February 13, 2020

Feb 10 - Back to Port Everglades

The ship docks long before sunrise. By 7:30 the chip is cleared by customs and border patrol. A little later than the planned 7:00 AM clearance, but not as late as it could be. I gather with other Pinnacle passengers in the Schooner Bar. A few minutes late at 8:00 AM we are led off the ship. Quick and easy with no delays. Within 15 minutes I am sitting on the shuttle to the parking lot.

The long drive home begins. Just as I enter the entrance ramp for the expressway, the check tire warning light comes on. No place here to address it.  Within about 10 minutes it resets itself. Three weeks of sitting in the colder weather is probably the cause.

Despite two stops, I am home by 1:00. By 4:00 when I leave for train club meeting, all the laundry is finished and ready for another trip. The refridgerator is replenished with milk and fruit, and I am ready to return to life on land for 6 weeks until my next cruise.

Feb 8, 9 Sea Days

As we leave St. Maarten and head North West towards Florida the weather remains ideal.

The seas are running about 5 feet, just enough to impart a little motion to the ship. To quantify "little" the bubble level in my phone shows a maximum change of .2 degrees from one extreme to the other. Yes, there are passengers complaing how rough it is.

One of the fun activites is the egg drop competition. Passengers build a "contraption" to safely drop a raw egg to the Centrum floor without cracking or scrambling the egg.

There are only 5 entrants this week. Trash bags, empty water bottles, straws, and ballons are common building materials. One by one the eggs are dropped the 25 feet from deck 6. They all survive intact!

Next challenge. Repeat the drop from deck 10. Probably about 65 feet. One by one the entrants are announced and the 3, 2, 1 countdown from the crowd looking for an egg to make a splash landing. They all survive again. 5 perfected egg drop contraptions.

In all honesty, most of the participants have competed on previous cruises and have learned from previous disasters. Occasionally the rules are ignored but who is looking. The competition is for a key chain.

As we near the end of the cruise conversations drift towards future cruises and who is going where. The most concerned are passengers booked on trips to China. They have no idea whether the trip will procede as planned, or whether they should even go. The spread of coronavirus is a big unknown.

Ships are a bad environment for the spreading of contagioos disease, only made worse by the demographics and fraility of the large number of more senior passengers. With the coronavirus spreading quickly and little known about the new strain of virus, there is concern. The Golden Princess remains quarantined in Japan, and The Spectrum in New Jersey.

The lounge is relatively empty tonight. I have no guess as to the cause.  Even the noise level never exceeds a tolerable level.

This is the last formal night, and I also  expected the dining room to be very busy. It wasn't. I again have the tortelonni with blue cheese sauce. Very good. I might even try to make this at home. I share the bottle of wine from my cabin with everyone at the table, a gift from Royal.

There is a full moon reflecting off the water. The seas are calming a little. A lovely evening to be sailing the seas.

For the past 36 hours we have been shadowing the Celebrity Reflection. We both left St Marrten about the same time and are due in Ft. Lauderdale Monday morning.

By night fall she is out of sight.

Today is packing day. Everything returns to a suitcase and placed in the hallway to be taken off the ship.

I have some unopened soft drinks which I will give to Alex, my cabin attendant.

I attempt to watch the parade of flags, national flags carried by a representative of every nationality in the crew. Usually about 60 countries. There isn't even standing room.

Around noon we pass The Symphony of The Seas headed in the opposite direction. The skies are darkening and the wind increasing. Rain is coming. The pool is emptying, the lounge chairs being vacated.

Another ship passes, this time a Carnival ship. Just as quickly as the skies darkened, they clear again, and the sun returns. The sunbathers are spared nature's cool bath and can return to sunburns.

By  late afternoon the seas have increased to 6 feet or more with waves hitting the starboard bow. The ship rocks the most it has in three weeks. Just enough that the drunks walk straight, and most other passengers look like they have been drinking.

In case you have the impression that dining is elegant on cruise ships, tonight during dinner the guests danced with the staff, not just any dance, the chicken dance.

Tomorrow morning we will be pulling into Ft lauderdale. The end to a good 3 week cruise. By 9PM the seas have calmed, and luggage is pileing up in the corridors.

