May 22, 2024

May 19 - The Trip Home.

As usual I awake very early, more than an hour before the alarm is set to ring. I didn't sleep well despite a good dose of acetaminophen. My right shoulder and left arm are pretty sore.

We are leaving too early for the included free breakfast at the hotel, but the coffee is ready and Lynn is able to get some before we leave after finding the coffee in the room not very good.

When we step outside with our luggage at 6:50, 10 minutes before our cab is due, he is parked on the sidewalk waiting for us.

Sunday morning there is very little traffic and we make good time to the Rome Fiumicino "Leonardi da Vinci" Airport. The 30 or so check in counters for ITA airlines are already busy. There are two lines, divided by destination. Ours moves quickly. They take our bags and give us boarding passes.

The security checkpoint is next. Usually it takes me longer than other passengers because of my pacemaker. Here I am guickly processed. Lynn's carry bag not so much so.

Rejected by the person monitoring the luggage scanner the carry on is set aside for hand inspection. He finds nothing. Every item is then  removed and visually inspected, still nothing. All back in the bag and repeat the process. Again rejected, and again searched thru item by item. Nothing.

Now a conference between the two inspectors that usually don't communicate. It appears the scanner operator does not tell the second inspector what he sees that causes the luggage to be rejected. They each have their separate job, makes sense. Scanned for a third time. Finally he understands that it is a pair of scissors that the x-ray machine spotted. He finds them, they discuss them, and then he takes them to a supervisor. The blades are much shorter than the 4 inch limit.

Everything is returned and we are again on our way. Only a 15 or 29 minute delay. Just another reason why one must allow plenty of time.

We work our way through the terminal in search of the "E" gates. In the process our passports are checked at least 5 times. Gates are not assigned until about 45 minutes before boarding so we still have time to kill. A pastry for breakfast.

We check the weather, it is going to be hot in Miami, and possibly rain in Rome as we depart.

Our gate is posted, we head out on the moving walkway.

We find a seat awaiting boarding time. We make last checks for phone messages and e-mails. Lynn can't find her phone. She is positive she put it in her zippered purse. I am positive she did not leave it on the table where she had coffee. Not much time until we depart.

I wait at the boarding area, while she retraces her steps, and talks to security personel and airline employees.  No phone has been found. We must board the plane, can't risk missing our flight. 

As we are pulling back from the gate Lynn uses my phone to send a quick text to her son, an ATT management employee, apraising him that the phone is missing. 

In replaying everything that transpired since last using the phone, we both remember a tall slender man bumping into each of us on the moving walkway. The incidents stood out in our minds as the walkway was wide enough that he could have easily passed us without contact. 

Probably Lynn was a victim of a professional. Rome has a notorious reputation for pickpockets, one of the worst areas in the world.

Will they be able to unlock it? Is everything backed up? Will I ever see the pictures from the past 35 days of travel? Are there any passwords on my phone?  These are all questions that go thru Lynn's mind. The worst part? There is nothing that can be done now.

We depart on time, the flight is smooth, the A350 very comfortable in Premium Economy.

We are fed no less than 3 times, beverages are free for the asking. The usual choice of soft drinks, wine, juices or water. Most passengers in premium choose wine.

I had hoped to sleep during the 11 hour flight. It didn't happen. I listen to music on the provided headphones.

We arrive in Miami at the most 5 minutes late. 

The first message on my phone is from Jayson. "Who is this?" Of course he doesn't recognize my number, and the message we sent him could be a classic phishing scheme. Lynn calls him.

It takes about an hour to an hour and a half to retrieve our luggage, clear customs, and make our way to the car rental center. 

The rental car, a Ford SUV is functional but rattles and had a very high level of road noise.

Traffic is light on a Sunday night. We arrive in Clermont about 10:30 PM, roughly 22 hours after leaving our hotel in Rome. A very long day.

Lynn buys a new phone and everything from the trip is recovered. Passwords have been changed out of precaution. The thieves tried to access her American Express account but were unsuccessful. The phone was last used in Rome, not the airport, and has now been disabled. It is yet to be determined if the loss is covered by our travel insurance.

The laundry is done, and everything is ready for the next trip. At this point, a 15 day cruise to Greenland in September. In case you missed it in previous posts, pictures are posted on my facebook account: "Steve Raiford"

May 21, 2024

Visiting Rome

We booked a small group tour of the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel. With several hours until the tour departs, we walk from our hotel, stop for lunch, and meander our way. We still arrive early and find a comfortable seating area to wait.

Our group is about a dozen in size. The guide a very delightful and knowledgeable lady, We head towards the entrance and then it happens. A person walks in front of me and I have to step to the side to avoid him. In doing so my left foot lands on a discarded plastic top from a water bottle.

If you can imagine, this was slicker than an ice cube on a sheet of teflon. My feet went out from under me, and in a flash I was face down on the coblestone walkway.  Several tourist helped me back to my feet, another whipped a bandaid out of her purse and applied it to the inch long gash in my elbow.

It was too soon for any pain to set in, and off we went.  The paintings, sculpture, mosaics and even the buildings themselves were magnificent. Priceless artwork everywhere. 

As we continued on the tour, the shock was beginning to wear off and the tour guide recognized it. Probably she recognized it more than I did.  She sent us on different routes that avoided some long stairs and afforded me a brief rest while the rest of the group caught up with us. Whatever clued  her in, she was very aware and considerate.

The most interesting detour was using the narrow back stairway into the Sistine Chapel. Not really wide enough for two people. Only a single door at the top, and an outlet into the back of the chapel probably 50 steps down from where we started.

The Chapel was packed solid with people. Pictures were not allowed. Again some special treatment. Maybe it was the blood running down my arm and dripping from my fingertips but the Vatican guards told other guests to get up and give me a place to sit while I used more tissue to wipe up the blood.

We enjoyed the chapel for 15 or 20 minutes before our guide and group caught up with us.

Being in a special group, we were allowed to leave the chapel by a back exit. The guided part of our tour was over. We head to the exit.

By now the supply of tissues had run out. Several restaurants graciously gave us a handful of napkins when the situation was described to them.

Taxi back to our hotel, clean up my arm, and apply new bandages. Nothing feels broken and the cut looks pretty clean and probably well washed out with the bleeding. Blood thinners always make the slightest nick bleed profusely. 

Within a block of the hotel there were a number of local restaurants. The pasta was excellent, especially the sauce. The serving size was too large for me. Even better was the gelato which there is always room for.

The restaurant wasn't overly busy. A college student that I think studied there every night, and a handful of couples sipping beverages at tables along the street. We have a nice conversation with our server and enjoy being a tourist in Rome.

Saturday morning we are scheduled for "Best of Rome by Golf Cart Private Tour". We have the hotel call us a taxi to take us to the meeting place. $10 Euro including a generous tip.

Since we did not have an address, just the name of a plaza, finding the right spot was difficult. The three different locals we asked sent us down the street to where the tour buses stopped. The printed map sent to me by the tour operator showed a slightly different location. They were all wrong, but an empty parked golf cart was a clue.

Eventually we meet up with our guide and we enjoy a fantastic tour of Rome. From the Orange Garden overlooking the city to the Colosseum and dozens of sights in between it was an excellent tour. Our guide was a native of Rome, worked in the US for several years to improve his English, and studied Roman history at the college level in addition to over a year of study to become a licensed tour guide.

The golf cart was street legal, but he could also navigate alleyways that were too narrow for regular cars, and pathways that were restricted mostly to pedestrians. He was able to park in very small spaces that regular vehicles would have to pass by. We revisited some of the sights I visited 8 years ago, and many additional ones. It was a strange feeling to again stand in exactly the same spot as I did in 2016 overlooking Circus Maximus.

Three hours later the driver let  us off just outside one of the entrances to Vatican City, probably a mile or so from our hotel. We tried to get a taxi, but they seem to have conspired to want 45 or 50 Euros. We chose to walk. Slowly.

After a brief rest, we venture out for dinner. Do we go where we know the food and service is good or do we try something different? We chose the later. The food was OK, but the service horrible. We forgo dessert and return to the restaurant of the previous night for our gelato fix.

Our driver is scheduled to pick us up at 7:00 AM tomorrow morning. Just to make sure there is no confusion, I had confirmed with him to pick us up on the main street, not the back alley.

As we are packing for our flight home we discover another unique feature of our "guarded" hotel. They have placed a cell phone in the room with a note saying to use it during our stay. A nice touch I have never encountered before.

