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.