December 17, 2018

Last Day on The Harmony

Another perfect day in the Caribbean. sunny skies and flat seas. Any breeze is negligible.  This week I have made Park Cafe my go to place for breakfast. Special K or an English muffin with egg, ham and cheese. Always served hot as they have a microwave and will heat your food if you ask, I always do.

Today I decide on apple juice instead of orange juice. What a surprise when I take a sip and learn that the dispenser is filled with undiluted ice tea concentrate. I bring it the staff's attention. They don't belive me until they taste it. The dispenser is cleaned and filled with the proper juice.

The Captain's corner is attended by about a 100 guests. One tidbit. Last weekend Miami greeted 52,000 incoming passengers from cruise ships, a new record for Miami. Ft Lauderdale still holds the all time record of 54,000 attained last spring.

Miami must be aggressively marketing to the cruise industry. Richard Branson recently announced that the first of his cruise ships will call Miami home when The Scarlet Lady is launched for cruisers 18 and older only. Virgin Voyages is also building their headquarters nearby in Plantation. Like the port of Miami needs more congestion.

Last night must have been the night to clean the scrubbers as the Boardwalk and the Aqua Theater are covered in black soot. Before long Royal will find a way to create a revenue stream and market the sooty experience as a tribute to sailing on steam fired vessels of a century ago.

I'm not sure I have mentioned this previously, but a few months ago they started selling a tour of the crew areas. I wonder if any of the revenue goes to the crew for the invasion of their privacy?

The afternoon performance of Greece is very good. The theater is full and everyone stays until the final curtain call.

Dinner in the Windjammer is the best of the week. I observed the same last month on the Symphony, the Windjammer was its best on the last day. I wonder if a deliberate ploy by management as they realize passengers are most likely to remember the last experience?

The third try succeeded in fixing the door to the Diamond Lounge. My luck isn't so good. The sewer gas odor in my cabin remains. A "floor" manger from houskeeping inspects the cabin. Why "floor" and not "deck" I don't know. He is in total agreement that the odor has not been fixed. I am to expect a letter for future cruise credit within 30 days. Yes, of course I will use it.

Another show with the comedians, this time a family show in the theater.  About 80% of the seats are occupied, many with children.

I finish packing and set my luggage out in the hall. The alarm is set for 7:00. A week of excellent entertainment is over.

In the morning, just as I leave the cabin at 8:10,  the announcement is made for all passengers with my luggage tag number to proceed to the gangway. Without any delays I make my way to the luggage hall, retrieve my luggage from under sign "24" even though my luggage is group "22". There just isn't enough room, they had no choice, but at least all the luggage tagged "22" is together.

A walk through customs and out the door. About 30 seconds to locate my shuttle bus, and then off to Park-N-Go. 25 minutes after leaving my cabin I am on the road headed home.

Traffic is as expected for a Sunday morning, steady but not congested.  After an hour or so I experience one of those moments where you think this might be the end.  A car travelling much faster than me, possible near a 100 closes in from behind very rapidly. I have no place to move to, and there is no indication he is going to slow down. I brace myself. Cars in front of me, cars on the right, and guard rails on the left. Is he drugged or texting, maybe both? I have no clue, and it really doesn't matter.  He finally sees me, but not before coming within inches of my rear bumper.  I squeeze between two cars to my right as soon as I safely can, he accelerates until he is on the bumper of another car. Finally he is far ahead of me.

About 3 or 4 miles further up the roadIt is my turn. I am elated to see that he has been pulled over by an unmarked police car, driven by an officer that I am positive witnessed his reckless driving. I'm elated to see that he has been stopped before killing someone.

The rest of the trip home is uneventful. The clear blue skies give way to heavy gloomy clouds over the Orlando area. I unpack, start the laundry, and head out to buy groceries. Back to the drudgery of normal life until next time. Six weeks on The Serenade of Seas departing February 1, 2019.  Some of my family will be joining me on the ship for the last 11 nights.

December 15, 2018

Labadee, Haiti

The weather remains perfect, temperatures in the mid 70's, sunny skies, and a light breeze.  The ship arrives in Labadee, one of Royal's private islands, right on time at 10:00 AM.  After breakfast in Central Park, my first task of the day is a bridge tour at 10:30.

A young officer is our guide. He has been on the Harmony since she was being built 18 months ago, and shares a few interesting details. Despite her height and size, she can move sideways in a controlled mannner against 50 MPH winds.

Her bow thrusters have more power than the combined capability of all the tugboats in Port Everglades.  The only times she has used her stabilizers has been during sea trials and during aqua show performances.  Interestingly during the aqua shows the ship will often alter course and always deploy the stabilizers to provide the safest enviornment for the divers. It was confirmed that the delay in the show yesterday was so the ship could get far enough from the harbor so she could alter course for the divers.

I have heard this before, but not in a long time. There is a complete redundant bridge in another location of the ship. 

Starting salaries for graduating licensed officers is about $70,000 per year. Not in the cruise line industry, but in the commercial maritime fleet. Cruise line salaries are about 50% less, but the working conditions much better.

At full speed, fuel consumption is about 125 gallons per mile. But if you consider that the ship is carrying 8000 passengers and crew, each passsenger is getting about 65 miles on each gallon of fuel. Or for a 1300 mile cruise, about 20 gallons per passenger.

For several years the cruise ships haven't carried paper charts. Celestial navigation is no longer even possible. Though they have many redundant systems, the ship is 100% reliant on electronic navigation. Maybe not the best idea if something knocked out all the GPS.

The Harmony has six main deisel generators, two are all that are usually required, but when navigating near a port three are always on line.  There are two emergency generators on the upper decks to provide power in case of a major engine room failure. In addition the bridge and some other systems have battery backup power as a last resort.

I head ashore after the bridge tour to join nearly every passenger from the ship. The BBQ is good and I head back to the ship shortly after lunch.

Our cruise director, Michele unexpectedly leaves the ship in Labadee. A family emergency is taking him back home to Italy.

The sewer gas odor still exists in my cabin.  It is time for approach two. I talk to Mohamed. Getting things done is his whole job. Maintenance comes, what they do if anything is a guess, but they leave a card saying the work is done. The work may be done, but the odor lingers.

Chicken Cordon Blu in the Windjammer for dinner, just have time to make it to the Attic for the comedy show.  Two comedians play to a packed room. A good show.

Tonight some members of the ordhestra are joining in the Jazz club. Very loud, I call it a night.

Tomorrow is a sea day as we head back to Ft lauderdale.

December 14, 2018

San Juan

We quietly slip into port in San Juan. The skies are partly cloudy and the air temperature about 75 when we dock. Later the temperatures are expected to be 85.

We are the only ship here in the morning, another arrives before we leave. Our stop will be brief, all aboard is 1:30. Most other passengers get off the ship, I elect not to.

I have learned a few details that contribute to one of my biggest complaints about Royal, serving food warm that should be cold, and serving food cold that should be hot.  The way the large ship galley's are arranged is that everything comes off the one prep line, with waiters starting at one end and working to the other. On this ship some waiters tell me that it can often take 15 minutes to get through the line. I'm sure experience is a factor. The end result, odds are stacked against the guest getting hot food. On older and smaller ships, the galley was divided into different sections, and could be accessed by the staff much more quickly.

Another factor is that the staff is incentivised to reduce electrical consumption. No easier way to save than to keep the warming trays turned off, which they most often are.  Little attempt is made to keep food hot between the ovens and the guest's plate.

Several passengers have related that the food on Oceania is always first class. Much smaller ships, and a focus of fine dining for everyone. If that were a high priority for me I might be inclined to find out.

The automatic door to the lounge has developed a loud screech. Worse than fingernails on a chalkboard and much louder.  The blue coats have worked on it twice but haven't solved the problem. Lounge door issues seem to be following me on Royal. Some of you may be thinking my presence wears out the doors.

There are a number of passengers here that have also been on the Symphony. One of the biggest shortcomings here is the limited number of sinks when entering the Windjammer. Much better on the Symphony. There are other differences, generally seen as being improvements on the Symphony.

It was bound to happen sooner or later. Last night I caught the robot at the bionic bar making a drink!  No idea what it was, but definitely slower than even the most inexperienced human bartender. But it is fun to watch, once.

Along with all the other data that was lost, Royal also lost information about which "gifts" to give upper tier guests. As a result, so far I have four beach towels. You are welcome Alyssa. Yes I have been giving them to her.

This afternoon there is dixieland jazz being played on the boardwalk prior to people gathering for the afternoon aqua show. There are also several announcements looking for passengers that decided not to return to the ship. Whether found or left ashore I have no clue.

The aqua show this afternoon is different than the one I saw earlier in the week. Probably because of the breeze blowing on the stern of the ship it starts about half an hour late as I am sure cancellation was being considered. There is not an empty seat in the house. I miss the theater tour as a result, but that is OK, I have seen rhe backstage of more theaters than I have seen aqua shows. The cast is great, skilled, energetic, and always smiling, even if dripping wet. Ok, that was lame.

