JUST THE FACTS MA'AM: DINKS. First cruise as Diamond Plus. Age irrelevant as it does not match maturity level on cruises.
PRECRUISE: Flew in Saturday. Did Snooze & Cruise with Courtyard. Worked well - mostly. Explanation to come.* Waited about 10 minutes for Travelynx. Courtyard was fine, simple, easy, convenient. Met our buddies and spent dinner time at Fishlips. Very nice night. Fairly early to bed. We requested a 10:30 shuttle but it was delayed in traffic. So they put us on the 11 am bus. Shuttle showed but since we were on bus and luggage loaded we were trapped. *Hindsight, had the 10:30 shuttle worked, we probably would have been further up in the Evil Line. Arrived at port around 11:30 ish. Computers down - sea pass issues. two long hours later, we are boarded. As usual, port personnel not the greatest about communicating what the heck is going on.
CHECK IN/FIRST DAY: Quick and painless. But GLITCH. We had linked our reservations with our friends for dining. We met 4 cruises ago as tablemates and have linked ever since. Every single time, Royal manages to screw it up. This time was the WINNER WINNER CHICKEN DINNER. We checked online pre-cruise that we were linked - both of us saw it with our very own eyes. So you can imagine the reaction when we see that we are at table 306 and they are at table 307! COME ON ROYAL - HOW HARD IS THIS? I truly understand boo boos but when you SEE IT and they still get it wrong for the third freaking time!! ACK! So we stomp to the maitre'd who fixes it. He was probably afraid of my red hair bursting into flame from the look I gave him. Lunch in the Windjammer - same old same old. Food was fine - no surprises. Honey stung chicken freshest I've had. This is usually the only Jammer meal we do. However, we had dinner in there on St Thomas night - more on that later. Rooms open at 1:30. SCORE! Luggage is already there. We unpack quickly - priorities people. We have pinacoladas to drink. Pool Bar - mustard drill - Pool Bar. We end up at a Solarium table by the time Sailaway comes since Pool Bar was packed.
The evening is kind of a blur. NOT because of pinacoladas. Just can't separate it too much from the other nights. Predinner in Concierge Lounge. More on CL and Willie later - all good. Our waiter Raymond and assistant, "I never got his name and was too blind to read his nametag but he was awesome". He had been promoted to waiter, but didn't like fighting with the chefs so he went back to being an assistant. So we reaped the benefits of having an overqualified assistant! They were both outstanding. Since our table for 6 seated 4 comfortably, we asked if they could find a bigger table for us. We had gone through this before so we knew it was possible. Not only did they make it happen, but we found out that they switched out tables every single night for us between seatings (we had late seating.) Now THAT is service. Plus Mr Wolf tends to eat like well, a wolf, some nights. We hopefully showed our appreciation both vocally and financially. Post dinner, we hung out at Bolero's, taking turns salsa dancing. It wasn't a late night since we were doing CocoCay the next day.
To be continued....Next up: CocoCay. Still to come: The Adventure of the Snorkel Bag left on the taxi in St Thomas and Yes We Got a Tour of the Bridge!!! Added Bonus: Too many jokes to mention regarding the Cruise That Came Next. No we will not stay on next week even if you pay us!
DAY TWO - COCOCAY
We stayed in a Grand Suite. We blame our friends since we used to do Junior Suite but they do GS. We had exactly one cruise in the Concierge Lounge as Diamonds before we got the boot. So we took the leap and now are very spoiled by the perks. In addition to a bathroom that you both can actually use at once, there are lots of special ways to be spoiled. One is the expanded room service menu. So we had breakfast on the large balcony which also forced us to get up. Note - we were in 1268, just aft of the cantilevered hot tubs. Good location and we had a tad deeper balcony because we were on a curve. We had a nice table with 2 chairs and 2 loungers which could go lengthwise. Brian was our Suite Attendant - he was OUTSTANDING. Loads of fun, took great care of us. We sat around talking and laughing the first day with our friends.
After breakfast (average - only time we did room service), we loaded up for CocoCay and went to the Concierge Lounge so Willie could get us on one of those lovely priority tenders. Regarding this - Willie and I had emailed a few times the week before the cruise since we wanted to reserve a cabana. He arranged it, promptly sent me a confirmation. The day before the cruise, he emailed me that he had just been told the cabanas were damaged by Sandy and would not be available. We conferred with the friends and got two cabanettes (clamshells). We were going ahead and having our friends meet us on the beach. Willie walked us down - actually he put a magic card in the elevator which took us straight to deck one and we stood in a corner until we were told to blend in with the line. I'm sure the "line" adored us for it. Tendering was well...tendering. We then took a tram to our beach.
