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.