"Columbus the Musical" plays in the main theater this evening. The music is very loud, and much of the singing is uninteligible. I have learned from others that Royal is fianlly acknowledging that they play music too loud. Go to guest services and they will give you ear plugs.

An hour of Jazz in the "Jazz On 4" is much more enjoyable than the show in the theater. The Jazz club is a small venue, and is usually full each evening but not overcrowded. The musicians are all from Italy, but the leader speaks English, and as expected with a heavy accent. The vocalist hails from NYC.

A tidbit I forgot to share from the other night, Ronn Lucas had boarded the ship in Florida, and was leaving today in San Juan, headed to another ship. A process he will continue for the next several months before returning to his regular showroom in Las Vegas.

The seas remain mostly calm,  the skies partly cloudy at worst. The ship was rolling just  enough that you could see the water move back and forth in the aqua pool, but as a passenger the motion was imperceptable.

We will cruise at about 20 knots to our next destination, Royal's private island, Labadee, Haiti.  Our arrival is expected at 10:00 AM. 

December 13, 2018

A Day in St Marten

Our ship docks smoothly and quietly. I don't even hear the bow thrusters despite being right above them in the bow of the ship. Skies are sunny, the wind light at less than 10 knots, and the temperature 75, expected to rise to 80 later in the day.

Not wanting to fight the crowds any more than I have to, I wait about an hour to disembark, in the meantime heading to Johnny Rockets for breakfast. Two pancakes and a sausage link.  Service was quick and a welcome change from my usual bowl of Special K. I head back to the cabin to gather what I need to go ashore. Cash, credit card, drivers license, camera, hat, sea pass card, and always my medical information cards just in case.

There are at least three gangways open to disembark. There  is no backup on the ship, but once on the pier the mob of passengers from our ship and the Adventure of the Seas, which shares our berth, moves slowly, reminding me of Main Street USA after the Disney fireworks. There is an awaiting ambulance to add to  the congestion.

There are  three other ships on the next pier resulting in a solid mass of people in a long line to the water taxi.  Four or maybe five boats are running. Some go to the pier I am accustomed to being taken to, the rest, including the one I am on head to dock at the other end of the beach.  It really doesn't matter except I have told several passengers how to find the Lazy Lizzard, from the other pier.

The Lizzard is about half full, still too early in the day for only but the hardiest drinkers to be at a bar.  Nick greets me as he does everyone of his customers. I order a cheeseburger and diet coke. Now that Nicks children are a little older his wife is working with him. We have a nice visit. 

Lauri and Jeff stop by but pass on a beverage. Shopping is their agenda for the day.  Most of the storefronts along the beach are now fully operational. Some of the larger buildings which probably were hotels or apartments remain vacant with little sign of being repired soon if ever.  Nick relates that the tourist business in general as well as his business has rebounded extremely well after the hurricane of last year.

I can connect to local phone service, a nice feature of T-Mobile, but apparently the system is overloaded by the influx of about 15,000 cruise passengers and I am unable  to  send or receive any messages or emai so I avail myself of the WiFi at the Lazy Lizzard to catch up and send a couple of posts to my blog.

I am back on the ship by about 2:00 ships time (3:00 local time). despite the time difference this captain has chosen to remain on ships time. I have yet to figure out the rationale for these decisions. Some captains switch to local time, others do not.

A shower, clean clothes, and pack all the dirty laundry for the ship's laundry to deal with. The Diamond lounge is usually fairly empty during the day, and it is a comfortable place to write. Well today not so good, there are about a dozen guests here, but one talking in a very loud voice, first on her phone and then to her husband that is ignoring her. She is totally clueless to the fact she is distrubing most other passengers and we really don't want to hear her. OK, I can't resit. Just as I am writing this the husband speaks up, the wife gets mad, they exchange words and they leave. I swear I did not say anything.

Last night I spent some time chatting with Mohamed, enough to learn we know each other from The Oasis of The seas. I am still always amazed at the memory of crew memebers.

I do not have any reserved entertainement for tonight, but there is a different ice show that I attend. Reservations are not required, so it is strictly a case of first come first served. I easily find a good seat. Right after the Ice show, I head to the theater to catch  the headliner show. The same ventriloquist as last night, but he claimedit will be mostly different material. 30% at most, but still enjoyable.

Tomorrow we head to San Juan. The weather remains perfect with calm seas. During the evening the temperatures drop to the low 70's and are expected to reach a high of 85 in San Juan.

December 12, 2018

Two Days at Sea

As usual I sleep very well. The cabin is very quiet, the AC works properly, and the image for the virtual balcony is basiclly a black screen throughout the night.
In the morning I meet my room steward, Winton. He informs me that none of the virtual balcony work and he will call maintenance about the sewer gas. Fair enough. The Park Cafe is so close, that will be my first choice for breakfast if possible. I win, there are hardly any guests here.

The seas remain virtually flat, with any waves under one meter, no where near enough to rock this behemouth of a ship. The temperatures start the day in the low 70's and are expected to rise to about 75. Under mostly sunny skies the pool decks quickly fill with passengers.

The  Cruise Critic meet and Mingle was poorly attended. Over 150 had signed up, but there were only about 25 in attendance. None of the officers made an appearance, but nearly everyone won something in the drawing for door prizes.

The ship is properly decorated for Christmas. The theme this year is white lights, the 30 foot tree is adorned with thousands. Large balls of white lights hang from the promenade ceiling.

The galley staff had been busy creating a number of ginger bread houses, the largest over three feet tall. 

The gardeners have contributed dozens of potted poinsetta plants strategically located around the ship. 

Many of the staff wear Santa Hats in recognition of the season.

There is a small wedding in Dazzles, small by the number af attendees, not by the extravagence of the brides dresss. Definitely one of the most elegant I have ever seen.

The Attic is opened for the overflow crowd for the Diamond lounge, but nobody knows about it. No signs, no verbal communication when you can't get in the door at the Diamond lounge. Only if you venture into the Attic are you then asked for your sea pass card and learn that it is being used for overflow.  The bartender tells us that this will be the case for the rest of the cruise.

I attend my first ice show at 7:30, imeadiately after which I head towrds the Aqua Theater. Standby guests are being admitted, and I actually find a better seat than the previous night when I had reservations.

I head to the cabin for the evening. Now I don't even have a remote for the virtual balcony. I guess if I don't have one, I can't say it doesn't work.  The sewer gas odor is better, but not gone. Or maybe I am becoming accustomed to it.

Another good nights sleep. The seas remain incapably of rocking the ship at all. We continue in a southeasterly direction toward St Marten.

On the second sea day I have a very busy (for me anyway) schedule. At 9:30 I have a galley tour. With only about 15 guests in attendance, and one of the most articulate staff members as our tour guide it was good. Each of the three main dining rooms has its own galley. Only the bakery serves the entire ship from the galley on deck four. Eight tons of flour turned into bakery items each week. Much of the process has become automated, much more so than on the older ships.

Immediately after the galley tour it is time for the Crown and Anchor top tier party in the Aqua Theater. 15 PInnacle, 203 Diamond Plus and 422 Diamonds are on the ship. Many of the officers are introduced, the top cruisers recognized, and about 20 minutes of entertainment provided by the divers.

I said earlier that I wouldn't go to the dining room this week, well I have to take that back as I decide to partake in a "meal with an Officer" a perk of being a frequent cruiser.  The conversation with Karina, the Loyalty Ambasador and Ante an electrical systems engineer was  enjoyable. The steak was overcooked, and the mousse desert almost inedible.  Being a special occasion, our waiter only had one table to take care of so the service was good.

Tonight I have reservations for one of the headliner acts, a ventriloquist. The theater fills a half hour before showtime. A comedian as much as a ventriloquist he is good.  Another example of one of the advantages of the megaships, they have a larger budget for the entertainment.

Tomorrow we arrive at our first port, St Marten. I plan to make a visit to the Lazy Lizzard and visit Nick.

Headed to The Harmony of the Seas

I am all packed and set my alarm for 7:00 AM. Ft Lauderdale is about a four hour drive. As I head to the car the AC is turned higher, and the heat turned lower. I need to leave the water on as some new plantings still need a little more water than provided by the regular sprinkler system. I do remember to turn the hot water heater off.

The turnpike to Ft Pierce, and then switch to I-95 after a quick fuel stop. Though I know the way, I turn on Garmin.  Within a few minutes it warns me that I-95 is totally blocked in both directions about 30 miles ahead. I switch back to the turnpike, as do many others. Modern technology sometimes is good.

