the passengers bother to attend. There are probably 200 empty seats. I always enjoy the skills of skaters even though I have seen them before.

I briefly cross paths with most of the others in our group. The various injuries are confirmed to be minor and everyone is recovering. The swimming and snorkeling was good at Labadee, and there were some fish to be seen.

As we continue on our course to San Juan, the skies remain sunny with a brisk breeze. The pool deck is fairly busy, but not over crowded.

Our arrival in San Juan is scheduled for about 1:30 and it usually takes 30 minutes or so for local officials to clear the ship.

There is a very definite channel that must be followed to get into the harbor. From the decks of the ship there is an excellent view of the Fort as we pass by.

Again with the weather so nice and it not being too hot I get off the ship and walk around part of Old San Juan where our ship docks. On the way back to the ship I am stopped by a government employee randomly surveying passengers visiting San Juan. I oblige and answer her questions. They are surveying visitors to determine the financial impact of tourists on the local economy. My impact doesn't extend beyond the port fees paid by the cruise line to stop here. A good thing for the local economy that I am not "average".

The usual evening routine. Dinner in the Windjammer, the nightly show in the theater, and about an hour at the piano bar.

The pianist is good, but not as good as Kelly.

Tonight we are headed for St Maarten.

Freedom Of The Seas

I was home for less than a week, and it is now time for 8 days on The Freedom Of The Seas. I booked this cruise over a year ago and it is what has become known as "the family and friends" cruise. My children, their spouses, my former wife, and several friends will all be here. Since last year the Freedom has moved from Port Canaveral to Port Everglades making the drive more than twice as long.

Nine of us arrive at Adrienne's house at 7:00 AM to pack the cars with humans and luggage, two others are meeting us on the ship. With the largest vehicle I get five passengers and most of the luggage, and Adrienne takes four passengers and a few suit cases and a couple of hanging clothes bags. Since Adrienne and I are aware of the propensity for some of our fellow passengers to be late, they are told to be ready at 7:00 even though we have little intention of leaving before 7:30.

Driving across Clermont on the way to the toll road there is one very bad bump that will surely bottom out the springs and shocks if I try to pass over it at more than about 15 miles per hour, surprisingly I remember, and we are soon headed south on the Florida Turnpike.

My passengers sleep most of the way, I am not sure if this is because they just need some rest, or they close their eyes and try to sleep so they don't have to watch my driving. Adrienne and I take turns passing each other depending on who gets stuck behind the slow driver. After a few hours we reach our planned stop in Ft Pierce for a fuel and restroom break. This is an excellent stopping point as it is just over half way, has many competitive gas stations, and is where we choose to switch to I-95 instead of remaining on the Turnpike for the rest of the journey to Port Everglades.

We are shortly back on the road, and I think everyone nods off again. The traffic gets heavier the further south we go. There are some areas of construction, but traffic moves along very well.

After another hour or so, about 30 miles from the port, I find myself in the third lane from the right on a four lane road with very heavy traffic. A few cars are moving at less than 50, most about 70 and of course a few far in excess of 70. The car to my right is moving just a little slower than I am, my front bumper is about five feet behind his when he suddenly starts turning into my lane.

No panic, there isn't time for that. A dozen thoughts race through my mind, will a honk on the horn work? Probably not as that will not only require him to respond, but to respond quickly and correctly. Do I just slam on the brakes and hopefully slow down enough before he hits me? I'm not sure. Instinctively I check to my left again, a few seconds ago there were no vehicles there, but with some drivers speeding in excess of 99, I can't be sure until I look again.

The left looks clear and I decide my best evasive maneuver is a quick move one lane left, I turn the wheel deliberately but quickly, the van responds as intended, the luggage is packed in tight enough to remain in place. Probably a few of the seat belts are stretched as the passengers continue to go straight while the car moves left. Even though I jar all of my passengers into a high level of consciousness, I avoid contact with the other car. He is now in the lane where I was fractions of a second earlier.

I take a glaring glance towards to offending driver to my right. I can't see him, he has the drivers window covered with a sheet of plastic or white cardboard. Even if he tried, he can't see anything to his left. *#@&^$.

Excepting a few bruises, all of my passengers are OK. The rest of the drive to the Park-N-Go lot is uneventful. After a quick shuttle to the ship, the usual security check and boarding process, we are soon all on the ship.

The Freedom class ships carry about 30% less passengers than the Oasis class ships, and it is obvious. No lines for the Windjammer or elevators, and you can casually stroll the pool deck or the Promenade without fighting a mass of humanity.

It is a beautiful day in Ft Lauderdale. Hundreds of small craft are all around the harbor, and in the ocean just outside the harbor entrance. Pods of dolphins swim by the ship, several manatees are spotted. Just a short distance out in the ocean a submarine is spotted surfacing, running for awhile and the submerging and popping up again nearby. Eventually she submerges never to be seen again. The assumption is that it is one of ours.

The muster drill is brief. Of course on a day when the weather is perfect and there is no rain in sight, my assembly station is in the dining room instead of outside on deck in the weather.

After the muster drill we all meet on the pool deck for sailaway. An absolutely perfect day. Reasonable temperatures, clear skies, and a slight breeze. Just before we leave port, the local EMS team removes a passenger in an ambulance, and her spouse and luggage is taken to the nearby parking garage by the firemen. Whatever the emergency, better here than 24 hours from now in the middle of nowhere.

We are the last cruise liner to leave port at about 5:30. From the time we cast off our lines until after the harbor pilot has returned to shore we are shadowed by a small drone. I must guess that it is less than a couple of feet in diameter. The only thing visible are two bright red LED lights that appear to be aimed directly at our ship. We think we spot the civilian operator on that bank of the channel, but we are not sure. It could be harbor security, our military or ?.

After an excellent dinner of prime rib in the Windjammer buffet, I head to the diamond lounge. It is overcrowded but I find a seat with some of our group. Most of them are dining at 8:00, too late for me.

I head to the Schooner bar where a guitar player is playing this evening while the regular piano player has a night off. His playing is fine, and I recognize some of his songs, but he does not sing or utter a single word throughout his entire performance. Most of the audience leaves after a brief stay.

Tomorrow is a day at sea as we head south easterly to Royal's private island of Labadee, Haiti.

The weather is near perfect for a sea day with sunny skies, temperatures in the upper 70's and brisk wind behind us making the breeze across the decks quite light.

I listen to the Q&A at the captain's corner. Nothing significant. A nap is in order for the afternoon.

Many in the group has decided to go to Chops, the steak house specialty restaurant. Our reservation is for 6:30, and we meet in the Crown Lounge beforehand. This enables us to go into the Diamond Lounge to get free drinks, while having a place for all of us to sit, including those that are not eligible for the Lounge.

When I arrive, Alyssa has her knee packed in ice. A slight mishap on the flowrider, and Amy is nursing bruises from my evasive driving. Nine of us head to Chops. As we are going through the dining room headed to our table, Adrienne slips on the very slippery floor, smashing the glass of red wine she is carrying. Red wine from hair to toes, and 3 or 4 small cuts on her hand. One of the staff escorts her to the washroom where she rinses the wounds and applies several Royal blue band aids. This cruise is starting out to be accident prone. The meal is one of the best I have had in quite awhile.