May 15, 2022

May 14 - Return to Seattle and Home

The MS Eurodam returns to Seattle before sunrise. By 7:00 AM luggage is being unloaded, provisioning trucks are lined up with food, beverages and all the staples needed for the next cruise.

With the space needle not opening untill 9:00 we delay our disembarkation until 8:30

When other passengers start to disembark about 7:30 there is a light rain.  The facilities here are small and crowded compared to the ports in Florida. The terminal building is shared by two ships on opposite sides of the pier. Baggage areas and passenger processing for both ships is all in one shared space.

No facial recognition for CBP here, just old fashioned visual comparison of passport with the person presenting it. The process is quick and we are soon headed to the line of waiting taxis.  Being next in line, my carryon is placed in the trunk. When the driver learns of our destination he immediately becomes irritated. He was expecting a $50 fare to the airport and instead has a fare only going about 2 miles.

The taxi meter does not get turned on, the second indication of a bad choice.  We get to the space needle and he demands $20, more than double what the fare should be.  Of course when I try to pay with a credit card he claims the reader doesn't work and wants cash. When I ask for a written receipt he ignores me.  I have just been ripped off by Yellow Cab in Seattle.

FYI. App services like Uber and Lyft are not permitted near the cruise terminal and likewise are restricted to an inconvenient location at the airport. Taxis have an unfair monopoly here like in many cities.

The rain is stopping and the clouds lifting as we enter the space needle. There are lockers to store my carryon. Just not allowed in the building. The first two locker hours are free, then billed at $10 per hour.

The Space Needle has recently been refurbished and is in great condition. The elevators, smooth and swift. The glass surrounding the observation deck clean and unscratched.  The revolving glass floor looks like it has never been walked on. The view is great. The rain has stopped, and the sun is trying.

A girl about 5 or 6 is crying and scared to walk on the glass. Prodding from her mother is ineffective. Lynn goes over to the girl and calmly talks to her for a few moments. The girl then goes to her mother's side and walks out on the glass floor with a big smile as she looks down over 500 feet to the ground below. One of those moments that becomes the highlight of the day and makes the entire trip meaningful.

Having seen enough of the sights, we decide it is time to head to the airport. The locker won't open to retrieve our belongings.  It must be something left over from Friday the 13th as the worker tells us that none of the lockers have been reopening this morning, and she has had to override the system for everyone.

We catch a cab at the front entrance and head to the airport, probably a 40 minute drive with no traffic.  TSA takes about 30 to 45 minutes, and we still have hours to wait.

A sandwich and beer at one of the airport restaurants. The best hot pastrami I have had in a long time. We nurse the beer as long as possible.

Our plane  has been sitting on the tarmac for hours. About 40 minutes before liftoff, boarding begins. I take advantage of early boarding, something I very rarely do.  Our plane is an almost new 737 Max, yes the same plane that was grounded as a result of several crashes.  Comfortable seating, and extra large overhead bins that will hold full sized suitcases, a capability that many passengers greedily take advantage of. AC and USB power at every seat along with free WiFi and movies for your device that is perfectly held on the seatback in front of you.

Just before liftoff, the sun is bright. The brightest sun I have seen in days.

The flight to Orlando is long. There are frequent periods of turbulence. Beverage service is interrupted. I spend some time texting my daughters back home. I always say I will sleep on the plane, but I don't think I have ever been able to do it.

We arrive in Orlando a few minutes early at what must be the farthest terminal. The airport is nearly empty. My luggage that I last saw on the ship before docking in Seattle is on the carousel. Almost as far as possible from the arrival gate.  The parking lot bus is called. He will be there shortly at A34 to A36. Of course at the opposite end of passenger pickup from where our luggage arrived.

By 2:00 AM I am home. The AC, water, and water heater is turned on. Too tired to immediately sleep, and my internal clock still on Alaskan time, I just chill for a few minutes and enjoy an ice cold Bubly.

The end of an enjoyable week in Alaska. I currently have cruises scheduled for October and November, but of course that is likely to change.

Friday May 13 - Mostly at Sea

Our clocks were set forward 1 hour last night so we are on Seattle time when we dock Saturday.

The seas are slight, the skies mostly cloudy with an occasional patch of sun. 

Like many of the cruise lines, Holland has a program to transfer luggage directly to the airline. They print boarding passes for the flight, and luggage tags for your luggage. Place your luggage outside your cabin, and hopefully the next time you see it will be in the luggage carousel at your destination airport.  What is most surprising is that Holland does not charge extra for this service. Subject to acceptance by the airline, and I must assume CBP, our approved paperwork arrives this morning.

During a Q & A with the entertainment  manager I learn that we have 1400 passengers on this trip. 1600 were anticipated, but for whatever reasons about 200 didn't actually board the ship. Total crew is at 700.

Interestingly a question that I have heard asked many times but never answered is: "How much fuel does the ship use?" Well the captain shared that for our 7 day Alaskan cruise we will consume 700 tonnes of fuel.  That is less than one third the ship's fuel capacity, and at today's elevated oil prices, about a $700,000 fuel bill for the week.  Even sailing at our reduced capacity, that translates to about $500 in fuel per passenger for the week, or 27 cents per passenger mile including the cost of electricity for all the hotel operations. This is an older, smaller ship, newer ships are much more fuel efficient.

Several pods of whales are spotted throughout the day.  Listen to several lectures, start the packing process. The last day is always a letdown.

I banged my wrist pretty hard on arrival in Seattle a little over a week ago. From the middle of my arm to the middle of my fingers my skin is a rainbow of colors from near black and dark blue, to red and yellow. A byproduct of taking blood thinners is that I bruise very easily.  Confident nothing is broken, I should heal completely in a few weeks. In the meantime it looks pretty gross and I just need to avoid hitting it again. The other good side effect of the sore wrist is that I haven't noticed the tendonitis in my ankle very much.

Before cocktail hour I make a trip to guest services to collect some envelopes for gratuities for the dining room and my room stewards. The line is not long, but very slow. Lots of complaints about various charges. Why they don't just have a stack of envelopes available for passengers to pick up escapes my common sense. 

Stopping back at the cabin on the way to dinner, more news.  Our tour of Seattle in the morning that would drop us off at the airport has been cancelled. "Credit on your account will be forth coming."  No alternative is offered.

After some Google searching it is decided to just take a cab from the ship to the Space Needle. Built for the 1962 World's Fair, it is Seattle's number one attraction. From the space needle it will be a cab to the airport.

Our last meal in the dining room is again good. The staff is appreciative of the extra gratuity. I have not seen a single passenger offer a gratuity once the entire week. Why, I am not sure, but I find it disgusting at minimum. A sad commentary on our society.

The suitcases are packed and put out in the hall. I hope mine makes it to Florida. I say that not only because of the logistics involved, but the poor design and quality of the suitcases I just bought. Maybe that we teach me to just expect that the zippers are properly located and will function on a $450 set of luggage.

Very few passengers get off the ship in Victoria. With an 8PM arrival time and disembarkation commencing just before dusk, there is not much incentive to visit the city.

The alarm is set for the first time, but I really doubt it will be needed. A week isn't long enough to adjust to a four hour time difference.

May 13, 2022

May 12 - Ketchikan

When I awake we are already tied to the dock. It is raining. My good luck has come to an end.

After breakfast I decide it is time to test whether the application of water proofing on my jacket has worked.

Off the ship and wander some of the shops.  No, I purchase nothing.

Back at the ship, I shake off all the water beads on the outside of my jacket and carefully inspect the inside for any sign of water. None is found. The water proofing not only chased the rain gods away for many days,  it also seems to work on my jacket.

Our stay in Ketchikan is very limited. All aboard is 11:30 AM and departure is scheduled for 12:00 PM.  About 10:00 there is a medical call to one of the cabins. Fortunately the only I have  heard this entire week.

At  11:45 several passengers are called. More are called at 11:55. Not a good sign. This usually means they are not back on the ship.

12:00 comes and goes. 12:05 then 12:10. The passengers are called again. At 12:15 we leave for Victoria, BC, probably without 4 or 6 passengers.

About 1:30 the skies clear and the sun returns. The seas are calm as we head back toward the North Pacific. The captain tells us that we will be cruising at over 20 knots in order to make our scheduled docking in Victoria at 8 PM on the day after tomorrow.

The sun comes and goes during the day. The Tamarind bar remains a quiet place to watch the sea pass the time. Periodically we pass a pod of whales heading north.

Dinner tonight is in the Tamarind restaurant, compliments of Alex, the food and beverage manager.

