Yesterday we flew from Portland to Ft. Lauderdale. We got up at 4 am PST for a 6:45 am flight and arrived at out hotel at 6:30 pm EST. We had a free Frequent Flyer flight on Southwest which involved 2 stops before we got to Ft. Lauderdale. Last month we flew to New York non-stop on Continental and even though Southwest had more stops (2) and hassles, ultimately it was a more comfortable flight than Continental. My back started hurting the minute I sat down on Continental. The Southwest seats were slightly wider and had lumbar support. To entertain ourselves we brought our laptop computer and some DVDs (Harvey and Shattered Glass) and that really helped to pass the time.
We had chosen to stay at the Sleep Inn & Suites, Ft. Lauderdale International Airport . We were able to use Choice Privileges points for a free night. (This is an excellent reward program. We also converted some Choice Privileges points to Southwest in order to get More
our free flights.) The Sleep Inn had a free shuttle which picked us up at the airport within about 15 minutes after we called. The hotel is very attractive and our room is quite comfortable - looks a bit like some of the new Holiday Inn Expresses we have seen in our frequent activity of me dragging Mary to look at hotels. Free high-speed internet is included (thus this post). I had to give them a $5 deposit for a cable. The wireless up in the room is completely useless.
We ordered dinner from Hunan Wok, a Chinese restaurant across the street, and they delivered it to us in less than 15 minutes. It was inexpensive and good. Mary said her chicken egg food young was the best she'd ever had. I don't know if it really was or if things just taste better when you're as exhausted as we were. I ordered something called Triple Delight which was prawns, chicken, beef, and vegetables and it was quite good also. There is also an Italian restaurant within walking distance.
After a night's sleep (we went to bed at 10 pm quite easily even though that was only 7 pm in Portland) we can report that the bed and pillows were quite comfortable. Mary woke up this morning at 5 am and went down to the lobby to read. She says the chairs down there were very comfortable also. When I woke up, there was a Miami Herald outside our door and they had a free breakfast downstairs. Though there wasn't really anything I wanted at the buffet, it included waffles, pancakes, biscuits and gravy, oatmeal, cold cereal in cute little boxes, sweet rolls, toast, bagels, apples, and three juices (two sugary tropical drinks and orange juice.) Mary reports that the gravy was good but lukewarm; the oatmeal was good. I went to Walgreen's (which is very conveniently located across the parking lot) and bought myself some apple juice.
It is hot and humid here. I think it's kind of neat - Mary not so much.
My three complaints about the Sleep Inn:
1. the windows don't open - I don't like having to sleep all night with the air conditioner on.
2. there was some construction nearby and when I was falling asleep I kept hearing a beeping noise that sounded like a truck backing up (Mary couldn't hear it and wished I would stop waking her up.) There's a slight possibility that the beeping noise was my laptop battery dying.
3. Though we're on a non-smoking floor, people are clearly smoking down the hall from us. We can't tell in the room, but it really smells in the hallway. I don't know how much hotels can do about that. Personally, if I ran a hotel, there would be some hefty fines for smoking in a non-smoking room.
Overall, this is a great place to stay for the night before a cruise when all you need is some food and a bed. They have a free shuttle to the cruiseport. They'll take us there at noon, and we will begin our cruise!
Day 1 - Leaving Ft. Lauderdale
After a lovely relaxing morning, we went down to the Sleep Inn lobby at noon to catch the free shuttle to the cruiseport. I had two days worth of the Miami Herald, 1 USA Today, and somehow I had talked Mary into carrying my bags of carrots and turkey which I planned to eat on the shuttle. However, the shuttle driver enjoyed driving fast and then making very abrupt stops (he would make a perfect Tri-Met bus driver) so I did not eat, and we were both probably more carsick on the way to the cruiseport than we would ever be seasick on the cruise itself.
It took a while to get to the cruiseport, as we had to first drive around the airport twice - once to drop off some passengers, then to pick up some others. At the cruiseport we were met at the curb by very friendly Radisson representatives and a baggage handler who surprised us by hitting us up for a tip after taking our bags. (This was in front of huge signs that said, "Workers are salaried. Tipping not required." It was also quite surprising given Radisson's no-tipping policy.) We tipped him a dollar a bag.
Inside the large cruise port as we were trying to figure out where to go, a Radisson representative approached us and said, "May I help you? Are you in transit? Are you working on the ship?" I must say, that given our tendency to be concerned that we don't fit into these classy settings in the first place, this was not the best way to begin the cruise. However, Mary was dressed a little more casually than I was, and was, unfortunately, still carrying my bags of carrots and turkey. This probably did not help us in our hopes to look like we fit in. Next time, we will definitely avoid carrying little bags of food onto the ship.
That woman was the ONLY Radisson employee who ever treated us as if we didn't belong. The woman who checked us in was very nice and acted as if it was nothing when the carrots leaked on the counter as we were being photographed and given our plastic room cards. These cards were in lovely leatherette cases and also functioned as credit cards during the cruise, as well as serving as our identification for getting on and off the ship. There was no photo on them, but when the security person swiped the card, she would see a photo of us on her screen.
We boarded the ship to extremely welcoming Radisson representatives, were each given a glass of champagne, and directed to Deck 10 where there was a buffet at the Portofino Grill and hamburgers, hot dogs, french fries, salad, etc, poolside.
I spent the first few hours looking at the other passengers and saying things like, "They don't look any better than us. I wonder if THEY were asked if they were working on the ship!" (Mary has just interrupted me to say that she wonders if there's something a little classiest about being offended because they thought we were working on the ship. I suppose there could be, but mostly I was offended because we were clearly heading towards the line to check in, and the woman made an assumption that we didn't belong there. ) I tend to get very sensitive about these things, while Mary just thought it was funny. It probably took me about two days to realize that we basically fit in just fine. Later when I saw Patrick Swayze (more about that later - I just thought I'd begin with some name-dropping) he looked more casual than we did. Was HE asked if he was working on the ship?
Anyway, we sat down to eat, and by now I was making a big effort to hide the turkey and carrots inside the newspapers. (Mary had thrust them back at me immediately after the carrot leaking incident at check-in.)
