October 06, 2017

Day 5 - Bar Harbor, Maine

During the night the skies are clear and there is a bright full moon, the temperature drops in to the twenties and we slowly make our way from Rockland to Bar Harbor over relatively calm seas of less than 6 feet. As has been the case every night so far, the cabin is very quiet. No drunks yelling in the hall ways, kids screaming, or mechanical vibrations from the engines or propulsion system.

I have a tour that gathers on the pier at 1:15 so there is no need to set an alarm. I awaken just after 8:00 and go to the Windjammer where I have a couple of eggs cooked to order for breakfast. By the time I gather my camera, phone, ID, and jacket the line for the tenders has diminished to non existant. I make my way to the loading platfrom on deck one and immediately board a tender.

Always being one to learn something, today I learned how to wash the salt spray from the windshield of the life boats that are used as tenders. A crew person opens the hatch, sticks his head out, and pours a bottle of drinking water on the windshield while running the wipers. Simple enough.

This harbor is surrounded by many islands and rocks protruding out of the water. Many boats are docked or anchored in the harbor, and the harbor is covered with many hundreds of lobster buoys marking the location of the pots below. It is a short ride to the shore side dock which is just a few steps from the center of town.

By mid morning the temperature has warmed to about 70, the sky is blue with no clouds in sight. There is a slight breeze, another perfect day. The fall foliage has barely begun to turn color, the weather has been unseasonably warm here this fall.

Bar Harbor is such a contrast to Rockland. Many stores and restaurants, all open and competing for the tourist dollar. By all indications Bar Harbor is a thriving waterfront town. There are two ships here today, The Vision of The Seas which I am on and the Norwegian Dawn which does an itinerary between Boston and Quebec City. Today she is Southbound. I believe 161 ships visited Bar Harbor this year compared to less than a dozen to visit Rockland.

I spend several hours walking around the town. I visit a few shops, but as usual purchase nothing. Since there will be no opportunity for lunch, shortly before I board my bus I purchase an ice cream cone. I don't know the brand, but it was very good, and not over priced.

The tour bus to visit Cadillac Mountain and some of the highlights around Bar Harbor is a small 14 passenger bus. The driver and guide, Bill, has lived in Bar Harbor for 42 years and now spends his winters in Florida, often in his RV at Lake Louisa State Park, very near where I live. I must add that I was in Bar Harbor about 55 years ago, I remember some of the National Park, but only a little.

I continue to be pleasantly amazed by the passengers on this cruise. When we get off the bus for a 30 minute visit at the summit of Cadillac Mountain, everyone is back on the bus and seated several minutes before the designated time. We are rewarded by taking a longer route back to the port.

I do need to tell you a story that our guide to Mt Washington told us about happening last week. He was guiding the same tour from the Port of Portland to Mt Washington for a group of passengers from a Princess ship. On the return trip there is a spot about 10 minutes or so from the port where you can see the ship anchored in the harbor, only this time the ship wasn't anchored, it was steaming out to sea. As the driver continued towards the port, the ship went out of sight. The passengers began to panic. Had they missed the boat? What were they going to do? This tour was booked thru the cruise line and they are supposed to wait, but obviously the ship was leaving.

It is a long process to clear customs and get to where the ship had been docked. Nobody can tell them anything. When they finally meet a Princess representative it turns out that low tide was approaching, and the captain was just moving the ship to deeper water, a simple procedure that caused panic among 45 unsuspecting passengers. They were tendered to the awaiting ship just outside the harbor.

Our tour gets us back to port about 15 minutes before the last tender. We are directed to a large luxurious catamaran for the journey back to the ship, added capacity to get the passengers back as quickly as possible.

There is no show tonight, just a movie being played in the theater. We need to turn our clocks ahead one hour to adjust to the time zone in Halifax, Nova Scotia, our next port. Our arrival is anticipated to be about 10 AM. I did not book an excursion, but will get off the ship.

Day 4 Rockland

No alarm this morning, since there is no early tour today. I sleep until a little after 8, and deliberately walk outside to get a feel for the weather. The navigation channel which usually provides some basic information such as ship's time, temperature, wind, etc. is mostly non functional. The time has been indicated as 00:35 for several days now, and weather conditions are never displayed.

There are just a very few high wispy clouds in an otherwise blue sky. There is barely a breeze, and the temperature is already closing in on 70. It is going to be another perfect day.

It was a very short cruise from Portland, and at one point we were moving at 4 knots on calm seas under a bright full moon. I guess we are anchored about 2 to 3 miles from the boat dock used by our tenders.