It is very obvious that we are special guests, starting with the reaction of the hostess when she reads the note attached to the printed ticket that is used when seating us at our table.

The food is excellent as is the service. Spare ribs for an appetizer, tenderloin, asparagus and brown rice for the main course. A mango flavored desert.  Of course on the menu these items carried much more exotic names.

We are entertained by the passing of several pods of whales. The restaurant is nearly at capacity, probably with the last few tables reserved for a later seating time. 

Almost as expected, Alex joins our table just before desert is served. He looks like he has had a rough day. He is thanked and assured that the staff here is excellent and works together very well as a team. Truthfully he did everything he could to make up for the  short comings of the Pinnacle Grille.

An hour of piano music instead of the production show tonight. Tomorrow is basically a sea day as we don't arrive in Victoria until 8:00 PM

May 12, 2022

May 11, Sitka

Rain was initially forecast for Sitka, but as we arrive there is some sun and scattered clouds. We were unable to book a shore excursion here, so we take the free 15 minute shuttle ride into town.

Sitka is very small, with a year round population of 8,000. The visitor center is very modern with clean facilities. There are the usual vendors selling tours outside. We settle on a 3 hour tour duplicating the tour we wanted but was sold out on the ship.

Having almost two hours before departure, we walk the town. A few stores have not survivied the pandemic. The local merchants are selling mostly local merchandise. None of the Diamond and Jewelry merchants here. We look for a place to grab a bite to eat. Not an easy task.  Stopping at something similar to a convenience store selling mostly candy and cigarettes we learn that next door has good food, and they open in about 15 minutes. You would never guess from the signage that they sold food.  

We decide to give it a try. The beef dumplings were delicious, and everything was very reasonably priced. In conversation I learn that the convenience store does about $100 per day from local residents. When there is a cruise ship in port his revenue jumps to an average of $2000 for the day. He obviously is in favor of cruise ships, a debate that occurs in many ports.

A short walk back to the departure point for our tour. Everyone is there before departure time, 11 people packed into a 12 passenger van.

The first stop is the Sitka Raptor Center where they help injured raptors, mostly bald eagles and owls, recuperate after being injured. Some become permanent residents as they will never be able to fend for themselves, most are released back into the wild.  The majority of the birds are here as a result of encounters with humans or human activity. Well done and interesting. Maybe a total of 25 people. Much better than a couple of tour buses.

Our second stop is a bear sanctuary built in the waste water processing tanks of a closed paper pulp mill. Both brown and black bears are nursed to recover from injury. Unfortunately state laws prevent the bears from being reintroduced into the wild, but there are efforts underway to change that.

Our last stop is at a National Park featuring totem poles. As with most national parks, very informative and well done. I can only guess, but the massive pole if front of the building must reach 75 feet in height and be 4 feet in diameter. All totem poles tell a story, but of course I am unable to read them.

The driver takes us back to the ship at the end of the tour. Another day with no rain.

Many crew members remember us from our cruise to Panama about a month ago. Our waiter spotted us in the Lido during lunch time, remembering not only which table number we sat at but what beverages we usually had with dinner. A command of memory that I can only dream about.

Nearing the end of the cruise I have yet to see a single passenger give a tip of any kind. A sad statement on society that I personally find very disappointing.

Dinner is again excellent in the dining room. It seems much busier tonight, whether that is fact or not I am not sure.  I am on Holland's "Open Dining", but have a reservation for most nights at 5:30 at the same table. The exceptions are the night we arrived in port at 6 PM, and the nights we went to or are going to go to a specialty restaurant.

The production show tonight is a combination of a singer from the group playing most nights in BB-Kings, the two piano players from "Billboard" and the team of dancers. A good show.

Tomorrow we are docked in Ketchikan.  The official docking time is 7:30, but have been told by the cruise director that the gangway will most likely be open just after 6:00, he just isn't allowed to make an announcement until 7:30.

A night to retire early.

Tuesday May 10, Glacier Bay & Icy Straight Point

Again the forecast is for rain and cloudy skies. The Helipad is being opened for guests. The Crows Nest Lounge on deck 11 is the popular spot for viewing the ships progress. I elect to go to the Tamarind Bar on deck 11 midship. With seating for about 50  and panoramic windows all across the ship, it is an excellent viewing place, but unknown by most passengers and never talked about by the staff.

After a quick breakfast I select prime seats where I can see out both sides of the ship.

Slowly the clouds begin to thin and the sun peaks thru. A whale is spotted about 100 feet from the side of the ship. First a water spout, and then he dives with his tail high above the water. The first sighting of hopefully many to come.

The glaciers are small, smaller than I remember from the last time I was here. A few sea lions, or seals, wildlife is scarce, but it is very early in the season. As we cruise Glacier Bay, the clouds get heavier and the sun sparser.

Just as we turn towards Icy Straight Point the rain starts. The clouds are so low and so thick visibility is cut to a few hundred feet.  
In the distance there appears to be another cruise ship, or is it just an island shrouded in the clouds.  Anyone's guess. Ten minutes later the image becomes a little clearer, most likely a cruise ship. Shortly we pass The Serenade of The Seas leaving the dock that we will soon occupy.

By the time we are tied up and cleared for disembarkation about 6PM, the rain has stopped and the sun is out. The air temperature is in the high 40's. We have tickets for riding the gondola to the top of the mountain. Maybe the rain will stay away.

One cable gondola, called the transporter, runs to the the base station of the mountain gondola and to the second pier. It has been open for about two years. The mountain gondola is the tallest in Alaska and goes to the top of the mountain. Only completed in January of 2022 the ride is smooth and the views spectacular from the gondola and from the viewing platform at the top. Not recommended if you are afraid of heights. 

The sides of the mountain are nearly a vertical slope. The pine forest very dense, the snow deep. Installing the gondola towers and cables must have been a challenging project, most likely built by the lowest bidder.

Back to sea level walking along the boardwalk to the museum, a whale continuously puts on a show for the tourists. Every few minutes a spout of air and water spray, then breaking the water and flipping it's tail as to say watch me silly people.

The zip line is another popular activity at Icy straight point. Long and fast it is in continuous use with half a dozen riders at a time. Not for this visitor. 

There is another very small ship at the second pier. The Regent Seven Seas Mariner, promoted as a luxury cruise line.

The rain stayed away and we have enjoyed another great day in Alaska.

Back on the ship, a quick change of clothes and it is time for another show by the comedian. BB-Kings's is packed, we find a seat at the bar. Not the best seat, but at least a seat. His show is excellent.

We are scheduled to leave port sometime after 10. As darkness falls, visibility drops as rain clouds move in again.

Tomorrow we will be in Sitka.
  

May 10, 2022

A Sea Day then Juneau

Heading Northwest toward Alaska the seas are less than 12 feet the entire way to Juneau.  some passengers find the gentle movement of the ship too much. Based on a show of hands at one of the theater production introductions, nearly 50% of the passengers have never been to Alaska, and many of those have never been on  cruise before.

There are a handful of young children, the only group to frequent the pool.

I check during the day to verify dining room reservations that had been made weeks ago. No they don't have them, but that is quickly rectified. 

A stop at shore excursions to see if there is any hope for my waitlisted excursion. Not a chance, but I learn that one of my other excursions has been cancelled but I can still book a similar but less expensive tour. I do it.  Alaska has suddenly become very busy.

Serveral "executive" talks by the Holland America Spokesperson for Alaska, or by Ryan the cruise director takes up much of the day.

Dinner in the dining room is excellent. I am sure I made some of the staff nervous as the food and beverage manager sat with us for half an hour while we had a cocktail and our appetizers. Genuinely concerned and apologetic for the Pinnacle Grille manager. She is leaving the ship, and obviously her duties, and he would like us to have dinner in one of the other speciality restaurants as his guest. Yes I would appreciate that, but need to check when that would fit the schedule. He promises to find us again tomorrow.

A production show and some piano music ends the evening.

We arrive in Juneau about 30 minutes early despite our late departure from Seattle. We are soon joined by the Koningsdam and the Celebrity Solstice.  Up to an hour before docking the forecast was for rain all day with a high temperature of 48. We dress appropriately.

Our first stop is the tram ride 1800 feet to the top of a nearby mountain. Having just openend this week, the nature center was still closed, but the views and native american presentations were superb.

Maybe a snowball was made.

A slow stroll past the dozens of jewelry stores and then a stop at the Red Dog Saloon. Prices are surprisingly reasonable, and the same piano player that was here 5 or 6 years ago is still playing at the young age of 83.

Never a drop of rain, but instead bright sunshine and temperatures that reached the low 60's. My travels are definitely blessed.