May 17 - Disembarkation & To Rome

The alarm is set for 6:00 to give us time to get to the Coastal Kitchen by 7:00 for a last breakfast. As often is the case we are awake long before the alarm.

By 6:15 or so they have started letting self assist passengers off the ship, well ahead of schedule. I have no idea how this port works, and we have a driver scheduled to pick us up at 9:45 to drive us to our hotel in Rome. I am ready to leave by 8:15. The wait for the wheelchair pusher is brief.

Usually they have a separate exit plan for the wheelchairs, not here. We are stuck in the middle of thousands of passengers trying to exit.  He takes us directly to our luggage, no magical line that ship personnel can't cross like in the US. We find our bags and head outside to look for our driver.

There is mass confusion. Dozens of busses, mostly headed to the airport or the train station in Rome. Taxis are scarce. Probably 75 Private drivers are lined up holding signs with the names of their fares. Some signs more legible than others.

By 9:30 we find our driver. He leads us to a 9 passenger van along with 8 passengers and 20 pieces of luggage.

It is a major puzzle, but somehow he manages to get everything loaded.  At one point he was so skeptical he called to try and get another driver, but none was available.

Some passengers sat with suitcases on their laps. At least everyone had a seat. I can guarantee the van was overloaded, not by passenger count but by weight. The suspension was fully compressed and we felt every bump in the road.

It was a little over an hour's drive from Civitavecchia to Rome. Traffic moved smoothly.

The Driver pulls into an alley and announces that this is our hotel. I see no sign with the hotel's name. Police armed with automatic rifles are standing on the right side of the alley just feet from where we stop. Yellow crime scene tape is draped all along the left side of the alley. I'm confused. This doesn't look like the pictures of the hotel I booked.  The driver insists we are at the right address.

Of course we are sitting in the third row and can't move without others getting out first. As the driver is unloading the suitcases, the police become very suspicious and move closer to the middle of the street. Probably unwisely, I approach them. 

They will only acknowledge a minimal understanding of English. I ask in several different ways, Is there a problem?  They say no. I was brought up to trust authority. Is this wise?

After booking, the hotel reached out to me several times and wanted to know what time we would arrive, what temperature I would like the room at, what kind of pillows I would like, any allergies, and a dozen other items that would be useful for them to make our stay most comfortable. Or were these questions just to make me less cautious?

I notice a 30 inch gap in the yellow tape. There is a small sign with the hotels name. I push the button. There are several easily spotted security cameras. The police are busy watching the others pile back into the van. I bet they are glad to be moving on, questioning the wisdom of two fellow passengers they just met.

The solid heavy metal door unlocks and we step inside.

Down about 15 steps and I spot the "reception desk". They are awaiting our arrival, it is confirmed that we are at the right place. A doorman retrieves our suitcases that I left at the top of the stairs. Check-in is completed in a few minutes, and we are shown to our room.

Very nice, mostly marble, with an outside patio. Exactly as presented. We have a ground floor room, and there is an elevator if we were assigned an upper floor. A rarity in much of Europe.

We settle in. Later this afternoon we have a tour of the Vatican museums and the Sistine Chapel. We study the map, and I decide to walk to the meeting place on the other side of Vatican City.

May 15, 16 - Sea Day & Naples

We cruise from Athens to Napoli or Naples, Italy at about 16 or 17 knots, an easy cruising speed for the Odyssey of The Seas. We arrive at about 6:00 AM Thursday.

My right knee is sore from all the walking over uneven surfaces. I decide it to be most prudent to cancel my scheduled tour to Pompeii and rest my knee. Even though my decision is past the normal cancellation period, Royal refunds most of the fee. Lynn will still do the tour without me.

These are quiet days on the ship. An opportunity to share some observations of the past 30 days. Tidbits that are unrelated except for occuring on the Odyssey over the past 5 weeks.

The current manifest of passengers, over 4400 strong comprises passengers from 86 countries. Passengers from the US, Canada and the UK top the list. Truly an international crowd. Announcements are now given in English, Spanish, Italian and ??

Despite Royal's claim that there are too many passengers for the Coastal Kitchen, we have never seen it full. Often by 9:00 PM, the latest seating time, the room is totally empty.

Our new cruise director, Ana, is fluent in several languages, very professional in appearance and presentation, but not as personable as most CDs.

Royal is making lots of errors at the detail level. For example the Pinnacle passengers are told that Chops opens for breakfast at 7:30, but the staff doesn't arrive until 8:00.

The descriptions of shore excursions have been lacking in accuracy and in some cases very misleading. I expect most of these issues are occuring at the corporate, not ship level. The first of these I wrote about previously. The shore excursion I cancelled, is described as being easy for the mobility impaired, and is over paved pathways for wheelchairs. The shore excursion manager says its nearly 2 miles of cobblestone path, and wheelchair guests must walk in some parts while the wheelchair must be folded and carried.  Certainly a difference in messages. 

Communications lack accuracy and consistency. Royal is pushing everyone to use their app, but the app is often wrong. I only follow a few things, but on several occasions the app listed a certain entertainment and it just wasn't true.

Just as I am writing this I get burned again by the app. The app says they are doing virtual fireworks in two70 at 11:30 AM.  I think great, as usually they are late at night after I am asleep. You know the rest. It just doesn't happen. The app is in error. Many other passengers read the same app, gathered in two70, then left as there was nothing.

A printed daily compass is getting harder and harder to find. They still print some, but they are getting as rare as hens teeth.

More significant errors for disembarkation. The paperwork for wheel chair assistance says meet in Giovanni's. The app doesn't say, and Ana on the recorded TV information channel, says you must call guest relations by 11AM the day before,  and then meet at the Schooner Bar at Disembarkation time. It turns out the paperwork is correct this time.

Passenger behavior is entirely different on each cruise. During the previous two cruises, The Dukes packed whatever venue they played in. This cruise there always are empty seats, sometimes many. Same musicians, same music, same venues, different 4000+ passengers.

On the southern Caribbean and Transatlantic cruises there were a number of passengers that had bought the drink package, yes they are often easy to spot. On the Greek Isles, package sales were almost non-esistant according to the bar staff.

One night I went into the buffet area and it was packed solid at dinner time. There always have been passengers that eat dinner in the buffet, but the percentage is much higher on this cruise.

Lobster, the meal of most conversation, is not being offered in the dining room at all except with an upcharge of $20. The lobster served in the coastal kitchen was a meager 3 ounces at most.

The menu for Europe has substantially changed. It used to be that the menu on every Royal ship was the same. No longer true.

Apple pie, one of my favorite topics, was removed from the menu years ago and replaced with a factory made apple tart. Improved over the years, but never as good as the fresh baked on the ship. A provisioning officer shared that it cost more to provide from shore than to bake it, but it was a desision made by Miami. It was still the factory pastry during the crossing, but now that we are in Europe we again have real apple pie. Probably too many chemicals in the factory one to be used in Europe.

No beef tenderloin on the Greek Isles cruise either. Offered multiple times on the transatlantic. Personally one of the best meal choices.

Balconies are cleaned every 3 or 4 days. Unfortunately they need to be. Just hours after being hosed down, everything is covered with a heavy layer of dust and light sand. A byproduct of the heavy pollution that has existed in the air since we left the Atlantic ocean.

Hiding of ducks has been a thing for a number of years. We brought about 40 with us to spread out over the three cruises.  A couple of days ago we thought it would be nice for the CK (Coastal Kitchen) manager and his assistant to give 4 ducks to the well behaved children that have dined at the same time as us on this leg. Well, I will just blame it on the language barrier. Neither of them could understand that we wanted them to pass them on to the kids. They thanked us and shared how them line them up in thier rooms. Plan foiled.

We try the ducks again a couple days later. This time we ask their waiter to give them the ducks. He is thrilled. Places the ducks on small plates and gives them to each of the children. I could not hear the words, but they were excited and the waiter had a blast doing it. Mission accomplished.

In Naples today the sky is sunny with temperatures in the low 80's. About 11 AM the MSC Divinia docks across from us on the next pier. There are many ferry boats here, I can't see how many other cruise ships.

All in all it has been a great 5 weeks. By far the majority of passengers behave well. There are few children, there rarely are on longer cruises during school time, and again those that are here are well behaved. The Royal employees as always are great.

My "return to" ports on this cruise? I would probably say Rhodes, and Mykonos. My least likely to return to Athens, and Santorini.