February 08, 2020

Feb 7 Phillipsburg, St Marrten

The skies are a little grey and gloomy first thing in the morning when we arrive in port.

By 8:00 the clouds have given way to sunny skies, temperature about 80, and a nice cool breeze.

The plan is to meet at the Lazy Lizard for beverage and lunch about 12:30.  The others go much earlier to sit on the beach in Nick's beach chairs under an umbrella.  A smart business person, he packages a bucket of beer, a couple of chairs, and a beach umbrella. He will even deliver food to you if you want.

Having made this stop many times, my routine is to take the water taxi to the beach then walk to the lazy lizard. A slight change this time. No wait to board the taxi, about a 50 foot boat. We untie. The captain goes to full throttle, there is a loud snap.  All of a sudden he has no steering capability. He is headed full speed towards the side of a muli multi million dollar private yacht.

He misses by a mere 10 feet. Only one passanger becomes irate, yes I said irate, not scared or concerned. She was being deprived of beach time. There is always one. Slowly back towards the docks where a dockhand pulls us in. Within a few minutes all the passengers are transferred to another vessel. The one passenger still throwing a fit and making a fool of herself.

Nick greets me as I approach the Lazy Lizard. A drink while the others finish their beer on the beach.

Lunch is good as always. It is time to start heading back to the ship, purcheses in tow. Tee shirts, rum, a beer sign, a shot glass, and 20 pounds of gouda cheese. Non of the purchases mine, all my daughter Adrienne's.

The rest walk, I take my return water taxi without incident.

As I get to the pier group of 30 motorcycles are returning to the Reflection. A group of passengers have brought their bikes so they can ride in each port. The bikes are carefully inspected before they are allowed on the pier to be stored on the ship.

The Reflection followed basically the same itinerary as we did. Port fees, ship storage, insurance in each country, etc. cost each bike owner between $1,000 and $1,500.

Back onboard, a shower is next.  Despite a nice breeze it was still hot, and I need to cool off.

The Safari lounge is exceptionally loud tonight despite a smaller than usual number of guests.

We have dinner in Chops, the extra fare steak house restaurant. We bring a bottle of our own wine, a gift from the hotel manager given to every Pinnacle passenger. Besides taking advantage of BOGO pricing, we are only charged for four guests instead of five.

The best part of the evening was the excellent food and perfect service.

To reach port Monday morning we are cruising at 18 knots. A very comfortable speed for this ship.

There is finally a gentle roll to the ship. Seas are about 3 feet and will increase slightly through the night.

The next two days are sea days, my last days for this adventure.

February 07, 2020

Feb 6, St Kitts

St Kitts is busy today. In addition to The Serenade of the Seas, the Celebrity Reflection, the AIDAdiva, and The Silver Seas Explorer are in port. 10,000 people taking tours, soaking up the tropical sun and spending money in the local shops.

Pann, Terry, Adrienne and Steve want to have a local beer. Adrienne scouts out the lowest priced location and we follow her to the dumpiest looking spot in town. But 3 beers for $5.00 is hard to beat. There is a brief shower, but we are under the protection of a canvas canopy. I stay with them for awhile, and then head back to the ship.

It is time for refueling. A fuel barge is tied alongside all day transfering fuel into our bunkers. The fuel used by this ship is probably a little different than some others as her prime power source is gas turbine engines with diesel engines for low power requirements such as when we are tied up in port.

I go to the concierge lounge for a change. Probably has been nearly a week since I went there in the evening.

The bar is nearly empty. I have one drink and head downstairs to meet the others. No where to be found. No concerns, I heard the captain say all passengers were aboard. They arrive a little after 7:00, in plenty of time for dinner.

BBQ ribs, yummy. Again excellent service and good food. If only Royal would do the same on the rest of it's ships.

We are the first ship to leave. Early in the morning the captain backed our ship into dock, so now it is as simple as untie the lines, push off from the pier and head out to sea. Push off is several minutes of full power on the thrusters.

St Marten, or Martin as it is sometimes spelled, is our next port.  So close that part of the night is spent just floating. At another point we were moving at the breakneck speed of 3 knots. Barely at a swimmers pace.