Having saved me from inevitable delays on 95, Garmin wants to extract payment as I near my destination, it directs me on local roads to get to my parking lot instead on staying on the expressways. do I listen to garmin or follow the expressways? Garmin saved me once today, I better pay attention. I take the local roads. No big deal but probably adds 15 minutes to my travel time, or saves me hours, I will never know.

Park-N-Go is extremely busy but very well organized. Within 5 minutes I am on the shuttle headed to the ship.

The security line extends outside the terminal to the sidewalk. The lines slowly weave back and forth. Once past security it should be directly to the ship as everything was done online including uploading a photo and collecting complete credit card information.

Another failed plan. Somehow Royal lost all that information so all passengers must wait in another line to check in at the counter. My status helps as there are only a few passengers ahead of me instead of the hundreds in most of the lines.

Finally an hour and a half after stepping off the shuttle I board the ship. The cabins are open so I drop off my carry on. When I open the door I immeadiately notice a strong odor of sewer gas. I will deal with that later, the first order of business is a bite to eat. Park Cafe is close, and usually undiscovered on the first day. 

I grab a sandwich and send messages off to the kids that I am safely on the ship, even anwering the inquiry "...are you there yet?"

Back to the cabin. Yes there is defininitely a bad odor.  I don't remember if I actually splurged on this trip, or it was the only cabin left, but I have a virtual balcony cabin.  This is an interior cabin where they have added a 48 x 72 display on the end wall. The image displayed comes from a camera pointed off the side of the ship. Visually it is surprisingly realistic, but with a minor issue. The view is off the port side, but the room is oriented fore and aft. I can't wait to see the effect if the ship starts rolling or pitching. The visual image is 90 degrees rotated from the motion of the ship. Certain to mess with your brain.

Oh you say, just turn it off. Well that is another issue, the remote control doesn't work.

Not knowing if I will see my room steward, I leave a note on the bed for him if he returns and I am not in the cabin.

With the weather a mixture of of sun, clouds, strong winds and showers I am glad my muster station is in the theater. Opportunity for a quick nap and then wait for the lounge to open.

I remembered to reserve all my shows from home, and RC has an app that connects on the ship. I expected to be able to see my reservations on the app, but no that doesn't work either. A stop to introduce myself to Mohamed Sayeth, the concierge host, he insists he remembers me from a previous cruise, I have no clue as to which one. He is able to retrieve and print a list of my reservations. One problem solved.

The lounge is over crowded, I shouldn't expect anything else on a ship with nearly 6,000 passengers and a lounge for 60. I am lucky and find a seat.

Many guests are initially turned away, but seats come available once people begin to leave for early dinner. As usual I have no plans to even look at the dining room.

A few hours after departure the weather improves. I grab a cup of chili in the windjammer and then find a seat for the aqua show. My memory says the similar shows on the Allure and the Oasis were better, but that may be because they were the first I saw of this type of show. Regardless, aquatic performances that I won't seen at my local pool back home.

A short stop at the Jazz club, and then back to the cabin for the night. My suitcase is in the hall along with dozens of others, the note is gone from the turned down bed, but the odor of sewer gas is still in the room. Something to deal with tomorrow.

November 18, 2018

Arrival In Miami and the days that follow

Being the first visit to Port Canaveral by The Symphony of the Seas, when we departed last evening we were escorted by a US Coast Guard gun boat, and a harbor fire boat spraying water in front of us.  The gesture is symbolic, a traditional way of celebrating the arrival of important vessels. From a more practical viewpoint, I doubt the water streams could reach deck 5 if needed.

Alyssa arrives at my cabin to help me with my luggage. I can do fine on level surfaces, but sometimes I am not comfortable navigating the boarding ramps with two suitcase in tow when I would prefer to have one hand near the handrail. We leave the ship a few minutes after 8, probably the last of the self assist passengers.

The new terminal is more compact than some others. There is minimal delay in the process, a short wait for the elevator that actually has an operator. The building is packed with luggage. there is barely an empty spot anywhere with luggage piled well beyong the area they had planned.

We are probably outside within 20 minutes of leaving our cabin. Hot and humid as expected for south Florida. A quick inquiry and we learn where we should be picked up when Steve and Adrienne return with the rented vans for our trip home.

The sidewalk is wider than at the other terminlas in Miami, but that is the only thing that has improved at the newest terminal. Traffic is gridlock, there are hundreds of passengers trying to get cabs, every 3 or 4 minutes 1 arrives. About 75 passengers are wiating for a rental car shuttle. Eventually a minibus that will carry 20 passengers arrives. People are yelling and shoving, patience has worn thin very quickly. I have never liked the port of Miami, and the construction of a new terminal isn't doing anything to change my opinion.

After a two and a half hour wait, our vans arrive and we start our drive north.  I decide I need more than OTC remedies for my cold. I call my doctor to see if I can get in to see her late this afternoon.  Her last appointment will be at 3:20, I won't be home by then.

I take the opportunity to listen to the remainder of the book I started on the ship. Text messages are exchnaged with other travellers. Scott, Melinda and Eliza are in Ohio for a family get together. Eliza's first flight went well. Accoring to her mother "she loved it".

Pann and Terry, make it back to Ohio. They have another stroke of good luck, but I must go back. When they arrived in Barcelona, their hotel room was upgraded. Boarding the ship, they were upgraded from an interior to an oceanview. Waiting to board at the airport, they were upgraded on their flight. What are the odds? They deserve it, and I hope they bought a few lottery tickets this week.

I'm home just after 3:30. First order of business - a trip to urgent care for a dose of antibotics to kill my sinus infection. A week of rest and I will be as good as new, new being a relative term.


Day 12 Port Canaveral

The ship pulls ino port very early in the morning. Crew members are processed by CBP, departing passengers leave, and by about 8:00 AM the passengers begin to get off the ship. I decide it is easier to wait on the ship than in the terminal so I wait until about 10:30 to leave.  

Actually all passengers were scheduled to be off the ship by now, but only about 60%  have made it. The process is slow, there is no room in the terminal, so passengers are backed up onto the ship waiting for space in the terminal to get off. Even once off the ship there will be an hour or longer wait to be processed by CBP, the real bottleneck.

Over night my cold has come back with a vengeance. I get little sleep, and even comptemplate making a visit to a local urgent care facility. My son and family has met the others at the Grill.  I call them and ask that Scott be sent on a shopping trip for more cold medicine. I'm concerned I won't have enough to get me home Friday.

After his successful shopping, he picks me up at the terminal to take me to the Grill to meet up with the others. A diet Coke to wash down the cold medicine. We can hear the ship announcements as passengers continue to be disembarked. About 1:00 it appears everyone is off the ship, and by 1:30 passengers are starting to reboard.

The only good things I can say about our stop in Port Canaveral is that the weather was perfect, typical tropical Florida, and the Grill was reasonably priced. They were well staffed for the crush of cruise passengers with nowhere to go.

Scott drives me back to the terminal and I head to the cabin to rest.

At 5:30 I head to the Windjammer one last time. Over the last 10 days the food quality and variety has been deteriorating.Tonight the presentation is superb, the beef stew good, but the Orange Chicken not even luke warm.  

I meet up  with others at the Trellis Bar in Central Park prior to their trip to the dining room. We are entertained by the interior balcony guest that is oblivious to the fact that passengers can see in his cabin as he walks aroundwith no apparent clothing.

By 8:00 I am back in the cabin packing my suitcase. It has been decided we will do self assist departure in Miami to avoid some of the lines. Adrienne and Steve will get off before 8:00 to pick up the vans, and the rest of us will follow shortly afterwards.

November 12, 2018

Day 11, Last Sea Day

I don't think one could ask for better weather for a transatlantic crossing. Once we left the Med the weather just got better and better. Today as we approach the east coast of Florida the seas have dropped even more, with barely a white cap, and the air and water temperatures are in the low 80's. Very definitely tropical weather.

I'm getting the upper hand on my cold and will go to Chops Grille with some friends tonight. The reality being if dinner wasn't already paid and planned for over a week, the smarter thing to do would be to skip it, but I can only be practical so much of the time.

We learn more about the process in Port Canaveral on Thursday. First all crew members must disembark the ship to be processed by CPB. This will be followed by all passengers disembarking. Once the ship reaches a "0" passenger count, a coast guard inspection will take place including launching life boats. Once the coast guard is satisfied, passengers will be allowed to reboard. I expect about 12:00 or 12:30.

The biggest issue with this process is that they expect it to take over 3 hours for passengers to disembark, and several hours for the inspection.  The terminal in Canaveral is no where near large enough to hold over 5000 waiting passengers. There are a few shore excursions offered, but few passengers care.  At the last minute Royal is offering a shuttle bus to a local mall, and to Disney Springs. Hopefully that will reduce the congestion some.

Hopefully it works better than expected. If this were our final destination there would only be a handful of passengers needing to wait to get back on the ship, not 5000+.