Lynn has just returned from her tour of Pompeii. Absolutely confirms that the walking is very difficult. Fabulous tour. Pictures - well that is another story. She lost her phone between the cabin and Pompeii. No pictures to share. Fortunately her phone was turned in to guest relations and it was recovered after a few hours of anxiety. Should I add that the phone is only about 6 months new, a gift from her son?

Time to pack. Headliner show tonight. In the morning we have reserved transportation to our hotel in Rome.

May 15, 2024

May 14 - Piraeus (Athens), Greece

The Athens port is quite large, the layout more typical. Leave the ship walk through a terminal building with a handful of shops and then on to the waiting tour bus.  I can see Holland America's Osterdamm nearby. I am not sure which other cruise ships are here today.

The standard process for most tours is to get your bus number sticker and wait as a group in the theater, then bus group by bus group be led to deck 2 to exit the ship, walk through the terminal, and eventually on to your bus.

I get our bus assignment and then head out 15 minutes before the others. Not only does this usually get us to the bus first, it avoids  the crowds, and  also prevents me from holding up the others as I do walk slower than most. At first some shore excurion staff had a problem with this, but have since become accustomed to my ways. 

The "photographer", actually company manager, that was with our tour in Rhodes is here.  He spends a lot of time talking with the other guides, I assume in Greek, but does not join our tour.

We see many of the same things that I saw years ago when I was here. The big difference was that this time  we walk up and over the hill and down into the city center instead of being driven by bus. It was a tough walk, but again the tour guides were very accomodating. The actual tour itself was not nearly as good as the one in Rhodes from the same tour operator.

As a side note it the same scaffolding surrounds the Acropolis as when I was here 7 or 8 years ago. Nothing has changed.

At the city center we were given a take out gyro sandwich at a local restaurant. More importantly this also gave us access to bathrooms in the basement.

No saganaki here, but I do grab a gelato. OK, but not as good as in Florence. The same shop also is selling pastries. They not only looked good, they were enormous. A glazed donut was probably 7 inches across and a inch and half thick. Too big for me.

Probably not much different than most major cities the city center area was quite dirty. We were warned several times of the proliferation of pick pockets, and there was an obvious police presence. 

In all the areas we rode through there were many vacant buildings. One did not get the impression that the economy was doing very well. On the plus side, the saharan dust that turned the air red two weeks ago was not a major issue. The air was much more polluted than we find in Florida, but most people could breathe without difficulty.

The headliner show tonight was the "Tap Factory". A combinations of tap dancing and percussion. Once they began, I realized I had seen them before, but I am clueless to say how long ago. Probably several years at least.

Across from us there are 5 tug boats waiting to assist if called upon. Further out at sea there are many commercial vessels awaiting either dock space or a load of cargo.

Tomorrow will be a sea day as we head to Naples, Italy our next port of call.

May 13 - Santorini, Greece

Santorini is a tender port. We are one of four major cruise ships visiting today. Being the largest we hold our position closer to the tender terminal for the stairs and cable car to Fira than the other ships.

Initially I had no plans for Santorini. With about 12,000 visitors the lines for the cable car up the hill to the city will be very long. Climbing the path with it's 800 or so steps is not even worth a mention.

Several days ago a shore excursion employee told me that the shuttle bus to do Fira on our own would drop us off at the city center, and that the area there was flat and easy walking. I booked it. What a mistake.

The bus did not let us off at the center of town, but a long ways out of town on the opposite side from the cable car. The walking was some of the worst I ever encountered, not cobblestones, but randomly round stones about the size of baseballs, but only half submerged in concrete. Foot stability was non existant.

There were several of us on the bus that had difficulty. The tour guide was very accomodating and after taking the rest of the group the rest to the top, led us to a local restaurant that would provide us refuge until it was time to return to the  bus. 

Of course I had to try the local saganaki. It was OK but not as good as in previous ports. The table overlooking the street was good for us in that we could watch the street activity, and good for the restaurant in that we made the restaurant look more busy. A win for everyone.

Santorini is well known for its charm. Personally I don't quite get it. Nearly everything must be imported including drinking water. There are grapes that grow here and several wineries bottle a local wine.  The grape vines grow only to a few inches above the ground, and get thier water from the morning dew. The economy is almost all tourism, and many of the workers must travel to the island daily to serve the tourists. Lots of stores, but nothing locally made.

With very little rain, everything is very dirty and dusty. Yes, I was  unimpressed.

The fair amount of polution in the air did result in a bright red sunset.

Tomorrow we head to Piraeus, (Athens) Greece. 

May 12 - Rhodes

Our arrival in Rhodes is unique. No terminal, no customs, no security barriers.

We step off the ship onto the dock. Our tour bus is 25 feet away.  For those passengers that so choose, a walk across the pier and you face one of the many ancient walls that surround the city. By far the closest I have ever seen a cruise ship dock relative to the destination of the passengers.

My kids really laughed when we booked these, but this is the first of our "selfie" excursions. It was great.  We not only had a driver but 2 guides and an photographer.  Those that wanted were loaned selfie sticks, I brought one so I could learn its functions at home.

We were taken to a number of photographic sites around Rhodes before entering into the city itself. The tour was easy paced, and all 4 of the escorts helped guests with the best places to take pictures and how to do it with or without the selfie stick.

Rhodes itself was fantastic, the only difficulty I encountered was that since we were there on a Sunday, no one would take credit cards as the banking system was closed.  The good side of this is that I am sure this cut down on the amount of traffic, both vehicle and foot, that we had to deal with.

The bus driver had flown in early this morning from Athens. One guide was originally from Chile, but has lived in Rhodes for probably 40 years. The other guide from Poland. All were very understandable in english and knew the history and sights very well. It turns out that the "photographer" is also the manager for the shore excursion tour company in all of the Med. He is really on a mission to see that the season is getting off to a good start. It was.

In the center of Rhodes we had saganaki, again.  Yes every time it was different, and so far the saganaki in Rhodes is the best.

By the time we were back on the ship we were too tired to go to the Coastal Kitchen for dinner and settled for a quick bite in the Windjammer.

Tomorrow we head to Santorini.

May 13, 2024

Day 7 Limassol, Cypres

We arrive on time turning and backing into the pier.  The water is shallow, indicated by the mud that is turned up by the props.

The air polution here is very high, described as dangerous for anyone with lung problems, and unhealthy for the rest of us. 20 seconds on the balcony and you could tell the air was bad for you. Masks are in order for the day. I did not expect this, but was prepared none the less.

Fortunately our tour isn't for several hours, and the air improves by the time we are to leave. Never stated, but maybe this is why we had a 10 AM arrival even though we could have easily been here at 5:00. As the morning progresses, on shore breezes help clear the pollution.

On the way to the waiting busses I observe a crane taking stuff to deck 15.  I stop to watch and in a few minutes the captain joins me and asks if they are doing everything correctly. I assure him that they are so far. He explains they are replacing a sheet of glass that is cracked.

On to our waiting bus. The marble floors of the terminal shine like mirrors. The busses are quickly loaded and we leave 15 minutes early. 

The scenery is lovely. Orange groves, grapes, avacodoes and other crops cover the countryside. Our tour guide is not great, but he is not bad. More noteworty is the passenger sitting about 3 rows behind us. She never stopped talking the entire day.

We visit several historical sites including aphrodite's,  birth site, the Kourion archeological site and Kolassi Castle. I think the bus driver was new, as we went around in circles several times. Our last stop was at the old city center where we had about an hour on our own.

Being such avid shoppers Lynn had a glass of local wine, I a diet Coke and we split an order of saganaki. Reasonably priced and delicious.

We often hear about this and this time we witnessed it. 2 passengers did not get back to the bus by the specified time. The driver waited 10 minutes, the guide went looking for them and then we left without them. Too bad, so sad.

Back at the terminal the line to reboard the ship is long and it takes probably 30 minutes to get thru security.

At boarding time the captain announces that the glass repairs did not go well, and we will be leaving about 2 hours later than planned, but will still arrive in Rhodes on time in the morning. I hope I did not jinx his plan.

Our entertainment for tonight was Claire Maidin. An excellent concert pianist and vocalist.  Coincidently her husband is a hotel director for Celebrity, currently on The Ascent.  Yes they met on a ship years ago. Currently her 12 year old daughter always travels with her. She already has 70 countries on her passport.

Tommorrow we will be in Rhodes.

May 11, 2024

May 10 - Day 6 - Sea Day

Leaving Ephesus we head generally south then will turn more easterly towards Limassol, Cypress. Our speed is a slow 8 to 10 knots.  Just too far to do overnight, so we do it at a slow pace over a day and a half.