February 06, 2020

Feb 5 Roseau, Dominica

This is getting to be repetitive. 80 degrees, sunny skies and a nice breeze. I will take every day of it.

We are one of two ships in port, the other over a mile away I am unable to identify. Adrienne and Steve have booked a snorkeling excursion. Pann and Terry are headed to watch a movie on the ship this morinng and then go ashore this afternoon.

I begin my day wathching some of the crew practice launching and getting into an inflatable life raft. A skill required of all crew, with recertification required every 5 years.

One crew member is unable to get into the raft, and is unable to right it from its upside down position in the water. She will be given another opportunity next week. How many chances they get is unknown, but it is limited. No life raft certification, no job.

Cecil, my bartender in the Safari lounge nearly every night, does OK despite her short stature.  She passes and is good for another 5 years.

I take about a 45 minute walk into town. Just as I am walking down the pier, an ambulance is trying to make its way to the ship. I hold the gate back as it squeezes its way onto the pier. Not an easy manuever.

Once back on board I spend about 2 hours in the solarium pool. Again, initially the water was quite quite cool as I slowly work my way in. Once acclimated the cool water was refreshing. 

After lunch I find myself in the lounge on 13. Mario has returned his nick knacks to the edge of his desk. He shares there are 54 pinnacle this week and about 600 diamond and diamond plus passengers. Just a few less than last week.

After one drink in the Safari lounge I switch to diet coke. I probably need to allow my body to recover some.

Dinner is braised beef. Excellent! I remind myself that on the Vision I couldn't even cut it. Here it falls apart as it should.

After dinner I listen to the guitar pLayer in the Schooner bar. Much to my surprise he finishes by 11:00. As I walk back to my stateroom I find that the ship is essentially devoid of passengers. A few of the beverage staff are cleaning tables and putting everything away at the bars. The demographic influence is showing.

Tomorrow we will be in St Kitts.

February 05, 2020

Feb 4, 2020 St John's, Antigua

Another beautiful day in the Caribbean. Clear sunny skies, warm temperatures of about 80, and a nice breeze.

The AIDAluna and a Costa ship are tied to the next pier. AIDA cruise are based out of Germany. Their ships are colorfully painted on the outside,  and frequently can be found visiting the Eastern Caribbean islands. Costa, based in Italy, but owned by Carnival is rarely seen here, but is prevalent in the Mediteranean.

The others are visiting an old church that has been undergoing reconstruction for some time. I am sure I will be able to share more detail later. Personally I have seen enough old churches when in Europe.

I elect to remain on the ship again. Usually I get an ice cream here, but I will pass this trip. A visit to the spa this morning found my weight down a few pounds from when I boarded the ship two weeks ago. I don't want to mess up my self control the last week.

I sit by the Solarium pool and catch up on posting my blogs. There are about 50 chairs covered with towels, but only about 15 passengers in the pool or hot tub, or occupying any of the chairs. An ongoing practice by passengers that the cruise line finds difficult to control.

Correction, 1 additional male passenger just emerges from the ladies room! Maybe he can't read english and doesn't know the symbols. What can I say.

A number of the lifeboats are launched for crew training. A continual process. Probably each lifeboat is launched and driven by the crew every two or three weeks. At the conclusion of the drill one boat is not returned to its storage position, but remains at deck 5 where maintenance work is performed on it for the rest of the day. Being able to see inside, they look awful small to hold the designated number of passengers. I hope I never have to use one.

I find a large fruit basket in my stateroom. With all the same fruit available in multiple locations throughout the ship, I give mine to my room steward, Alex.

The Costa ship leaves port first, we follow shortly behind. The AIDAluna remains in port as it fades out of sight behind us.

The Safari lounge is not quite as busy tonight, possibly because of the top tier reception, but more likely just because it is getting later in the cruise.

Dinner is again good in the main dinig room. Anna is playing at the piano in the Schooner bar. The crowd is small but appreciative. In conversation I learn that Royal is cutting back on live musicians, and there are only 6 ships remaining in the fleet where she can work. Another occupation that is slowly fading away, her job being replaced by recorded music.