There are only a handful of passengers having breakfast in the solarium, one of those venues that often remains undiscovered by passengers. I have a ham and egg sandwich on an english muffin. It is served hot, and is all I need.

I return to the room and pack my camera, phone, and a jacket just in case. If one is not on a tour the tendering process is to get a ticket in the Schooner bar, and when your lucky number is called you may proceed to the boarding area on deck 1. This process does a good job of relieving the congestion that often occurs in the stairwells. My wait is about 40 minutes.

On many other ships, the higher level loyalty members are given priority tender service. Not here. We also don't have priority seating for the shows, one of those little perks that cost Royal nothing, was appreciated by the guests, but has been eliminated.

While waiting for my tender I turn my phone on and am pleasantly surprised that I have cell service. I send off a meaningless message to my daughters.

On the tender ride to the dock, we pass 100's of lobster buoys in the harbor, and also pass the Rockland lighthouse. A number of boats are anchored in the harbor, but there are more empty buoys than ones with boats attached. Probably the boats have been pulled for the winter.

A number of locals were handing out maps, answering questions, and otherwise greeting passengers as they came off the tenders. As I walked main street I found the majority of the shops and businesses were closed. A handful of restaurants were open, all pushing lobster in one form or another.

Unlike many ports I visited there were only one or two cabs working the dock area. I just got the impression that the economy is suffering here. If I were a store owner, with several thousand tourists coming to town for the day, I think I would at least open the doors. Why not?

Yesterday in Portland, security was very strict to reboard the ship. Passengers were unloaded from buses outside of the port area, we needed to show photo ID and Sea Pass to enter the port and then went thru the usual X-ray screening, pat downs, etc. Of course this was all repeated once we got to the gangway on the ship.

Rockland was much more friendly, just a crew member checking sea pass cards before boarding the tender, then the usual check on the ship.

Once I reboard the ship I find my room steward shampooing the carpet in my cabin. I wouldn't have described it as dirty, but I did notice a few spots that looked like shoe polish. I imagine they will be all gone when I return later. I leave my jacket and grab my laptop to go the the concierge lounge to write. There are a few other guests here, one couple enjoying a bottle of wine they brought from their room.

I have been told that the Top Tier reception is this evening, but as of the moment I don't have the usual invitation that is in the room when I embark the ship. Other guests haven't gotten theirs either but have been told by a friend of a friend that it was tonight.

A couple days ago there was a lunch for the Pinnacle members in the Izumi restaurant. It appeared there were many guests in attendance, I will try and find out how many when there is a top tier reception.

One of the two elevators that serve deck 11 has been out of operation for a couple of days. Monday when I was riding it to 11, the car stopped and the doors opened, but the elevator car was about a foot above where it should have stopped. Fortunately a passenger noticed before stepping out, and no one was injured. The entire elevator was shut down for a few hours, today it is operating only between decks 1 and 9.

Late in the afternoon a lobster boat was working within 20 yards of the ship pulling and resetting lobster pots. The catch appeared to be good with 10 to 20 lobsters being removed from each pot.

When I return to my cabin late in the afternoon, there is in fact an invitation to the top tier party tonight at 7:00 in the main theater. Why it is scheduled during dinner I can't explain. I tell my waiter that I need to be finished with dinner by 6:45. He does an excellent job in serving me quickly and I head off to the reception.

A few interesting facts are shared. Royal will be starting service out of San Juan this week with the next scheduled cruises. This is much sooner than many would expect, but as the captain explained this is the best thing they can do to help get things back to normal. Give us the opportunity to spend money there.

On this cruise there are 220 diamond level cruisers, 100 Diamond Plus, and 39 Pinnacle, actually less than I would have guessed. The staff here has a much more positive attitude towards the Crown & Anchor members and has made arrangements to have enough space for all those that wish to visit either the Concierge Lounge or the Diamond lounge. When I was complimenting the loyalty ambassador he told me that the main office heard loud and clear that many of the cutbacks they were trying to implement was not well received by the customer.

The captain explains that so far there have only been a handful of ships to visit Rockland, that may explain why the reception was less than what I expected. Unfortunately for those residents that see the benefit of cruise ships calling on Rockland, they may be disappointed in the future as few passengers on this ship would rate the stop very favorably.

Tomorrow is another tender stop, Bar Harbor, ME. I have an afternoon excursion around Bar Harbor and to Cadillac Mountain, so there is no need to set an alarm tonight.

