September 14, 2023

September 10, The Drive Home

We are awake and up long before the alarm goes off. No desire for breakfast, but Lynn grabs a coffee in the buffet.

We arrive at the gathering place for wheelchair assist departure 20 minutes before our scheduled time exactly as instructed. I would have been earlier, but getting an elevator was impossible. I finally carried my small suitcase down the 5 flights of stairs.

I was the first passenger called when a "pusher" arrived. A crew member that volunteers for helping push wheelchairs. I am whisked away towards the terminal. At the elevator in the terminal I am handed off to a dockside worker. After a short wait for the elevator we are on our way.

Facial recognition for passport inspection. We soon find our luggage. There is a several minute wait for a porter.  Soon we are on the shuttle bus to the parking lot.  The driver collects our car tag and his computer tells him exactly where in the lot the car is parked.

Probably within 25 minutes of walking down the stairs I am sitting in my car setting "home" as my destination on my GPS. This is good as we have concert tickets at Blue Bamboo, one of our favorite venues in Orlando this afternoon.

The drive home is easy. I open the garage door a minute before noon. Time to unpack, start the laundry, shower and head to the concert. The conclusion of another great week at sea. All that is left is to book another cruise to St Marten so I can repay Nick the $10 he loaned me.  Isn't that reason enough for another cruise?

September 9, A Sea Day

The sun rises over the horizon. Skies are partly cloudy with temperatures in the low 80's, the week has been a relief from the hot Florida summer. The seas remain slight with minimal roll imparted to the ship.

This is the last day. Decide what clothes to keep out for the ride home as everything must be packed so luggage can be whisked away during the evening.

The last day of served breakfast. Lunch of pizza in the buffet, very good as is the glutten free version. 

Gratuities are prepared for our staff.  Last time for trivia. I never play but enjoy listening to the questions and answers to realize how little I know. A bad attempt is made at making some Oragami boxes. The final presentation about Buddha. An afternoon improv comedy show, a final evening show with the production cast. The last day, but a busy day.

Some final thoughts on the Celebrity Equinox. Despite the ship being understaffed, the attentiveness of the crew was excellent. Open dining has been modified from previous years. Essentially guests are assigned to a serving team, not a table.  Therefore as you arrive in the dining room at various times throughout the week you may be seated at a different table, but always with the same staff. An excellent approach that is much more efficient than always being assigned to a single table. The dining room food has been excellent and always served at the proper temperature.

Appetizers have been eliminated during cocktail hour except for the evening the officers joined us. Just another cost cutting measure.

Personally I found seating around the ship much less comfortable than on other ships and on previous trips on the Equinox. Generally the seating is way too deep, and too low to the floor for the vertically challenged like myself. I suppose many would say my maturity is also a factor.

The internet I feel is slower now that it has converted to Star Link, but of course that could be because so many more passengers are tuned in to the Internet today.

Overall the ship is clean and has been well maintained. Next April she is going in for a refurbishment. I expect more upper class cabins to be added. Port Canaveral will become her home port in the fall of 2024.

For the first time in weeks I set my alarm as we are expected to vacate our cabins by 7:30. I have luggage tag group 1, expecting to disembark about 8:00. I will use wheel chair assist.

September 8 - Puerto Plata

We arrive in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic right on time. It is the normal process that trainees man the helm under the supervision of senior officers. How else will new staff ever get experience and give the officers time to mingle with the passengers? Well that is not going to be the case this morning.

As we approach the harbor winds are gusting to 35 mph broadside to the ship. At 36 mph we either could not dock or would need the assistance of tug boats. This is not a situation for trainees, one minor error and the ship could smash into the dock taking a heavy toll on both the ship and the pier. Today the captain will be at the helm of the ship.

As passengers, we woud never know the difference. The ship snuggled up to the dock without the slightest bump, the skills that only come from experience. 

Puerto Plato is a small town on the water. The streets today are as they were laid out by Columbus in the 1400's. 