The seas remain calm as we head to our next port of Roseau, Dominica.

February 04, 2020

Feb 3, St Thomas

The seas remained calm through the night, there was little motion to the ship. We arrive in St Thomas and share the pier with Royal's Vision Of The Seas. At the other pier, closer to town, there is a Carnival ship. Too far away to read her name.

The Vision looks good. In October during our passage thru the Panama Canal, the sides were left with lots of missing paint. Face it, it is a tight fit, and any slight touch between concrete walls and a 100 thousand ton ship is going to leave a mark. most likely on the ship. The Vision will be doing 10 and 11 day Caribbean cruises next year, and I will probably be on her for a few of those.

The weather remains perfect. The current temperature is 79 and it is expected to reach a high of only 82 or 83 today. No rain, sunny skies. What more could one ask for.

I elect to stay on the ship and use the pool. At first the water is a little cool, but I soon adjust. The hot tub temperature is cool enough that it takes a long time before it begins to feel too hot.

Unfortunately the pool depth is too much for me to reach bottom, so walking in the pool is out of the question, but the  salt water makes floating and swimming easy.

The crew practices righting an inflatable life raft in the main pool, an activity that  is repeated for different crew members each week.

Pann and Terry have never been here before so they take a tour around the island. Steve and Adrienne meet a friend for diving. It is the first time for Steve, he is talking about getting his certification. He loved it. As always Adrienne returned with several areas of skin rash, but fortunately no serious injuries.

Even though prime rib is on the menu, I elect to go to the Windjammer. Two slices of Island pizza. Ham, cheese, pineapple and BBQ sauce. Yummy!

Yesterday I had the first issue with room keys in a long time. OK it was all my fault, I left the stateroom and left the key on the counter. Not being able to get back in my room, I go to the front desk to get a new key. No problem, and my replacement is gold as it should be instead of blue. Returning to the cabin, it doesn't work. 

Fortunately the cabin steward is nearby and lets me in. I think the problem is bigger. I now have one key that will open the door, and a second that must be used for any charges etc. Not acceptable. Back to the front desk. They are surprised that the key just printed didn't work, but they have a machine to check them and sure enough it is not readable. Key #3 works fine. 

It could be worse. A few years ago I went thru about 10 keys on one trip because they stoped working. 

After dinner, 30 minues of Perry is enough and it is time for sleep. Sleep that has lasted over 10 hours every night.

February 03, 2020

Feb 1, 2 Sea Days

I sleep my usual 10 hours plus. There is a gentle motion to the ship throughout the night caused by the swells. Much better than perfect calm. First on the agenda this morning is the shore excursion presentation. Mostly a commercial to sell excursions, but also a little information about our ports of call. Often by this point the captain knows which pier we will dock at. Not that it makes much difference, or there is anything I can do about it as a passenger, but some piers are more convenient than others.

Rather humorously the speaker tries to drum up passenger excitement for beach excursions and zip lines. It doens't happen, these passengers are mostly over that, preferring instead scenic tours and food tasting.

Only one passenger indicated any interest in a two tank scuba dive excursion. It wasn't me, my diving days are also a thing of the past. 

Many passengers attend for the free drawing at the end. A few Bingo tee shirts, discounts at the spa, and a discount coupon on an excursion. My ticket doesn't even come close to the drawn numbers. Exactly my luck, or lack thereof.

On the last cruise I skipped most of the special events for Pinnacle passengers, I decide to attend some this week. The first is a late morning cocktail reception, light lunch. My guess is that about 35 passengers attend, and many officers. Served buffet style it is easy to control how much I eat. A fruit cup, and chicken "slider",  and a few unsalted tortilla chips. I won't mention the endless glasse of wine. The food was good, and overall a nice reception. Certainly better than going to the Windjammer.

The weather is near perfect with the skies varying between fully sunny to partly cloudy. The temperatures hover in the high 70's to about 80. With a nice breeze across the deck from a light wind on our bow and our forward motion, it is very pleasant outdoors.