Day 3 Portland, ME

I wake before my alarm goes off at 6:00, shower and head to the buffet. It has just opened as is nearly empty. It is daylight out and the sun is just peeking above the horizon. The ship is still navigating towards our dock in Portland. The local forecast is for a high of about 60, what it will be on the top of Mt Washington is still a guess. I pack my jackets, camera, phone and a bottle of water and head to the theater, our gathering spot for the excursion. As soon as the ship is docked we head to our bus. I am the first passenger off the ship. The bus awaits several hundred yards away, it is nearly full and I settle in to a window seat on the driver side of the bus. I expect this will put the sun behind me for any pictures taken along our drive.

Mt Washington is over 2 ½ hours away. W run into heavy traffic due to a local county fair. The tour guide is getting very nervous as the train is unlikely to wait for us if we are late.

We arrive with less than 15 minutes to spare. Everyone is given a box lunch and we make our way to the waiting train car. Each engine hauls, or more accurately pushes, only one car up the mountain. Each car holds 75 passengers, there are no extra seats. Three trains travel together, one behind the other. About half way up, we switch to a siding to pass three similar one car trains coming down the mountain.

Once at the top we have about an hour for our lunch and to do our "tourist" thing. The temperature is in the forties, and the wind under 20 miles per hour, much more pleasant than it might have been. We hear that a few days ago the train couldn't run because sustained winds were in excess of 90 mph. Trains can only run providing the wind is under 70.

Visibility is about 90 miles. Unfortunately we are a little early and the fall foliage is just beginning to change color. There are hiking trails to the mountain top, and also a toll road for those that want to drive.

The cog railway is privately owned. They design and manufacture all their own equipment including coaches, engines and motorized turnouts, several of which are powered by solar panels. The engines are bio diesel powered diesel electric engines. The engines used are marine engines because the crankcase may be tilted as much as 37 degrees from horizontal. Not a problem for a marine engine, but disastrous for transportation engines.

After our 45 minute ride down the mountain, and time to view the museum we board our coach to return to the ship. We arrive about 10 minutes before our ship's scheduled departure time.

I am very happy to report that passenger behavior was very mature, and everyone was back to the bus and seated on time. The tour guide thanked everyone for being on time.

As we leave port, the captain announces that he will be rotating the ship 360 degrees to calibrate the compass. I experienced this manuver one other time, I think in Australia.

I get a drink in the Diamond Lounge and head to the dining room. Jackie and Michael were good company and we made plans to meet in the dining room for dinner. A few minutes after I arrive, Michael arrives and sits for a few minutes. They had stuffed themselves with lobster in Portland late in the afternoon and could not eat any more. He apologizes.

My service is very efficient tonight, and the entire dining room seems be be functioning as it should. I go to the concierge lounge for a club soda and conversation after dinner and then retire to my cabin.

Tomorrow is a tender day in Rockland, ME. I do not have an excursion but will get off the ship for a few hours.

Day 2 at Sea headed to Portland, ME.

I sleep like a rock, no not because I'm stoned, but because yesterday was a long day. If fact I only had one drink during happy hour last night, but being up since 4 AM made a long day.

I wake up a little after 8:00. The skies are clear, the temperature brisk at about 60, and the seas still under 6 feet. There is a little motion to the ship, but very little. The Windjammer buffet is very busy, but I am able to find a table without difficulty. I hear we have just under 2000 passengers. I doubt there are many under 60, and no more than three or four under 25. Definitely an older manifest of passengers, An older group than on my world cruise last year where I had anticipated a more mature crowd.

My cabin is very quiet and so far free of any harmonics coming from the engines or propulsion system. The AC works very well, in fact I have turned the T'stat up twice toward maximum "warm", but in no way will risk an inquiry to maintenance to make the room warmer. Such requests tend to produce extreme results and I certainly don't want to risk losing the AC entirely.

I have a couple of medicines that should be refrigerated for long term storage so I take a trip to the medical facility to have them stored for me. A convenient service that I have found on every ship when needed. They refuse, instructing me instead to order a refrigerator from house keeping. Another profit generating revenue channel? I ponder the options and decide to just ask my room steward to keep my ice bucket full for the entire journey. He just joined the ship yesterday and will be my steward for the entire voyage. I am very confident he will take care of me. While adequate, cabin room is at a premium and I just don't want to be fighting a portable refrigerator for 5 weeks. Additionally there is only one electrical outlet in the cabin, and there are just too many things to keep charged.

At 10 AM there is a gathering of all the "Cruise Critic" attendees that registered on line before the cruise. Hosted by the CD (cruise director) and AM (activities manager) they have a drawing for about 25 items ranging from Royal hats and tee-shirts to several bottles of wine. I am now the proud owner of another RC key chain, several zipper pulls, and a RC ball cap. The AD is new, this being her first cruise as an AD. She is from Brazil and has the perfect hyper active bubbly personality. Our CD, Chris, is from South Hampton, and I plan to talk with him later as I will be in South Hampton next fall.

