October 18, 2019

Oct 17 Cartegena, Columbia

We arrive in Cartegena first thing in the morning. The captain tells up the high temperature will be in the low 80's. The skies are partly overcast.  Being my first visit to Cartegena, I have booked a shore excursion, a panoramic overview.

Royal has designed a good system to board the 1500 or so passengers that are taking shore excursions. The theater and lounges are divided into numbered sections, each number representing a bus. As passengers arrive in the waiting area they are given bus stickers and instructed where to wait. When the bus is ready the entire group leaves together.  It works quite well.

Much of Cartegena is only a few feet above sea level at high tide, sewage backs up into the streets as it is unable to flow to the sea. Fortunately the side walks are high enough that we keep our feet dry. The future Venice of South America? 

The street vendors are in your face at every turn. Much  worse than I remember ever encountering in any European port or Nassau, a destination infamous for aggressive vendors. Uniformed police have a large presence.

There is a small sanctuary for flamingos, peacocks and other birds and monkeys at the pier. As often is the case, all returning passengers are forced to pass all the shops etc. in order to return to the ship. Actually this might have been the high point of the tour. 

At one point our guide lost the bus, or the other way around, and we were left standing on the sidewalk for about 30 minutes waiting for the bus to return as the water level in the street slowly rose. The temperature? Not in the 80's as our captain predicted, but a hot muggy 97!

I came, I saw, and I won't put Cartegena on my list of must return to places even though I will be back in a couple of weeks. 

There have already been several medical emergencies. Events that I am now more conscious of after having been evacuated from this ship myself just two years ago in St John, NB Canada.

During the day the Crystal Symphony pulls in to share our dock. An all inclusive line where everything is paid for up front. A ship much smaller than we are. Maybe some day, but not high on my list of priorities.

I am surprised that I remember the production show from two years ago. Often I don't remember what I had for breakfast. Tonight the headliner show is also one I have seen before, a violinist from London.

I learn from other passengers that the internet on the ship has  not worked since we left Florida. Likewise I was unable to get cell service in Columbia. The emails can pile up. Maybe I will have better luck in Panama.     

The seas remain calm as we head to Colon,  Panama where we will will spend a day before crossing thru the Panama Canal to the Pacific ocean.

Oct 15, 16 - two sea days

Our course takes us south thru the Bahamas passage between the Bahama islands, Hatti and Cuba. For much of the first day Cuba is a dozen miles off the Starboard side of the  ship.  There are a few heavy but brief morning showers.

The demographics of the  passenger manifest as one would expect for a longer cruise, mostly retired frequent travellers. Into our third day I have only seen a couple of people that I would guess to be under 30. Surprisingly walkers and motor scooters are at a minimum and no service animals, leading me to reinforce the conclusion that historically most were "fake", and with new rules passengers are unable to bring them. Many nationalities are represented.

Lounge chairs in the sun by the pool are plentiful. This crowd learned years ago of the consequences of sun bathing, a lesson yet to be learned by much of the younger generations.  

In addition to the usual dance classes, trivia and other games, this cruise has added more movies and guest lectures for each sea day.  Whether organized, or just impromptu groups of passengers, there are also bridge lessons, various religous discussion groups and even debates on various topics in the Schooner bar moderated by a staff member.

The first night food in the dining  room was delivered barely warm. The next night the head waiter stepped in to not only take our order but to deliver it to us. Definitely hot, the plate would burn your fingers.  Our waiter I have had before on the Brilliance. He remembered me first.

Dress for formal night was much better than the past two weeks on the Mariner. The captain's reception was sparsely attended, most of these passengers are no longer interested with such traditions. They have been there and done that too often in the past.

I verify with the Loyalty desk delivery of several bottles of wine. Being a longer cruise, delivery is being spread over several days instead of everything beng delivered on the first day as often is the case. Fine with me.

By mid day of our second sea day, the seas have increased to about a meter, and there are a few white caps. Still not enough to be felt by most passengers on the ship. We have turned our clock back one hour to align with Columbian time. Skies remain clear and sunny.