Once we saw the cabana location and then saw Barefoot Beach where the cabanettes were, we were very pleased that things turned out the way they did. Plus we saved $150! The cabana was $200, cabanette was $50. It came with bottled water, a fruit plate, 2 floaties and an uncrowded beach and bar. Linda, the local who worked the area, was delightful. Coco Locos and buckets of beer on a quiet beach - yippee. The water was cold! Murky and lots of seaweed - thank you Sandy, you hag. Eventually we dragged our carcasses up and walked over to the main area where lunch was served - amidst hordes of people. Standard bar b q fare. We ate and then walked back to our little slice of heaven. So very glad we had Barefoot. We enjoyed ourselves. As it came close to be time to go, I told myself it was required to get in the water. You see, our previous cruise in November 2011, the weather was so cold we never got in the water the entire week. I was determined this would not repeat. So I ventured out on the floatie, the initial 5 -10 seconds had some bad words in my head but once I was in, it was ok. However, the water was full of crud and I had heard some kids earlier shriek about jelly fish so I lounged on the floatie for about 15 minutes until I was satisfied I had indeed been in the Caribbean! Tendering back was easy and it was time to change for formal night. We enjoyed Concierge Lounge time and a lovely dinner. Escargot every night made me very happy! I will be living on salads for the next 3 months as penance. We changed into clothes we could breathe in and met up in the Schooner Lounge to experience Kory Simon. Much fun was had - he has a great energy and even though you know he does this week after week, month after month, year after year, he makes you believe he is enjoying it just as much as you.
NEXT UP - SEA DAY NUMERO UNO, or as we may call it. The only HOT sea day we had.
As I just mentioned Willie was great about the cabanas and the priority tendering. He was always friendly without being intrusive. He does go by the rules so don't think you can get friends or family in the CL. He was gracious when we heard people ask but it wasn't going to happen. We had late dinner and most everyone could take their "last" drink with them when leaving for dinner. He did play guitar and sing for about half an hour on Friday and Saturday. We enjoyed it. Had it gone on for a long time, perhaps not. But it was brief and a nice change of pace. Christopher our bartender was great. However they rotate the bartenders so everyone will get someone new.
Willie also did our luggage valet service for us and arranged a bridge tour. We also had a nice cocktail hour one night in Vintages with the senior officers that was just for suite guests. We enjoyed speaking with the Hotel Director and the Staff Captain there.
Diamond Lounge - not much to tell. I was not overly impressed with the glimpses we saw. NOTHING against Bertie. In fact, I thought he seemed quite nice. When we got back from Coco, we wandered for awhile and wanted to look in there. It was about 4:15 and we were still in beach clothes. We looked in and Bertie met us quickly. He was very apologetic but asked us to not stay since it was approaching 4:30 and the early seating people in formal attire were arriving and it might upset them. I could tell he hated saying something so we assured him we completely understood, that we were just taking a look see and weren't staying. He handled himself very well and we were not offended. We made 2 short attempts again but it was way too crowded and sorry, it looked like the waiting room at a retirement home. For those who are too young to be retired, we probably didn't see you so don't hate me. One time we turned around outside the elevator because there was a horde of octogenarians ahead of us. The second time, we got to the door and watched as a gentleman in his 70's grabbed the door as it was closing and "snuck in" with an inappropriate smirk of glee on his face. Evidently, he was sneaking in and was quite pleased with himself. The place was packed with nowhere to sit so we escaped to the relative tranquility of the CL.
ps - yes I know we will be octogenarians someday. Sooner rather than later.
