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.