Having over dressed, I arrive back at the ship hot and sweaty. Quickly freshen up for dinner and head to the Ocenaniew bar.

"Sorry, we don't have any Bamboo Saphire gin." What gin do you have?  "There is no gin anywhere on the ship. We did not get a container of provisions, and there is no gin." I settle for a glass of wine.

Another question for Alex?

I try again at dinner to get gin. No problem, they have my gin. Alex comes in the dining room shortly after we start our appetizer. Directly to our table. We settle on Thursday at Tamarind. He makes a phone call and it is done. I elect to ignore the no gin issue. He has enough to deal with and is doing a very good job at it.

The group of dancers just joined the ship this week. Some of the shows are the same as a month ago, others are new, but similar to the shows of my last cruise.

I do have to digress a moment, when I boarded Saturday, the carpet in the elevator said Friday. Oops. The clocks around the ship are now working properly. None of the elevators are continuously turned off. Holland is trying to keep the ship in good shape. With the exception of the Pinnicle Grille and the Manage, the staff of the Eurodam is doing an excellent job.

After the production show, the comedian in BB-KIngs excellent. The piano players are new. Older music and popular piano songs are good. When they play music of the 80's and 90's I find I don't recognize any of it. 

We leave Juneau about 10:30, long after I am asleep. My body hasn't yet fully adjusted to the 4 hour time difference and probably won't until the day I head back to Florida.

Tomorrow we cruise Glacier Bay to view the Glaciers and then dock at Icy Straight Point at 6:00 PM for about a three and a half hour stay.

May 08, 2022

March 5 Seattle and then Alaska

Alaska has finally opened up after being closed to travellers because of covid for two seasons.

I am booked on Holland America's Eurodam, the same ship, and coincidently the same cabin as my last cruise. Available flights to and from Seattle are getting scarce and expensive. More than 2 months before traveling, I was unable to get 2 adjoining seats on the return flight to Florida. Some of our first choices for shore excursions are already sold out.
 
As we prepare to leave Florida the weather forecast is for rain every day. In preparation I give my outer jacket an extra coating of water proofing.

Then the first positive news. While checking in for our flight online, 1 seat has opened up on our return flight, adjacent to one of the two seats we have booked. A few quick clicks and we have adjoining seats.

The trip to the airport is uneventful. The weather is supposed to be in the high 90's this week in central Florida, our first hit of summer heat. It is a good time to be leaving Florida.

Park N Go, my favorite parking location in Ft Lauderdale now has a lot serving the Orlando airport.  Very easy and we are at the terminal in a few minutes. Bags checked and grab a sub sandwich to eat on the plane. 

Our plane leaves a few minutes early. Six hours later we touch down in seattle. As expected it is raining.

There is no wait for a cab. Traffic is slow, but we are soon at our hotel.  A few surprises. There are no rooms ready. Lack of staff. The restaurant and bar are both closed. With no where to go we patiently wait at the desk. Finally an available room.

The elevators require reading a room card before a floor button can be pushed. A secure but slow process. In the process I manage to hit my wrist on the edge of the door. A large "goose egg" soon appears. 

While unpacking I see that the zipper on my brand new suit case has pulled open. Fortunately the contents are undamaged. It is time for dinner.

After consultation with Google we decide on nearby Zeek's Pizza across the street. Bundled in jackets to protect from the rain we make the short walk. "Yes we are open, but the chef won't be here for another hour".

Happy hour time as we wait to get some food.

Self serve breakfast at the hotel is acceptable, actually better than many. Next task is to take our covid tests. Couldn't do them in Florida as that would have been too early. Making a suitable workspace in the room is quuickly accomplished. Less than a hour later we have both tested negative for covid. The last hurdle in paper work to board the ship.

With the forecast remaining gloomy, we Uber to the Seattle Aquarium, a mostly indoor facility that is the most highly recommended thing to do when it is raining in Seattle.

The Aquarium is nice, clean, and not busy. We even have lunch in the aquarium cafe.

Time to call Uber to get back to the hotel. Shortly after I complete the request, my phone totally dies. The battery went from 30% to dead almost instantaneously. Uber should be on the way.

We wait, and wait, but the Uber driver never shows up. Too far and too wet to walk. After numerous attempts to restart my phone, Lynn installs Uber on her phone and we try again. The app keeps telling us the car is on the way, but then the progress map shows it heading away from us.  Finally the driver arrives even though the app still shows the car several blocks away.

After getting my phone working I can see that the first Uber driver cancelled the ride a few seconds after it was confirmed. I must assume if my phone had worked I would have known that.

It is back to Zeek's for dinner. No desire to venture out in the rain. A different bar tender than the previous day, we are carded before we can enter. Washington law. Chicken wings, cheese sticks, and adult beverages were good.

The next morning as we exit the hotel to call a cab to get to the cruise terminal, there is a shuttle bus loading. He is headed to the pier and he has room for two more passengers. Maybe our luck is changing.

Boarding is typical. Passengers that don't have required paperwork or can't find it on their phone is the biggest holdup.

Prepared with paper copies, processing is very quick. The terminal empoyee even compliments and thanks us for being so organized. We are on the ship enjoying lunch 90 minutes after checking out of the Hyatt.

A lazy afternoon as we await our 3:00 PM departure. In recent weeks this was moved forward an  hour or so and other adjustments were made in the week's schedule for unknown reasons.

3 PM comes and goes - we finally cast off just after 4 PM. Go figure.  As we leave, the rain stops and the sun tries to peek out.

It is rare that I stay in the same cabin on different cruises. My travel agent did it, and I wasn't even conscious of the fact until long after booking. It gives the opportunity for comparison. All good, the TV control seems to work, and the sticky balcony door latch has been replaced.

Dinner tonight is in the Pinnacle Grille. We are propmptly seated. The temperature is much more pleasant than a month ago. The food was good, the service absolutely horrible. No one ever checked back on the table, I waited for over a half hour to get a second beverage, and the food took about an  hour after we finished appetizers before it was served. My steak was excellent, the baked potato hardly warm enough to melt butter.

We were told some truths, and probably some excuses. Confirmed was the fact that they reassigned one of the staff taking care of us to go to another area of the ship and clean up a bar.

The  restauant manager's resolution. Give me a free drink.  You can guess how that was received as I alread had paid for a package with unlimited drinks for the entire cruise.  After a long conversation and apology from the food and beverage manager, I am sure there will be more to this story.

Dinner took too long to catch the main show, but we did get to listen to Ryan talk about Alaska.

Tomorrow is a sea day in the north pacific as we head towards Juneau. The seas are generally under 8 feet, and there is some rocking to the ship, but nothing excessive.

March 31, 2022

Days 9 & 10 - Sea Days

As we progress north the seas build as  the winds have increased to 30 to 35 knots out of the East. Due to the long distances covered between most ports on this itinerary, we spend most of our time cruising at 19 or 20 knots. As our speed varies slightly, different areas of the ship vibrate because of harmonics from the engines and propulsion systems. Sometimes the vibration is significant in the dining room, aft on deck 2, other times the vibration is apparent in the Crow's Nest bar on deck 11 forward. Change the speed a fraction of a knot and the harmonics move to a new location. At times the vibrations are so intense I would question whether we have a damaged propeller blade.

Overall this ship is in excellent shape. Without question there is more comfortable seating here than any other ship I have ever been on. The theater seating is especially comfortable. Seating in all the dining areas is spread out and not crowded as on many of the larger ships.

Temperature control is a different story. It is a problem in many areas. The cabin system works fine, but most of the public areas are way too cold. Probably 65 or 67 at most. Complaints by many guests have fallen on deaf ears.

Of course service has been excellent with 85% of full staff and only 30% of passenger capacity.

It was a surprise for me to learn that tips for cabin stewards are pooled amongst all ships and divided between all cabin stewards equally. Just as surprising most workers have little input on which ship they will be assigned to when they start a new contract, but due to the pooling system, they will not suffer financially if assigned to a ship with less generous passengers.

This ship is expected to return to full staff levels in a few weeks, in time for the Alaskan season. I probably can safely conclude that this is my last cruise with such a low passenger count.

The entire ship is spotlessly clean and shows little sign of her age. Well except for clocks. There are no two clocks on the ship that show the same time, and none show the correct time. I hope not an indication of the maintenance of more critical ship systems.

We dine at Tamarind, one of the other specialty restaurants for dinner. The decor, the food, and the service is excellent. Only my beverage is wrong, actually for the third time in less than an hour. Unusual, but mistakes do happen. More often when you drink gin and club soda instead of the much more popular gin and tonic.