DAY THREE - SEA DAY
This was the first cruise that we did not have a sea day on Monday. This tended to throw me off all week and maybe contributed to me feeling this was the fastest cruise ever. I understand the itinerary but have to admit I truly enjoy having that first day at sea. We ate breakfast in the Suite area aka Portofino. This was another perk that we loved and definitely utilized. Mr Wolf had eggs benedict and I had one of the best omelettes EVER. Then it was time to start the Cruise Book. One of my fave sea day rituals is to spend a few hours in the morning in the Solarium reading. This was no exception. Got there around 9 am and it was a bit challenging to find a lounge but I did. The Chair Hogs were plentiful both here and the main pool today. We did some lounging with the afternoon including more lounging, keeping the pool bartenders occupied, lounging and a vicious game of Phase 10. The evening consisted of Concierge Lounge, a good dinner, Schooner moment, Quest, another Schooner moment and Mr Wolf sneaking away to the casino.
DAY FOUR - ST THOMAS
We had planned the perfect day. With an 11 am arrival, scheduling was key. We planned on taking a taxi to Sapphire Beach, hang for awhile, then head to Paradise Point to get bushwhacked. But you know what happens to best laid plans. All started out well. We had snorkeling gear and beach bag. We got a shared cab to Sapphire Beach. We had never been but I researched. This was a great choice (if I do say so myself and my 3 amigos agreed so I don't have to pat myself on the back alone). It was lovely, uncrowded, not too touristy, gorgeous water with perfect temp. We got 2 chairs under a tree for shade, swam, frolicked, snorkeled, admired the iguanas and ducks that shared the beach with us, drank a bucket of beer and after about 3 hours went to get our cab back to Paradise Point. We had arranged a pick up with the driver, Richie. Richie was not the most personable guy but he seemed responsible. He was there and off we went to the Point. After dropping us, we went to get our tram tickets. WTH? It was closed for maintenance. NOOOOOOOO!!!!!! We had been dreaming of getting BUSHWHACKED for months!!!! MONTHS! Ok, I'm over it. I just refuse to let anything spoil a cruise for longer than 2 minutes. Plan B. We will go to Senor Frogs at the pier. Ah - but wait. Where was the second snorkeling bag???? Yep - on Richie's taxi. EGADS!
Well, I don't let things throw me. Can't say the same for Mr Wolf who starts obsessing. It's solution time. I remark that we can find the taxi dispatcher, we know it was a white shuttle van taxi and the driver was Richie. We will have him bring it back since it was 3 hours before departure and he will most likely have a fare back to the port anyway. I am pleased with the solution. We walk to the taxi area, find a cabbie who calls and locates Richie. Mr Wolf gets on the phone with him and explains the situation. Richie is not a happy camper - says he is at the airport and doesn't want to come back to the port. But he made the mistake of telling us it WAS on the cab. How can he refuse now? Mr Wolf says we will be at Senor Frogs for 2 hours and will watch for him. Apparently, Richie is not willing or able to pick up a fare but just brings the bag back in about 20 minutes. He refuses to speak or look at Mr Wolf and friend. They tip him for bringing it back. Had he not been such a meanie , he would have gotten a much larger tip. As it was, he got paid for his trouble. Senor Frogs is not hopping but we eat and then get back onboard, again to clean up for the evening of CL, dinner, meet in Schooner etc etc. The Casino is once again visited by the gang who leaves Mr Wolf to his own devices at the U Tx Hold Em.
Since we got back "late", we decided to pass on the dining room tonight. Plus we had eaten at Frogs and the thought of a long dinner was scary. We hit the Jammer and it was quite tasty.
We went to the deck party this night. 70s music. In the interest of full disclosure, this is the music of my junior high and high school years, with a sprinkling of 80s disco for good measure. Dang - they just don't make music like this anymore!
DAY FIVE - ST MAARTEN
Our plan for St Maarten was to catch a cab and be beached whales at Orient Beach. And of course, after 5 days of pinacoladas, escargot and big meals, we were definitely at whale or at the very least, sea lion capacity. We got on a cab and our friendly driver was "Reliable Rodney". As he welcomed everyone, he gave a little speech and passed out business cards - promising us that he would pick us up at what time we wanted. He also said that if anyone LEFT ANYTHING on the taxi, all we had to do was call and he would bring it to us. Naturally this was greeted with hoots of laughter from us. Where was Reliable Rodney yesterday when we had Gritchy Richie?