When I return to my cabin, there is a note from the dining room Maitre d' informing me of my new table assignment for early dining. Being a good customer does have some benefits.

My bed is piled with four RC towels, gifts for being a frequent cruiser, a robe to wear to the pool, and nine, yes nine containers of shampoo and conditioner. He must have been compelled to bring so many after he saw my long hair! There is also a plate of chocolate covered strawberries which I will make suffice as lunch. They are sooo good.

Yesterday I was greeted in my cabin by the usual plate of cookies, bottles of water, and cans of sprite zero.

Only three or four people are in the Solarium pool, the main pool remains completely empty except for the ever present life guard standing near the edge. Life guards are relatively new for Royal, probably added as the result of a tragic accident where an unsupervised child drowned several years ago.

Tonight is a formal night, one of seven scheduled over the next 5 weeks, and I am planning on going to the dining room. The first show in the theater is at 8:30. I have heard from several passengers that were here on the last cruise that the theater is packed long before the shows start. This doesn't surprise me based on the fact this is an older crowd and the shows are starting later in the evening than they did several years ago. Guests go to the early show or just don't go.

Tomorrow my excursion to Mt Washington leaves the ship at 7:15. definitely an alarm clock morning. Mt Washington, New Hampshire is a several hour bus ride from the pier and then I will be taking the cog railway train to the top of the mountain. For those of you that don't pay attention to such things, Mt Washington is often one of the coldest places in North America. I will let you know how cold tomorrow in a future blog. If the weather stays as predicted, in addition to a unique train ride I expect this to be my best viewing opportunity of the fall colors in New England.

For dinner I was seated with a lovely couple from Houston for early dinner in the main dining room. The food was excellent, however the service was on the slow side. According to the head waiter the galley wasn't prepared for the number of guests ordering beef tenderloin. She offered the explanation, none of us at our table asked or even mentioned the service. When we left it was after 8:00, and many others at larger tables were still dining.

After dinner I had a club soda at the schooner bar while listening to the pianist. Many guests were in the atrium having pictures with the captain, or trying to get into the dining room for the late seating which was delayed because the early seating took so long. Before 9:00 I retired to the room to finish this, set my alarm and get a good nights sleep.

Day 1 Departure on The Vision of the Seas

The day before departure, Saturday, September 30, 2017. the day begins the same as most days for me. Sleep until I awaken, a quick breakfast consisting of one bowl of cereal. My goal was to finish as many open foods as possible before I leave for 5 weeks. I fail on the cereal, there is one serving left. Cereal stays fresh for a long time, many preservatives you say. It will probably be OK when I return, if not, little is lost.

Off to the pool, there are a few of the regulars there. The water has cooled a little from the summer high temperatures, and is very enjoyable. By the time I return the heaters will be on, hopefully set to a comfortable level.

Today's task is to finish packing. My packing list has been updated, and the time consuming items all set aside, that is to say everything except clothes. My only concern is will everything fit? Five weeks with clothes for the hot and humid tropics and the cold of New England where the temperatures may be below freezing.

I start at the bottom of the suitcase, and work towards the top. In less than an hour everything is checked off my list and in the suitcase. I even include hangers as they make it so easy to unpack, just grab the hangers and and move the clothes to the closet.

Will the suitcase close? With ease, I don't even need to use the suitcase expansion section.

The alarm is set for 4:00 AM, my daughter Alyssa is to meet me at 5:00 for the drive to the airport. I try to retire early, but that just doesn't work. I'm finally sound asleep when the alarm wakens me. Shower, move the suitcases to the door, and make the final adjustments to the house. Turn the AC up, dump out the last 3 ounces of milk, turn off the water heater and the water, close up the tiny bag of garbage to give to Alyssa to deal with.

Alyssa arrives and I head to the airport, traffic is lite between 5 and 6. the airport is busy, and some areas for dropping off passengers are closed off making the open areas just that much more congested.

I say goodby and head to the counter. I had tried three times the day before to get a boarding pass, but United's web site kept crashing. The self check kiosk is more co-operative. An Employee is there to assist with applying tags to my checked bag, the normal baggage claim and extra tags because I am flying first class.

A stop at the rest room and then I head to TSA for security check. I'm now in possession of a Global Entry card which means that I have already been checked out and labeled as a "Known Traveler" with my boarding pass stamped to that effect I enter the special line for security. Being known has it's privileges. No need to remove shoes or belt, computer can remain in its bag, no pulling out the "liquids", and the lines are shorter.