Many of the mixers come in 7 1/2 ounce cans instead of from a bulk dispenser as many ships use. A choice that should reduce errors.

The pool areas remain crowded during the last two days. The sun is bright and many people want their last sunburn.

Leaving the ship is a little different than most other lines. Passengers gather their own numbered luggage tags. Only 3 to choose from, which implies luggage will be divided into 3 piles in the terminal. Luggage does not need to be out until midnight. Easily the last chore of the evening.

As we near the west end of Cuba the seas begin to calm and it is smooth sailing the rest of the way to Port Everglades. We pass several cargo ships, a Princess cruise ship and a Carnival cruise ship enroute.

We dock on time. Being a Wednesday, the only other ship in port is the Queen Mary 2. A rare sighting in Florida as she often cruises out of New York.

Our group is called 15 minutes early. We walk off the ship directly to level 2 of the terminal. Once in the luggage hall, our bags are easily spotted and we continue our walk towards customs. Facial recognition works flawlessly, and there is no more than a 10 second pause in our walk out of the terminal. We are soon on the shuttle to the parking lot. About 30 minutes from cabin to entering the entrance ramp of the expressway.

Traffic is easy, and by 12:45 I am starting the first load of laundry in preparation for the next cruise in about 6 weeks to Alaska, also on Holland America's Eurodam.

March 29, 2022

Day 8 - Puerto Limon, Costa Rica

The alarm is set for 6:00 as our excursion is scheduled to leave at 7:15, as soon as the ship is cleared. Awakening before the alarm, and finding the ship still heading northerly at 19 knots I soon realize I missed the message that clocks were to be set back another hour during the night. Attempt at another hour sleep is useless.

Buffet breakfast and head to the theater. Bus number one, one of three headed for the excursion train, eco canal boat ride and bus tour of the countryside. Eight other buses are headed in other directions.

As we leave the pier, vaccination cards are checked, not passports. A sign of the times with covid still a worldwide threat.

I had taken this same tour many years ago. The train track was in such poor condition that the train could only move about 2 miles over the course of an hour. I'm not sure what to expect today.

Our tour guide is excellent and shares a lot of information about his country. All wildlife in Costa Rica is protected. Even areas where squatters have settled are clean. Roads appear in good condition, and there is construction activity. Employment taxes support health care and a retirement pension system.

The new shipping port is busy with ships loading containers. Prmiarily bananas and pineapple but also general cargo that is trucked across the country and then reload on ships. a small competitor to the panama canal.

On the eco boat tour we spot numerous wildlife including iguanas,  birds, monkeys and sloth.

Back at the dock and a free snack of ice cold water, a fresh banana, and chips  made from yucca are delicous.

Another half hour or so on the bus to the train. We board from the bus on the road directly onto the waiting train. No station platforms here. It is quickly obvious that the track has been replaced with new rail and concrete ties. A much needed multimillion dollar improvement.

The cars  have lost the old charm by being recovered on the inside with white plastic sheeting and new plywood floors. The original seats have been recovered, the worn out seat back flip hinge mechanisms remain.

We travel for about 20 miles past plantations and scenic coastline. Children are frequently seen standing by the tracks waiting for the train and waving at the tourists.

Back on the bus and in another 30 minutes we are at the pier.

In all, one of the best tours and tour guides. I have heard more about banana growing than I ever wanted.

Returning to the ship, about half a dozen crew members are painting  the scratches that resulted from the locks in the Panama canal.

Time for a shower and a late lunch, but first a stop at the spa. I know that those of you that know me are probably wondering what has happened to my mind that would take me to the spa.

My hand became covered with black spots. Paint spots from the gangway railing caused by drips from the painting crew.

An immediate attempt to clean off  with an alcohol wipe was fruitless as was a vigorous attempt with soap and water.

Next a stop at the spa and asking for a cotton swab soaked in nail polish remover.  The staff was a little perplexed at my request, but shortly returned with several cotton swabs and a container of what was basically acetone.

Within seconds I had removed the black paint. The spa technician was impressed and now had a story to share with her coworkers about her strangest customer of the day.

Safely on the ship, rain storms can be seen over the mountains several miles inland. We leave port and head north on a course that will take us past the  Grand Caymen Islands, west of Cuba, and along theh south edge of Florida towards Ft. Lauderdale for an expected arrival in two days.

Another average dinner in the dining room followed by a production show with the dancers in the theater.

One set of piano music and it is time to call it a night. Tonight I don't miss the fact that I need to turn my clock ahead one hour.

The seas are slight as we leave port, but are expected to build durning the night.

The next two days will be sea days.

March 28, 2022

Day 7, Panama Canal & Panama City

The alarm is set for 5:30 AM, dress quickly and walk out on the balcony. We are passing  under the new highway bridge. Way ahead of schedule. No time for breakfast, the first stop is the helipad just down the hall from our cabin. Already occupied by many passengers, we find a good viewing spot as we approach the entrance to the first lock.

The locks work as smoothly today as they did over 100 years ago when the canal first opened. I don't see any ships heading west in front of us, but there is a steady stream of vessels heading east. Considering they are exiting to the caribbean at 6 or 7 in the morning, they must have made the transit in darkness.

The new locks have been open for several years, Much more efficient from both a labor and water conservation viewpoint, able to handle much larger ships, but only able to transit 15 ships a day. Some of the largest container ships pay over a million dollars to transit. A lot of money, but still a great savings over sailing around South America. Just helps to give perspective to the cost of ships waiting for days to unload at many ports.

The old locks can handle just over 40 ships per day. Conversations have already begun on adding another set of even larger locks.

We complete our transit over an hour ahead of schedule and move to a holding area in Gantun lake to await our return to Colon later in the day.

Our shore excursion to Panama city is about an hour late in departing despite our early arrival.

As is customary on Holland America, all excursions first gather in the theater to get number stickers, and then each group leaves the theater together to either go to the gangway or board a tender.

Today we tender to shore, board a bus, and are driven over one of the gates of the new locks. A very large container ship is in the lock as we pass by.  Probably the scheduling of gate closure for the lock is what determined our excursion departure time.

The countryside is what one would expect. Hilly with lots of vegetation, and very sparsely populated.

We arrive in Panama City and drive through several sections of both the new and the old cities. View ruins of the oldest bridge and remnants of ancient buildings.

Panama City is nothing like what I anticipated. Yes there are modern skyscrapers, all built since the US returned the canal zone to Panama just over 20 years ago, and a lite rail system still under construction. What I did not expect was the dirtiest city I have ever visited. Garbage and trash everywhere. In the streets, the alley ways, in the few open spaces, and even on the balconies of apartment buildings. Trash and garbage is just strewn everywhere. The filthiest cities of medevil times, when there was no sanitation may have been cleaner.

Just to disappoint me a little more, Holland described part of the tour as "a leisure 45 minute, half mile walk" thru the old city, a UNESCO site. Well the half mile was more like a mile and a half, and the 45 minutes wasn't even close. The guide kept changing his mind about where we were going. Oh well you win some and you loose some.  For sure though, I have zero desire to ever return to Panama City, Panama,

The tour ends in Colon at the pier of our awaiting ship.

In a process that makes no sense, after the customary walking past all the shops, Panama customs makes a copy of our passport and photographs evey passenger as we prepare to leave the county. It appears they are more concerned about who leaves Panama than they are who comes into the country. There was no check at all as we entered the country. Strange, but thier country thier rules.

With returning so late, we skip the dining room and head to the buffet. Many other passengers have the same idea.  We finish in time to catch a new comedy act. Good, but not as good as the previous comedian.

At the beginning of the cruise we were given notice that there was a film crew from London on board. A young group of of about eight with at least three cameras. The first time I spotted them was as we were going thru the locks, yes, I avoided them, never had any desire to be on TV or film.

Our next port is Puerto Limon, Costa Rica. Our arrival time is scheduled for 7:00  AM with a shore excursion leaving at 7:15. The alarm is set  for 6:00. The seas are very slight as we leave Colon and head North after a long day.

March 27, 2022

Day 6 - At Sea

With the easterly winds remaining strong at 25 to 35 knots the seas remain choppy, but since the waves are following, the ship remains pretty smooth. There are certain areas on the ship where vibrations are a constant reminder of the large engines and massive equipment that propels us across the ocean. Fortunately my forward cabin is not one of those areas.

It is now very apparent to me why the balcony latch was corroded to an inoperable state. The deck 5 balcony is constantly covered with salt spray kicked up by the choppy seas.