We ended up at Kakao. Good location, good chairs. $7 for chair and umbrella. The water was perfection. We enjoyed being lazy and watching the thongs walk by. OK, enjoy is not the right word. We had been to Orient before and actually the nekkid people weren't very plentiful this time. Those that were weren't even disturbing. We decided to have lunch at Kakao and this became a Caribbean beach version of Waiting For Godot. The restaurant shack was right behind our chairs so at least we were close. It took almost 2 hours for our pizzas to arrive. Not sure what the issue was - maybe they had to helicopter them in from Florida or something. But we were on the beach. We just wished she could have told us so we could have waited on our loungers or frolicked in the water instead of sitting up there so long thinking, "Well it'll be here any minute." Naturally by the time it arrived, the beached whales attacked it as if we were wolverines. More frolicking, then time to find Reliable Rodney. The guys got 2 hand rolled Cuban cigars at the port and reported that they were quite good. The evening activities were, yep, you guessed it. CL, dinner, Schooner moment, casino yadda yadda yadda.
A beautiful day in St Maarten. Why oh why does the evil weather get cold and cloudy tomorrow? Doesn't the Captain know this is not allowed?
OUT OF SEQUENCE NOTE: I either need to make notes, get more sleep or youthen to remember things. We did go to the Rock Brittanica street party on the Promenade. Cannot remember what night it was to save my life. We planned ahead and scored a table outside the pub and drank adult beverages ahead of time. It was fun but since Graham's stage was the same side we were on, we didn't see much of him. But we had a great view of the dancers on the bridges. And could sit!
DAY SIX - SEA DAY
My evil plan was to get a good spot in the Solarium to read my book. It was easy to accomplish my evil plan since the wind was crazy and it was cold. Overcast too. Grr and brr. I lasted for awhile and then found a new spot out of the wind. The guys had a moment of temporary insanity and went to play bingo. Shockingly, they did not win.
Another suite perk was having Willie book us our appt with the "Get your next cruise booked" peeps. There's always a line, always a wait. We walked in 5 minutes before our appt and got to go first when a rep became available. I'm sure the other people waiting were less than impressed but we were. Sorry - it's a perk that is offered and we used it.
Around noonish, we decided to eat in the MDR. The salad bar is always great. Err...usually great. It starts out well, I pick my ingredients, get to the end and await the magic of the chopping and thrashing of the salad. Instead, he hands me the bowl with everything sitting there. It looks quite......dull. I ask him about the chopping since the bowls are there, it's set up for it. He said something about they stopped doing it. I go back to the table, a sad and dejected woman. Mr Wolf looks in horror at my salad and asks the obvious, "Why isn't it all chopped up?" I explain, then he points around at a few other people who have..yes wait for it...chopped salads. At this point, a head waiter is in the area and sees that something is amiss. I explain, he takes my salad and brings it back chopped. Then our friend comes back from the salad bar - yes unchopped. Once again, our new best friend Head Waiter, takes it back. As we were leaving the MDR, we noticed there was now a Chopping Commandant at the bar making sure they were chopping and thrashing with vigor once again. I'm not sure if they were new or were being lazy. There wasn't even much of a line so it couldn't haven't been a trick to save time. So for those of you that enjoy chopped salads on Freedom, you're welcome. I have done my small bit to save humanity.
Because the pool deck was pretty much out of the question due to weather and we were by now sleep deprived, overnourished, dehydrated due to not drinking enough water but drinking gallons of adult beverages of many tasty varieties, I was going to be a slug. After all, it was second formal night. I was going to continue my readfest on our balcony and/or under the covers of the bed while Mr Wolf sprinted to_______. Those of you that guessed the casino would be 100% correct. Give yourself a pat on the back. I napped and read. I had a hair appt at 5 pm to have my locks blown out. Another nice thing Willie did for me so I didn't have to stand in line. More on this though.
At 4:30 there was no sign of You Know Who. Since it was formal night and I knew when I got back from Hair Time, it would be time for the CL, I now had to go drag him out of there before going to the salon. I forcibly removed him and sent him to the room. Most wives know this trick - it is called THE LOOK. I got to the salon about 5 minutes early. Reception told me she was running a few minutes late. At 5:20, I threw in the towel. I wasn't upset but told them that I couldn't wait any longer since at this point, I knew everyone would be waiting on me. They were apologetic, I was fine with it - these things happen. I just made sure they wouldn't charge me a cancellation fee. Note - I have done quite a few massages and hair appts onboard and this was the first time they ran behind. Not the end of the world.