I forced Mary to move tables when I came back from selecting my food inside and found that a woman was smoking right next to us and the smoke was coming directly at us. I'll talk more later about Radisson's smoking policy, which I think could be improved. For now, I'll say that now I was all worked up about the smoking AND the fact that in my mind we clearly didn't fit in on this ship, and poor Mary had to suffer as she always does when we begin our vacations and I worry about every little thing for the first day or so.
For lunch, I had, from the buffet inside: fresh roasted turkey, salmon, salad with virgin olive oil and lime dressing, roast potatoes, and potato salad. Mary ate from the pool grill — hamburger (no bun), french fries, caesar salad from salad bar, fresh fruit, potato salad, and "exotic cold fruit soup" Mary loved her fruit soup.
After lunch, Mary wanted to explore and begin photographing the ship. I wanted to do all the things I had read one must do when first boarding the ship, so I forced Mary to go to various places, all the time exhorting her to hurry, hurry, hurry. We went up to the spa and stood in line for about 15 minutes or so to get spa appointments. We made our appointments for Tuesday afternoon. The cost was $110 for a 5o minute massage, certainly higher than we would pay on land, but we thought it would be lovely. If you made the reservation for a morning when the ship was in port, you would get an additional 15 minutes for the same price. However, we wanted our massages right before dinner.
After we booked the massages, Mary said to me, "Come here, I want to show you something." I knew she didn't want to show me something, but someone as she had been whispering to me earlier and I had no idea what she was saying. She asked me to look at the man who had been behind us in line and said, "Could that be Elaine's boyfriend from Seinfeld?" It couldn't be Elaine's boyfriend, but it did look very much like the actor who played Elaine's boss, J. Peterman. She said his voice sounded like the actor's voice also. We would encounter him quite a bit in the next few days, and if we had known the actor's name, John O'Hurley, I might have asked him if that was who he was. But for now, we would just have to wonder.
Next we went to the library. I was not overly impressed with the selection of books. They were mostly older best-sellers, very little literary fiction, a few old magazines, but there were a lot of books, and I'm sure if I hadn't brought books to read, I would have found something to interest me. There was a very impressive selection of travel books, and a very large number of videotapes. We never borrowed any of those as there were several good movies playing on the tv channels in the cabin.
Finally, we went to the Portofino Grill, the alternative restaurant and made reservations for dinner that night at 6:30. After that we toured the entire ship and Mary began her photographic documentary.
Suite 525 - M/S Seven Seas Navigator
At 3:00 we were allowed to enter our suite. I was dismayed to discover that on one side of us we had two or three giggling teenage girls (though generally Radisson cruisers are older - I've heard most are in their 60s or 70s - we had managed to book a Spring Break cruise) and on the other side of us were smokers. The hallway often stunk of smoke, but they are constantly cleaning the ship, so it only smelled when someone was actually smoking or had just smoked.
The suite was lovely. In the sitting area was a champagne bucket with our welcome bottle of champagne, and an orchid on a side table. Our luggage was on the bed on top of a plastic cover to keep the bedspread clean. There was plenty of room in the walk-in closet for our clothes - lots of hangers, and a dresser with 6 or 8 drawers. The safe in the closet was not large enough for our laptop computer, but it worked fine for everything else we considered valuable. There were also a lot of drawers and storage space throughout the room - more than we used. We unpacked immediately and made ourselves at home.
Very shortly, Noel, our steward, came to introduce himself to us. He was worried at first that they had configured the bed wrong (as a queen instead of two twins) but we assured him that was correct. He asked us what we would like in our bar setup, and told us he would "take good care" of us. Indeed he did. Throughout the cruise he was attentive, sweet, and unobtrusive. He kept our refrigerator stocked with water and ginger ale, which we had told him we preferred. We got totally spoiled with the twice-a-day service. Our room was always clean and well-stocked, and he seemed to know without us telling him when we were in or out of the room, so we never had to wait around for service and only a few times did we have to get out of his way so he could clean the room. It was so wonderful to always have clean, dry towels, even if we showered twice in one day. Noel was in the hallway all day long cleaning people's rooms and always stopped to make brief conversation with us as we came or left. When we were separated he would sometimes report where the other person was. Once as I searched the ship for Mary and finally returned to the room, Noel reported from the hallway, "Your partner is in there. She just got back." I know it may sound a little big-brotherish, but it didn't feel that way. It was actually quite sweet.
The window in the room was smaller than it had looked in the photos. One thing we did regret was not booking a balcony. We tried to upgrade once we got on the ship, but the ship was full. If you are lying on the bed or even sitting in the sitting area, you can only see the sky out the window. The window was too high to see the ocean from a seated position, and I would have liked to have been able to sit and watch the ocean. Also, a balcony is the only way to get fresh air into your room. Of course, with smokers next door, we probably would not have been getting fresh air.
The bathroom was very big - separate tub and shower. We were supplied with cottonballs, q-tips, shower caps, and the following Aveda toiletries: shampoo, conditioner, body wash, soap, and lotion. The shower had a hand-held shower massage which I loved. Because of the slope of the ship, it didn't always totally drain while I was showering, but I can't imagine that anything can be done about that. There were always two bath towels, two wonderfully large bath sheets, two hand towels, and two washcloths. There was also plenty of storage space in the bathroom for our own toiletries.
The sheets and pillowcases were also lovely - very soft and pretty. Initially we had four down pillows. We requested two additional firm pillows and received them immediately. They weren't terribly firm - Mary always needed me to tell her which pillows were the firm ones and which ones the down - but I was happy with them. The beds had no top sheet but a down duvet, which was tucked in at the bottom. We are used to a larger duvet - at home we have a king size on a queen size bed - so sometimes we fought a bit over who had more covers, but in general it was lovely. The bed configuration, two twin beds pressed together, was a little strange - sometimes they separated a bit in the middle, but it was okay. Mary did not like the bedspread on top of the duvet. It was a bit worn-looking and not soft or beautiful. In general, Mary's impression of the ship was that some things were a bit more worn-down than she would have expected, but that overall the ship was also more beautiful than she had expected.