The buffet is nearly empty this morning. Last night we turned our clocks back one hour to switch to Panamanian time, probably the hunger clocks of the guests didn't change and they are in and out of the buffet before I arrive. 

The staff captain answers questions for the passengers during an interview or "chat" with the cruise director. Only one rather stupid question. This is immediately followed by another cooking demonstration presented by the executive chef.

After a few minute pause, a presentation about the history of the Panama canal. Probably attended by 70% of the passengers. Currently the "reservation" fee is $35,000.00 per ship. Basic passenger fees for cruise ships, $375.00 per passenger, of course passed on to the passenger under "port fees and taxes"

For the first time on the cruise there is a few minute wait for an elevator as everyone leaves the theater at the same time.

It is going to be hot and humid in Panama tomorrow. I have a 7 hour shore excursion to visit the jungle and Panama City, and try to find out if there will be water available on the bus.  After several attempts, the apparent answer is no. I will bring some.

The helipad on the ship's bow is going to be open while we transit the canal. Other good viewing spots are scouted out on deck 11, deck 9, deck 3, and of course from the stateroom balcony. Maybe a combination will be best.

After some piano music, dinner tonight will be in the Pinnacle Grille, Holland's equal to Royal's Chop's Grille. So equal, the menu is almost identical.

The food is as good as I have ever had on Royal, and the service is much better. The downside is that the restaurant is about 65 or 67 degrees, even cold for me. The manager says there is nothing she can do about the room temperature. This had been a common thread of complaint among the majority of the guests. We have some control over individual cabins, but the common public spaces are way too cold. Many guests wear jackets all the time. Rather silly in the subtropics, and fookish from a business  viewpoint considering customer dissatisfaction and wasted fuel.

As we cruise into the western caribbean the seas begin to slowly subside. The skies are partly cloudy and a passing shower  is a remote possibility, less than 10%.

A couple hours of entertainment and early retirement is in order.

We  are expected to arrive at the canal entrance holding area about 5:00 AM and enter the locks about 7:00.

March 25, 2022

Day 5 Curacao

Curacao, the port I would say is my most favorite in the Caribbean. We arrive on time, not a hard task as it is only a few hours from Aurba.

No room service for breakfast, the buffet instead. Freshly made mini waffles with fruit.  The waffles are excellent, and the fruit topping is served hot. An excellent start to the day. As expected all food is served, the days of self service hopefully a thing of the past. Napkins, silverware, and beverages are brought to the table. The staff is plentiful and attentive.

I deliberately wait for others to depart the ship first. A step that was probably not necessary as there are so few passengers.

Yesterday I found the walk in Aruba uncomfortable.  A byproduct of maturity I am sure. More likely the result of too little activity caused by the pandemic. Today I prepare with a few Tylenol before starting. Along with a slow pace and  frequent pauses, it works.

Construction projects that were underway when I was here a few months ago have progressed substantially. Some of the colorful buildings are getting a new coat of paint. A task that is frequently required.

My kids often will pick up a 30 pound round of Gouda cheese here. I look, but common sense says that I don't want to carry it home. Maybe if I were still 30.

Most of the shops are now thriving. A Pause for a beverage and to watch the movable bridge for a spell. Within about a 40 minute time span it opens three times to allow boats to pass. Many  pedestrians ignore the warnings not to start across. They become trapped untill the bridge closes and the gates are opened.

In an unexpected move two days ago the Panamanian government told the ship they wanted to inspect all passports before we would be allowed into the canal and the port of Colon. All passports were collected. Now they have changed thier minds. Passports will be randomly inspected as we go ashore. Passports are returned to everyone, we will see what happens in Panama.

We head west towards Panama, leaving Curacao about 4:00 PM. Two passengers are missing. Whether left behind or getting on board without having thier cards scanned I will never know.

The seas have built to 6 to 6 1/2 meters. About 18 to 20 feet.  Running at nearly 20 knots with stabilizers extended and a following sea, motion on the ship is minimal. No one is complaining.

The production show is good. The dancers talented, and the digital grapic sets impressive. Of course I have my ear plugs, but they may not have been required. Most of the entertainment is played at a reasonable level.

Tomorrow is a sea day as we travel towards the Panama Canal. A few showers can be seen in the distance, and the cloud cover builds as we move west.

March 24, 2022

Day 4 - Aruba

The seas have calmed as we move into the southern waters of the Caribbean. Breakfast in the cabin more or less arrived on time, but the order was not accurate.

Holland is struggling with many of the details that we as passengers always take for granted. Numerous guests are talking about how room keys don't work most of the time. Actually a problem I encountered on Holland the last time I cruised them 5 or 6 years ago.

There are a number of public space clocks about the ship. Not only are they displaying the wrong time, they are all different.

The control for the TV is impossible to work. sometimes it does, other times no response. The balcony door latch doesn't work. Frozen by salt and resultant corrosion. The APP is just like Royal, unpredictable and unreliable. Reservations get lost, and all activities are not listed. Basic information like hours of operation are lacking. On board account billing is undecipherable. But I digress. These are just minor inconveniences.

We arrive in Aruba on time. My first task is a visual check of my tree growing on the sandbar. It looks stressed, but still survives. Maybe a reflection of the observer. I have been watching this tree for over 10 years. When I first saw it I was sure it would be gone in a few months. Wrong.

The Explorer Of The Seas is docked in front of us, probably the ship we could see in the distance last night.

Our mission of mailing some post cards is accomplished by a friendly staff member in one of the jewelery stores who offers to mail them for us. Just one example of why I like Aruba and Curacao, the friendly people.

The weather is perfect. Temperatures in the mid 80's, an occasional cloud with about  25 knot winds.

Iguana Joe's has reopened from the pandemic. The drinks, food and service are good, as it has been for years. You would never know they were shut down for nearly two years. Even the menu's are the same.

All aboard isn't until 10:30 PM giving passengers plenty of time to enjoy the evening in Aruba. The casinos call many, I elect to spend the evening of the ship.

After dinner, an hour of comedy by Lamont Ferguson. The second and last show he is doing on this cruise, he flies  home tomorrow. Playing to a full house in BB Kings lounge he is unquestionably the best comedian I have ever heard.

Eaarly dining at 5:15 allows for attending all evening activities.

The passenger mix is pretty much as I expected. A more mature crowd than Royal or Celebrity, but still some younger passengers and a dozen or so kids under 16. Interestigly I have only seen one motorized scooter, and just a couple of passengers with walkers. Yes I am approaching the more mature segment of the passenger manifest. 

It will be the buffet for breakfast tomorrow. We arrive in Curacao about 7:00 and should be cleared by 8:00. The skies are vey clear. I am sound asleep when we leave Aruba about 11:00 PM

Tuesday March 22 - Day 3 at Sea.

Breakfast was ordered for 7:00 AM delivery. Promptly at 7:00 there is a knock on the door. Everything was as requested.

The first entertainment for the day is a Q&A with the piano players. A complicated story of covid and another entertainer that backed out of a contract the day he was to board a ship, and a new piano duo is formed. I have found thier music enjoyable. Varied, energetic, and not a request Gabe and Manda wouldn't play. She is on her 12th or 13th contract, Gabe not only his first, but  his second week on a ship ever.

Part way through the program and the ship comes to an emergency stop. The captain tells us that two people in a small boat were flagging us down by waving thier life jackets, an international signal of distress. A small boat is launched, but as they approach the signaling vessel it turns and speeds away.

A practical joke? A poor attempt to hijack a cruise ship? Someone trying to escape Hatii? We will never know. An hour lost and we continue on our way.

Other entertainment today includes a cooking class, flower arrangement tips, and a presentation on sea life.

Several hours after the signaling vessel incident, rumors are passing among the passengers that pirates tried to board and take over the ship. Good thing the captain announced to the whole ship exactly what was going on or the rumors may have had us heading into battle with Russia. 

I am familiar with cruise lines subcontracting the spa, casino, and art sales to outside companies. Holland America has gone further. All entertainment is contracted to outside companies, not only creation, but scheduling and management. Furthermore the same production shows are on multiple ships at the same time. Not exactly an incentive to book a different ship for another cruise. Local management on the ship is having less and less control.

With only about 700 guests, the dining room along with all other venues are sparsely occupied. At most 250 people in the 800 seat main theater, most often only 25 or 50.

Another change Holland america has made is with thier guest lecture speakers. They are not present. Instead the have produced lecture programs professionally produced with excellent graphics and story line, and the presentation is done by the cruise director reading from a teleprompter.  Much better than most of the guest lectures I have everencountered. Personally I think a great improvement.