Chops was OK, nothing to rave about. The  juggling show afterwards not any better, there was nothing interesting, unusual or different. I leave a few minutes before the end of the show to retire for the evening.  

I haven't seen my children in two days even though their cabins are right down the hall. The Grill restaurant is only a few hundred yards from the ship terminal. A note on my door indicates they plan to spend the required waiting time there. It is still unclear whether Eliza will come.We are amongst the first passengers scheduled to disembark in the morning.

November 07, 2018

Day 10, Nov 6

Today is almost like yesterday. The seas are a little flatter, less than 5 foot swells, and the temperatures of both the air and the sea are in the high 70's.

Many days I don't do a lot, especially during a sea day. To get the upper hand on my cold, I spend most of the day resting in the cabin. I am gratefully reminded why I bring "stuff" just in case, like cold medicine.

There is no conversation about the elections, of course 40% of the passengers and 99% of the crew are from other countries.

It is Steve's birthday today, they celebrate with dinner at Wonderland. I am in bed by 7:30, long before the scheduled dinner time. Hopefully lots of rest will be a good investment for tomorrow.

November 06, 2018

Day 9, Mon Nov 5 2018

This morning the seas and the weather are just about the same. The temperatures have risen a few degrees to 77, otherwise conditions remain the same. 

Another attempt will be made to hold the Aqua shows tonight. The new ice is frozen in the ice rink, and the second ice show is also scheduled for tonight. We will see what happens.

Many guests have moved from the interior spaces to the pool decks to work on their tans as the temperatures have increased. This passenger has remained in his cabin most of the day as I have the beginning symptoms of a simple head cold.  There have been many passengers coughing and sneezing the last several days, so this comes as no surprise. One of the risks of traveling with over 5000 passengers from 60 or 70 countries around the world in relatively crowded quarters.

This ship, as do a few others, have hand washing sinks at the entry to the buffet. Compliance appears to be much higher than with the use of sanitizers which are often reported in the scientific community as not doing much good anyway.

I am scheduled for the Aqua show late in the evening, but am able to find a standing spot at the 8:00 show.

A group of us has been sharing internet access. So far access speed has been very acceptable for my limited use. Probably 5 minutes a day allows me to check e-mail and send posts to the blog. We have been promised that on Wednesday we will receive detailed information on the process in Port Canaveral and Miami. If my cold persists, I will pass on meeting up with my grand daughter.  I will wait until she is a little older to expose her to a cold I know I have.

We do not set our clocks back tonight, something we have been doing almost daily. We have one more hour of adjustment to get to Florida time.  Without cell service, my phone time is 5 hours off, I think still on Malaga time, the last time I used it.

November 05, 2018

Day 8 at Sea

This morning I awaken to another gorgeous day. The temperature is 73 at daybreak and will rise only slightly during the day. There are a few scattered high clouds, but otherwise the sun remains bright. The wind of 20 knots is directly on our stern, and with the ship moving at about 20 knots there is no apparent wind across the decks.

During the night the ship had altered its course 90 degrees to the south for a short period of time, an unusual maneuver that escaped all but the most astute passengers.  Our stacks are equipped with heat reclamation heat exchangers. Over time these can become covered with soot from the exhaust, which if not removed could become a fire hazard. Last night was cleaning night, but to prevent any of the dislodged soot from falling on the ship decks, the ship was turned broadside to the winds so any soot would fall in the sea, not on the ship.

The captain claims, and I have heard the same from others, that this ship is 25% more efficient than ships built just a few years ago. The heat from the exhaust is used to produce steam which feeds a steam generator. The hull shape has been tweaked to reduce drag along with an air bubble hull lubrication system which reduces friction between the hull and the water. Much of the lighting is LED. Even the digital projectors are laser instead of incandescent. More passengers per ton of ship just adds to the efficiency.

The cabins are the most functional designed I have ever encountered. Notice I did not say the largest. Actually the inside cabins are smaller than on most other ships, but this is easily offset by functionality.

We are now over halfway across the Atlantic, headed in a westerly direction towards Port Canaveral. We were partially informed of the process that will take place during our first port of call in the US.  All passengers must disembark to be processed by customs. Once the ship has reached a zero count, the coast guard will board the ship to make an inspection. Since this is the first time this ship has been in an American port, the inspection is expected to be lengthy.  When the inspection is completed, and assumed the ship cleared, passengers will be allowed to reboard.

The only problem with this is that there are limited facilities for over 5000 passengers to wait in at Canaveral, and there is not much within walking distance for passengers to do. I like many passengers had just planned to stay on the ship for the day. Wrong! 

Of course leaving the ship a day early, and for many passengers closer to home, is also a possibility, but each passenger would encounter a $70 to $90 convenience fee to leave early.  I'll just add that of the 40 or 50 countries I have visited by cruise ship, the clearance process is the most cumbersome in the US. 

The seas remain light to moderate at under 10 feet. The roll is perceptible but very minor, but even a minor motion of the ship results in cancellation of the Aqua shows scheduled for the day.

The ice in Studio B has been melted and the water drained, and is being refrozen today.  An interesting process, water is added in very thin layers by watering the area much the same as you would sprinkle your lawn with a hose, slowly building up the inch and a half thickness.  If just flooded and allowed to freeze there is the risk that the water would slosh as it froze, resulting in a rather uneven surface.

The pools are finally open today as are the water slides that were closed for repairs since we left Barcelona. With a relatively "mature" crowd on board, there is little wait for things like the zip line, flow rider, water slides, etc. The lines for the free drinks, well on somedays hundreds of guest are waiting for the doors to open.  The staff has done an excellent job of keeping the glasses full, and the appetizers are the most lavish I have seen since the Amsterdam sail away parties.

We again tonight turn our clocks back one hour. I think we will do this just one more time, the night before our arrival in Port Canaveral. 

November 04, 2018

Day 7, At Sea

The weather is near perfect today. At sunrise the temperature is about 70, and will rise to 75 during the day. The skies are mostly clear with a few scattered clouds. During the night the ship has begun to roll a little due to the 10 or 12 foot swells coming from the North, remnants of Oscar.

A couple of nights ago there was a party for all the top tier Crown and Anchor members. 1347 Diamond members, 1242 Diamond Plus members and 227 Pinnacle members are on the ship. They and the other top tier member on the ship have 781,282 days of cruising with Royal, or 2140 years of combined cruising experience. I think the Loyalty Host had too much time on her hands to calculate that one.

The pools have been empty for the entire cruise so far. Cold wet weather, rolling of the ship  which causes the water to slosh out, and the need for new paint were all contributing factors.

Cocktails in the entertainment district, dinner in the Windjammer, followed by an hour or so of enjoying the entertainment of Alex finish my day. Again we set our clocks back an hour tonight and get an extra hour of sleep.

Friday, Nov 2, 2108

I arise early, before 8:00. The skies are clear and sunny, and already the temperature is above 70. There are just a few scattered white caps with waves less than 5 feet. With the wind now on our stern, the apparent wind across the deck is less than 10 knots. Ship motion is negligible. The captain has increased our speed to 20 knots to make up for the time we lost while facing strong headwinds the first few days.

One of the less frequented dining spots for breakfast is Johnny Rockets. Every other morning, the weather wasn't conducive to outdoor dining, today it is. I wait only a few minutes to be seated.

I have yet to start any of the four books I brought with me on this trip, and it doesn't look like I will today either. After breakfast there is a seminar on how various measurements on the size and age of the universe are made.  The speaker does an excellent job explaining a very complex topic to a general audience. He will be doing more lectures during the remainder of the cruise, I plan to attend.

One of the advantages of a longer cruise is that I have the opportunity to meet more people, which in turn reminds me of what a small world we live in.  For example, I learn Bobby, our cruise director previously lived in Clermont. A couple from Halifax winter in Florida, and often play golf where I live in Kings Ridge. Another couple I dined with the other night live very close to where I lived in Michigan for many years, and obviously we dined at many of the same restaurants such as the Stray Dog and Redamaks. I guess I should correct that, I'm not sure they should be called restaurants, maybe bars with food.

Normally laundry is returned in about 24 hours. A lady on the elevator is getting very concerned because it has now been over two days. Other passengers confirm that they too have had laundry out for longer than expected. I had planned to wait until tomorrow, but based on my new knowledge, gather up the dirty clothes today. I'm good for four more days, but why create any undo stress. 

As is typical on many cruises, as we get further into the cruise the Diamond Lounge, in this case the entire entertainment district, gets less busy.  It is almost possible to find a seat with a little preseverance.

I grab a quick bite in the Windjammer. Alex Miles, one of the piano entertainers is sitting at the adjacent table. She is a delightful gal from the UK, and is in her fourth year working for Royal. Like many, she has no idea where her next contract will take her. 