As we turn more easterly, the winds have picked up to beaufort 7, the seas are probably 10 feet, but being on our bow they are not felt much on the ship. On deck it is very windy and on the balcony it is too windy despite the pleasant 72 degree weather.

Our cabin is on deck 12 this time. Day and night we periodically hear noises. Since the deck above us is also cabins, this surprises me as to the source.  

It turns out it is the games in the sports complex on deck 15. Most identifiable is the noise when the balls are released on the pool tables and drop to where they can be picked up and racked.  3 decks away and we hear it in our cabin. Not really disturbing, but loud enough that it gets your attention.

Speaking of the sports deck we chose to go to Playmakers for chicken wings instead of going to the luncheon with the captain and officers. Clearly demonstrated that Royal knows how to serve hot fresh food when it wants too. The wings and fries were excellent.

They were also very accomodating. As Lynn is gluten intollerant, not only were the wings without breading, they started with all new oil just for our order. Would they do that for any customer? I hope so. I hope it wasn't just because we are Pinnacle guests dining at the sports bar instead of with the officers.

There  is still trivia on this trip, but not nearly as many as often seen. I don't know where the passengers hang out all day, but mid day on a sea day, and the promenade is empty during the tee shirt sale. The pool is empty. The sports complex area has maybe 100 people, the pub 10 and at most 25 at the art auction.  Maybe the majority of passengers sleep all day.

The second attempt to hold the late night Effectors failed. This time it was some sets that jammed and wouldn't move into position. Several days ago the guidance system for the lasers that shine on the performers hands totally failed when it lost all calibration data. Data that took 48 hours to reconstruct.  Backup anyone?

As the day progresses the winds subside some. The skies remain lightly overcast, but so far no rain.

The headliner, Pete Matthews is an excellent juggler and comedian. The early show was probably 90% full, not 100% as most of the transatlantic early shows.

We have a "highlights and shopping" excursion in Limassol, Cypress tomorrow.

May 10, 2024

May 9 - Ephesus (Kusadasi)

There are three ships in port today, The Odyssey of The Seas, a Seabourne ship and a P&O ship. Ephesus will be crowded. The busses at the pier remind me of the 4 x 4 sliding puzzles we are all familiar with, but the bus puzzle is more like 6 x 6 as the busses are juggled around to load passengers.

The weather again is perfect, about 75 with partly sunny skies.

We are taking a panoramic tour which takes us to view a few of the most popular sights, but not explore them in depth.

The first stops are to the restored Basilica of St John which dates back to the 5th or 6th century. Nearby is the Isa Bay Mosque built in 1375, and the one remaining column of the temple of Diana. All of the other remains are in a museum in London.

We pass by the ancient city of Ephesus which was built under the Ottoman empire in the 6th century, and is one of the largest archeological sites. A tour of the site can take a full day or more, and crowds are large. The city was totally buried by an earthquake and rediscovered in the 1800's.

Our shopping opportunity, every tour has one, was at the Alladin Rug Factory.  The hand made turkish rugs were beautiful. Some of wool, some of cotton and wool, and some of silk. The smallest door mat sized ones started at $1,000. Delivered to your house of course. Larger ones were priced up to $50,000 and more.  With 10 rooms filled with rugs, everyone different, I would guess his inventory easily in excess of 100 million dollars. Yes, they made at least 2 sales that I witnessed.  In reality, if you were in the market for such a rug, you could easily save the cost of the cruise on the price of the rug if you bought it here as opposed to a showroom in the US.

The tour bus drops us off just outside the port so we must walk past another 50 shops before we can reach the ship. A standard tactic of many ports all around the world.

The passenger dynamics are entirely different on this cruise than the previous ones.  Several very obnoxious and drunk passengers by 5pm, but in general a much smaller percentage of passengers drinking in the lounges.

A couple in the coastal kitchen insisting that the wine be poured from the bottle in front of them at the table as they did not trust the server. Yes, they told him so.

Passengers getting on an occupied elevator and cancelling all the buttons so the elevator will go directly to the deck they want. This was a new one for me, as I didn't know you could cancel a floor once activated. You can guess how I learned this one.

On formal night I played the game of counting baseball caps and suits or tuxedos.  Ball caps won 5 to 1. I would have never anticipated this. Makes me happy I am at least dining in the Coastal Kitchen.

The grilled veal chop was excellent. After dinner several sets of The Dukes in Boleros. Again another contrast, there were seats available during all three sets.

The seas remain under 3 feet. For the next day and a half we will be cruising to Limassol, Cypress.

May 8 - Mykonos

Another near perfect day. Temperatures are in the low 70's. We could not find a tour that I was comfortable with the walking requirements, so we plan to go into town on our own. We could walk the mile or so, but the more fun way is to take the "Sea Bus" across the harbor. 

Our ship is docked at the only cruise terminal pier. A ferry boat is docked directly behind us, only feet from our stern. From our balcony it looks like we crashed. Just an illusion.

An MSC ship has the honor of being in the middle of the harbor and tendering passengers to the old pier. It makes sense that the larger ship gets the pier.

The Sea Bus makes a brief stop at the tender boat docks to pick up a few passengers and then to the old part of town.  Some of the buildings date back centuries. Everything is painted white and everything is immaculately clean. Repair and restoration is an ongoing process.

The flagstone streets are very narrow, and in some cases have less than five feet between the buildings. No cars to avoid here, just an occasional daredevil on a motor scooter. Called Little Venice, it is definitely a tourist destination.

We meander along, eventually reaching the old windmills. All in all a very picturesque area, and today very crowded.

Time for a break, baklava, coffee for Lynn and a diet Coke for me, what else. Yes it was as good as any I have had.  We find a slightly different maze of alleyways to wander back to the Sea Bus to get back to the ship.

The manager of the Coastal Kitchen is leaving the ship tomorrow for a few weeks off and then he is headed to the Utopia of The Seas. He did not request the Utopia and is not looking forward to the move, but being the good employee he is, he goes where he is asked.

Obviously well liked by many, most of his evening was spent saying goodbye to guests and fellow workers from the captain and head chef to a few guests that Miami doesn't even want dining in the Coastal Kitchen.

The band plays several jazz sets in Boleros this evening. This venue definitely has become my go to spot on this trip. The piano player in The Schooner Bar is just downright awful, and the acoustics in the music hall are such that they  make good musicians sound bad.

The seas are like glass as we head to our next port of call, Ephesus (Kusadasi), Turkey.

May 09, 2024

May 7 - Chania, Greece

We arrive in Chania on schedule at about 10:00 AM. There are about 40 bus loads of passengers taking shore excursions, Many of the remaining passengers line up to take a shuttle bus into the center of town. The line extends for a quarter of a mile in an out of the terminal and down the pier to the ship.

Fortunately our excursion to a winery doesn't leave until after noon.  We wait on the ship, and by the time we disembark, the pier is nearly empty.

The drive to the winery takes us through town up into the hills over very narrow roads. In some places I don't think there is room for a motorcycle in the opposite lane.

The winery is fairly young, maybe 15 years old. The grounds are beautiful, the wine and food was good. Not a large winery, the annual production is about 180,000 bottles.

Chania is also the home of a large NATO naval base. Today there are at least a dozen warships, the largest being an aircraft carrier.

The weather is perfect. Sunny, mid 70's, with a light breeze. One could not ask for it to be any better.  We pass on a repeat of a headliner we saw last week, just a little time in Boleros.

Tomorrow we are headed to Mykonos

May 07, 2024

May 6, A Sea Day

The day is quiet as we begin our trip towards the Greek Isles. Breakfast in Chops with a new staff, most in training by watching other servers serve us.

We attend the shore excursion presentation to learn a little more about the ports we will be visiting. This results in being unable to attend the top tier event. Rumor has it that there are about 75 Pinnacles on this trip. Still too many for me to be given access to the Coastal Kitchen and suites lounge, but I have known this for several days.

It has been years since I attended a port and shopping presentation. Years ago there would be a little useful port information like where the shops were and how to get there. No longer. It was 100% a sales pitch for the shops on the ship. Nothing about any ports or shops in any of the ports.

I vow to never make this mistake again.

After a brief lunch in the Windjammer, back to the cabin to check on excursion tickets. They have not been delivered so I head back to the Shore Excursion Desk. I see the same gal that I spoke with initially about the misinformation printed on the tickets.

She says they should be in my cabin, I confrim they are not so she prints me another set.  The basics are correct this time as to excursion name, port, and date.

Back in the cabin I read them more carefully. The tour descriptions are wrong. I just give up and choose to let it slide. I am sure someone will question 2 miles of walking for a wine tasting, but it is not my station.