We had some fun with Mr Wolf tonight. Unbeknownst to him, our friends had arranged with Willie for us to get a bridge tour. We had been toying with him that we knew a "secret". We didn't want to tell him until we knew it was a done deal. We received an invitation in the room but he hadn't seen it. I slipped it in my purse for evidence. To torture him, our friends asked if we had gotten the invite. Mr Wolf can win a pouting contest against a 5 year old and this was no exception. We put him out of his misery pretty quickly.
Evening - more of the same. We went to Graham Seymour's late night comedy show. 11:15 so not too late. This one is popular - the theater was full. We enjoyed it a lot. Again, I can be a pain on entertainment and I work with wonderful comedians and improv performers so I'm a hard sell. Great fun - don't take the kids.
Note on Graham - the only times we ever saw him were at Quest, Rock Brittanica and his show. That is not a knock, just an observation. But a CD should also be judged on his staff and I can say that he's a great CD since his Activities staff were energetic, active, visible and seemed happy doing their jobs. That has not always been the case on other ships. I think the Activities Director was Lee and he was a riot at the pool activities.
We ended the night in the library. Yeah, you didn't really believe that did you? BUT - Mr Wolf ended the week in the casino tonight. He stayed away the last night because yes, his winning streak was so good it covered his losses, my feeble slot machine losses (Thanks for nothing Mummy and Monkeys) and our entire onboard account. Which I won't admit to. Suffice to say purple chips were involved.
The weather was improved. Clouds seemed to burn off midmorning. Wind was much better - yesterday it was from the north, today from the east. After another great omelette in Portofino (another great perk that you don't think about until you have THAT food instead of the other options). It was comfortable on deck but I stayed in swim coverup and shorts all day - not too many people in the water either so I feel certain it was pretty cold.
Typical sea day of essentially doing nothing but feeling like the day goes by too fast. All we knew was that we had to be ready for the Bridge Tour at 4:30. Now, since we are D + (yippee - this is it we will NEVER get to Pinnacle), we get opportunities to do Theater Tour ( uh no thanks, know them already - I even trod the boards myself as a precocious kid/teen), Kitchen Galley Tour (er, don't really cook and I've seen plenty from all the Travel Channel cruise shows out there) but a Bridge Tour might be cool.
First after essentially doing nothing, we decided to hit Johnny Rockets for lunch. Seriously, we've got to remember to only do JR's when completely starving and not interested in dinner. It was even a relatively late lunch. Amusing note - the cook at JR's was the cook from our Portofino's breakfast. We recognized her (we sat at the counter). So we got to tell her that she made the best omelettes EVER! She had a big smile on her face. I'm sure they never really get to see passengers much less be told in person how they made an impact. Of course, her big smile might have had something to do that her contract was over the next day and she was going home. More doing nothing - which always feels like something on a cruise ship. Then we went to the Deck 10 forward elevators to meet up. There were probably about a dozen people. They do a quick security wand search, check your bags, tell you no video but stills are ok and off you go. It was interesting to see the officers cabins are located right off the bridge - makes sense, they can get there fast if needed. The view was amazing - you really see the beauty of the open sea. It helped that it was approaching sunset too. The Officer that spoke with us was very nice, professional and knowledgeable. I thought it was interesting how quiet the bridge was and how few personnel were in there. Probably only about 4 officers at that time. For some reason, you think of it as a hive of activity but with all the navigation equipment now and the fact that we were in great weather with relatively calm seas, it was a peaceful place. They even have a little seating area, couches and table, either for them to relax or for guests allowed on the bridge. The Captain was not present.
Time to pack up and prepare for the final evening. We weren't too depressed this time since we had already booked Navigator and it was a mere 4 months away.
Again, nothing really springs to mind. Final night is final night. Those of you that cruise often probably have your own little routines too. New cruisers, the only advice I can give is accept that you may not do everything you plan. We never do. It's ok - just be happy about the things you did do! We were pretty whipped from the week so turned in around midnight.
Again, nice perk was we could have seating in Cielo off the starboard side of the MDR on Deck 3. From here, Willie would tell us when we could get off the ship. Our waiters had told us that even though we could order off the menu, only 2 waiters worked that room so we should go ahead and do the buffet since it would be faster. We did - and were again glad we had that special breakfast option during the week. Mediocre is kind to describe it. We were off early, before 8 am and loaded onto our Travelynx bus where I dozed all the way to the airport.