A bit of background: DW and I are on both sides of 50 and pushing 20 cruises, this is our third on RCI (last RCI was about 4 or 5 years ago). Previous cruises were on the Grandeur out of New Orleans and the Adventure out of San Juan. We've lately been sailing mostly Princess (7? -- in June we did a 12day Med). Last Christmas we did an 11day HAL to Panama Canal and ABC islands.
Pre-Day 1: Got into Chicago Union Station (Amtrak) around noon and checked our bags to Baltimore (Amtrak allows 2 50# bags person for no additional charge). We got some lunch and walked down to the loop where I tried to stay engaged w/ my wife as we wandered in and out of the various stores. Our train, #50 the Cardinal departed on time at 5:05pm and soon we were rolling south through Indiana, watching the countryside go by from our roomette and then the dining car.
Pre-Day 2: I awoke early somewhere in KY and spent much of the morning taking in the breath taking scenery along the New River Gorge area of WV. We rolled into Baltimore on time at 705pm (I enjoyed the 26hrs on the train... DW, not so much) and took a cab to the Fairfield Inn& Suites Inner Harbor.
Day 1: I was up early and headed out in a snowstorm to explore the Inner Harbor area while DW finished her slumber and got ready. I returned to the hotel soaked, but ready to head south on a ship.
We took a cab to the cruise terminal; the embarkation was painless and we were soon having lunch in the Park Cafe. I enjoyed my first roast beef sandwich and some of the fresh salads. This is a far nicer venue than the hotdog stand it replaced. Around 1:30 we headed to our room to check it out and drop the carryons. This was an inside room, booked last minute, so expectation was pretty low and room did not exceed expectation, although I will give it points for a new large flat screen TV. Compared to other rooms, this had the largest TV and the smallest shower.
So, we set off to explore; public areas were very nice for a ship this old. The centrum had that older-ship classic look that spiraled up all 10 decks. There was snow piled on deck 9 (pool deck), so I made a small snowman, just because I could.
We had dinner in the Windjammer and while I was a bit underwhelmed, I certainly received my required caloric intake. Later we went to the welcome aboard show and were quite entertained.
Day 2: I was up and out of the room early while DW finished her slumbering (typically 'til 11 or so... just because she can). I got coffee, some fresh fruit and a breakfast panini at the Park Cafe and eventually found my way to the trivia at Schooners where I was invited to play with a nice couple from Pennsylvania who have done 50+ RCI cruises with about 5 more booked this year. Funny, we managed to do pretty well, but mostly because they knew the answers from previous trivia matches.
I figured by now it was time to roust DW, so I stopped at the Windjammer for some enticements (coffee and sweet rolls) and headed back to the room. We then went to the Windjammer for lunch. I found it OK, but uninspired, but once again, my caloric intake was not forsaken.
I met my new trivia buds back at Schooners for something called Triploid or some such thing. You are given 3 words and must find something in common with all of them... for example, the clues : "finger, house, war"; the answer is "paint". We went ten for ten and were rewarded with key chains... my trivia buds gave me theirs so I had 3... woo hoo!
It was still uncomfortably cold on the outside decks, so DW and I went to Boleros and watched football for much of the afternoon.
Tonight was the first meet the captain party, oddly though, it was smart casual attire... I'm thinking they switched formal night to tomorrow (New Year's Eve). We attended the capt's affair and enjoyed snacks and sparkling wine. Later we dined in the MDR, we had anytime dining and were seated at a table for 2 immediately (8pm) and shared 3 entrees... our waiter (Ronaldo) recommended the lamb shanks and they were excellent as were the other dishes. Only disappointment was the escargot, which were on the menu, but replaced with tiny scallops served in the escargot plate... these were barely OK.
By now it was starting to warm outside, so I grabbed my GPS to see where we were... There was no map on the TV, just the latitude/longitude coordinates. We were a couple hundred miles east of Jacksonville, FL.
Day 3: Today DW managed to get up earlier as we were planning to take the shuttle to Cocoa Beach. We arrived in Port Canaveral around 11. I went to the shore excursion desk to purchase tickets for the shuttle and was told to go to the main theater. We got there and were instructed to stand in a line that stretched down from deck 5 to deck two and all the way to the gangway (center ship). While this was a bit different, I figured the shore excursion folks would be the first ones off the ship. Not the case; the shore excursion folks were merged at the gangway with the hordes of others coming down the stairs from the Centrum to the gangway. I still cannot make sense of why the shore excursion folks were herded down to deck two and then led halfway down the ship to the gangway (all the while folks with rooms on deck two were battling the packed hallway to get to and from their rooms)???