Mid day we take on a pilot and pass thru the narrow passage at the tip of Italy.

The manager of the Coastal Kitchen had invited us to dine there several times during the last cruise, but I declined as everything in the dining room was good. Weighing the new staff, the new passenger dynamics, and the lower Pinnacle count, it is time to see if we can get reservations for dinner in the Coastal Kitchen for the remainder of this cruise. 

He is more than delighted to have us. As with everything else on the cruise, the opening time is later, so we make a reservation for 6:00 PM each night.

During the afternoon I catch up with Facebook and my blog writing. 

It is then time for dinner. While showering, the shower hose breaks. What can I say, stuff happens.

Dinner in the CK is excellent as expected. 

The staff was very happy to see us back in the Coastal Kitchen. They were about 50% full at most the entire hour and half that we were there.  Dinner was excellent.

There was a very interesting family sitting between our table and the window. A couple with 4 young children probably between 6 and 12.  The father spent every minute controlling the children and trying to tell them how to do everything.  First it was how to properly hold a wine glass and drink from it. Then it was placing your napkin, cutting your food, passing the butter and on and on and on. He did not stop for the  entire hour and half of dinner. The mother sat at the other end of the table and was totally ignored by all.  

Don't think for a moment this was an attentive dad. This was a showman making sure everyone else in the room knew how important he was. 

The biggest laugh came when the father started to eat his own pasta. (Ordered from the kids menu.). He stuffed it in his mouth like a pig with the spaghetti strands hanging 12 inches out of his mouth down to the plate.  I felt sorry for the rest of the family.

After dinner we enjoy music at Boleros, our goto watering hole.

Tomorrow we will be in Chania, our first port of call in the Greek Isles.

May 06, 2024

May 5 - Civitavecchia

As planned the ship approaches the port of Civitavecchia in the dark at 4:00 AM. Today is the end port of the transatlantic voyage. Lots of special events today.

The captain and cruise director will be leaving the ship. A few crew members will be leaving, but most that are at the end of thier contracts won't leave the ship until we reach Turkey, as the cost of flying home is so much less there.

We end a cruise, and start a new one. Changing cabins, closing accounts, all the stuff that is done at the end of a cruise and at the beginning of another.  Part of the process is dictated by local authorities, not the cruise line.

Luggage is packed with small items, hanging items are left in the closet, our cabin steward will move everything to our new cabin.

Passengers begin disembarking before 6:00 AM. There has been lots of news circulating that Italian train and bus and taxi transportation workers are going on strike this weekend. Many passengers are nervous about getting to thier next destination.

This time we are to gather in the sports complex on deck 15 between 8:00 and 9:30. We are scanned out of the system, our old cards collected. We are then given new cards and "in transit" cards. Our passports are checked by royal security, we are then logged back in using our new cards. All in all, a 5 minute process.

If we wish to get off the ship, the "in transit" cards will allow for expedited reboarding. Initially we were going to get off, but with the very long day yesterday, we elect to stay on board.

The consecutive cruisers lunch was as disorganized as the previous one. I have no idea of the numbers, but estimate there probably are 200 to 300 cruisers staying on for the Greek Isles.

Our new cabin is on deck 13, port side. Just to add to the opportunity for confusion, the cabin layout is reversed from the previous cabins on this voyage.

Our excursion tickets are in the cabin as expected. Fortunately I take a close look at them.  At least four are totally misprinted with the wrong dates and wrong ports listed on the ticket. The best one was two tickets for Pompeii. Two different dates, two different ports, but both for the same tour.

I take them to the shore excursions desk. Initially the gal is very defensive and tries to claim they are correct. Eventually she understood the problem, reprinted my tickets and tried to send me on my way.  A quick glance revealed these were still being printed incorrectly.

Off to find her supervisor, she eventually promises to have it fixed and will have new tickets sent to our cabin before morning.

As I requested we have been assigned the same table in the dining room. I expect we will have a different staff as they are usually assigned to different work areas each cruise.

Beverage service was close to non existant. the protocol here has been for the waiter or assistant  waiter to take our order, and a beverage server to bring it. somewhere that chain was broken. 

Dinner was good, but the environment changed substantially from the last cruise. Primarily the result of a very loud  demanding group of 20+ passengers that all insisted at being seated at one table.  An arrangement that wasn't made at booking time. Of course this resulted in total disruption of the small dining  room.

As always the blinds were drawn when the sun was shining brightly in everyone's eye's as the ship turned south. They requested the blinds be put up again as they were in the middle of the room and wanted to see out. I silently objected with a polite motion to the staff to lower them. They did. End of subject. Sometimes there is value to being a regular customer.

Now that the ship is in Europe for the summer there are some fundamental changes from what was normal in the Caribbean. Dining times in the main dining rooms have all been moved an hour later. The only welcome aboard show the first night is at 10:30. The amount of entertainment scheduled for the next 12 days is less than the amount normally schedued on a 7 day cruise. All announcements are made in at least 3 languages.

Some stability in routine is provided by "The Dukes" still playing in Boleros most evenings. Our choice for after dinner.

The seas remain very comfortable with under 3 foot waves. There are a few clouds and temperatures are expected to be in the upper 60's for the next day or so.

Tomorrow, a sea day,  we will pass around the toe of Italy as we head for Chania, crete, Greece.

May 3 at Sea , May 4, La Spezia

May 3rd is another uneventful sea day. The weather remains excellent, and I am happy to have a day of rest.

I am not sure I have mentioned this previously, but I have started posting pictures on Facebook. The commentary is very brief, but I post an image or two each day.  "Steve Raiford" is the correct spelling.

Our next stop will be La Spezia, Italy, our closest stop to Florence and Pisa.  We are essentially doing Florence on our own. The bus will take us to the edge of the city, drop us off, and then bring us back to the ship at a predetermined time. The bus drive from the port is about 2 hours, maybe more depending on the traffic.

Livorno is the cruise port used by most cruise lines, but for some unknown reason Royal has chosen La Spezia even though the 40 or 50 tour busses and tour guides all came from Livorno, about 2 hours away.

Our tour is scheduled for 7:45,  We are promptly loaded and leave on time.  The guide has been doing this for years and is very competent. We pass many italian marble factories along the way, as well as an ancient roman aqueduct that looked to be in excellent condition. As often is the case, I was too slow to get a picture.

The only vehicles that are allowed within the city of Florence are residents of the city, and a few cabs and special tour busses. Our bus and the hundreds of others that descend on the city must drop passengers off on the edge of the city.  It is about a 30 minute walk over very uneven sidewalks to get to the main square where we are to meet at the end of the day.

When I was here in 2016, the bus dropped us off much closer to the same square which also was our meeting place then.

The tour has arranged for an informational presentation at a local leather factory and store.  The products were of excellent quality. Lynn had already planned to buy a new handbag, and will loook on the way back.  Not that they have a high markup, but we automatically receive a 40% discount for being on the tour.  A bigger benefit is that they had very clean restrooms.

Our next stop was for gelato, a must in Italy. We then wandered the city to see many of the popular sights. The crowds were unimaginable. As busy as Disney on New Years eve.  Most streets were packed with tourists from building to building.  The few taxis that dared tried to navigate the streets has a very difficult time and moved at a snails pace.

There are many places to dine. Some of the popular ones like the shop that makes panini sandwiches had lines that stretched for blocks.

We found a local place with inside seating that served pizza and salad.  The pizza was excellent, the service very good. 1 waitress took care of all the tables. Not becuse they were cheap on help, but because the building was not wide enough for 2 people to pass in the narrow room.

After enough sightseeing we headed back to the leather shop.  Long story short, no purchases.  The color wasn't right.

I walk slow, I have all my life and now maybe even a little more so. Four of us head bck to the bus early. The other couple walk slower than I, and we get to the bus pickup point just as the rest of the group gets there. Leaving 15 or 20 minutes before the others was wise.

We board the bus in the middle of the street as there was no place for him to park.

The bus arrives back at the ship a few minutes before boarding time along with about a dozen other busses. At least one bus is 45 minutes late, and yes the captain waits for them.  We are late for dinner, but so are hundreds of other passengers. The dining room is very accomodating.

Our next port is Civitavechia, often called Rome as it is the closest port to Rome. Much as Port Canaveral in Florida is often referred to as the "Orlando Port".

We are  cruising at over 20 knots as the captain wants to get into port as early as possible as it is a very busy port.