There was a tv and a vcr in the room. We never used the vcr other than to look at the time on the clock. Whenever there was a time change, Noel also changed the time on the vcr, a detail which I very much appreciated. There were 16 channels on the tv. Mary's favorites were a live view from the bridge and a map showing our location and where we were heading. These two channels played music to accompany the video: "Pop, Big Band and Light Jazz" and "Classical Music". The other channels included CNN International, ESPN International, TNT International, In Port Shopping Information, Future Cruise Presentation, Documentary Channel (which actually seemed to be the view from the ship's bridge), Port and Tour Talk, CNBC, Onboard Promotions and three movie channels. I really liked the movie channels. Each day there were three different movies to choose from and they ran (for free) at various times throughout the day. We watched Kinsey and Birth. I thought Birth, which Mary slept through, was really stupid. We both enjoyed Kinsey. (I missed the first 30 minutes or so.)
There was a clip on the outside of the cabin door where messages and invitations were left. I loved this. It kind of reminded me of living in a dorm room in college and looking for messages on my whiteboard. Every morning a daily satellite news sheet would be clipped to the door. The news was usually a day old or so, but I quite enjoyed it. At the end of the cruise, I discovered that there were different editions of this satellite news sheet depending on what country you were from. On the last day I picked up the British edition where the headline was about Prince Charles hating the press rather than about Terri Schiavo which was our headline all week long.
Our First Evening on the Ship
Around 6 pm we put on our grown-up clothes and went to the sail away party. Here, the cruise director, Sam Perry, introduced key personnel, and the ship's orchestra, The Navigator Five, played. I learned very quickly that it is a bad idea to buy brand new sandals for a cruise and not break them in beforehand.
The snacks at the sail away party were very good: fresh fruit, shrimp in an ice sculpture, satay - chicken, shrimp and beef - little sandwiches, and many trays of rum punch making the rounds. As we pulled away from the dock and headed off to sea, we were instructed to wave to the residents of an apartment building as we passed by - they apparently expect it and waved back. We thought that was very fun.
We went to the the Portofino Grill for dinner, where the theme was Italian Steakhouse. There we were lavished with attention, and we loved the staff. The meal began with an antipasto buffet - salad, artichoke hearts, grilled vegetables, tomato and mozzarella drizzled with pesto - very delicious. Mary's entree was a huge New York steak, and my entree was grilled shrimp. They made some vegetables especially for us with no butter. They were very good. Mary could see how foodies would find things to be disappointed in, but as we're not foodies, we were very satisfied. Mary had both white and red wine with dinner, I only had white.
We had two waiters, a wine steward, the sommelier and the head waiter helping us order and checking on us often, as well as the strolling guitar player Roberto Rossini. Everyone was very friendly and genuine. I startled Arlene, the wine steward, by telling her that I recognized her because I had seen her picture on the internet and read about her on cruisecritic.com. I told her I would find the link for her so she could see what I meant. We enjoyed the Portofino food, atmosphere and service so much we made another reservation for Thursday (the last night of the cruise.)
After dinner, we strolled around the ship, headed back to our room and shed our skirts so they wouldn't wrinkle (we planned to head back out). Mary was using the facilities, and I was lounging on the bed when we heard a strange noise. We were in the process of trying to figure out what it was, when Noel the steward walked in - it was the doorbell. Mary slammed the bathroom door, and I threw on Mary's skirt (which did NOT match my top.) Noel presented us with our liquor request, a bottle of chardonnay and a bottle of champagne (neither of which we ever touched - they would both come home in Mary's suitcase, making it very close to exceeding the 50 lb. weight limit.) I said to Noel, "Oh, we were wondering what that funny little noise was." He laughed and said, "It's the doorbell." Then he rang it a couple more times and said, "The doorbell, see?"
We got dressed and turned in a coupon to get a free $5 table bet to add to a minimum $5 bet at the casino. But we didn't play. We checked out the stores - nothing to write home about. I called it a night, and Mary went up on deck 12 to watch the full moon, then to the Seven Seas Lounge to the advertised "Big Band Night" featuring the Navigator 5. (Mary likes Big Band music, plus was curious how 5 could be a Big Band. Apparently, they can't.) She said it was more earnest than good. They didn't actually play Big Band music, but standards from the 50's to 80's. She was asked to dance by the gentleman host, but I believe she turned him down. She enjoyed the show, especially watching the few people who were dancing. Later in the cruise she would comment to me, "Apparently the only men on this ship who know how to dance are the gentleman hosts," as there were generally only two couples dancing at any given time - the gentleman hosts and whomever they had asked to dance. Mary said there was a very sparse turnout for the show, though more were coming in as she was leaving. She thought it was a very low profile for an opening night.
We were both in bed by 10 pm.
Day 2 - At Sea
Our first night at sea, I slept great, Mary not so great. At some point very early in the morning, Mary went out on deck while I continued to sleep. Then she came back and we both slept. We were awakened by a strange noise. Mary said, "What's that noise?" but I remembered from my lesson yesterday. I glanced at the clock, threw on a robe (lovely bathrobes provided by Radisson) and answered the door. It was room service delivering the 4 glasses of pineapple juice which we had asked to be delivered at 9 am. I took it and then began grumbling to Mary, "Well, I guess it's okay to have our 9 am room service delivered at 7 am!" I had read that room service didn't always get the orders right. I was very shocked when Mary told me it was 9 am. I hadn't slept that late in ages!
We had our juice and then had to go to the Compass Rose to give them our menu choices for the evening. Because we both had special dietary needs, a menu came to our door late every evening and we would circle what we wanted and return it by 10 am the next morning. Then they would prepare our requests without using wheat, dairy or sugar.
We had planned to eat breakfast at the Compass Rose but we didn't realize they closed at 9:30. In the restaurants a waiter would always take the woman's arm and lead the couple to their table. In our case, I was the one whose arm usually got taken - I think because I generally started out doing most of the talking. Occasionally a second waiter was rustled up to escort Mary also. This morning a waiter took my arm and escorted us through the restaurant, out the other door, and to the elevator where he directed us to the Portofino Grill which was still open. We found this quite amusing, especially as I was talking at him and waving the menus around while he was escorting me. (We're SO much more sophisticated now, a week later, than we were when we started this cruise!)
Up at Portofino, Mary had scrambled eggs, a hash brown patty, and fruit. I had watermelon (it mostly tasted like water) and pineapple juice. Mary was disappointed that they only had what seemed like frozen hash brown patties and never "real" hash browns.