I head  to the Schooner Bar before the 8:00 starting time for Alex. She plays one set lasting until 10:45 when the music in the promenade would overpower her. She will return at midnight to play until the wee hours of the morning, but not for me. I will be sound asleep after turning my clock back another hour.

November 02, 2018

Thursday Nov 1

The seas have calmed considerably, and the captain forecasts that the weather will improve as we slowly make our way across the Atlantic. He has chosen the longer, but more southernly rhumb line course instead of the great circle route to give us better probability of warmer temperatures. 

This morning the temperatures are in the high 60's, and passengers begin to venture outdoors. The flowriders are busy, and a few people are sitting outside by the pool in deck chairs.

When I first venture out into central park it begins to sprinkle. What can I say, my timing sometimes isn't the best. The dampness ends by the time I reach the other end of the park, and soon the sun returns.

The headliner entertainer is a magician, usually acts that I enjoy. I found myself asleep several times during the show, I guess I wasn't impressed. I slip into the ice show and watch their last performance for this cruise. Actually it was the third time I've seen it this week. I am still impressed with the skating skills on such a small rink. The beginning of the show includes about 50 drones with LED lights. All in keeping with Royal trying to incorporate the latest technology.

The bionic bar is working, but gets no interest from the passengers, they could care less. I hope Royal feels they have gotten their moneys worth from using it for advertising beause at least on this cruise they won't pay for it with the drink revenue it generates.

I enjoy the jazz club for about an hour and then head to the cabin for the night. We again turn our clocks back an hour tonight as we will for a total of 6 nights as we progress westerly.  West bound travel is much easier on the body and its internal clock than east bound where you lose an hour at each time zone.

By bedtime the wind and seas have dropped considerably. There is still a little roll to the ship, but most of the creaking and howling has ceased.

November 01, 2018

The Start of Many Sea Days

As we leave Malaga the weather hasn't improved much. Rain and wind continues and the temperature is in the 50's. The seas are moderate and the ship begins to roll as soon as we leave the harbor.

Steve, Adrienne's husband, is not feeling well, and will not be dining tonight, I take his place at the table in the dining room. The food and service is good, and there are no passengers at the table that make the experience any less pleasant.

Most outside areas remain closed, not that there are many passengers that would want to venture out. About 11PM we pass through the Strait of Gibralta. From the ship there is not much to see except lights in Africa off the port side of the ship, and lights from Europe on the starboard side.

During the night as we enter the North Atlantic the seas build. By the morning of the 31st the ship is rolling enough that most passengers have to be careful as they walk. The wind can be heard howling in many of the hallways,  and the ship creaks and moans as she plows through the 15 foot waves hitting directly on our bow. A major low pressure system, the remains of hurricane Oscar, is on the North side of us, the major influence on our weather. It is expected that the temperatures and weather will improve as we progress south westerly towards Florida.

Because of the weather all of the aqua shows have been rescheduled for later in the cruise as has tonight's performance of Hairspray.

The ship is decorated for Halloween, many passengers have decorated  their cabin doors and have brought costumes for a contest and  party tonight, Halloween night. Several cabins down the hall a guest has hung a trick or treat bag filled with chocolates.

By noon time the temperature reaches the low 60's. Warm enough that the jogging track becomes attractive for many. The skies are mostly cloudy, with an occasional glimpse of bright sun, and an occasional shower. The wind across the bow is in excess of 50 knots, keeping many of the outside areas closed.

Over 200 guests participate in the costume contest. I'm impressed with the quality of some of the costumes, rivaling anything a professional could do.  It is after midnight when the prizes are awarded, too late for this sailor even if I get an extra hour of sleep as we set our clocks back one hour tonight.

October 30, 2018

Boarding The Symphony in Barcelona

The end of daylight savings time in most of the world gives me an extra hour of sleep. I am up long before my alarm would wake me. Once everything is packed I head across the street for a pastry for breakfast, something I would never consider at home, but only because it is miles to the nearest bakery.

Elisenda arrives promptly a couple minutes before 11 to pick up the keys, and I will assume clean the apartment for her next rental. The temperature remains in the 50's, with a lite rain.  I call a cab with "Cabify" a cab hailing app I downloaded several days ago. It works like Uber and Lyft with the cost displayed before you accept the driver, and payment made by credit card or Pay Pal upon acceptance and completion of the ride. As near as I can tell, regular cabs are also included in the pool of drivers. 

My driver arrives in less than two minutes and I am on the way to the port to board The Symphony of The Seas. There is no traffic until we get near the port. Something I have never seen before, two terminals are used to load passengers. My driver is a little confused and leaves me at terminal "C" instead of "B" where I was scheduled to board. Seeing that signs indicated Symphony passengers were to board here, I did not try to get him to take to to the correct terminal, I might have wound up on the Epic instead.

Boarding couldn't have been easier. There were no lines for security, but of course I get special processing, no metal detector or x-ray machines for me here. Once passengers and carry on bags are checked, one last verification of boarding pass and it is directly to the ship. The steps that were previously accomplished by another long line at the check in counter have been totally replaced with on line check in. The passenger even submits a photo, or "selfie", for on ship identification.

The Symphony is a new ship of the Oasis class, meaning the hull and superstructure are built from the same plans, but the finishing touches may be unique to each ship. Without a tape measure I suspect the cabins are a little smaller than on the Oasis, but are much more efficient in the use of space. Deck 17 which used to be the Viking Crown Lounge is now dedicated to suite passengers. A revenue change that is being implemented on all Oasis class ships, and on some of the smaller ships.

The overall design incorporates more high tech features such as proximity sensors to open public restroom doors and RFID to sense your sea pass card to unlock your cabin door.

All muster stations appear to be indoors, mine is in the main theater. All the usual instructions are via video presentation.  It is soon time to leave Barcelona. It is cold outside, and only a few passengers line the rails as we depart. I take a few quick pictures and then retreat to the warmth of inside.

Because of the thousands of Diamond and Diamond Plus passengers the entire entertainment district on deck 4 is used for the Diamond Lounge at happy hour, with a capacity of about 75 the designated Diamond Lounge is no where near large enough.

I consider giving the dining room a try, but when I see my table for 8 set for 12 guests I come to my senses and will continue my habit of eating elsewhere.

The weather is no better on Monday, and in fact worse.  All outside deck areas of the ship are closed. Central Park is open, but no passengers brave the weather for a stroll through the Park. It is reported that the wind is in excess of 40 mph. There is little display of navigational and weather conditions, and it is difficult to obtain factual detailed information. 

The ship rolls a little but all the passengers seem to be taking it in stride. The cold and rain is a different story, generating many disgruntled passengers.

The first 24 hours generates at least three Alpha, or medical calls to passenger cabins, not a good start.

Our first port of call is Malaga Spain. Temperatures remain in the low to mid 50's and it is rainy and foggy. Many passengers have booked tours, I elect to remain on the ship with about half of the other passengers.

It has only been a couple of days, but so far the staff has been excellent. Food quality better than on my other recent Royal cruises. The food presentation is possibly the best I have ever seen by Royal Caribbean. The passengers that have been going to the dining room generally report satisfaction with the food and service.

The most common complaint I hear is one I share. There is a lack of space to just sit and read a book or watch the ocean go by. Much of the space that formerly would have been public space has been taken over by more cabins and suites.

When we leave Malaga this evening, Oct 30, it will be sea days until we arrive in Port Canaveral, our next port of call on November 8th.

My Days In Barcelona

The first night I sleep soundly for over 12 hours, not only do I awake rested, I have quickly adjusted to the 6 hour time  change.

The weather forecast is for near perfect weather for the next several days, a forecast that proves to be accurate. I quickly become a typical tourist and visit a number of the most popular tourist spots including Sagrada Familia,  Parc Guell, Montjuic Castle, The Magic Fountain, Etc. I take both routes on the narratted Hop On Hop off bus, my favorite way to get an overview of an unfamiliar city.

I had considered a day trip to the nearby country of Andora, but with it being much colder in the mountains, I decided to forgo that for this trip.

Despite having kitchen facilities, I eat all of my meals in the local cafes within a few blocks of my apartment. the neighborhood is more of a residential neighborhood than a tourist area. I encounter no one that can speak English, but picture menus, and friendly patient shop owners overcome any language barriers.  One of my favorite cafes is owned by a Chinese family where the eldest members work in the kitchen, the next generation behind a service counter and bar,  and a young boy about 7 or 8 cleans tables as he takes a break from doing work in his school book. This is definitely a local spot as I recognize a couple patrons drinking beer at the bar each time I am there.

I find Barcelona a very clean friendly city. Traffic congestion is minimal. Drivers are courteous  and patient, one seldom hears a horn blown. Even when crowded, there is no shoving or pushing on the Metro. One aspect I did find a little difficult to get used to was that elderly passengers are nearly always offered a seat by younger riders. Sometimes I would accept, other  times I would decline. I just don't consider myself elderly.