We will change cabins again tomorrow, this time moving from deck 11 to deck 12 and from the starboard side of the ship to the port side. Certainly an opportunity for confusion.

May 03, 2024

Thur May 2 - Cartagena, Spain

What a difference a day makes. The skies are sunny, temperatures about 70, the winds are gentle, and our tour guide is deligtful, knowledgeable, and competent. 

A guick breakfast in Chops and then off to  the theater to get our bus stickers. Again I sneak out early so I can get to the bus on time.  The tour description says there will be only 100 yards of walking over mostly even surfaces. I always heed such descriptions as I recognize limitations on my walking ability.

Our tour first takes us around different areas of the "old" and "new" city. Next we head to the city center area. Within the past few decades they discovered a roman theater that had been built over by residential housing over the centuries. During WWII a bomb shelter was dug into the theater, but still no one had a clue that the historic theater existed.  Today much of it has been uncovered and a museum built to allow easy, but controlled access.

The city center was nearly vacant when we arrived at 9:30. By 10:00 when all the shops and businesses opened it was very crowded, mainly by tourists from the ship. By the time we returned to the bus after touring the roman theater I had logged over a mile and a half. So much for the 100 yards in the tour description.

A few miles out of town had been a large mining area for many years. It was closed when Spain joined the EU. A condition of joining as the mines were dumping millions of gallons of toxic waste into the med.  The landscape reminded me of Arizona.

The next stop was a small lighthouse. Much difference in appearance than most lighthouses in North America.

As we head back towards the ship at the conclusion of the tour, the road is blocked by a military ceremony and parade. Neither the driver or the guide knew of this.  Fortunately the passengers heading back into town could walk from where we were stopped, and we were soon able to turn towards the pier.

Prime rib was my choice for dinner. The baked potato was very good, but the rib was tough. No dessert tonight.

The theater entertainment was 3 male tenors from the UK. Excellent voices.

The weather was perfect today. Many crew were able to get off for a few hours, if for nothing else a few hours of fresh air and sunshine.

The next day will be a sea day as we head to La Spezia, Italy our next port. 

For those of you that may be interested, I also have started posting images of my travels to my face book  "Steve Raiford".

Wen. May 1 - Malaga, Spain

We arrive in Malaga and the ship is cleared by 8:45. We have our first scheduled excursion today. "Malaga City Sights". Our meeting time is 9:00 AM in the theater, the tour should leave by about 9:30.

It is a long walk down ramps and back and forth across the terminal so I leave 15 minutes before our group is called so I will not be the last passenger holding up the bus. The strategy works well, I arrive at the bus just as the first of the rest of the passengers.

At the moment there is a heavy mist in the air, I really can't call it a rain, but it is enough that the spots collect on my glasses. The forecast for the day is showers in the morning with clearing skies by afternoon. Temperatures are expected to reach a high of 60, and the wind is to increase all day to about 35 mph by the time the clouds clear.

Our bus is full, and leaves on time. By the time we reach our first stop the rain is coming down steady enough to get wet. It is a long walk back down the hill to an overview of the city. I elect to stay at the top by the fort for a more restricted view.

I'll try and be kind, but I must say this is one of the worst tours I have ever been on. The seats had a molded back, but only wide enough for a youngster. The parts that should wrap around at your sides pressed firmly on each side of my back. The roof AC which cooled the passenger area had a very loud high pitched bearing squeel the entire trip.

The worst part was the guide. She lacked knowledge, stuck the microphone in her mouth, and had the volume so loud that everything she said broke up and was unintelligible.  Despite several passengers trying to help her, she made no attempt.  The tour was supposed to be in English, but at best less than 10% of the words were. I have hever gone to the shore excursion desk after a tour, this will be a first.

By the time the bus returned to the ship, the skies had cleared and the sun came out. The winds never materialized, making the weather very pleasant for the rest of the day.

Lunch on the ship on port days is rather limited. The dining room and some of the normal venues aren't open.  We settle on a burger at the Pub.  Excellent choice. Not only was the burger hot and tasty, it came with hot fries. Something they don't know how to do on most of the ship.

There are several ferry boats moored nearby. They regularly cross to Africa. There also are severl megayachts. One, the Golden Odyssey. has a checkered history of Arab Sheiks, bank seizeure, and unknown bahamiam ownership.

Since it is a national holiday, no stores, bars, or restaurants are open and nothing is operating except tour busses.

At dinner everyone chose the steak diane. It was excellent. I run into the head of the Coastal Kitchen, and we chat for a few minutes. He was scheduled to disembark Saturday for the start of his few days of vacation, now Royal won't let him leave until part way thru the next cruise. He was an unhappy man last week, and now he is more so.

The ship was boarded  by some unexpected guests this morning just as we docked. Officials from the Bahamas, the country of registry for this ship dropped in to make an unscheduled surprise inspection. I had never heard of this before, but it makes sense.

Many crew had thier precious hours of shore time cancelled to correct deficiencies.

I'm not sure if I noted this earlier, but the captain also related that the passenger and the crew member that were taken off the ship in Bernuda had both safely been transported back to the US.

There were three choices for entertainment this evening, but the scheduling only permitted attending one.  Five singers from the cast performing a selection of songs. Not a normal scheduled performance for them, but a one off because of the length of the cruise.  The Book is showing again in the Two70. The third option is to listen to Bruno, the international ambassador, play in the Schooner Bar.  We choose Bruno as his concert piano skills are excellent.

He plays to a full house including the captain and his family that boarded the ship today, and several other ship's officers. Bruno does not disappoint.

With the 6 hours we have moved our clocks ahead and our change in latitude, the sun does not set until nearly 9:30.

Our next port is Cartagena, Spain with an expected arrival at 8:00 AM. The seas remain slight.

May 01, 2024

Days 9 and 10 - 2 Sea Days

We leave Ponta Delgada and continue to the east towards Malaga.  I say days 9 and 10 because that is what the cruise line calls them. In reality it is days 17 and 18 for us as we spent 8 days going to Aruba and Curacao first before heading out across the Atlantic.

The days are mostly sunny with temperatures in the low to mid 60's. the pool deck is pretty empty, but the solarium is packed. The seas have been slight, under 2 meters. The journey has been very smooth. 

The daytime activities remain the same. Really not much. Trivia, games, spanish and italian language lessons. If you are not content doing almost nothing, long stretches across the ocean may not be for you.

I'm not sure if this is good or not, but I visited the scale in the gym and made an unusual observation. Over a period of about a minute just standing very still on the scale, the reading would vary by 10 to 12 pounds.  I did not observe this the other day, and am now curious did I take my weight on a low cycle? Time will tell.

Without tearing the scale apart, my best guess that this is caused by the slow pitch and roll of the ship. Not so much motion that as a passenger we are even aware of it, but enough that the counterbalance in the acale is thrown off center. No choice but to make all future visits to the scale while we are in port and there is no ship motion.

On Tuesday I accomplished a first for me. As treasurer of the model train club, at the end of the month I needed to generate the financial reports and distribute them to all the members, and also send out dues reminders as appropriate. I am happy to write, all was carried out without a hitch. World wide internet is great. Here specifically as a result of the Starlink network.

The four "kids" returned to the dining room last night. Oh so interesting. One of them started to behave inappropriately, the mother had a few gentle but firm words, and we never heard from the children again for the rest of the evening. No question who runs that household.

Royal recently switched back to supporting the make a wish foundation.  For the month of April Odyssey raised nearly $36,000.00. The most of any ship in the fleet. Jamie, our cruise director, is now bald as a result of a friendly bet.

Boleros, The Pub,  and all the entertainment venues remained packed every evening. Just the way it is with so many passengers. Unlike on many cruises, the Royal Lounge is also full all day.  There are so many Crown and Anchor passengers trying to get coffee in the lounge that Royal set up 2 additional coffee stations around the ship to help aleviate the crowd.

We will pass thru the straights of Gilbralta about 1:30 in the morning. I won't be up, but I imagine some passengers will want to try and take a peek. Our arrival time in Malaga is estimated to be about 8:00 AM with clearance by 8:30 on Wednesday, May 1, 2024.

April 29, 2024

Day 8 - Ponta Delgada

With all the diversions we have had in the past week, we arrive in Ponta Delgada only 15 minutes lates. Local authorites quickly clear the ship and passengers begin to disembark.

The weather is great, partly sunny with skies expected to further clear thru the day. The temperature as we disembark is in the high 60's, definetly jacket weather for a Floridian.

We do not have an excursion here and have elected to just walk the water front and local shops near the port.