I pass through the first arch and all the bells go off. I am asked if I have a belt on, "yes", please remove it and pass through again. The bells ring again. It's not the belt guys, it's all the replacement parts. Don't fear, there is a way to handle such passengers. Send them through a different metal detector.

I await my turn, and am scanned again. The alarm goes off and I am pulled aside for a hand scanning. I am finally allowed to pass, find my carry on and insert my belt before I loose my trousers. I'm used to this, It is rare that I can pass through a metal detector with setting off the alarms. Sometimes I think they go off as I approach. I soon arrive at my terminal with plenty of time to spare.

The terminal area is quite crowded with passengers for the early morning flights. I am seated at the end of the row with my carry on suitcase a couple inches away from my arm. Every seat is occupied, United displays a list of at least 15 passengers waiting on standby, the flight will be full.

All of a sudden I see a hand grab my suitcase and a passenger is starting to walk away with it. I yell something to the effect "Hey that's mine!" He drops the suitcase and runs away to disappear amongst the crowd. A close call with disaster. All of those things that you don't trust to baggage check almost gone. Was it accidental? No way! But honestly I have never heard of someone losing carry on baggage to a thief in the waiting area of an airport, but I am sure it happens. I am happy that I wasn't napping.

The flight is comfortable and uneventful. I pass the time listening to an audio book on my i Phone, with headphones. I've loaded several to help pass any idle time I might have in the next month. Probably the loans will expire before I get the opportunity to listen to them.

I do not recognize the Newark airport at all. It probably has been 40 years since I was here. There is signage directing me to baggage claim, and by the time I arrive baggage has started to pass by and I have my bag within a few minutes.

There is a representative for Royal Caribbean right there and I check with her to find out about where to get the shuttle. She has a list of about 300 passengers that she is meeting today. The list has no organization to it. It is not in alphabetical order, it is not in order by flight. It takes her at least 5 minutes to find my name. It would have been easier if she hadn't already checked off my name by mistake when she checked in another passenger. I wonder if it was the thief that tried to steal my carry-on?

About 30 of us board a bus and we head to the terminal. I doubt that from the time of landing to arrival at the pier was more than an hour. I am quickly checked through security, even after again setting off the metal detectors.

I have been on the Vision of the Seas, one of Royal's older and smaller ships, before. She carries just over 2000 passengers and does not have a flow rider, ice rink, or water slides.

When I booked this cruise nearly a year ago I was unable to get early dining, so a stop at the dining room is first on the list. There are several personnel there trying to sell specialty dining. I admit I was a little surprised to hear in the sales pitch that the main dining room was terrible, especially on the first several nights. Specialty dining was being pushed for $20, a deep discount from the 65 they sometimes ask.

They are making no changes for tonight, but will let me know tomorrow about earlier dining. I'm really not concerned as I often go to the buffet for dinner anyway. A habit I developed in recent years.

My cabin, 2117, is as expected. A small inside cabin in the aft section port side of the ship and obviously on deck 2. Very convenient to the Diamond Lounge, the Concierge Lounge, the Schooner bar, and the Solarium pool, bar, and food service. Only the main theater and the Windjammer buffet are on the forward or bow end of the ship.

It is a gorgeous day in Bayonne. The skies are clear, there is a slight breeze and the temperatures are about 70. The Statue of Liberty, The Brooklyn bridge, the Verazanno Narrows bridge, and the New York skyline are easily viewed from the ship.

The muster drill and many announcements from the bridge are in both English and French, probably the French being added as we are headed to Quebec Canada.

Just before we leave port the captain announces that he has obtained permission to sail by the Statue of Liberty even though that is not on his normal course to the ocean for our cruise up the New England coast.

I grab my camera, stop at the Diamond lounge for a quick beverage, and go out on deck to get some pictures as we sail close to the Statue. Most of the passengers are excited, but I later I overheard one that was a little frustrated. He spent several days in New York prior to embarking on the Vision, paid for a harbor cruise to the Statue, and found the view from our cruise ship to be much better.

There are a large number of Diamond level and above passengers and they use the entire "Some Enchanted Evening" lounge for happy hour. I would guess there is seating for 250, plenty of space for everyone. They check sea pass cards at the entrance.

After we clear the harbor, I return to may cabin. My luggage has arrived and I stow everything in it's place. Though the cabin is small there is plenty of storage space.

The seas are under 6 feet with a breeze out of the North East. Our course to Portland, ME keeps us about 50 miles off shore, and the distance is so short we cruise at a mere 12 knots.

It has been a long day, appetizers during happy hour will suffice for dinner. I am retired for the evening before 9:00.

Tomorrow is one of only two seas days on our 10 day journey to Quebec City.