Most of the Metro is handicap accessible with elevators. All the newer stations have escalators, and only a few of the oldest smaller stations only have stairs. The 10 different lines intersect at different stations throughout the city. The connection can be  as close as the otherside of the same platform, or a 10 minute walk through an underground passageway. In one station the connection was about 150 feet vertically made by taking 5 escalators in succession. I'm sure glad the escalators were working when I was there.

On Friday others begin arriving. I had considered meeting them at the airport, but this was one tourist that was just too worn out by then. Besides, they are all very able to find theirown way to their apartment. We do communicate by text message, and everyone arrives safely even if late. We make plans to meet at Sagrada Familia Saturday morning.

Besides the people I expected to meet, the group is joined by Chris and his friend from London. Friends for several years, they came to Barcelona just to visit Jenn, Adrienne and Steve.

The temperatures have dropped into the 60's and there is an intermittent drizzle. Most of the group is headed to Parc Guell. Having been there a few days ago, I take a pass, but do invite everyone to see my apartment as it is only 5 minutes out of the way, and provides a good restroom break.

The Hola Barcelona Travel Card is the way to travel within the city. For a few dollars per day, you can enjoy unlimited metro passage. Taking an extra train of two is easy and there is no financial consequence to be considered.

Since she is here, I have Alyssa help interpret the instructions on the washer and dryer. When she leaves I don't feel I got my monies worth for her college education and the study abroad program she attended here in Spain. Regardless, I will figure it out.

My landlord left me with a bottle of wine, so I make plans to meet up with everyone else at the much larger apartment my daughters have rented. It is about 30 minutes away by Metro. While yes it is larger, with 6 people sleeping there I might actually have more square feet of space per person.

Being our dinner time we head to a local place on the corner. The rain and the hour and it is no problem making a table for the 9 of us to eat inside. Not only does our waiter speak English, they have menus in English. definitely a location in the tourist area of town.

As has been the case everywhere, the food is good. After dinner we return to the apartment where we are joined by more friends headed to the ship. I think we have wine not only from Spain, but wines brought from Egypt, Great Britian, and Scotland.

Before midnight, I head back to the Metro to go home. Surprisingly, no drunks, no bad behavior. This certainly is not a US city.

Tomorrow it is time to head to the Symphony. 

October 25, 2018

Arrival in Barcelona October 23

Boarding starts early. A Boeing 787 Dreamliner. I am one of about 25 "Premium" passengers. There is capacity for 30. There are 5 or 6 empty seats, including the 2 next to me. I don't think economy seating is full either, but we have been given specific instructions to remain in our "class" section of the cabin so I don't know for sure.

The stewardess are sharply dressed right down to their red gloves. Everything is high tech including electronically controlled glass to darken the windows. We are immediately offered the included wine, champagne, or other beverage of your choice.

All passengers are boarded and seated at least 20 minutes prior to our scheduled departure from the gate. We quickly climb to our cruising altitude of 41,000 feet. I decline the offer of food at 11:30 PM.  I am not a late diner.

Three displays across the bulkhead in the front of the cabin display the ever changing important information. Altitude, ground speed, time since departure and expected time until arrival. A map showing our location and the ocal time in Newark and Barcelona are also displayed.

For the first hour the flight goes as expected, then we run into strong headwinds and turbulence. Nothing serious, but a lot more motion that what one will usually encounter on a cruise ship, and a lot faster. The captain tries flying at different altitudes.  He can't escape mother nature. Our ground speed drops, and one by one minutes are added to our expected arrival time, Ultimately over 30 minutes are added.

The next 7 1/2 hours are bumpy but quiet I try to sleep but basically fail. The seats are quite comfortable with plenty of leg room and a good amount of recline, but my attempt at sleep is unsuccessful.

Breakfast is served about an hour before our scheduled landing. One cube of mellon that is barely over a bite. One half of a strawberry, two bites of prosciutto, and a roll. I will guess it cost more to cut the strawberries than it would to serve a whole one.

We hit the runway pretty hard as we land, the plane rattles and takes a hop as the tires squeal, but it is no where near the worst I have encountered. We taxi to a gate and the gangway is moved into position. It is about 1 PM local time.

Signage is excellent directing us to baggage claim and custom's clearance. I appreciate the availability of free luggage carts. Ours is the only plane that has landed recently at this terminal so it is nearly empty.

I am soon in a cab headed to my rental apartment. I can't check in until 3:00.  Exactly where to meet was not specifically covered. I ring the door buzzer, but no response. Since I am early, I will wait until 3 before calling. I already know the owner won't be here as she told  me she is sending a friend to accommodate my early arrival.

I knew before i booked that the Metro, or underground, or subway, whichever you prefer is across the street. There is also a grocery store, and several cafe's within a 100 feet. A fruit stand is literally at my front door, well 18 inches to the side.

A stranger approaches, I learn she is the "friend" to get me into the apartment.The apartment is interesting. I would guess the building to be 100 years old. The lift will barely hold the two of us and my two suitcases, but it is much better than trying to navigate the narrow stairs the two stories to the first floor. Actually an elevator is a luxury for many apartments in buildings of this age. It is very slow, but it works.

Even if small and old, everything is very clean. A small galley kitchen wide enough for one, no helpers here. The small fridge is almost brand new and is more than adequate for my needs. TV with cable, and free WiFi. I doubt I will even turn on the stereo. Oh, the shower, smaller than any I have ever encountered on a cruise ship, but plenty of hot water providing you remember the gas valve and water heater.

Yes,  If you want hot water, you first must turn on the gas, and then the instant hot water heater. When hot water is not needed, or you are not using the stove, the gas is to be turned off. I "heard" something about a gas leak in the building. I consciously attribute my understanding to a loss of meaning in a conversation between a person that doesn't speak English and a person that doesn't understand Catalan. I'm not concerned, the building has been here for over a hundred years, it will make it another five days. Well at least the odds are in my favor.

I unpack and head to the market to get a few basics. I didn't think to take a shopping bag with me, so I had to pay two cents for a disposable one, a common practice in much of Europe.

My next venture is into the metro to turn  my voucher, bought at home, into a usable ticket.  After studying the kiosk I think I have it figured out.  Everything works except no ticket is dispensed. Kiosks just are not cooperating with me on this trip. While I am pondering my error, another person purchases a ticket, and two are dispensed. Problem solved, not my error, just stuck in the machine.

I explore the local neighborhood, grab a bite to eat at a nearby cafe, and hit the pillow early. It has been a long day and a half.

October 24, 2018

Long Day to Barcelona

I easily finish packing on Sunday. It probably is a good thing I use a list.  From Q-tips to razor blades and just in case I need it, band aids and a mini sewing kit, my list has nearly 150 different items. 8 pair of socks count as 1 item, not 8!  Without a list I am sure I would miss a few items, and probably something important like shirts or a pair of shoes.

My son, Scott, arrives early to take me to the airport. Arriving early is a rare event for him. Maybe its him becoming a father that has changed his ways. As a parent I can always remain hopeful can't I?  The daughters arrival prevented Scott from taking the trip with his sisters to Egypt, but that was the original plan, His loss, but my gain. While I'm gone he is going to do some upgrades to my computer. A minimal return on the years of college expenses.

I breeze through check in and security fairly easily at Orlando. Being a known traveler with a global entry card helped a lot, I can wear my shoes and belt and wouldn't have to open my laptop, that is if I had one. Of course I need to go to a different location because of all my new parts.  I still walked through one of the metal detectors, but one they deem safe for passengers like me.  I actually saw the display screen and found it quite interesting.  A faint image of me superimposed with white rectangles wherever the machine detected metal. For me that was most of my body from my knees to my neck. A quick pat down and I was on my way.

The plane was full, and overhead storage quickly filled up. It appeared that many passengers were carrying more than the one allowed carry on.

The fruit and cheese "snack" could have been described as a full meal. Two types of cheese, almonds, prosciutto, grapes, crackers, strawberries, apricots, crackers, and a dark chocolate square. Beer, wine, cocktails, or soft drinks, I settled for a glass of club soda. First class does take some of the pain out of air travel.

The plane arrives about 15 minutes late in Newark. It is a long haul to luggage, the train, and then on to terminal "B". Signs and directions are sparse, and everything is very busy. I have use of a lounge with my ticket to Barcelona. I know it is in B, but it is not shown on the information signs. Google maps reveals it is 100 feet down the corridor.

I have to have a boarding pass for access, but wasn't able to get one on line before I left home.  There is a bank of 15 kiosks, they are not busy, I try the first, the screen freezes before I can enter any information.  Having lots of time, and not being able to get into the lounge without a boarding pass I try the next kiosk, and the next, and...., finally on the fifth success! A luggage tag and boarding pass.

