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.