Another acceptable dinner, not exceptional. The seas have increased as a result of 25 to 30 knot winds. The stabilizers keep the ship fairly stable but occasionally there is a shudder throughout the ship as she hits a larger swell. All passengers are taking it in stride.

Tonights show in the theater is followed by a couple of sets of piano music. Tomorow we dock In Aruba about 1:00 PM. I think the captain is making up for the hour that was lost earlier in the day. I will know when the ship is cleared in Aruba.

March 22, 2022

Day 2 - Half Moon Cay

Half Moon Cay is the private island for Carnival and Holland America. We share the sands with the the MS Rotterdam. Seas are very calm, making the tendering process very easy. A quick pass by all the shops, and it is back to the  ship. Beaches are not for me.

The temperatures are in the mid 70's very sunny in the morning, but by afternoon some clouds begin to roll in.

Several hours after departing for Aruba there are a few showers. The seas have increased to a few feet. There is a little roll to the ship. Yeh!

It seems to be a common thread among all cruise lines. Technology just does not work as it is supposed to. In addition to losing all reservations, there are dozens of credits and charges appearing on my account that just don't make sense. The TV remote does not function. A call to the front desk and nothing is fixed. Fortunately the one thing that is correct is the ending balance on my on board account. How they got there would be anyon'e guess. 

We had dining reservations for 5:30. After the first night we were told just come at 5:15 and go to the same table. Don't bother to stop at the desk. Fine with me.

The food is OK but nothing special. The waiter is getting to know us which helps. He already knows I don't want an appetizer, and may order desert, but only after finishing dinner, not before.

The Island Magic Steel Band is great. I have seen them before, but couldn't remember where. I ask them what ships they have played on. It was on The MS Amsterdam during my world cruise that our paths crossed.

We pass through some rain, nothing severe.

Tomorrow is a sea day.


March 20, 2022 Day 1, The MS Eurodam

Covid is at a lull, you will note that I did not say gone. I was fortunate and the only symptoms from my contracting covid was a minor cough, no different than what can result from allergies. After a week of isolation at home, I tested negative and resumed normal life.

Allergies have been particularly troublesome this year. Partially because of the weather and the fact that global warming is increasing the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere which in turn increases plant production of pollen.

The Holland America Eurodam is headed to my favorite part of the Caribbean, Aruba, Curacao and Panama Canal, a 10 day cruise.

It has been many years since I have sailed Holland America, I am not sure what to expect.

Packing is easy as I have been home only three weeks. My 30 year old suitcase is showing the signs of many hundreds of trips and thousands of miles of travel. I make the decision that it needs to be replaced when I return home.

The drive to Ft. Lauderdale is easy and non eventful. Holland assigns a boarding time. Ours was at 1:40 PM. allowing a departure from Clermont after 8:30.

Just a few days before departure, Holland introduced an optional process that promises faster check in. Called Verifly, it is a website where we can upload all boarding information so at the port we can skip many of the usual lines and save time.

Initial setup took more than an hour. We will see how many minutes we save.

As always I park at Park-N-Go just outside Port Everglades entrance. We are early and are the only two passengers on the shuttle for the MS Eurodam. We don masks to enter the terminal, still a federal requirement, and the process begins.

There is no signage for "Verifly" but we are soon directed to that line. Only a few passengers in front of us. After checking the Verifly information, the agent also wants to see our boarding passes, both electronic and paper, explaning that often the verify system doesn't work. 

It seems to work fine, needing to just show the cleared for boarding screen on verifly at one more check point. When working 100%, no need to show anything except the first screen on "Verifly". No juggling passport, boarding pass, vaccination records, and negative covid test paperwork.

Within minutes we are on the ship at our cabin door. I say at the door, not in the cabin as neither key works. A cabin steward comes by and we gain access to the cabin. Adequate but tight. The big surprise is that the shower is in the tub, contrary to what pictures of the cabin showed. There is also a 4 or 5 inch stepup into the bathroom.  Not a passenger friendly design. I will manage, carefully, very carefully.

The muster drill instructions are on the TV, and all we need to do is check in on the deck where our life boat station is located.

Holland has an "App" like other cruise lines. I was very dilligent and made dining reservations before leaving home. No surprise, by the time we got to the ship all the reservation were lost.

Soon learning that the ship was less than one third full, with about 700 passengers, there was no problem making reservations when we wanted.

Food was good, service adequate, nothing exceptional.

Classical music on The Lincoln Center Stage. Two piano players, Gabe and Mandy, at the piano bar across from the casino, and an exceptional comedian in BB Kings  provided most of our entertainment for the evening.

The cruise director joined the ship today. An employee of Holland for many years, he and his wife just escaped from Kiev, Ukraine a few days ago. Several weeks after the savage invasion by Russia.

A surprise feature in the main theater was a presentation about the history of Holland America from its earliest beginnings transporting europeans to America back in the late 1800's. Many interesting facts that are probably only useful for a game of Holland America trivia.

The weather is perfect, the skies clear as we head to our first stop at Half Moon Cay.

February 07, 2022

Day 6 - Leaving The Ship

I am awakened by the noise and vibration of the bow thrusters as the ship pulls into dock before  sunrise. We are docking at terminal 6 instead of terminal 3 where we departed from. We were informed of this change before boarding last week.

More of an industrial dock than a cruise terminal, the view from the porthole reveals a high wire fence and a handfull of SUVs just behind it in a paved parking area.

Cereal for breakfast and nothing to do but wait.

The ship is cleared, and disembarkation begins about 15 minutes early. Group by group passengers leave. The hazmat team arrives. They want our luggage, not us.

Shortly after 9 there is an announcement for all passengers remaining on the ship to proceed to deck 4. Does that mean me?  A call to the front desk. No, that means everyone except you. We will come get you when it is time to leave.

It is now my time. Hazmat arrives and escorts us to the crew exit on deck 3 which leads directly to the dock. Our luggage is just in front of us on a small cart. My sea pass card is scanned to officially indicate I am no longer on the ship. An officer standing back from the door just asks if we have passports. I indicate we do. He takes our word and doesn't want to see them.

As we stand on the dock, a driver approaches and asks our name. We are not who he is looking for, but we are passengers he needs to transport.  There is much discussion about someone taking the wrong vehicle earlier, and who was going to go where. In a few minutes we are on our way to the parking garage.

We are dropped off, and are given directions to the elevator. Greatly appreciated. This may not seem like much, but I didn't park the car originally, and I have no idea the layout of the parking facility. Unfortunately we eventually learn that we are at the wrong elevator, in the wrong section of the garage.  No big deal, there  is an opening in the fence and the car is located on the other side. 

The others have made it to their waiting car. I never did see them as we were taken of the ship one party at a time. 

We are on our way home. Well almost. I am the first car at the crossing gates, sitting for 20 minutes for a CSX freight train.

The rest of the trip is uneventful. After unpacking, laundry and the normal after trip routines, I make appointments to be retested to verify Omicron has run its course. Until then I will remain isolated, but on my terms not those of the hazmat team.

In summary, I most likely contracted covid several days before I boarded. It was not yet detectable at my preboarding covid testing.

My symptoms were very mild, at most a cough, which was masked by the fact that allergies have been very bad in Florida this season.

Did Royal do what they needed to do? Yes. Could they have done a better job? Yes, especially in communicating to the passenger. They knew exactly what was going to transpire from the moment of the first positive test. That could have been communicated to the passenger but it wasn't.

Will this event stop me from future cruise travel? No. Another cruise was booked while I was on board.

Day 5 - Sea Day

The decision is made to get our covid test out of the way before breakfast. The word on the ship is that appointments don't matter, they can handle people as fast as they arrive.

The rumors were correct. Probably less than 3 minutes from walking into the room until leaving. The usual verification of ID, and the nasal swab that we are all used to. It appears that testing is being done by an outside firm, not Royal.

The day is cloudy, rain looks possible. Plans are made for a miniature golf round in the afternoon. I head to the Diamond Lounge, my first visit there this cruise.

The lounge is empty. Occasionally someone pops in attempting to get coffee. None is to be had. Normally a perk of having lounge access, but not available now because of covid protocols.

There are some people in the pool, others lounging on the deck. No concerns about sunburn, the clouds are getting darker. Soon it starts to rain and most passengers are driven inside. I say most as some elect to lay in the rain.

Suddenly a voice comes over the loudspeaker requesting that I call a certain extension. I have no idea who or what department is calling.  There are few public house phones, so I elect to return to my cabin to investigate.

I am met by a security officer that verifies my name as I approach my cabin. Lynn is in the cabin. I call as requested.