Entry to the lounge is granted. This is not a luxury I usually have, so I have nothing to compare with but listening to other passengers this is the pits.  I don't know, a soft seat, free beer, wine, and soft drinks, sandwiches and a couple of hot foods is better than sitting at the gate.  No the AC doesn't work, and in general it is kind of grungy. I have been here about 2 hours, nearly every seat is occupied, and other than the host when I checked in I have yet to hear a word of English.

In another 30 minutes I will check my luggage at the counter when it opens and head towards the gate.

The stop at the counter was brief, not so for TSA. Global entry was of no value. Finally an hour and a half later I am on my way to the gate with almost an hour to spare before boarding for our 11 PM departure. Not first class but "Premium" as it is called on Norwegian Shuttle Airlines. The seats are supposed to recline to  nearly flat. Sleep is the plan.

October 20, 2018

Prepare For The Symphony

No the Symphony is not an elaborate musical composition, but the Symphony Of The Seas, Royal's newest and largest Oasis class ship.

This is the first cruise I have booked that originates in Europe instead of a US port. I will spend 5 days in Barcelona before boarding for the transatlantic crossing to Florida. This sounds really strange but one of only two ports of call is Port Canaveral, Florida on our way to Miami. Definitely a cruise for the journey not the destinations.

For some reason there just seems more to get done on these few weeks at home. All the usual doctors appointments, family dinners, train club activities, and of course visits with my grand daughter. Add to this the added task of some tree removal and landscaping and unanticipated car repairs. I am procrastinating packing for yet another few days, but definitely on Sunday.

Initially  when I started writing this blog it was for my friends that asked me, now that I have been doing it for several years I find that I want to do it for myself. It serves as a cruise diary, that when read, rearranges the distorted memories in my brain. Oops, maybe I shouldn't admit that, the staff at my doctor's office are amongst my readers. It's OK I still can remember where the car keys are even if not what I ate for breakfast.

I have rented an apartment for the stay in Barcelona before boarding the ship. My criteria were very simple: Location; Location; Location. The most important being located very close to the Metro system. I was told  it is across the street from the apartment entrance. More about that after I have been there a few days. I leave on Monday the 22nd to arrive in Barcelona on the 23rd.

I am often asked by my local friends if there are other people I know on the ships I sail on. The usual answer is that it is rare not to run into other passengers that I know. This cruise will be different in that I know in advance of many passengers that will be on the ship.  Before boarding our paths from home to the ship are quite varied. At the risk of boring you, but for my future reference, I am including a quick synopsis.

I think Lee and Sue were the first to leave the US. They have been traveling through a number of Eastern European countries since early September. Will meet them in Barcelona on the ship on the 28th.

Pann and Terry are in Ireland, will meet in Barcelona on the 26th.

Mimi has been in Italy for a week or so, is headed to the Greek Isles and then will meet on the ship on the 28th

Adrienne (my daughter), her husband Steve, and Amie leave on the 19th. I take them to the airport at 3:45 in the morning, what an  ungodly hour. At least the traffic will be sparse. They are headed to New York for two days and then on to Cairo and Luxor the evening of the 20th. I will meet them in Barcelona on the 26th.

Don and Di are in Moscow and  will meet up with Rocky and Linda in Istanbul. The four of them head for Cairo. I will meet them in Barcelona on the 26th.

Keli and Marilyn also go directly to Cairo, meeting up with Adrienne, et al. in New York on the 20th. Unfortunately they are not going to be on the Symphony, after leaving Egypt, they are headed to Paris for a week before returning to the US.

Alyssa (my youngest daughter) leaves Saturday the 20th to fly to New York with Marilyn and Kelli, where they will meet Adrienne, et al to fly to Cairo. I will meet her in Barcelona on the 26th.

Summer and Jen fly to Barcelona on the 25th, I will meet them there on the 26th. 

I don't remember where Kevin and Linda are, but will meet them on the ship. I am sure there are more I have forgotten, I apologize.

I originally was planning on touring Cairo, riding a camel to the pyramids and going on to Luxor with the others, but after looking at the projected weather, highs in the upper 90's, and the grueling schedule, like heading to the airport in Luxor at 3:30 AM, I felt it would be wise to plan a more leisurely schedule sampling tapas and wine in Barcelona. I may even catch some of the International Jazz Festival that is being held in Barcelona while I am there.

The alarm is set for 3:00 for a passenger delivery run to the airport. The landscapers will be here by 8:00, and then one more doctors appointment. How did I ever find time to work before I retired?

October 02, 2018

October 1, Returning Home

Disembarkation is scheduled to begin shortly after 8:00. I am in the first group after those that carry all their own luggage. My group, #2, is called about 8:30. After snaking back and forth through the dining room, I exit the ship, find my luggage and proceed to the customs agent. Once outside I call the parking lot for my pickup shuttle, only to discover it is parked right in front of me, but is almost indistinguishable from all the other white vans waiting for passengers. No congestion like in Miami after the last trip. By 9:15, with my car retrieved, I am headed to I-4 for my drive home.

Again the skies are clear and sunny. Initially the traffic is heavy, but once past the I-75 interchange the speeds pick up and I am able to drive at the speed limit.  I never finished an audio book I started so I listen to it on the way home. Maybe before the loan expires.

I am in my house by 10:30, turn on the water and the AC then proceed to immediately unpack the suitcases. Every thing, whether clean or worn heads to the pile to be washed. Things like Q-Tips and razors are replenished, ready for the next trip. Errands are next on the list. Pick up a new supply of 2$ bills at the bank, food at the grocery store, prescriptions at the drug store, signed and approved forms to allow repair to some landscaping. My mail won't be delivered until late in the afternoon, sorting of that will be a Tuesday task.

Home for three weeks and then off to Barcelona. Three weeks to spoil my new grand daughter just a little.

September 30, A Sea Day

Our passage through the night was calm and quiet, except for the party people trying to find their cabins at 4:00 AM. Morning finds the skies partly cloudy. The seas would still be classified as calm but there are a few scattered whitecaps.  The wind on our starboard bow has increased, making the wind across the deck howling at about 45mph. Hold onto your hats and towels. Unlike my cruise of four weeks ago, the water surface is clean.

My shower this morning is with less than hot water. In fact, the temperature of both the cold and the hot water is the same, luke warm. I noticed the lack of hot water yesterday, but attributed it to everyone getting ready to leave the ship, true but not the cause.

Mechanically this ship is in the poorest condition of any ship I have been on. Granted they are all minor items, but there are lots of them.  Elevator call buttons, elevator overload safety controls, shower heads, long term leaks, the list goes on. Every one of these problems existed when I boarded the ship, and repairs are not being made. It makes one wonder about the condition of those systems we don't see.

I have met some interesting people over the past few weeks. We have all heard of people that live on cruise ships. A couple from Australia doesn't live exclusively on cruise ships, but for the past twenty years, yes twenty years, have been traveling the world by train, plane, foot, automobile, and cruise ship. They have no permanent home. To recently travel in the US, they bought a well used 99 Lincoln with 244,000 miles, that they will just junk when they are finished with it.  When on land, housing is a Bed & Breakfast, AirBnb, or friends. Other than the car, everything they own travels with them in a few suitcases. Safari's in Africa to mountain climbing in the Alps they are living an adventure few of us can even imagine.

There are several passengers that work for InterCruise.  InterCruise is the company that provides boarding services at many ports around the world. A relatively young company being around for about 10 years, and based in Barcelona. They provide the people in the terminal that guide you through the process of checking in for your cruise, or finding the right shuttle bus to the airport. 

As expected, the process is different for every ship. The computer equipment and software they use is unique to each vessel, and in fact the equipment goes with the ship, not the port.

I don't know these people, but there is a story many of us can easily relate to. As I was taking the elevator down to the cinema yesterday morning, it stopped on deck 10 for other passengers. The husband, gets on the elevator after trying to give instructions to his wife on how to get off the ship. She reminds him that she has been on over 35 cruises and knows how to get to the pier. He says he is going ahead, and will meet her there. He pushes the button for deck 2, and the elevator descends.  The gangway is in fact on deck 2, but not accessible from the forward elevators. I just bet she knew he was headed down the wrong path. 

Despite the brisk wind, the pool is busy. I think there are actually fewer kids this week, but definitely many more heavy drinkers. Perfect pool of contestants for the belly flop contest.

Shirt sales for the WWF are minimal. They are priced at $12.00 each, I add 2 to my collection. No I'm not going to rip the arms off and wear them to the dining room, I wear them to the pool at home.

The lounge is nearly empty tonight. For about a minute after dinner I was the only guest, a situation quickly rectified by the return of a few other regulars. Bernadette is moving to the pool bar next week. Assignments for the bar staff rotate every month. I am pleased she was our bartender while I was here, she did a great job.

By early evening, the winds have died, and the seas are nearly perfectly flat. I pack my suitcase and place it in the hallway. Tomorrow I disembark in Tampa and head home.