Anyway, we get to Ron Jon's and walk the beach to the pier that is about a half mile north. DW and I dined here 20 years ago when the kids were in grade school. We had a nice lunch, DW then goes over to the beach, and I head further out the pier to check out the fishing (I always cruise with a pack-rod). I buy some bait (frozen whole shrimps w/ heads) and proceed to start fishing. I can see DW over on the beach, she is in heaven. I caught a few un-notables, and have a few huge pelicans that seem very interested in my catches... they are a bit intimidating, but mostly amusing.
By late afternoon, we are back on the ship and getting ready for the New Year's Eve festivities. Formal night and DW is struggling to get her hair just so... eventually it is to her liking. I don my black suit and we head to the MDR for dinner. Once again, we are seated at a table for two and greatly enjoyed our dinners.
Following dinner, the evening's festivities are in full swing and we wander from venue to venue and wind up in the Viking Crown Lounge enjoying the disco music (did I actually say that?). We head down to the Centrum around 11:45 for the balloon drop. It was a very similar chaotic experience as we had on the Grandeur on New Year's Eve some years back... The music was loud, the champagne flowed and a fun time seemed to be had by all!
BTW, I've failed to mention our CD, Luke Arrowsmith who has done a fantastic job... one of, if not the best we've had. A bundle of very focused energy.
Also, today Capt Gus announced a norovirus outbreak, thus we have stepped our preventative measures. We've witnessed appalling, germ spreading behavior by guests in the Windjammer, folks picking up food with their bare hands, some being returned, etc... all while the staff looked on. I wish they would be more stringent about enforcing preventive measures and general buffet etiquette.
Day 4: Awoke to sunshine and warmth this morning... this is where I really don't understand the design of this itinerary. We were in port last night until 11 or 12. Today we arrive in Nassau at 1pm. Why not leave Port Canaveral at 7pm and arrive in Nassau at 8am? The only other ships in port were two Carnival Fantasy class ships (small), so it does not appear to be a port capacity issue?
This time, rather than participate, we watched with amazement and intrigue as those with shore excursions were herded from the theater on deck 5, down the stairs to deck 2 and through the hallway to the center-ship gangway.
Last night was the Junkanoo Festival/Parade, it runs from 2am to 8am and is the Bahamian equivalent of a Mardi Gras parade. We got there just in time to see them cleaning up. They were taking down the grandstands, hauling away the floats, cleaning the streets... It must have been a heck of a party! We took a walking tour from Frommers (printed google map) and then walked to Junkanoo Beach (off the ship take a right and it is just past the Colonial Hilton) and on to the Fish Fry. The last time we went to this beach was about 6 or 7 years ago and it was an un-named shore comprised of rubble and rock. Now it is a nice sandy beach with beach-shack shops and restaurants. A huge improvement!
Day 5: Finally, the destination we had really been looking forward to; the only real destination for us on the itinerary... Coco Cay! We were both up early. I caught the first tender in and although I had not been here before, I had been to the sister island, NCL's Great Stirrup Cay, so I knew exactly where I wanted to go; as far away from civilization as I could. So, I got off the tender and headed to the far end of the island for some peace, some quiet and some fishing.
I had a spool of 10lb and a spool of 20lb line. I opted for the 10lb line and after a couple of casts, I was into a nasty barracuda who after a short wrestling match had managed to bite off the lure. Same with the second one ... man these things have a nasty disposition! So I switch to 20lb, but now I was out of the shiny cream-colored soft plastic baits that had fooled the first 2 fish. It was pretty slow fishing and the tide was going out. I had planned to meet DW at noon for some lunch and snorkeling... So, I headed back to where I'd gotten off the tender, met DW and we proceeded to have a nice lunch of ribs, chicken, burgers, fresh fruit and beer.
Following lunch, we headed off the beach to snorkel and had a great time. The highlight was a huge spotted eagle ray. This thing had a wingspan of about 10ft, a head like a dog and a tail that was maybe 10ft long. It swam by, turned and came toward us... we were a bit intimidated... ok, more than a bit! But it was awesome!
It was now about 2pm, and it was time to get back to fishing... I headed back to my previous haunt (about 1 mile) and by now, it was really shallow, but looked like good conditions for bonefish, so I waded out, donned the light spool, but could only spot the occasional single and no large groups. About 4:15 a RCI worker drove up in a cart and told me it was time to get back to the ship. I told him I thought the last tender was at 5:30, he told me it was 5:00... ??? So I fished a bit more. There was a woman fishing off the point with a throw line (the traditional way the locals fish). There was also a woman fishing a couple hundred yards out in a motor boat who had been out there in the morning as well and she seemed to catch fish continuously.