We spotted a local shop with lots of chocolate choices and decided to pick up a few on the way back to the ship.

The dock itself is quite old, but the small stone walkways are in good condition. Many crabs are spotted on the rocks, several locals are swimming in the harbor. Fishing boats, whale watching boats and rental houseboats occupy many slips in the harbor.

Many small shops, restaurants, and bars stretch out along the harbor. On the other side of the street there are many high rise buildings which appear to be condos, scattered among some structures that date back 300 years. None of the pushy salespeople like in much of the Caribbean.

With a local population of about 60,000, the 4000 passengers form the ship definitely have an impact on the city for the day.

Headed back to the ship, we do not go past the chocolate store. Our loss.

Back on the ship, it is very quiet in the afternoon. Our dining table mates have an excursion that will not get them back to the ship until 6:30, too late for their 5:00 pm dinner.

The "kids" are absent again tonight raising speculation if they will return to the dining room at all. 

At 7:00 PM we set sail for Malaga, Spain. Two sea days way.  Everyone returned to the ship on time. A good sign.

Tonights entertainment is provided in the context of a talent show for crew members.  Many crew members have auditioned for inclusion and are competing for a first prize of a new IPad.

Simply put, most of them are better than the paid performers. Two native dance groups, two solo singers, a concert pianist and a magician.

The magician won with a mind boggling card trick that had everyone scratching thier heads as to how he did it.

Yes the captain sang also, but not as a competitor.

The head waiter has been working on his phone problem. Someone has given him a phone and he hopes while he is in Italy next week he can get the needed sim card.

The next two days will be sea days. The weather is cool but otherwise great. The seas are expected to remain under 2 meters, or 6 feet.

April 27 - Last Sea Day in this stretch.

At one point the seas were 12 to 15 feet, but have now subsided back to 6 feet or less. the rolling of the ship is negligible in these seas.

The skies vary from bright sun to overcast, but there is no rain.  We continue to be in a high pressure area with the storms hundreds of miles behind us. The air temperature is expected to reach a high of 64 today which will keep nearly everyone off the pool deck.

I am not sure that I mentioned this earlier, but I have started using Facebook, not so much for a narrative of my journey, but a place to easily post images.  If you care, you can find me at "Steve Raiford".

Possible one of the worst things that can happen to a crew member happened to our head waiter last night. He accidently dropped his phone, the screen smashed, and his phone is totally non-functional.  No repair facilities on the ship, and we don't stay in any port long enough to facilitate a repair.

Other crew members have let him use thier phones, but unfortunately he doesn't remember the phone numbers of many of his relatives that he kept in touch with back in the Phillipines. He is very sad and frustrated.

Gary Lovini, a violin and fiddle player that did a production show in the theater, is doing a matinee show today. We pass. Interestingly he is from England, he built his career there, but now resides in Celebration, Fl.

The only entertainment in the theater tonight is a 2 hour movie. Jumangi. Probably 20 years old. I remember the name, but not the movie.  It is something to do that keeps me out of the Schooner bar.

Tomorrow we will be in Ponta Delgada in the Azores, our first scheduled port since leaving Florida last Sunday. Many transatlantic cruise stop at one of the islands here just to break up the trip. I only have heard a few passengers complaining about being away from land, hopefully they will soon feel better.

Every venue is packed most of the time. Even though we are sailing at 75% of capacity there are not enough seats for everyone seeking one whether it is the Two70, the main theater, the Schoooner bar, The pub, the Solarium, or Boleros.

April 27, 2024

April 25, 26 - Sea Days

This is getting a little tiring. Again at 2:00 or 3:00 am, depending whether or not you had just turned your clock ahead an hour, the ship slowed and made a sharp turn. Thankfully we are NOT headed back to Bermuda.  This time a saiboat was signaling SOS by flashing all of its running lights. When we approached, they said nothing was wrong and they needed no help.  This is the second cruise I have been on where this has happened, sailors in small boats thinking it is funny to send a false SOS. Yes society is out of control.

The seas remain relatively calm, under 5 feet, the skies vary from overcast to full sun.  The temperatures remain in the mid 60's for the most part, keeping most passengers off the main pool deck, but packing the enclosed solarium.

The dining room food and service continues to be good. The other night though we did have a total disruption by 4 children sitting on the other side of the room. Usually the table is occupied by 2 adults, assumed to be mom and dad, and 4 children probably in age from 5 to 9.  The youngest 2 may even be twins. Previously always well behaved. If you didn't see them you wouldn't even know they were there.

Last night it was just dad and the 4 children, no mom present.  There were sword fights with the table knives. Sling shots made with the rubberband holders from the menues. Food thrown across the table, kids running around screaming and the dad just sitting there basically ignoring them. The staff tried the usual ploys of quickly giving them food, but that just became more ammunition.

I don't know if the staff spoke to him, or the dad was too embarassed to return, but the following night the table was empty. The rest of the guests did not miss them.

It was just before this incident that I asked if we could have the same table for the next leg of the cruise. I hope that wasn't a mistake.

Many cruiseships have bar tenders that can juggle glasses, drinks, and bottles. Here we have two that no only do these antics as they work, but put on a demonstration for the guests in the promenade.  Their juggling skills are definitely on par with the professional juggler headliner in the theater. A little later in the cruise various volunteers from the crew will put on a show for the guests in the theater.

The demonstation of the technology in 270 has been updated, and  they are showing how the video segment was filmed live for presentation of the robot controlled display screens.

Tomorrow is our last day at sea before the Azores. We are cruising between 20 and 22 knots, and the captain is still confident we will reach Ponta Delgada on time or a few minutes early.

Yesterday I did a first. I made a phone call from the middle of the ocean.  So simple today, just set your phone to make calls over WiFi and dial the number. Since I was calling a US number, there are no additional call fees incurred with my cell provider, T-Mobile. So much different than when I first started writing this blog years ago. Emails were slow and sporadic at best.

April 26, 2024

April 24 crossing the Atlantic

Usually my ramblings begin midmorning or breakfast time at the earliest.  Today I must start shortly after midnight.  There is the first Alpha call heard throughout the ship.  Alpha is the code word for medical emergency on Royal and most other cruise ships. No details, there seldom are. 

At 3:00 AM the ships speed changes, and we make a sharp turn. Shortly it is announced we are headed back to Bermuda.

This time it is a passenger needing hospital attention. The process will be different. The parties will be loaded into a lifeboat and transferred to shore.  The operation is completed by about 8:00 AM and again we resume our course to the Azores.

The ship is now travelling in excess of 21 knots, very near the top speed for the vessel. The captain is still confident we will arrive on time.

By mid day the seas have grown to 12 to 15 feet. The stabilizers are out, and the ship is rolling about +/- 2 degrees as the waves are directly on the the side of the ship. The worst direction for a smooth ride.

It appears there was a last minute substitution for the presenters of the enrichment program. They have advertised one person, but another has been giving talks.  Public speaking is definitely not in the tool box of the presenter.

A murder mystery movie in the theater turns out to be a good choice for the afternoon.

Yesterday I noticed my account was blocked from making any reservations. I have been thinking about "The Book", but haven't booked it yet. Most likely I won't. But I digress.  Even the usual of logging out and logging back in wouldn't fix my blocked account.  Guest relations wasn't busy, and they were able to quickly fix the problem.

Speaking of "the system" we had received several notices on our door from security and houskeeping about leaving our scooter in the hallway. A definite safety hazard as the hallways are barely wide enough for two passing people.  The problem with this is that we don't have a scooter, but the system says we did.  Turns out the scotter belongs with a cabin several doors down the hall.  Our cabin steward was able to rectify it. We stopped getting messages, and the scooter wasn't being left in the hall any more.

The entertainer tonight was Kevin Johnson a ventriloquist. A delightful show. I had seen him several years ago, and without a doubt he is probably the most entertaining ventriloquist I have ever seen.

By the end of the day the seas are beginnning to subside some. The skies are partly cloudy with no rain forecast. Hopefully tonight we can continue on our course without any further emergencies.

I you are believer in the myths of the Bermuda Triangle, maybe that is why we had to stop in St. George's twice.

April 24, 2024

Tuesday April 23

It has rained during the night, the decks are wet, the skies heaviliy overcast with an occasional shower. The forecast is for clearing skies as the day progresses. the temperatures are in the low 70's.

Lunch is the special roast beef sandwich at 360 Cafe. 