September 30, 2018

September 29, Cozumel, Mexico.

I awake after 10 hours of peaceful sleep. By the time I leave the cabin, passengers are allready headed ashore. A glass of juice and a pastry will suffice for breakfast. I decide to catch the movie "Overboard" playing in the cinema. Being a port day I expect it should not be crowded. About 30 minutes into the movie, a fire drill is started for the crew. The movie sound is cut off for the announcements and the general alarm strobe lights flash every few seconds.  Fortunately the movie is shown with captions, and it is not a movie that requires one to pay close attention. Eventually the drill ends and the captain thanks the crew and guests. The alarm strobe light continues and there is no movie sound.

After about 10 more minutes, time to find a phone, and call the front desk.  I am promised they will call the bridge. Shortly after I make it back to my seat the all clear signal that should have been sounded long ago is heard, and the movie audio returns.

When the movie concludes I head into town. If for no other reason than to say I got off the ship in every port. There are already two Carnival ships on the next piers, and shortly we are joined by the Majesty of The Seas.

After a walk through a number of shops, I head to Senor Frogs. This is becoming a habit.  I'm soon joined by Steve #1. There is no doubt left at all, the food is better than on the ship.

I head to the lounge a little before 5. This is the slowest I have seen it in two weeks, maybe at anytime on any ship. At 5:30 just before early dinner seating there are 3 customers in the entire lounge.

Time comes and goes for the ship to depart.  The names of 11 passengers are called, then again. No one approaches the pier, we leave them behind. I have never heard of so many passengers be left behind, but there is a first time for everything.  If the missing passengers were relying on cell phones or local time they would be an hour late. I wonder if the captain feels any guilt for not changing time this trip?

A bowl of chili for dinner, it  actually was pretty good. The Windjammer is busy again tonight, one actually has to look for an empty table. I head directly to the top tier party, over 600 crown and anchor members have been invited. David and Collene are top cruisers again. They bring the gift bottle of Champagne to the lounge to share.

In total there are 7 Pinnacle members, about 70 diamond plus and 75 diamond members on this cruise. The event is poorly attended, with only about about 50 in attendance. It is rumored they are going to stop having top tier events on 4 and 5 day cruises after the first of the year.

About a year ago Pinnacle C&A members were told there were changes coming they would like. I now know what that change is.  As ships are being refurbished they will be reconfigured to include the Coastal Kitchen and a lounge for exclusive use by Pinnacle and Suite guests. A much smaller lounge will be for all passengers Diamond and above and suites, often being located in a small interior room. In many cases the public crown lounge will be converted to suites and specialty restaurants. Maybe I will be Pinnacle before all the smaller ships will be converted.

The seas remain calm as we head Northeast towards Tampa. Tomorrow is my last sea day for this cruise.

September 29, 2018

September 28, a Sea Day

After 10 hours of sleep I wake to clear skies and calm seas. Well that is true, but I have to go elsewhere to view that.  One of the advantages of an inside cabin is that once you turn the light off the room is totally dark. No rising sun, or sound of wind or waves to disturb a good nights sleep. There is the steady soothing drone of mechanical equipment heard in the cabin, there are no vibrations or other noises except an occasional loud voice in the hallway.

I find Francisco sitting at his desk doing nothing. I share my thoughts on the pool drain leak and he says he will pass it on to the right people in engineering. It is very unlikely I will ever be in that cabin again when the pool is being drained to find out.

There are many groups on board this week, recognized by a number of guests wearing the same shirts or hats. One group with the initials USDC explains many of the others. "United States Drinking Corps". Enough said.

The top cruisers of last week, David and Charlene, live about 30 minutes from the port. While the rest of us just hung around the ship for the day, they drove home, picked up the mail and spread some roundup on the weeds.  They spend most of the winter on cruise ships, and the summer months in upstate New York.

I spend most of the afternoon reading, or more accurately listening to a book. Nothing too deep, I am on vacation after all.

Fransisco didn't come through with any diet tonic, but Bernadette did. She scrounged five bottles from around the ship and has them safely secured in her locked cabinet. I will ration them over the rest of the cruise, and she will continue to be rewarded with $2 tips, more specifically $2 bills. A few days ago my bank called to inform me that they have a new supply for me.  They have to order them from the Federal Reserve, and sometimes it takes up to six weeks depending on the press schedule and demand.

Tomorrow we arrive in Cozumel for the last time on this cruise. Unlike a few days ago, we are not instructed to change to local time, but we remain on ships time.

The seas remain calm, the skies mostly sunny, and the temperatures a little cooler than at home. Life is good.

Turnaround in Tampa

I am already awake when my alarm sounds at 7:00. I expect to be all packed and out of my room long before the 8:30 requested time.

Out of habit I turn the TV on, it turns itself off within a minute. Strange. I turn it on again, same result. I walk across the carpet and step on a wet spot. Stranger. I look around and water is leaking from above the ceiling!  Fluid is dripping out of the TV chassis, the paperwork on the counter is wet, as is my alarm clock. Fortunately my phone, keyboard, and camera escape harm.

I shower and pack my suitcases. The last items are the safe contents. Yes inside the safe is wet but my passport escapes unscathed. I have to admit that I thought a safe inside a closed cabinet would be, well, "safe". Wrong again.

Nothing I can do, but I attempt to call the front desk. With so many passengers needing to settle their accounts no one answers. I hunt down Ed, my cabin steward. He is not happy, he now has a lot of unexpected cleaning to do on his busiest day. I will check in at the front desk later.

Disembarkation is starting slowly. The first passengers do  not start leaving until after 8:00.

At 9:20 I head towards the Centrum, the designated waiting area for b2b passengers. Guest services is no longer busy so I stop to appraise them of the water leak in my cabin. I am confident Ed will clean the best he can, but informing the front desk stands a better chance of resulting in corrective action by maintenance.

As the ship empties of passengers we check out with our old sea pass cards for the last time, walk down the gangway towards the luggage hall and customs agents.  After a few minutes an officer comes to us. He asks that we hold our passports up, he glances over the group and says OK you may go back aboard. We are back on the ship in about 15 minutes. Easy.

As usual we are being refueled, the dock is busy with forklifts moving stuff. Everything is on pallets, but a few are piled too high to fit thru the doorway in the side of the ship. You would think they could figure out how to pack a pallet so it can be loaded directly aboard. The top rows are manually removed a case at a time and piled on a different pallet.

A tanker truck pulls in. The labeling says "Environmental Services". The truck has the appearance of collecting waste oil. All the fork lifts cease operations, the dock is in gridlock, there is no room to move. The truck can't get to where it needs to connect to the ship. Eventually it backs out of the way, waiting its turn.

Most of the pallets this week are canned goods and beverages. I look for diet tonic, but the labels are too small to read on many of the products. Interestingly no eggs, and no fresh produce to be seen.

Further down the dock is a steel cylinder about 12 inches in diameter and 10 feet long. I recognize it as a component of the system that launches the life boats. A cable is lowered from an onboard jib crane on deck 13. Straps are connected to the eyes on each end of the cylinder.  The cable draws tight, and then no more.  The crane is unable to lift the load aboard.  Several officers confer, I assume the chief engineer being one of them. The effort is abandoned until another day.

By 11:00 the Sky Bar is packed. This is a 4 day weekend cruise after all, more of a party crowd is to be expected.

I locate my cabin on deck 2, it is the first cabin just forward of the Centrum elevators. I would guess there are only about 2
30 or so cabins on deck 2. Most of the deck is provision storage and crew quarters. In all respects this cabin is just like my previous ones except it is left handed. Everything is on the opposite side.

Muster stations change with cabins. This week my station is in the Schooner Bar, how appropriate. The elevators are always very busy after the drill ends, so I walk the four flights of stairs to return to my cabin for a shower and clean clothes for the evening.

The lounge is not busy with guests, but people trying to get in that don't understand that your sea pass card will let them in if the lounge is an area they are supposed to have access to. Many yank on the magnetically latched door trying to open it. No surprise that it is broken.

I hadn't noticed earlier, but the pool was drained and painted the previous night. BINGO! I now know the source of the water in my cabin. A leak in the pipe used when the pool is drained. It all fits, the rust and corrosion, and the relatively clean water. Steel will rust very easily when exposed to water with high levels of chlorine such as from a pool. By the time maintenance would be called, all the water will have evaporated, hiding its source.

Do this several times a year and soon you have lots of corrosion, but no mold or odor. Infrequent enough that no one  recognizes a pattern, so the root cause is never addressed. I will talk to Francisco in the morning when he is not busy.

Skies remain mostly clear, the seas are calm as we head out of Tampa Bay on our way to Cozumel. Yes, for those of you that are counting my third visit in less than two weeks.

Tomorrow is another relaxing sea day. I brought several audio books with me, I better start listening or they will expire.