Mid afternoon calls for a short nap, followed by a shower and dressing for "formal" night. I compromise. Dress shirt and special bow tie but no jacket. I expect Steve and Terry to being wearing jackets, but I have been finding the dining room just a little too warm with a jacket. Also in late afternoon the sun shines into the lounge, and when combined with the large number of passengers it gets a little warm.

I say special bow tie as it is one with "flip flops", made by a friend for all of us to wear when we cruise. I was given specific instructions to bring mine.

I should stop trying to anticipate others. No one wore a jacket, and while both Steve and Terry wore a bow tie, they were not the "flip flop" ties. I win, they are the losers. Marilyn will be disappointed.

The food in the dining room continues to be excellent despite the fact that we have a new head chef this week.

After dinner, a stop in the Schooner Bar to listen to Perry Grant for a few hours. Having never heard him before, the others enjoyed his show.

At bed time the clocks are turned ahead an hour in preparation for days ahead on the Eastern Caribbean islands. The swells have subsided, and the seas remain under 3 feet resulting in a very smooth passage.

We all meet for trivia at 10AM. I am of little help. The first question, which I did know, was eliminated because another passenger shouted out the answer for most to hear.

We decide to take a "cabin crawl" as we all have cabins in different categories. Mine an inside, Pann and Terry an oceanview, and Adrienne and Steve a balcony. Though all as expected, there were some unexpected differences. Bathroom tile varied, closet layouts were different  and room lighting and curtains varied. Interesting. I'm still happy with my inside cabins.

Today it is a lunch with the officers. A sit down affair in Giovanni's. Attended by about 50 guests and 8 or 10 officers. A rather fromal affair even though the dress code was casual. Seating for every guest was assigned. Again the food was excellent, ordered from a special menu just for this event. With a guitar player for entertainment, and 60 people talking, the noise level was nearly unbearable, no it was unbearable.

The weather remains ideal. Tonight is the superbowl which will be shown in several venues around the ship. Last year Royal sold tickets to watch the game on the large pool TV. Your purchase entitled you to hot dogs and beer. Very few passengers cared. I haven't heard of any such plans this year.

We meet in the Safari lounge for cocktails prior to our dinner in Giovanni's. At game time the TV is turned on and the volume cranked way up. A quick talk with Junior, the Diamond Lounge host, and an audio level adjustment was made.

When I made reservations for Giovanni's they would only give me an 8:30 seating time. We stick our heads in at 8:00 to find the restaurant empty. We are seated early.

The food and service was again excellent, and surprisingly they never had more than about 12 guests, and 5 of them were our table.

The seas remain calm as we continue our passage to St. Thomas.

February 01, 2020

January 31, Turnaround Day

The ship arrives long before sunrise. Being a Friday there are only a few ships in port. Over 100 passengers, including this one, are staying on the ship for the next cruise. Gail is returning home to attend a wedding.

We are escorted off the ship to the luggage area, find suitcases and are quickly process by CBP in just a few minutes. Being in front of the thousand other passengers has its advantage.

The bus arrives just before 10 and is soon on its way. 

After a brief wait I return through security and board the ship. Being an "In Transit" passenger I am able to skip much of the processing steps that regular passengers go thru.

My daughter, her husband Steve, and friends Pann and Terry are boarding today.  Pann and Terry have been in Ft Lauderdale for a couple of days having just completed a tour in Cuba.

Adrienne and Steve are driving from home, about a four hour drive.

The traffic was heavy, and the number of private planes parked at the airport was large, all a result of the SuperBowl being played in nearby Miami.

During the life boat drill the Goodyear blimp passed nearby. Advertising that always appears at major events. Some passengers grumbled thet they couldn't take pictures as passengers are always asked to turn off phones and put them away during the drill. I am sure others just ignored the instructions and took pictures anyway.

If the first few hours are any indication of what is ahead for the next 10 days, I may be in trouble.  I was  almost crushed  by a motorized scooter as the woman backed out of the elevator and crashed into the wall 10 feet away just as I jumped out of the way. No apology, I'm not sure about a dent in the wall. I think a little practice driving, and exhibiting a little caution would be in order.

A few minutes later a woman was wandering down the hall, obviously dazed, she said she was OK and just looking for her friends cabin. The biggest issue was she had no idea the cabin number. Trust me, the 1000+ cabin doors all look alike.