While we were gone, Noel had cleaned our room and given us ginger ale and water for our refrigerator. Mary had spilled on herself at breakfast. This was to be a constant occurrence throughout the cruise, though she says she got better later on as she got her sea legs (I can't say I noticed this.) She went to do a load of laundry in the launderette right down the hall. The washers, driers, and detergent were free. The detergent was in a machine hooked up to the washer by a tube. You started the washer and then pushed a button which dispensed detergent into the machine through the tube. It was great fun. We did laundry almost every day. (There were also lovely irons in the laundry room.)
We spent the morning reading and lying around, and then went to lunch. There was a selection of grilled fish at the pool grill: salmon, tuna, halibut and grouper. We went into Portofino and got fixings from the salad bar, and they brought us vegetables and potatoes that had not been cooked in butter. They were delicious. I sat down and Mary went outside and got fish for both of us. They were all very good. Mary especially liked the grouper, and we both agreed it was very brave of her to try it (she's not much of a seafood girl).
After lunch we walked around outside a bit, then came back to the room. We watched some of the NCAA women's basketball tournament on tv, then I read and Mary fell asleep. Mary woke up and went out on Deck 12, which was the top deck. She brought her MP3 player with her, and stood where there weren't any people and the wind was loud. Then she sang outloud with her MP3 player because no one could hear her. She had a great time. While she was singing on deck, I was sleeping. I spent a lot of time napping the first 4 days of the cruise. I was getting over the flu, and still pretty tired. Most of the activities I wanted to do I missed because I was sleeping. But hey, you can't knock sleeping. It's an excellent activity in itself.
At 5:30 we went to the library to ask the computer instructor what to do about our laptop that wouldn't turn on. I kind of vaguely remembered what to do, but not exactly and he told us: remove the battery and then turn it on without the battery. That worked. Throughout the cruise we had problems with the electricity in our cabin, though. The laptop was very erratic the entire time, constantly going into hibernate mode for no reason, and the battery charger for our camera wouldn't work at all. (Both of these problems were gone once we were off the ship.)
As we returned to our cabin, people were walking about in their formal wear in anticipation of the captain's welcome party and formal night. Not us. We went back to the room and ordered room service drinks: a bottle of Pellegrino, a glass of pineapple juice, and a cup of decaf coffee. We sort of watched the sunset through our window (in order to see it we had to stand the whole time.)
For dinner, we had room service. I had a citrus and avocado salad, steamed vegetables, and salmon. The avocado was kind of hard and not very tasty - the salad was okay. Everything was good, not great. Mary had a tomato, blue cheese and basil salad with balsamic vinaigrette dressing, mushroom soup which she said was very yummy, and boneless breast of chicken which she described as simple, but very moist. She was very happy. They didn't bring us any wine and we didn't ask since one of the room service people was sick and they were overworked and understaffed. They said they would bring us gluten-free bread, but then the head waiter called and apologized that there wasn't any yet, but that starting the next day there would be gluten free bread available for us every day, breakfast, lunch and dinner, in every restaurant in the ship. And so it was (other than the pool grill) and there were a number of waiters who took great pleasure in asking us, the moment we sat down, if we would like our gluten free bread.
After dinner, we went up to the pool deck so we would be out of Noel's way while he did our turndown. It was completely deserted, which was lovely. We looked at the moon and spied on people in their formal wear. And that was our formal night.
Day 3 - Easter Sunday with Stingrays on Grand Turk
Today was Easter Sunday and there were wonderful displays of chocolate easter bunnies and candy eggs, all over the ship (Strangely, the somewhat disconcerting watermelon carvings of Jesus and Mary wouldn't turn up until the following Tuesday).
We had room service breakfast, and then went on the Swimming With Stingrays excursion. We tendered to Grand Turk, a tiny scrub of beach. A little band was playing and there were two or three people selling things. We met our tour operators who took us to Gibbs Cay on a skiff. There, they set up umbrellas on the beach, put out a cooler of drinks and a bucket of masks and snorkels, and we swam in the ocean while they tried to entice the stingrays to come in. There wasn't much to see in the ocean, but Mary learned that if you floated face down near the shore, you would be surrounded by schools of little tiny white fish. That was very cool. (I learned, later on that day, to reapply my sunscreen and wear a shirt over my bathing suit. BAD sunburn!) We each had an underwater camera. Mary used up all the shots on hers almost immediately, taking pictures of white fish against the white sand. Mary says, "I'm sure the results will be spectacular." (We haven't developed this film yet, which also went through x-ray on the way back to Portland. I haven't even taken all the photos in my camera.)
It had been over an hour with no stingrays and I had figured we weren't going to see any, when they finally got one stingray to come visit us. Everyone headed over to the stingray and the tour operators handed out dead fish to anyone who wanted to feed the stingray. The stingray was extremely sociable, doing an excellent job of making the rounds of the people, brushing up against them. He was a bit slimy on top, very soft on his underside. I fed him three times. The first two times I got a little freaked out and dropped the fish before it got to his mouth (which is on his underside). The third time he sucked it out of my hand. It was a really strange sensation. I loved this excursion, visiting with the stingray, and swimming in the ocean. I hadn't swum in the ocean since I was eleven years old, and thanks to the sunburn I was getting, I wouldn't for the rest of the cruise. Oh well, live and learn, I hope.
On the tender back to the ship, I sat across from the possible Seinfeld actor. There were people on the tender from all different excursions, and a woman asked us how the swimming with stingrays was. I held up one finger and said, "Swimming with stingray." The possible Seinfeld actor commented that as it was Easter Sunday, the others probably were busy elsewhere.
We had lunch at the Portofino grill, which was actually very crowded with a fairly long line and some alarmist people saying there was no place to sit. (This actually wasn't true.) At the pool grill they had a Mexican fiesta, which also had a very long line. This was the only time on the entire cruise that we encountered long lines for food, and I don't know if it was because they had advertised an Easter Sunday buffet, or if everyone just came back from Grand Turk at the same time.
Before dinner, Mary wanted to check out a show that was the cruise director singing Frank Sinatra songs. I begged to leave after three songs, and she conceded. She mentioned to me that he reminded her of an unfunny Jack McFarland (from Will and Grace) and this made me laugh. Later on one other passenger said that the cruise director reminded him of Jack McFarland. We weren't fond of the cruise director as he seemed a little too showy and pleased with himself, but I believe we were in the minority in that opinion.