"You have tested positive for covid and both of you are confined to your cabin....." The presence of the security officer is now clearly understood. I will be physically restrained if I try to leave my cabin. Handcuffs? I won't attempt to find out.

"A member of the medical team will be in your cabin shortly to do a confirmation PCR test."  The process has begun.

"Who have you spent more than 15 minutes with in the past 48 hours?"

"Have you had lunch? You may order from room service, which will be complimentary...."

Over the next few hours, numerous phone calls, and several visits from the medical staff, and the picture is getting clearer. I'm considered toxic!

Contact tracing has begun. Armed with printed pictures, security tracks down the 4 other guests that we dined with the last two nights. They are not paged, but physically sought out by security and taken to their cabins where they are instructed to remain. This way other passengers are unaware that some of us are disappearing from public view.

Everyone except me tested negative this morning, but all will be tested again, this time a PCR test. More accurate, and more sensitive.  I think mine was the first one the technician had ever administered. She was being instructed step by step, and didn't appear to have any clue as to what she was doing. Everyone has to learn somewhere.

We are all in lockdown awaiting more test results and information. Time passes slowly.

Information is hard to comeby. Everyone says some other department is making the decisions. The front desk says its the Medical department, Medical says it is Security, Security says it is Customer Relations, etc. The buck gets passed.

The ship doctor calls and visits several times. His vist is 99% social. I guess so he can make the observation that I look and act 100% healthy and I am not in medical distress.  He has worked for Royal since September, a career change as the result of total burnout dealing with covid shoreside.

He sees no need for me to be moved to the isolation area, but it is not his decision. No surprise, I get it. One set of procedures to follow with no one having to make any decisions or judgement calls. Despite how illogical it seems, it really makes sense from the corporate viewpoint.

It is soon obvious that there is another covid passenger in the next cabin, and another a little further down the hall. But silence prevails, no one will give us any information. The only thing I do know is that only the 67 back to back passengers were initially tested.

A cheese plate and glass of wine for lunch and all we can do is wait.

The calls I have been waiting for. After about an hour it is confirmed that I am still testing positive, and Lynn is testing negative.  No word about the other 4.

I need to pack as I am being moved to an area of the ship that is used for crew and passenger isolation. Exactly where is not divulged. 

Two staff in full hazmat suits come to the door to take me and my luggage. The entire corridor is blocked for other passengers. The service elevator is being held for us. Move me as quickly as possible. Don't let anyone see anything.  Sightings of men in full hazmat suits would likely start rumors. Luggage is sanitized and enclosed in plastic. We are whisked into the waiting elevator and transferred to the isolation area. We have no idea where we are.

This cabin is substantially smaller. There is no table and most of the other amenities are missing like tissues and drinking glasses. I risk further constraints by peaking out to see what cabin I have been put in. 3526 on deck 3.

There is no doubt that I will be denied boarding for the next cruise. But what about the others?  After nearly 3 hours of waiting they still have not been told the results of their PCR testing.

We have a car that will seat 4 in Tampa, but there are 6 of us. Pann and Terry have a plane ticket at the end of the week, not tomorrow.

Nothing is spelled out in writing. Only phone conversations.

Eventually it is learned that all 6 of us are being denied boarding for the next cruise. Me because of my positive covid test, the other 5 because of their association with me.

We are all in confinement. Lynn and I in the isolation ward. The others in their cabins.

We are given extra internet access, presumably so we can make whatever shoreside arrangements are needed. I was told assistance would be provided to make alternative arrangements. Having a car, I need little, just get me to the garage.

Pann and Terry need assistance, but could get no help in trying to rebook flights back to Cincinnati. They ultimately decide to stay in Clermont and use their original flights home.

We all should be given a prorated refund for the time we were put in isolation, and for the cruise where we have been denied boarding.

In checking our accounts, many people did not get the word that room service was free. Face it, it is the only way we could get anything to eat or drink.

Three or four calls to guest relations and I think the billing is straightened out. The small customer relations staff recognizes me by my voice as I have had to call so many times.

Housekeeping has the Rum we bought, expecting us to be on the ship for another 5 days. We didn't have a chance to look at the photos that were taken by the ships photo staff.  Just more details to be addressed by the front desk and the hazmat team.

We get our rum, and the photo department just gives us all the photos that I am in, regardless of quality.

I can only guess that regular staff does part of the transfer and then it is handed over to the hazmat team to bring to  our cabin.

Adrienne made arrangements for a friend to pick up the four of them in tampa. I will use my car to return home. It takes several phone calls to get the hazmat team to transfer the keys from Adrienne to me. I doubt we will see each other getting off the ship.

We end the evening with the knowledge that there will be no back to back this time. Chitchen Itza will have to wait for another day. Instead of being one of the first off the ship, I will exit after all others.

But look at the positive side. They carry my luggage, and there is supposed to be a car to take me from the ship to my car.  We will find out.

February 06, 2022

Day 4 - Nassau

We are the fourth ship to dock this morning in Nassau. The Independence of the Seas is in the far slip next to the channel, next the NCL Getaway, then the Carnival Dream, and finally our ship, The Brilliance of the Seas is at the dock closest to the city.

Major construction of the terminal area continues.  A large crane outside of our balcony towers above our ship and spends all day moving slabs of concrete into position. I doubt there are more than two dozen workers on the site.  

Shortly after we are moored, a tug and barge moves into place to work on the new pier from a position directly in front of our ship. It is more like being docked at a construction site than a resort city in the Caribbean.

The temperature is expected to be about 79, and the winds brisk at 25 mph, A perfect day for the unsuspecting to get a sunburn.

We all meet for breakfast on the open air deck at the back of the Windjammer. Plans for the day are discussed. Not much, maybe just a visit to a nearby rum distillery that is within walking distance. Dr Google says it is .6 miles from our current location.

We decide to leave early to avoid the midday sun. The others walk much faster than I do, but aren't planning to leave untill about noon. Maybe we will see them, maybe not.

The hill is long, much further than Dr. Google advised. I don't know for sure, but maybe more like 1.6 miles. Long for an uphill walk for a mature man like me, made longer by the fact that masks are required at all times, even out of doors. Fines start at $250 and jail is possible if you are seen not masked. No exceptions.

The setting is picturesque. A few pictures, samples of four of the different flavors distilled at the micro distiller, and a restroom stop. After making a small purchase we head back towards the ship.

On the way a  stop at Senor Frogs seems appropriate. They still have not reinstated the free popcorn, my primary reason for liking Senor Frogs, but a kids meal lunch, some local beer, and everything is good. The ship is not far away. There are guests at Frog's from all the ships in port, most drinking much faster than we do. Not even all the way back to the ship and my phone indicates 3 miles of steps.

We expected to pass the others on thier way to John Waitling's Distillery, but our paths did not cross.

I call. They are at the Pirate Republic, a Micro Brewery. I step out on the Balcony, and I'm immediately spotted. I have no guess as to exactly where in the maze of old buildings in downtown Nassau they are even though I do remember walking by the Pirate Republic on my way to John Waitling's.

The rest of the afternoon is spent writing and listening to music in several different venues.

Dinner in the dining room is again good. The head waiter is giving us lots of attention, and brings the bowl of savory bites. He has heard about the fiasco at Chops, not from us but from his staff. He apologizes and we hear about his career, probably spanning 3 decades.

After dinner I attempt to make my reservation for covid testing for the next cruise. All back to back passengers are tested on the  ship the day before departure. The app doesn't work. It won't let me schedule a testing time.  A visit to customer relations, and the solution is to answer the questions as if I were taking a flight out of the country after the cruise and not a back to back traveler. I would have never figured that out on my own. OK whatever works.

I spend an hour in the Schooner bar with Kelly Goodrich. I have know Kelly, and his wife Ann for about 10 years, since I first started cruising on the Monarch of the Seas. He was laid off for almost two years, due to the pandemic and did about 200 facebook video shows from his home near Tampa. This is his second contract since cruise ships began operating, and will be here several more months.

Ann, his wife,  is going to be spending the next two weeks at home instead of on the ship. She can get on and off at will in ports as she is officially a passenger. Kelly is restricted to the ship because of covid protocols. When I retire for the evenning, there are only 2 passengers in the Schooner Lounge for Kelly to play for. The toll of the pandemic.

The seas remain slight as we head to Tampa for turn around for the next cruise. Tomorrow is a sea day, and packing for many. We have the luxury of just walking off the ship and back on to our same cabins with everything already in its place.