As I wait for an elevator another passenger goes by several times yelling with a foul mouth about how poorly the life boat stations are located, and how bad the cabins are laid out on the ship.  With a suitcase in tow she refuses offrs of help. Cabin number are all sequential, and multiple signs are available to help people fing their cabin, but that didn't matter. It was obviously thought to be more productive to just walk about yelling at everyone how bad it was.

Hopefully tempers will subside.

Adrienne shares with me that she stopped at my house to look for the pocket watch that I apparently forgot to bring. It is not on the counter where I though I left it. A check in my suitcase and it is exactly where I packed it. Well almost exactly. In the right suitcase compartment, but in the middle of a stack of papers clipped together.  Papers that were thick enough that the watch wasn't to be found the first two times I looked. Lost time recovered. I guess it is reassuring that I didn't forget to pack something, unpacking is a separate issue.

The seas are slight, but there is a long period swell of 5 or 6 feet that imparts a gentle roll and pitch to the ship as we start our journey towards St Thomas.

I had made reservations for the 5 us for dinner each night several days ago. When we arrive at the dining room, it becomes obvious that communication got lost. Now I know that is a simple lapse in memory on someone's part, but I have to relate that when we approached the dining room, the crew member no only remembered us, but that there were 8 of us and where in the dining room we sat. Oh yes, that was a year ago, and he wasn't even our waiter, he just worked in that area of the dining room.  Incredible.

A terrible thing to do, but after dinner it is directly to bed.

The next two days will be sea days.

Jan 29, 30 2020 Sea Days

The southern Caribbean is as flat as glass as we head north. The skies are clear, the sun bright. With an air temperature of 80, it is impossible to ask for better weather.

There is a new twist to the egg drop contest. First contestant's drop their contraptions from deck 6, then from deck 10.

All but 2 of the eggs survive.  Judging is done by 5 or 6 random observers instead of by the entire audience with the activities director spending an hour calling out random scores and then just making his own decision. A much better process.

"Balloon man" was the audience favorite. A four foot high human shaped balloon constructed of dozens of small balloons.  Being large and light it slowly tumbled to the stage, delicately carrying its cargo of a fresh egg to a safe landing.

Formal night, with lobster being served, the dining rooms are busy. Tonight we not only have yet another wait staff, but are seated at a table in the dining room on deck 4 instead of deck 5.

Of course no lobster for me, the three cheese tortellini with blue cheese sauce is a new twist on an old favorite. The new sauce is excellent, the blue cheese adds a delightful tangy flavor.

In years past, Royal would change out the entire menu periodically. Now the approach is to continually make small adjustments. A much safer approach.

Throughout the night the seas remain very calm. Some of you may wonder, but the earthquake near Jamaica has no effect on us at sea. Even if there were a tsunami, there wasn't, it would not be felt on a ship in the open ocean.  

Of bigger concern for world travellers this week is the outbreak of a new strain of flu in China which is proving to be quite deadly. With an unusually long incubation period, it is spreading panic, if not the actual virus, worldwide. A Costa ship with about 7000 people aboard is being quarantined in Civitavecchia as I write. Air flights are being cancelled, and borders being closed in a futile attempt to contain the outbreak.

The seas remain very calm our entire last day at sea. The temperatures are ideal at about 80. Yes, more baked sunbathers today. Most often those passengers from the cold north that don't respect the power of the Caribbean sun, or just don't care.

For most passengers it is time to pack the suitcases, verify boarding passes and say goodbyes. The ship will dock before sunrise, and passengers will begin disembarkation about 7:00 am.

One of the benefits of being Pinnacle is that we are escorted directlly to our luggage before all the other passengers that have luggage to claim. 

For those of you that read my last post, you probably noticed it was filled with a tremendous number of typos. A product of my big fingers trying to type on my phone. Usually I use a keyboard, but wasn't yesterday. The worst part was that it was posted in error when I accidently touched the send button. No easy way to fix it from here, so you just have to live with me.

Tomorrow is turn around day day for the crew, their busiest day of any cruise.