We went to the photo shop to see if they could sell us something to clean a smudge off our camera (if you look closely, you'll see the smudge on most of our photos ), and he didn't have anything, but we stood around looking at photos of everyone from formal night and eventually he brought out a photo to show us of all the celebrities on board. Now we learned that Mary is great at spotting celebrities. The guy we thought might be from Seinfeld was actually the guy from Seinfeld. The other celebrity pointed out to us was Patrick Swayze. Apparently others in the photo were also celebrities, but we didn't recognize anyone else, and neither did the ship's photographer.
We had dinner at the Compass Rose with four other couples. It was our first attempt at socializing, and we had a nice time. One of the women told a story about how she was riding the elevator with Patrick Swayze and he asked, "Is this the 10th floor?" She said, "No, Patrick, this is the 9th floor." And he smiled at her and said, "And what is your name?" She was very pleased with this encounter. We had yet to spot a glimpse of Patrick Swayze, but I told Mary that when we did, I would be sure to say to him, "Nobody puts Baby in the corner."
After dinner, Mary wanted to check out the show, the Terhune dancers. I chose not to. She came back and said, "It was silly, but fun. I always like listening to show tunes." I don't think she thought it was great entertainment.
As I end the narrative for this day, Mary asks, "Did you mention how you did a sweet easter egg hunt for me?"
"No," I say.
She says, "You should, without the part where I lost interest in looking." But I can't leave that part out.
Day 4 - San Juan, Puerto Rico
This morning, U.S. Immigration had to clear everyone on the ship before anyone could enter San Juan, and they had said they would start calling us, by deck, at 9 am. That ended up being delayed, which complicated my breakfast plans a bit - I solved it by ordering room service breakfast - and around 10 we had to go stand in line and present ourselves to U.S. customs. We noticed a Terhune dancer helping out with the line. They work these people really hard. The first night during the compulsory life jacket drill (which Mary will always regret not bringing her camera to - a theater full of adults in orange life jackets) I asked a staff member for help with my life jacket, which I feared I had already broken by fiddling with it. She wasn't sure how to fix it and referred me to an officer. I later discovered she, too, was an entertainer.
We got through immigration fairly painlessly, and then went into the Future Cruise office and put down a deposit on a future cruise. Whether we actually will take that future cruise will remain to be seen, but it was just such a bargain...
We decided to have lunch and then go into San Juan and walk around. It was very hot and I discovered I didn't really want to walk around once we got there. So I whined a bit, and Mary got really annoyed with me, and eventually we split up - I went back to the ship - and later that evening, I saw a lovely slideshow of all the things I hadn't seen while I was walking around miserable. San Juan is apparently very beautiful! You, too, can see this slideshow.
After Mary returned from San Juan and I had woken up from my nap, we went to Galileo's for tea. They had just shut down tea, so we got drinks and ate some peanuts and played Phase 10 until it got too smoky and then we went back to the room and dressed for dinner. (Mary thinks I should mention that my tolerance for smoke is extremely low. She barely noticed it once we moved.) Mary: "You quoted me verbatim, but in the narrative you never said that we had moved because a guy started smoking, so that's not going to make any sense." (Hope it makes sense now.)
Before dinner we went to the tour desk to ask if there was a drug store we might be able to find in San Juan so that we could buy batteries, as our battery recharger wasn't working. They told us where a Walgreen's was, but they didn't think they'd be open late, so they gave us batteries, and offered to charge our batteries for us. They were extremely helpful. We didn't realize until the next day that the batteries they had given us (and which we had promptly used up) were disposable. The next morning, I asked them to see if they could get our battery charger to work, which they couldn't, so they offered to charge the rest of our batteries for us, and I took them up on it.
For dinner we asked for a table for two, which we got, but it was right next to another couple - which made it a little strange. We weren't sure whether we should talk to them or leave them alone. We opted for the latter. Mary was very brave and tried the Degustation Menu, which is a multi-course tasting menu. She enjoyed it very much, particularly the main course, which was grilled sirloin steak with gorgonzola-herb crust. For some reason they did not give her the sorbet prior to the main course. I think they forgot. (I think they mean well in the Compass Rose, but they sometimes seemed a bit disorganized. We had the system where they delivered menus to our door each evening, as I have written about earlier. For two nights in a row, they didn't have Mary's choices at dinner time, though she was okay with it.) I was also brave and tried stir-fried ostrich. I felt okay eating an ostrich as an emu was once mean to Mary. The ostrich was tasty but seemed extremely salty. I couldn't tell if that was the taste of the ostrich or the sauce. They also served me a very delicious squash soup.
Mary liked to photograph her food - the presentation was usually beautiful - and tonight was no exception, but she was trying to be surreptitious about it. As a result, only one of the five photos turned out, and she was heartbroken. (It's probably what brought on her flu the next day!)
After dinner, we came back to the room and I tried to go to bed early. Mary turned on the tv to her favorite channel (bridge camera), saw San Juan lit up, got all excited, and had to go up to Deck 12 to take pictures. (None of them turned out - it was a difficult evening for the photog.) She was a maniac with the camera the entire cruise. Out of her mind.
I should also mention that at some point today we cancelled our massage appointments due to my sunburn. There was no way I was going to be able to tolerate a massage. Mary could have kept her appointment, but she said she didn't really feel she'd need it and she'd be just as happy getting one back home for less money.
Day 5 - Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas
Mary got up early to watch us pull into St. Thomas. I really wanted to swim in the ocean today and we had looked up beaches that we could get to via taxi, but I thought my sunburn was still very bad and it probably wouldn't be a good idea to go to a beach. I finally decided to purchase some internet time and went into the library to see what the internet said about sun exposure on a sunburn. It didn't recommend it. The internet was surprisingly fast, and never would be that fast again, the entire cruise.
We had breakfast in the Compass Rose and then went into St. Thomas to shop. We had heard that there is nothing to St. Thomas, but I thought it was pretty. I would imagine if you got away from the touristy areas, it could be really lovely. We stayed in the touristy area, bought Mary a hat, me some clip-on sunglasses, and we both bought things in a shop called Del Sol, where everything is one color indoors and another color in the sun. We also got two free color-changing rings which are too small for even our pinkies. We tendered back to the ship and had lunch at Portofino Grill.