As our ship gets further south the seas again subside to a few feet. A very smooth passage...so far.

Tomorrow morning we dock at our first port, Cartagena, Columbia.

32 days on The Vision of the Seas

Saturday, October 12th. Time to unpack after returning home from the Mariner of the Seas, and pack for 32 days on The Vision of the Seas. This may sound like an overwhelming task, but a detailed packing list makes the process very easy. the list reminds me to take razor blades and Q-Tips, it is just up to me to pack the quantity I need for almost 5 weeks of travel, travel with limited access to the comforts of  home.

Gail  will be traveling with me for half of the trip, departing in Los Angeles to visit friends in California before returning to Florida.

My ship leaves from Miami, Fl and will be returning to Ft Lauderdale. The plan is to drive to Ft Lauderdale, spend the night, park the car at Park N Go, my favorite parking vendor for Port Everglades. From the parking lot we will take Uber to the ship in Miami.

The drive is boring but uneventful. with several stops along the way we arrive at The Marriott North about 5:00 pm, just in  time to use the concierge lounge. Unlike many concierge lounges, drinks are expensive. Dinner  is in the hotel restaurant. Many of the offerings are prepared offsite and just heated in the kitchen. Food, not great, but better than driving to a chain restaurant.

Sometimes I amaze myself with the new experiences encountered. I think everyone has encountered cold showers with no hot water. The shower here definitely had hot water,  only hot water, in fact scalding hot that could not be turned colder. Fortunately I checked first and wasn't burned. Oh well, I can shower tonight on the ship.

Once in the car I enter the address of the parking lot into my GPS. It is immediately found, but is unable to connect to any satelites. I reseat the cables, the usual fix, still no luck. Maybe the tree canopy is just too heavy, I move the car, still nothing. Other than being in or near Ft Lauderdale I have no idea where I am or what direction to travel.  Plan two.

I bring up Google maps on my phone. Within a minute or two it is giving me directions. First I need to make a U turn as I was headed away from my destination. A few blocks down the road my car GPS begins  to function. I now have two electronic devices telling me which lane to be in and which way to turn. Surprisingly they agree, with neither always being quicker or more detailed.

Within 15 minutes I check in to the parking lot.  The attendant  is initially confused. The Vision of the Seas is not in Port Everglades. He doesn't know whick line to put me in. I explain about Miami, Uber, being back in a month. Twice, and then he gets it. No problem, park in the left line and I will direct your uber driver directly to your car.

We actually use Lyft. $26 to  the ship in Miami. Very reasonable we feel. Being a holiday the traffic flows smoothly. The driver has a little problem finding the ship as it is not listed on any of the directional signs at the port.

The process for security, check in and boarding is simple and quick.  It was not a goal, but we are  among the first dozen passengers to board. If I didn't walk so slow, we would have been first.

Time to kill before before  the cabins will be ready. A stop in the Viking Lounge to message the kids.

The luggage soon arrives. Despite being an older ship with less efficient cabin design, everything finds a home. I  shower, finally, before heading to the Diamond lounge.

The muster drill seems to take forever. Immediately following the captains dismissal there is a medical call to one of the life boat stations. Not the way to start  a vacation.

The Diamond lounge on this ship is a small room at the aft of the ship on deck 6, possibly with room for 30 people. With over 600 Diamond and Diamond Plus passengers they have allocated the entire 300+ capacity Some Enchanted Evening (SEE) lounge for us. Nearly every seat is soon occupied.

I open up my Royal app to check reservations, excursions, and OBC to find no dining reservations. I am 99% positive I made them months ago, but have no way to be sure. A quick stop to see Karen, the concierge host, and she is able to either book or confirm our table for 2 every night at 5:30. Based on overheard conversations, I think on line reservations were lost from the database, not an infrequent occurance. The Royal app seems to have some bugs.

As we leave port the Navigator of The Seas is just a few hundred feet behind us, She is headed to Coco Cay, the same itinerary as last week.

The skies are clear, the seas calm as we head to Columbia South America, where we will arrive in two and a half days  on Thursday morning.