The walk from the ship to shore is quite long and the local authorities provide free shuttle service. Free, but a tip is always appreciated. On shore there are many shops, restaurants, bars and swimming areas. Even a free Lazy River for those that are so inclined. The area looks like it has recently been rebuilt. I soon find a shady spot to enjoy a beverage as Lynn continues her conquest of all the shops. Surprisingly a purchase of some coffee is made. A purchase that was planned for San Juan but never materialized.

Back on the ship and my last opportunity to enjoy the Solarium pool without crowds.

Tonight is the dinner menu that many have waited for, lobster. Since I can't eat it, the waiter offers mine to Lynn. Most of the major cruise lines charge extra if you want a second one, but the waiter can get away with this just by putting the second lobster under my name. I enjoy another New York strip steak.

Tomorrow is a sea day, our final day on the ship. We are again cruising at 21 Knots, very near top speed for this ship. Seas remain slight with waves under 5 feet. Ship motion is essentially nonexistant.

September 7th - Tortola, BVI

Despite a late departure from St Marten, we are docked and secure long before our scheduled 7:00 AM arrival time. The gangway opens shortly after 7:00 and over 500 passengers immediately get off the ship for early tours. By 9:00 probably 60% or more of our 2801 passengers are ashore.

Other than around the pool, an area I could care less about, the ship does not feel crowded even though she is sailing very near full capacity.

The dining room is doing a good job with breakfast, and we go there again this morning instead of the buffet.

The walk to the small group of shops is short, so we meander off the ship for an hour or two. Nothing purchased as usual.

Back on the ship we find the Solarium pool nearly empty. In the shade with a little AC, it is very comfortable. Not so comfortable is the seating. The only seating available is recliner lounges, while padded and soft they are very low and difficult to get in and out of. My memory says there used to be some chairs around the pool areas, no more.

It is time for lunch just as the Mast Grill opens. Good Hot Dogs and Hamburgers with all the fixins and optional fries. We are lucky and grab the only table in the shade.

We are scheduled to leave at 3:00 and start heading north.

The seas remain under 5 feet. A cat 5 hurricane has rapidly formed in the Atlantic to our east, but we will be back in port before it has any affect on this part of the Caribbean.

I think Celebrity only has about 5 dinner menus for this cruise. Historically for an 8 night cruise the menu would be different every night. Whether deliberate, an error with our server, or just the way Celebrity is doing it, but there are three different steaks listed on the menu on different nights. A New York strip, a sirloin steak and flank steak. In reality I have only seen them serve new york strip regardless of what a guest orders. No complaints from me, it is very good and perfectly prepared.

Tomorrow we will be in the Dominican Republic. Skies are mostly clear and seas fair as we head northerly at 21 knots.6

September 07, 2023

September 6 - St Marten

The ship is tied up before our 8:00 AM scheduled arrival time. The temperature is supposed to be in the mid to upper 80's today. Any chance of rain is less than 10%.

The Lazy Lizard opens at 11:00 so we wait until after 10 before going ashore. A shuttle takes us right to the water taxi. My bad, I forgot that the water taxi is cash only, I have exactly enough for the two round trip tickets.

I would like a few bucks to tip the taxi and the shuttle on my return trip so I google for an ATM. In luck within 50 feet of where we exit the water taxi. Well that is the end of the luck, my pin number does not work. Or more correctly what I remember as the pin number does not work. I almost never use a pin number with this Visa card, and obviously it has changed from what I though it was. Most likely when the card was replaced at some point.

Nick has completed the patio, and the interior wall opposite the bar is now finished. It looks very nice. He still has much of the same staff.

Chicken wing appetizer serves as lunch. I ask Nick if would give me $10 cash back on my credit card. He is reluctant because that would mess up his books. Instead he just hands me $10 and says pay him back next time. It is nice to have good friends.

His business is doing well. Nearly every group of customers while I am there are people that have known Nick for years. He is working on plans to extend his hours and do additional marketing to the locals so he is not so dependent on the tourist trade. Probably a smart move as only 8 ships are scheduled for this entire month.

The weather in St Marten so far in September is the hottest ever recorded, a tidbit shared by the water taxi spokesperson.

There is always someone. As I waited for the water taxi there was a couple that did everything they could to get on the taxi without buying a ticket. Distraction by the wife while the husband tried to walk on. Claim of not understanding. Etc, Etc. No it did not work. The staff has seen all the tricks before.