At about 2:00 PM the captain interupts the afternnoon with an unexpected announcement. We are changing course and heading to Hamilton or St George's, Bermuda to disembark a crew member that needs immediate hospital care.  He will be accompanied by medical staff to the hospital. There are no helicopters available to make the transfer so this is the only option. 

The captain expects to stop the ship outside the harbor, to be met by local officials to complete the transfer. We will then wait for the ships medical staff to be returned to the ship.

Our arrival in Bermuda is expected about 7:00 PM and the whole process should take about three hours resulting in us being on our way by about 10 PM.  So far we have been fortunate, and there have been no other medical emergencies that we are aware of.

Today was  the top tier event, split into two sessions as there were too many participants to fit in the theater.  There are 176 Pinnacles, 595 diamond plus, and 860 diamond passengers. About 10 passengers are becoming Pinnacle on this voyage, the most I have ever seen at one time. The top cruiser has nearly 4000 points.

Dinner is excellent, Jamaican Chicken, rice, beans and plantains. Our table mates join us for the first time, Roxanne and Kent from Houston. They dined at Chops and Giovanni's the first nights.

The headliner entertainer is a repeat from last week. Tony Tillman does an excellent show played to a packed house. Immediately following his show it is off to the other end of the ship to listen to the Symphony Orchestra. A virtual orchestra I must add, but good none the less.

Our stop in St George's is shorter than anticipated, and we were back on our way about 9:00 pm, again headed to the Azores.

With a change in wind direction, the seas have grown to 10 or 12 feet, and there is a gentle roll to the ship.  The skies are almost clear and the near full moon is bright, reflecting over the ocean. The captain says he will have no difficulty making up for the lost time.

April 23, 2024

Monday April 22 - At Sea

The weather is ideal. High 70's. The seas are following at less than 5 feet. Motion of the ship is negligible. In reality it takes pretty rough seas before ships of this size begin to roll or pitch.

Breakfast in Chops since many Pinnacle members  are barred from the Coastal Kitchen for this cruise because there are too many of us. Overhearing instructions to the crew yesterday, there are about 4000 passengers on board, about three quarters of capacity, and about 175 Pinnacle passengers, 3 1/2 times the  number last week.

Chops does not normally serve breakfast, and staff is pulled from many different areas for breakfast service. I don't want to say non functional as a team, but they need some practice. Or looking at it the other way, for the first day for the crew dong this, they manage.  I expect it will get better after a few days.

I can really tell the difference in the manifest of passengers. Pool chairs are not occupied by ghosts, and there is plenty of pool deck seating. The dance floors quickly fill with adults dancing, not chidren running around. Manhattans and old fashions seem to be the most popular drinks instead of a pretty concoction of many flavors, or bottles of beer.

The Royal Lounge instead of being empty all day is nearly full, mainly with groups of passengers playing cards or talking on cell phones with people back home.

Again we have our table to ourselves. I have no clue as to where the others assigned to table 6 are dining. Maybe in one of the specialty restaurants, or possibly one of the fortunate dining in Coastal Kitchen.  I do not say that disparagingly as the selection in the dining room is much larger, the portions much smaller which is more in alignment with how much I eat, and the service good, only slightly below what the Coastal Kitchen offers.

After dinner an hour or so in Bolero's and then to the main theater for the "Effectors". We get an excellent seat, center stage about 5 rows back. The theater is packed by showtime. Obviously the word spread quickly that this is a good show.

At bedtime the skies are mostly clear, the moon is near full reflecting off the ocean. Showers are expected later in the night.

April 22, 2024

April 21 - Reprovisioning

Technically today is the end of one cruise and the start of the next. As a passenger having combined 3 cruises into one, it is just another day.

Just to be sure, the alarm is set for 7. Totally unneeded as we are up long before then.  The ship is tied up before 6:00 and by 6:45 passengers are beginning to disembark.  We have breakfast in the 270 lounge as that is where all the back to back passengers are to meet by 9:30.  We get special treatment to be processed by customs.  There are about 60 of us, 40 of which are Pinnacle members.

As we gather we are given special tags identifying us as "consecutive cruisers" We are given new sea pass cards in an envelope, but given very strict instructions not to open them until we are asked for them as we reboard the ship.

At the last minute I accept wheelchair assistance. It is probably nearly a mile nonstop walk to get off and back on.  We leave the ship, scanning our cards for the last time. The ship has to get to a zero passenger count before any new passengers are allowed on board. The crew member can go no further, and I am handed off to a shoreside worker despite the crew member being told earlier not to leave me. There is confusion and discussion among all the parties. I just sit there silently and play dumb. (An easy task.) This is not the place to raise questions.

Once settled that the crew member would wait for my return to the transfer point, I proceed to customs. Facial recognition works flawlessly. We wait for the magical zero. The wait is short, and we start back to the ship.

First step is to read our new cards. They are not activated to allow our boarding.  With 60 people people behind me they let us on anyway, but ask that we go to guest services when you get aboard and have them fix the problem.

Probably 20 of the 60 cards didn't work. The one staff member at guest relations is initially overwhelmed as he couldn't figure out why any replacement cards he made wouldn't work either.  Eventually after a conference huddle the cause was found and they were able to make new cards for those that needed them.

The perk for doing a back to back, as the cruise line calls them,  is lunch in the dining room. The only problem, I don't think anyone in the dining room knew about this, well at least not the people near the entrance. They just kept telling everyone that the lunch was just for "Key" members.  Eventually solved when we just went in the dining room and spotted several waiters ready for guests and none present. They were eager for our arrival. Less than half the back to back passengers attended.

After lunch we go to see our new cabin. Basically in the same section of the ship but 2 decks higher with a very large balcony. A result of the cabin being located on a corner. A few minutes to put everything away. 

Many pallets of provisions are being loaded into the hold. Supplies for 4,000 passengers and about 2,000 crew members for 2 weeks plus extra just in case of an emergency.

As a Pinnacle member I get extra amenities. The only thing I possibly could use is soft drinks, 18 cans  are waiting on the counter.

A stroll to the Solarium finds it closed for a private function. They are setting it up for a welcome aboard reception for Crown and Anchor members. We will come back on our way to dinner at 5:00.

At 4:30 the Solarium is already packed. The majority of the passengers are here. Royal did a nice job of having appetizers for the guests. Drinks were the usual Champagne, wine, mimossa, or fruit juice. If you want anything elese, it is on your dime.

All of the officers and many of the upper staff are on hand to greet the passengers.

By 5:00 we are on our way into the dining room. Our assigned table is table 6 in a small dining area adjacent to the main dining room. Smaller and much more quiet, our table is by one of the few windows.

Despite numerous attempts, the staff is unable to close the shades half way. They either go all the way up, blinding many guests with the afternoon sun, or all the way down blocking the view. Only resolved after we leave port and the ship turns so the sun is no longer an issue.

There is the usual disorganization of the first night. It is obvious the staff has been warned of the many Pinnacle passengers that have been delegated to the dining room. I have fried chicken, corn on the cob, and mashed potatoes. It was excellent. 

The first nights show is a comedian. The biggest joke is that not more people walked out before he finished. To say he was not very good would be and understatement.

The seas are slight, the skies clear and we are on our way to the Azores. Six days away at 20 knots. I am sending my children, and therefore grandchildren, our polar coordinates every day so they can look up on a globe exactly where I am located. A basic lesson in map reading. Good training for future cruisers.

April 20 - CoCo Cay

We share the pier with The Freedom of The Seas. Passengers begin heading to the beaches before 8:00 AM. The weather is absolutely perfect making the slogan accurate, a perfect day at CoCo Cay. The seas are flat, temperatures in the upper 70's, winds very slight.

The helium ballon rises up and down all day long. The zip line is busy, and the youngest kids are having a ball in the water park. Royal has increased the number of shuttle trams and greatly increased the staff to assist passengers with directions.

We take a ride around the island, take a few pictures and head back to the ship. I should say a nearly deserted ship as most passengers have gone ashore.

Tonight we have our last meal in Coastal Kitchen. there are so many Pinnacle passengers on the next voyage that all of us can not be accomodated. Honestly I am looking forward to a change. The service and food presentation is very good in the CK, but the menu is limited when compared to the main dining room. The final show for this leg is a comedian. Again good entertainment.

It has been many years since I had to change cabins mid voyage. Every ship and every port may be different.

We need to pack everything except hanging clothes by 9:00 AM. Our room steward will then move everything to our new cabin while we are dealing with customs and immigration procedures. We complete the majority of packing before retiring for the evening.

The voyage to Port Everglades is relatively short, and we cruise at a little over 10 knots. A number of other ships are on the same course.