I went out to the point and found out the woman fishing was a RCI employee who lived on the island with about 80 other employees. She is originally from Andros Island. She had caught a couple jacks that were to be her and her husband's dinner that night. Her husband was visiting that week (we also saw lots of ship employee's relatives on board). She said they were contracted in much the same way the ship employees are. She also said that the woman in the boat owned a grocery store on a neighboring island and sold the fish she caught through her store and to restaurants.
So, it is now about 4:45 and I figure I'd better get back to the tender just in case the guy who told me to be back at 5 was right (but I figured he just wanted to get his day done so he could get home and have a beer). The last tender left at 5:30 and those riding on the top deck were treated to a beautiful sunset as we made our way back to the ship... a perfect finish to a spectacular day!
Day 6: Up early and greeted with sunshine and warmth. This was the big poolside activity day. I watched the belly flop contest and participated in the Crew vs Guests volleyball tournament. It was a great time and there were several (6?) teams of 6 to take on the crew team... About half of the guest teams managed to beat the crew team and the finale was having all the guest teams in the pool together against the crew team. There was very little room to maneuver, but the guests won by one point.
I also did the bungee jump much to DW's amusement.
Day 7: Sunny and cooler today as we steamed north. I did the 10:00 trivia this morning and we got our butts handed to us by a couple who are staying on the ship for 71 days. I'm told they sold their wintering home in FL and find staying on a ship is more economical than owning a place and staying in FL???
It was a leisurely day; I managed to get 90% of my packing done early in the afternoon. Very quiet on the pool deck as it is quite cold and windy, but there are a few brave souls bundled up out there enjoying the last day of their cruise. Late this afternoon I put on a hooded sweatshirt and went out just to get out. I am glad I did as I spotted some whale spouts and spent about 30min watching spouts and a few flashes of tails and bodies as the pod/herd/flock/gaggle/brood headed south.
This evening we went to the farewell/ back to reality show and were amused by the CD, a comedian and the captain. We then had dinner in the MDR and both ordered a seafood combo of fish, scallops and shrimp... they were lightly breaded and very tasty.
Disembarkation day: We were out of our room at 8 and had breakfast in the MDR. We were seated next to a family of 4 and found out the youngest (6?) had been quarantined for a day with the norovirus. When my wife got it on the Grandeur she was quarantined for 2 days and because I was in the room with her, I was quarantined for 1, so it looks like they may have changed their procedure???
I couldn't help but notice that during breakfast, this family had almost zero interaction with each other as the parents and oldest kid were heads down, buried in their electronic devices... Is this the typical new millennium family? OK, enough of my social commentary...
Anyway, we are off the ship around 9:30, take a cab to Penn Station and await our 12:43 train to WAS where we catch train #29, The Capitol Limited home.
All in all it was a very nice winter getaway, Baltimore Inner Harbor is a great area and I hope to sail out of here again. FWIW, below are my likes and dislikes.
With one exception (see below), the MDR food was flavorful and nicely presented. The big flat screen TV in our room was very nice. Embarkation and disembarkation were very efficient. The Park Cafe was a nice addition; I enjoyed most breakfasts and lunches here. Capt Gus was very funny and personable (be sure to catch the farewell show on the last night for a great surprise!). CD Luke deserves high praise as well; he was very energetic, entertaining and approachable.
Music fans take note; the live bands on this ship were exceptional (I was a touring musician in a former life). The Shine band played a wide variety of old school country mostly late '50s to mid '70s... avoiding much of that schlocky country rock stuff of the last 30 years. This is not a variety band, this is straight up, drownin' in your beer country music which I found very refreshing. The Roots Vibration band had an incredible singer, Dery, who had impeccable control, strength and range... He blew my sox off! They did a broad range of reggae, calypso, doo-wop and Motown. The Enchantment Orchestra was also very impressive they could really swing those big band classics. It was the strongest live music lineup of all our cruises. I generally do not have nice things to say about the schmaltzy, anemic, amateurish, off-key live music on cruise ships.
The procedure for disembarking shore excursion participants was laughable. The lobster was strong tasting and stringy. The buffet was uninspired and virtually the same for breakfast and lunch each day (after the mention of noro I mostly avoided it). The tiny shower was challenging. The shower temperature control was hard to dial in and on the last day there was no hot water. We found closet space lacking and the drawers in the closet practically useless. The TV's navigation channel did not have a map showing the ships position. Nor was there a channel showing an outdoor camera view. The service in the MDR was inconsistent/up and down.
I sure wish they still had that Royal Belgian Ale.