I mentioned Arlene the first night, whom we had seen a picture of on the internet before we arrived on the ship. She is a bar waitress and is very sweet. Every time she saw us she greeted us by name and asked how we were doing. She knew I liked to drink pineapple juice and was quick to bring it. I told her we would find the internet reference so she could see it, so after lunch we went to the library. The internet speed in the morning must have been an anomaly, as this time it ticked away for 20 minutes (which we were charged for) and did nothing before I gave up.
Back in the room we watched The Notebook on my laptop. What a stupid movie! At 5:00 I went to the infirmary to get something to help with my itching sunburn. I was miserable with itching. I thought I would lose my mind. They gave me calamine lotion which didn't really help, but the total charge for the visit was $5.00, so I can't complain. Mary had a sore throat and feared she was getting sick, which she was - the really, really nasty flu that I had prior to the cruise. But we didn't know that yet.
We went to dinner and had our photo taken by the photographer set up outside the dining room. It was a truly hideous picture of me. You will never see it. We had dinner with a nice couple from San Antonio, and two of the bridge instructors. If you would like to go on free cruises, the thing to do is to become a bridge expert. I can't remember what we ate, and I'm not sure whether or not Mary photographed the food.
We went back to the room and went to bed early.
Day 6 - Sea Day # 2 Today Mary had a fever and stayed in the room all day, bundled up in the throw blanket and contaminating it. I didn't want to use it after that. It reminded me of the Native Americans who died from smallpox-infested blankets given to them by the white men.
Ironically, it was the first day that I felt really good and had some energy. Mary and I had both asked for and received invitations to a tour of the bridge, but I went alone. The view from the bridge was really wonderful. The tour was lead by Mirya, the assistant cruise director, whom I enjoyed immensely. The captain spoke occasionally. Just when he was getting ready to talk about some subject, Mirya spotted dolphins outside and rushed us out to the deck so we could get a better view. They were leaping about - I had never seen anything like this in person. Alas, I have no photos. (Photos were not allowed on the bridge tour, not that I would have remembered to bring the camera anyway.)
They had an Asian buffet for lunch at the pool grill, which I had been very much looking forward to. They had stir-fried chicken and beef and different kinds of sushi and some really wonderful bean thread noodles. I had lunch with a great couple, Irene and Bud, whom we had chatted with on our way back from St. Thomas. I had "met" Irene the first day of the cruise, when we both wandered into the men's room together by accident.
After lunch, I decided to go check out the art auction. It was the last art auction of the cruise - there had been several that I had slept through (not at the actual auction, but back in my room, napping.)
I had read that if you registered for the auction you would get a free work of art, so I registered. They gave me some little stickers and asked me to put them on the works I would like to see auctioned. They would only auction works which people had expressed an interest in. Since I had no intention of buying anything, I didn't put a sticker on anything. I sat down and was offered a glass of champagne, which I declined. There weren't very many people for this auction. Only three or four other women. At the last minute, a couple came in and sat behind me. They were talking to each other, wondering if they had to register, and I explained the process to them.
Shortly, the auctioneer got up and said, "Um, we currently don't have anything to auction off. Have you all marked the works you are interested in?" Now all of us looked around anxiously and almost everyone said some variation of, "Oh, I'm just here to watch." The couple behind us, fortunately, had marked a work of art though, and the auctioneer briefly talked about it and then sold it to them for a cost which he said was a great deal. Then he said that he was sorry that we would not be able to see the auction, those of us who had come to just watch, but there couldn't be an auction if no one wanted to buy anything. Finally, he gave us all our free work of art, a small print. I loved the "art auction" and all of us women trying to "blend in," which unfortunately, we did not.
Later in the day I went to a Baggo tournament at the pool deck. This was great fun and involved throwing bean bags into a board with holes in it. I got a little better as the tournament progressed, and eventually won 3 tokens when I was playing on a team. I won nothing for my stellar individual play. The Baggo tournament was led by Assistant Cruise Director, Mirya, who amused me greatly by commenting on people's play in her wonderful South African accent: "Oh terrible, Rick. That was just terrible!" One of the other players was talking about how she wondered if someone would ask Patrick Swayze for his autograph for her. I asked if she had spotted him yet, and she said, "He's right behind you." I immediately turned around to look. And there he was, very fit and tan and shorter than I would have thought. Once Phoebe Cates was shooting a movie outside my house in Tucson and I stood and watched for a while. Her husband, Kevin Kline, was there hanging out, and at one point he came up to me and said, "Would you like my autograph? Would you like a picture with me?" How could I turn him down? Patrick Swayze did not make this offer, and I certainly did not ask.
Prior to dinner, I found myself very hungry. I went to Galileo's to listen to a couple who played acoustic music. They were called Spiral Duo. I hate to say it, but it sounded a lot like elevator music to me. The waiter brought me appetizers when I didn't get any myself, and I ate a bit, and then went to the Seven Seas Lounge for the Captain's Farewell cocktail party. There I was able to give Arlene a copy of the Cruise Critic post that mentioned how much people loved her (I had finally been able to locate it). For the second time that day, I was offered champagne, but I opted for pineapple juice. The captain talked for a few minutes and then there was this really corny thing, where the Terhune singers sang this dumb song about love in every language, and then what looked like the entire ship's staff (I learned later Noel was not there) came out from behind the curtain and we gave them a standing ovation. This part I liked. The lady next to me was crying, which made me love her.
Poor Mary was still feverish and miserable back in the room (Note from Mary: "Lest you think Lis was callous to leave me shivering in the room while she went gallivanting about the ship — it was actually very nice to be left alone to sleep for an hour or two, and then have Lis come back and report on each activity. I was able to have a nice sea day vicariously through her"). We ordered room service dinner, which she could barely eat, and then I asked Noel if he could do the turndown without us leaving the room, as Mary didn't feel she could. Noel did a wonderful job of working around us.