With good cell service through my T Mobile plan, back on the ship I take some time to catch up on my email and post my blog. Yes the days are out of order in the blog.

Two ambulances visit the ship today to take passengers to the local medical facilities. The first was in mid afternoon, and the second just after our scheduled departure time. No word on the cause or outcomes.

Dinner was a perfectly prepared New York Strip steak. The same menu as several days ago.

Performing in the theater tonight is James Cielan, one of the best magicians I have ever seen. A regular in Vegas, probably the third time I have seen him on various ships. His slight of hand card tricks are amazing.

The seas remain calm as we head to Tortola, BVI. We are scheduled to dock at 7:00 AM.

September 4 - Labor Day

Again we enjoy sunny skies as we head to San Juan. The temperatures are in the mid to upper 80's. The pool is packed with sunbathers.

The Equinox has been fairly well maintained, but in places she is showing her age. The power shades in the sky lounge are being replaced. Much of the external glass is fogged or discolored. Our balcony floor is covered with old paint chips.

The casino is smoke free, a relief to many passengers. Public areas are kept meticulously clean, but the shortage of  workers is apparent. Most often there is no beverage service in the theater, only 1 server in the sky lounge and many of the crew are working on extended contracts, essentially forgoing vacation time and staying on board to work.

In general, the crew is excited about the ship coming to port Canaveral next year. Partially because it is a new port for them, and partially because they  have a dream of being able to visit Disney at some point.

Everyone scrambles to the outside decks to watch our arrival into San Juan. The skies darken, and just as we turn the corner and the fort comes into good view, the gods respond with a heavy rain. Fortunately I have a nice dry seat in the sky lounge.

The showers continue on and off for the next several hours. I could care less, and stay on the ship.

Several passengers arrive with suitcases in tow. They missed the sailing in Port Everglades because their flight from NC was delayed. Why would you fly a day ahead of time?

A tour bus provided some excitement for those of us remaining on the ship. As it departed and moved about 75 feet from where passengers boarded, something happened and the back of the bus dropped to the ground stranding the bus and blocking the main road for all traffic in both directions.

Traffic had to be rerouted, and after several hours no progress had been made despite many people looking at the problem. I have experienced tour busses breaking down, but never within the first minute of starting the excursion.

Dinner is an excellent strip steak with cherries jubilee for desert. A comedian provides the main stage entertainment tonight.

We leave San Juan about 10:30 PM, an assumption on my part as departure is long after my bed time. 

September 06, 2023

September 5 - St Thomas

During the night our ship slowly moves to our next port of call, St. Thomas USVI. Again a lovely day with temperatures in the low 80's with an expected high of 88.

We wait until most of the passengers have disembarked for their excursions, then wander off the ship for an hour. No real purpose or destination other than to say I did got off the ship at some point.

Back on the ship  I spend time in the adult pool and hot tub. The pool water temperature was perfect and it was enjoyable with only a few guests still onboard. The hot tub seats were too low for me to be comfortable, so time there was limited.

The Sky lounge has become my go to place. It is a comfortable place to write, watch the ocean pass by, and enjoy cocktails before dinner. For some unexplained reason tonight it is also popular with many other passengers. The lone server is kept very busy, but as regulars we are well taken care of.

Just as we are headed to dinner, the shore excursion desk calls to inform me that the one shore excursion we have booked for the entire cruise has been cancelled. Plans for tomorrow have been changed. I wasn't sure I would get to see Nick at the Lazy Lizzard, but now we will. A purpose and mission for St Marten.

The dining room is very busy this evening. Of course we have the same staff every night, but they have been shuffling the guests between different tables depending on what is open when we arrive at our reserved time.  Actually I like this better than having the same exact table every night.

The entertainment tonight is the production show "Topper" which has been running since the first time I cruised on the Equinox, probably over 10 years ago. 

The seas are very slight as we make our short journey overnight to St Marten. Yes, we plan to get off and have lunch with Nick at the Lazy Lizzard.