February 04, 2022

A Sea Day, Then Coco Cay

Through the night seas remain under 10 feet and there is little motion to the ship. Our first sea day is a quiet day. Temperaatures remain in the low 70's. Most of the others play trivia. They are good and win multiple pens and key chains.

By all signs, the ship is relatively quiet. Nothing is crowded.  I expected my sinus irritation would be better on the ship, being primarily in the fresh open sea air. I am finding it to be quite the contrary. Whether it is just the older ship or more likely all the sanitizer and cleaners that are used everywhere, I have no idea.

Some tables have been cleaned with so much alcohol based cleaners, so many times, the painted finish is beginning to soften. I am sure something no one ever thought of when procuring cleaning and sanitizing products.

It is time for the top tier party for the Crown and Anchor society. The crowd is sparse, the party very short.

Barbara is the top cruiser with 5500 hundred points. More significantly there are only 12 Pinnacle member and about 75 Diamond and Diamond plus members on the ship. About a third attend the party.

A last minute decision was made to take advantage of a BOGO offer for Chops Grille. The service was painfully slow. The Waitress, though very pleasant was stressed, inefficient, and not properly trained. The final straw was when I asked to put the check on my room card, and was told we can't do that. Consenting to her insistance of individual bills, and haveing them all paid, she then asks Terry for his room card for about the tenth time of the evening because she forgot to charge him for a drink.

Needless to say  the manager wasn't much better and never offered to fix any of the problems, but instead offered for us to come back another night at no charge. We have decided that even free, Chops on this voyage of this ship is not worth it. In case you are wondering, over 3 hours for a dinner that should take 1 1/2 or 2 hours is inexcusable, 

Our route to Coco Cay takes us straight south of tampa Bay, and then straight east towards the Bahamas.

Weather remains nice and the seas very comfortable. We are the only ship in Coco Cay. It is strange. No one on the pier, No one in the water park. Few at the beaches. As often is the case it was too windy for the helium ballon.  Winds are about 25 mph and the air temperature about 72. The young members of the group head to the beach. The senor members walk ashore and take the tram around the island.

We are joined by the Rhapsody of the Seas and the Vision of the Seas, not tied to the pier, but anchored nearby. Passengers, provisions, or something is transferred between the 3 vessels. A lifeboat makes a trip from the Rhapsody to the Vision, and a small boat comes from the Vision to us.

After the transfers are all complete, the Rhapsody heads off to destinations unknown, the Vision remains anchored off Coco Cay as we leave for Nassau at the end of the day. Neither of these two ships are carrying fare paying passengers

So far the headliner entertainers have been pretty good. The magician, Puck, was excellent. the live musicians are good. I am happy to see that Royal is remining with live musicians for the most part, instead of recorded music as some lines are doing.

I learn that our passenger load is about 950, just under 40% of capacity. Last week the ship was closer to 60%. I have no idea what percentage of the normal crew staff in on board, but there has not been the abundance of staff that I have seen on previous cruises this season that are sailing way below capacity.

A short stint at the Schooner Bar, and it is time to call it a day.

Tomorrow we will be in Nassau.

February 03, 2022

Jan 31, 2022 Brilliance Of The Seas

This cruise, a 10 day back to back on the Brilliance has been planned for about six months. It was a replacement for a cruise on the Vision which was cancelled by Royal when they moved the ship to another market.

In the weeks leading up to our departure, the covid variant Omicron ran wild across the country. The variant was very contagious, and even the vacinated were susceptible to infection. Fortunately for those that were vaccinated the symptoms seldom led to hospitalization or death.

A group of seven are booked in four adjacent cabins. About a week before departure Amie is admitted to the hospital. After being kept in intensive care for several days to deal with multiple issues, she reluctantly, but wisely, makes the decsion that she must cancel the cruise even though this cruise would bring her to Diamond level and was one of the primary driving factors for this particular cruise. 

Fortunately Royal currently has a liberal "cancel for any reason" policy in place. A move to deal with the uncertain nature of the public dealing with the ongoing pandemic. She will get 100% future cruise credit despite the last minute cancellation.

A day or so later Adrienne is very concerned that she may have contracted covid. Working in a high risk environment in the hotel hospitality business where many of her coworkers have had covid, she nervously waits the prescribed waiting period and then begins her testing.

Too sick to work, and anxious about the possibility of having to cancel, she has no alternative but to wait for the results of the more sensitive  PCR test. So far her husband has no symptoms. I just avoid any contact with her beyond text messaging.

Finally the results come back, Negative.  Now just to recover from the sinus congestion, sore throat, cough, etc.

48 hours before departure she feels well enough to return to work, and is greatly relieved that she has escaped Covid again. The pollen levels have been very high recently in Florida, probably a big contributor to her not feeling well.

Pann and Terry, traveling from Cinncinatti test negative for covid before departing home, and then need to test again at the hotel in Tampa. The rest of us test at home on Saturday. Requirements this week are to test negative for covid 48 hours or less before boarding the ship. The six of us have cleared the covid testing to board.

The usual hour and 30 minute drive to the port takes two hours due to an accident and heavy traffic on I-4. a very frequent issue on this overloaded highway. 

Once at the port, boarding is smooth and quick. Less than 30 minutes and Lynn and I are facing our first abundant choice of food while we wait for the four others. They arrive about 30 minutes behind us as after dropping all the luggage and us at the pier,  Adrienne picks up Pann and Terry at thier hotel and then parks the car.

The brilliance is a 20 year old ship, and the cabins reflect the design of that era. Shower curtains instead of glass doors, adequate storage but not nearly as well designed from an efficiency standpoint. During boarding there are indications that the ship is full, while at other times quite the contrary. Time will tell.

Adrienne tries to switch her cabin to the one that was just cancelled by Amie, but find's it is already occupied by someone else.

I often learn of passengers eating so much that thier clothes no longer fit, but today's observation in the Windjammer buffet is a first.  A young couple that I would guess to be no more than in thier early 30's is sitting at a nearby table. He consumes a large plate of food, and goes to get another.  After sitting down, he unbuckles his belt, and unbuttons the waist of his slacks.  As I wait for the others, and for our cabins to be ready he consumes 2 more plates of food. With the amount of food he is eating, he is going to be in real trouble by the end of the cruise.

The Serenade of the seas is also in port. She is not boarding passengers. We learn that she is being used as a hospital ship for any crew members that become ill, and for quarantine quarters for returning employees. Part of Royal's current protocol is that any crew member that shows any symptoms that may be related to covid is immediately quarantined.

She leaves port just in front of us. The decks and bars are not crowded during sail away, another indication that the ship is not full.  I should learn the exact number tomorrow at the top tier party.

Our reservation is for 6:45 in the main dining room. During a tour of the ship in the afternoon, the Maitre D suggests that we not arrive until 7:00 and that will better assure us that we will have the same table and waiters all week. We make it by 7:15. I swear we walked by every table before he was able to find our table. Eventually we were seated in the center of the dining room not far from the galley entrance.

The food was good and the service very attentive. Not the servers whose names were on the table block, but still good service.  We arranged for savory bites for later nights.  Savory bites were always a favorite of the passengers, but royal stopped making them several years ago.  Passenger outcry resulted in them being returned, but only on request.  It provides the opportunity for the staff to do something "extra" for the guests.

The entertainer tonight is a comedian. He is OK, nothing special. Comedians are not usually my favorite choice of entertainment, but it is about the only game in town.

After the show, we listen to "Upbeaat Music with the 12 Bar Band" from a small seating area on deck 6 in the Centrum. Very enjoyable and relaxing at the end of a long day.

The seas are probably six to nine feet as we head into the gulf from Tampa Bay. You can tell there is a little roll to the ship, but not much.

Tomorrow will be a sea day as we head to Coco Cay, Royal's private island in the Bahamas.

January 23, 2022

Jan 23, 2022 - Return to Port

We are the third of at least 6 ships returning to Port Everglades today. After docking it takes about 45 minutes untilvpassengers begin to disembark. The process is painless, and much smother than in precovid times. Having passengers wait in cabins instead of common areas of the ship is a great improvement.

Pinnacle and Suite passengers are called to exit the ship. No waiting for the elevator or anywhere else in the process. Our luggage is easily found, the facial recognition system quickly passes us through customs and we walk across the driveway to the awaiting bus.  From cabin to car in less than 20 minutes.

The drive back home is exactly the way it is supposed to be. Uneventful. As we get closer to Clermont, the colder the outside temperature becomes. By the time I arrive home at noon, it is 47 degrees. Take me back to sea!

Home for a week to wash clothes and repack for 10 days of back to back cruise on the Brilliance of the Seas out of Tampa.