In the middle of the night, I woke up to discover that Mary was really, really hot, and I got worried. She just wanted some painkiller for her sore throat, but I wanted to take her temperature and get her some Tylenol to bring the fever down. I called the reception desk to ask for a thermometer and some Tylenol. They didn't have a thermometer but they gave me some sort of drug that was "like Tylenol". However, after I read the warnings that went along with it, warnings that included death among the possible side effects, I chose to give her Advil. Later in the night, I woke to find her cool and clammy beside me. Her fever had broken, but she wasn't moving. I touched her and said, "Mary," Nothing. Louder, "Mary!" Nothing. Finally, I pushed her kind of hard and said, "Mary!"
"What!" She woke up. "I just wanted to make sure you were alive." And she was, but miserable.
There are no photographs from this sea day, as Mary was sick with her fever, and foolishly counted on me to be her backup photographer.
Day 7 Nassau, The Bahamas
My notetaking began to deteriorate a bit towards the end of the cruise, so now I am relying more on memory, which I believe deteriorates the minute one turns 40, so I will do the best I can here.
I do not remember the morning, but the lunch at the Pool Grill was a Caribbean buffet. It was very good, and for the first time on the cruise, I overate. After lunch we went back to our room to discover that our window was situated so we could see all the passengers getting off the ship to go into Nassau. I thought this would be a perfect opportunity for Mary to finally see Patrick Swayze, as it was very likely that he would get off the ship.
Indeed he did. Mary didn't believe it was him at first, but then she saw that I was right. I took pictures of both Patrick Swayze and John O' Hurley (from Seinfeld) through the window, but they are terrible pictures, as neither of them ever faced my direction. I thought I was being very surreptitious, so you can imagine my surprise when Assistant Cruise Director, Mirya, walked by outside and waved to me.
Mary was still feeling quite poorly, but she really wanted to go to the Ardastra Gardens, so we left the ship around 3 and took a cab to the Gardens. We had read about this place in a guide book many months earlier, and Mary was very taken by the idea of flamingos marching in drill formation. The cab driver greatly overcharged us and drove a rather indirect way to justify his overcharging us, but we didn't really care. I even tipped him quite well since he was fun to talk to on the way to the gardens.
We arrived there around 3:15 or so and the flamingos weren't marching until 4:00, but there was a parrot exhibit in which we were invited to feed apples to parrots, so we went directly there. There were a large number of parrots in a big enclosed area and soon I had one parrot on each hand and one on my head. This was great fun! (And no, none of them pooped on my head.)
We wandered around and looked at some of the other animals and plants, and then went to the show area and took a seat. The Gardens were not crowded at all. There were probably 20 or so people watching the show. It was mating season, and there was a male peacock in the show ring, preening for a female who pretended to ignore him. When it was time for the flamingos to do their thing, it took some time for the flamingo trainer to get the peacock out of the ring. He refused to put his feathers down and it took a good amount of chasing to get him to leave. Even then, he stood just outside the ring, continuing to preen and crow.
The announcer explained that as it was mating season, the flamingos weren't quite as well behaved as usual, as the males had to spend a fair amount of time fighting with each other. We were also told that our job was to provide positive reinforcement for the flamingos when they did a good job, by clapping for them.
The trainer yelled drill commands at the flamingos and the flamingos ran around and squawked and fought with each other, and did not exactly look like a drill team. We applauded regularly. Mary took some wonderful flamingo movies and watched them over and over again for days.
At the Ardastra Gardens web site it says, "Watch closely and you'll notice that among them there is often a humorous jockeying for position, one male trying to cut another off, another preening for a female who pretends not to notice." I would add that during mating season, you don't have to watch closely to see this.
We asked the woman in the gift shop to call us a cab to get back to the ship, and she did so. This cab driver was actually reputable and he took us on a direct route back to the ship and charged half as much as the first cab driver. He also got a big tip.
As this was our last night, we had decided to eat again at the Portofino Grill. There we were welcomed back. One of our favorite waiters from the first night - I think his name was Benedicto - said, "Finally, you're back!" We both had steak and I had some wonderful risotto. It was a lovely way to end the cruise. After dinner, we wandered the ship a bit more, threw away some money in the slot machines, and then I stopped in the library to get something, and Mary went back to our room. When I came back to our room, I discovered Patrick Swayze smoking outside the elevator on Deck 5. He was nicely dressed in a tux or black suit (the two other times I saw him he was in shorts and a tank top) and I entered our room and said, "Guess who's stinking up our hallway right now?" Mary said, "Oh, I must have walked right by him," and went back out to look. When she came back in I asked if she thought he had noticed her coming out just to look at him. She said, "No, but the guy he was talking to might have." Have I mentioned how sophisticated we have become as a result of this cruise?
We packed our bags and left them outside the door following instructions we had received a few nights earlier. And then our last night on the ship was over.
Day 8 - Debarkation
Room service woke us up again this morning - this time they were 15 minutes early, 6:45 rather than 7:00. We had our juice and made sure we had everything packed and then we went up to the Portofino grill for breakfast. We figured we would be among the last groups called to get off the ship since we didn't have a plane to catch. (Everyone was assigned a color and given tags of that color to put on their luggage. We were in the red group.) We sat at breakfast until I began to worry that we were in the way and then we went up to the Vista Lounge to sit and wait. In fact, we had no wait at all. I set my stuff down and went to use the restroom and by the time I got back, they had called our color. There was a very short line to leave the boat, and our luggage was waiting for us down in the cruise terminal.
Outside the cruise terminal, there was a shuttle which took us to the airport where we rented a car and drove to our bed and breakfast, Villa Montfiallo. It was very easy to find, once I pulled up directions on my laptop using Mappoint. Our room wasn't ready, but we were able to leave our bags there. The owner, Yann, gave us directions to a Wild Oats market, and we went to get some food for our plane ride the next day. When we came back the room still wasn't ready, so we sat out by the pool for awhile, and then, since I was craving noodles, we asked him where we might find a Thai or Vietnamese restaurant where it wouldn't be too hard to park. (We were both pretty tired, and basically just wanted to lie down - having to work to park would have been way too much.)