September 3 - A Sea Day

The skies are mostly sunny with an occasional passing cloud. There are some swells in the ocean which constantly roll the ship from side to side about 2 or 3 degrees despite the best efforts of the stabilizers. The adult pool is closed all day, either because of the sloshing water or some other cause.

Breakfast in the main dining room is good. Two pancakes are enough.

During the day the usual assortment of trivia, archery, golf, pickleball etc.

Just as the officers enter the pool for the officers vs, guest volleyball game, the skies open up with a brief but heavy downpour. Everyone scatters except the officers in the pool. The match is cancelled until a future date.

Celebrity often has a lecture series. On this trip the subject is Buddhism - the life of Buddha. A subject I know little about.  The speaker is not only knowledgeable but very articulate. An excellent speaker with an interesting subject. The series continues with 4 different presentations throughout the cruise.

Unlike Royal, there are no appetizers during cocktail hour in the sky lounge. The only option is a combination of corn, pretzels and other salty snacks. A combination I haven't encountered before.  The corn kernels taste very good, but we have concern that they may be rancid and will resist them for the remainder of the cruise.

Dinner is pasta with apple pie for desert. Yes real pie not the substitute Royal has.

The ship continues with a slight roll, the weather near perfect. A little cooler than Florida has been in recent weeks. Since leaving Port Everglades we have been cruising at just under 21 knots. About as fast as they can run this ship, barring an extreme emergency.

Tomorrow afternoon we are due to arrive in San Juan.

September 2 - Equinox

It has been many months since I have been on a cruise, and I am finally headed back to sea. The covid pandemic wrecked havoc with the cruise industry. Several of my favorite ships have been sent to the scrap yards. New ships that were in the process of being built have been delivered, even if later than expected. With the tremendous financial hit the cruise industry took, many permanent changes have been implemented. 

Ships are operating with smaller crews, entertainment has been cut back, if not in frequency in financial expense.  Bargain cruises are almost non existant, the cruise lines would rather sail with some empty berths.

The Equinox, always a favorite ship is headed to the eastern caribbean on this 8 day itinerary. Celebrity as a cruise line, and the 8 day itinerary pretty much ensure that the passenger manifest will be mostly mature passengers, that means few under 25.

The drive to Port Everglades was painless. We arrived at Park N Go and were immeadiately whisked away to the ship terminal.  No lines, no waiting. Boarding pass is checked, twice. Passport checked, and carry on luggage scanned, I get a quick pat down and we climb the long ramp to board. We are on the ship less than 30 minutes after arriving at the parking lot.

We are told we can take our carry on luggage to the cabin even though they aren't officially open yet. Just can't remain in the cabin. I hope this is a new standard policy, it will make boarding day much nicer.

As aways the buffet is crowded. A slice of pizza is enough for lunch. A brief conversation with each of the children to let them know we are safely on board. We watch sailaway from the aft of deck 14. The skies are partly cloudy and the temperature in the upper 80's. There is only one other ship in Port Everglades today. I had forgotten that many of the ships are in Europe, Australia or Alaska during the summer months, returning to Florida in November for the winter season.

A set of music in the atrium before dinner in the main dining room. Prime rib, always a favorite was excellent. The service was prompt, proper, and efficient. Lynn was served an extra shrimp cocktail appetizer. Gluten free was a breeze and handled in stride. A nice window table provided a excellent view of the passing ocean 25 feet below.

No free cocktails on the first night. At about $15.00 per drink they just want us to be reminded how much the freebies are worth.

The main entertainment is "Take 3", a trio of classical musicians. A pianist, violin player, and cello player. The three gals, all under 30 have 14 musical degrees between them. Absolutely superb musicians. 

The seas are probably 3 or 4 feet. There is a slight rock to the ship, but most passengers are handling it just fine. The ship constantly creaks, like me, an indication of age. Tomorrow will be a sea day as we head to San Juan with a scheduled arrival late Monday afternoon.

The ship has been using star link since spring. My first impression is that overall speed is slow compared to previous service. But that can be heavily impacted by number of guests using the intenet and other factors controlled by Celebrity.

I have 90 minutes of internet for the 8 days. It took 19 of those minutes to download a handfull of emails. I will write my blog and post it when I get home or have cellular service in port.