He directed us to a restaurant called Galanga Thai (2389 Wilton Drive, Wilton Manors, Florida, (954) 202-0000). Now maybe it is just that we were really tired and hungry, but I don't think so. I think it was the best Thai food I have ever had, and I eat a lot of Thai food. Lunch came with a delicious chicken and rice soup. We ordered salad rolls (probably the best I've ever had) and I had Virgin Noodles (bean thread noodles with chicken, beef and shrimp) and Mary had Pad See Ew with chicken. (She loved the salad rolls and soup, but likes the pad see ew at our local Thai restaurant, Tom Yum, better.) The portions were huge, enough for us to take back to the b&b for dinner.
One thing we discovered at the restaurant, and continued to discover in the room, is what people mean when they talk about getting their land legs back. We both felt more pitching and rolling on land (especially in small spaces like bathrooms) then we ever did on the ship. It was quite surreal, and took a couple days to subside. It was far less noticeable when we were out of doors.
When we got back our room was ready and it was really comfortable. It had a full kitchen and two couches in a little sitting area, and a king size bed with lovely linens. The bathroom was not as lovely as our bathroom on the navigator and the shampoos, soaps and towels were nothing to write home about. There was a tv, a dvd player, a vcr, and a radio, but we couldn't get any of the remotes to work and were much too lazy to get up and manually change the channel. There was also a little patio area and doors that opened up onto the pool area.
Most of the guests appeared to be European. As we sat by the pool earlier in the morning, I eavesdropped on some people from England who seemed to be staying at the b&b for three weeks. They were very, very, very tanned and sat around the pool talking for most of the day.
Even though we were right next to the pool, it was quiet in the room and we napped for a little awhile, and I discovered that there was a wireless connection, though it didn't really work very well in the room.
Alas, our photographer was still ill, and though she took many photos of the outside of Villa Montfiallo, she didn't take any of the inside, and her backup photographer failed her yet again.
Around 4:30 we left the room and walked to a water taxi stop. Well, actually, I followed Mary as she appeared to know what she was doing (I often fall for this trick of hers) until it was clear we had no idea where we were and then we asked for directions at a hotel. They said we could catch the water taxi there, though it wasn't an official stop. We had to wave the taxi down.
The water taxi cost $5.00 for an all-day pass, and it was quite fun to move through the canals as the tour guide, Pat from Brooklyn, New York, pointed out famous people's houses. We rode for about an hour and then got off at the official stop where we should have gotten on, and walked to the beach for one last romp in the Atlantic Ocean before heading back to Portland. I stood in the water for a few minutes and then we walked back to the b&b where I paid for our night's stay, as the proprietors wouldn't be up until eight the next morning and we were going to be leaving at 6:30 or 7:00. (So for us it was a bed, no breakfast.) We had our wonderful Thai leftovers for dinner along with some Soy Delicious ice cream we had bought at Wild Oats. Oh, we were happy. We went to bed early, as we had to get up early in the morning and return to Portland.
Final Cruise Impressions
One thing I realized immediately once we were driving around Ft. Lauderdale experiencing people cutting into traffic and behaving the way people generally do is that everyone on the cruise was so civil. I didn't realize it until I was back, but on the cruise there was no pushing, no cutting in front of people in line, only very polite behavior. I wouldn't say everyone was friendly but people were very respectful. People held doors for each other and held the elevator and knew how to behave in a line. Mary said, "I don't think I hated anyone for the entire cruise, and that's a big thing." For me, also. We're both fairly misanthropic when it comes down to it.
The cruise was extremely relaxing. When I got back to work, I found that my head had been completely cleared and that was a great thing.
We were pleased to find that we're both pretty good sailors. Neither of us was ever actually seasick — just a little off the first day or two. Wearing the sea sick bands seem to take care of any problems we had, and by the third day we were adjusted to the motion of the ship and didn't need the bands anymore. We both found the rhythmic motion of the ship soothing. Mary had been worried that she wouldn't be able to read (she tends toward motion sickness and can't read in cars or on airplanes) but she was able to, even without the bands.
I don't have many criticisms of the Radisson cruise. The service was exceptional and the experience was definitely one of luxury. I do think they should have a better smoking policy. I'd like to be able to have a room with a balcony and know that I'll be able to sit out there without breathing in my neighbor's smoke. I think there should be staterooms designated as non-smoking, and I think there should be more public spaces that are designated non-smoking.
My other criticism was of the food. The food was presented beautifully, and I think they did a good job of handling my special dietary needs, but I found myself getting bored. I'm not even sure that I can put my finger on it, though I read somewhere else about a lack of spice and maybe that's it, both literally and figuratively. The food wasn't very spicy and I realize that the two dishes that I loved the most (risotto and squash soup) were a bit more spicy. But also, with the exception of the pool grill lunch themes, the menus rarely had anything that wasn't either French or American, and this got old for me.
I liked cruising, but I don't know how often I'd want to cruise. Since I was sunburnt for most of the cruise, what I most want now is to go to some place where I can swim in the ocean, but not be constrained by a schedule as one is on a ship. Mary, on the other hand, adored cruising and can't wait to talk me in to another one.
THINGS I HAVE LEARNED FOR A FUTURE CRUISE:
It's a really bad idea to get sunburnt on your first outing. Reapply sunscreen frequently while in the water, and wear a shirt over your bathing suit if you are fair-skinned. It's probably not a great idea to break in your new sandals the first night of the cruise. You can mix and match off the dinner menu - take something from the degustation menu and something from the regular menu. You can get a glass of wine to go at the end of dinner (we never did this, but a couple we ate with did it every night and took it with them to the show lounge) I found that I was queasy the first two or three days of the cruise, and this ended after I stopped having wine with dinner. Mary's queasiness stopped at about the same time and she was still having wine with dinner, so she thinks that's just how long it takes to get your sea legs. We must always have a balcony. The window is nice, but you can't actually see the sea from the bed or even while sitting down. The balcony window is floor to ceiling so the view would be better. Plus it would be great to get fresh air in the room.
THINGS WE SHOULD HAVE BROUGHT:
hairbrush - hair is constantly getting blown about by the wind on the deck sunglasses - duh some sugar/wheat/dairy-free desserts for me a surge protector strip - our "travel surge protector" did not fit into the outlets provided due to lack of clearance. a thermometer bandaids non-rechargeable camera batteries (our charger quit working on us) Binoculars thumb drive
To view pictures we took of the ship, ports and ship's documents (menus, daily newsletters, etc) you can go to www.marylisphotos.com/gallery