First a little about me. This will be my 22nd cruise. It is my eighth cruise on Royal Caribbean and for the first time in 22 cruises I am repeating a ship. I was on the Navigator of the Seas back in August 2004. At the request of someone who wanted more details, I decided to write my review while on the ship when things were still fresh in my mind. Then, at the request of several, I loaded photo editing software on my laptop so that I could edit the photographs and add the photographs to the review on the main boards. I also post my review to the review section, but I cannot include the photographs in the review section. I post to the review section so that those searching for a review can find it easily. I post to the main boards so those that want to add comments or ask questions can.
I am bringing three cameras with me. I have a Nikon D5100 that I will use mainly on the ship, a Canon A1300 that I will use mainly on dry land off the ship (I call it my travel camera because it is much smaller than the DSLR so it is much easier to carry around on shore excursions) and a Canon D10 waterproof camera that I will use in the water, such as in Cozumel and Grand Cayman.
Thursday, February 28, 2013 -- Travel day
I am currently at LAX waiting for my flight to New Orleans. I made reservations for a taxi to take me to the Fly-Away Bus which will take me to LAX. Total trip cost - $26 including tip. It comes to about $100 if I take the taxi all the way and about the same amount if I drive and pay for parking. I'll use a share-the-ride van to return home, which costs about $48 because the Fly-Away Bus takes a long time to show up and when it does, since United is the last stop, sometimes it is full.
At any rate last night I called the taxi company to confirm my reservation and verify that they have the special instructions I gave them. They wanted to know if I was ready to go (what twelve hours early -- NO!). The next morning I get a quick call, "The taxi has arrived" CLICK. I run outside -- no taxi. I call and I'm told the taxi is on his way. Ten minutes another call, "The taxi has arrived" CLICK. I've been standing outside all this time and still no taxi. I call again. This time I get someone who is rather rude. Still no taxi. Then another call to me. This time the person says she has the driver on the phone. Once again the special instructions I gave them are ignored. This happens every time because I am not physically located on the same street that is my street address. I've got to give a different taxi company a try. I go through this every time with this company, though this is the first time I ended up with someone who was rude.
All that said and done, I make it to the bus on time and despite the famous Los Angeles traffic, we make it to the airport in a reasonable amount of time. The security line was not too bad except my lower right leg need a pat down. Just the lower right leg, nothing else. What does my right leg have that my left leg doesn't have? Who knows? So here I am, in the United Club (thanks to a day pass I have) at LAX typing this and boarding will begin in about ten minutes. So I'll get back to you after my arrival in New Orleans. Unfortunately I'll be spending a long time at the New Orleans Airport before the return flight (working on this) and there is no United Club in the airport.
Well the flight to New Orleans was uneventful. The in-flight entertainment was Chasing Mavericks, a film about a surfer named Jay Moriarity, a very good film in my opinion. I am in an Economy Plus seat. I've been in first class and it is not worth the extra cost. All I want is the extra legroom and Economy Plus offers that for a very reasonable price over the cost of knees in the back of the seat in front of you coach. My two seat mates are great. One is from New Orleans but now lives in Southern California and the other is also taking a cruise on Carnival. My one checked bag is one of the first to come of the plane that is not marked priority (first class and those willing to pay extra for the service get their bags marked priority). One mistake I made was to exchange my camera bag (with the camera in it) for my computer bag, after the movie was over. So now the camera bag is in the overhead bin and I have a window seat with a great view of New Orleans -- RATS! I have a Sudoku book in the computer bag that I used to pass the time until we land which is why I made the switch.
I must admit, I was surprised at what I saw of the Mississippi River. I was expecting a very wide blue tinted, fairly straight river. Instead what I saw was much narrower than I expected the color of mud, full of barges and with more switch backs than a steep mountain road. No wonder it takes eight hours to get from the gulf to the city, the ship has to travel three times further than a crow would fly making the same trip.
On the way out of the airport I see a hotel shuttle service. It costs $20 one way ($38 round trip -- I'm taking the ship's shore excursion tour back to the airport). I estimated a taxi would cost $100, so I try it out. Each van holds fourteen people and I am number seventeen in line. Ahead of me is someone else from Southern California and someone from Australia. We chat for a bit which helps fill the time until the next van arrives. All in all I spent 45 minutes in line. It is the price one pays to save $80. I'm not in any rush, so the delay is not that big of a deal. But then I get lucky. I'm last one dropped off, so I get a free tour of the downtown / French Quarter area.
I'm in the Courtyard New Orleans Downtown. It used to be the Iberville Suites. It is a two room suite and a very nice hotel room. I highly recommend it. I "won" it in a bid on one of those sites where you don't know what you are getting until you get it (picture the former captain of the Enterprise and you'll know which site I used). It is located one block from Bourbon Street and one block from Canal Street, so it is a great location. There is even free Internet access. Usually the more the room cost, the more the Internet access costs.
I drop off my luggage, grab my travel camera, and head off to a nearby (walking distance) steakhouse. I get a 24 ounce rib eye (I haven't eaten except for a sandwich on the plane) all day, so I have no problem finishing off a very good steak. The steak, ice tea, three good sized shrimp (the term large shrimp is an oxymoron) and a pecan pie plus tip comes to $77. Expensive, but well worth it. The steak house is Brennan Steak House and it is about two blocks from the hotel.
After dinner it is about 7:30pm and I decide to checkout Bourbon Street at night. The street is blocked off from traffic, so people can walk down the middle of the street. For the most part the street is filled with bars, restaurants, jazz halls and places where you can learn some new pole dancing moves (if that is what you are into). They all say no cover charge, so watch out for the drink prices.
Finally I head back to the hotel to check out one of the two large wide screen TVs in the large sitting room. Discovery Channel and the History Channel offer some things to keep me entertained until it is late (here -- my body is still two hours behind) and then I update this.
Well, tomorrow I am meeting several people I have been corresponding with for the last six and a half years on one of the cruise forums I belong too. We will meet, for the first time, for a two hour tour, on the Steamboat Natchez. So, until tomorrow morning, well, actually later this morning, good night.
Friday, March 1 -- Visiting New Orleans
Since I stayed up late, I slept in late, getting up in time to shower and still have time for lunch and then off to the 11:30am lunch tour on the Steamboat Natchez. I decide to catch quick lunch at McDonalds. Unfortunately I arrived at 10:25am and lunch is not until 10:30am, so I have breakfast. I went to McDonalds because I know where it is, it is close (just down the block) and it is quick. I know there is another McDonalds just around the block from the one I am in. However, upon arriving back at the hotel I realize there is also a McDonalds across the street from the hotel.
I grab my camera, catch a cab and head over to the Steamship Natchez. It is an $8 cab ride including tip. I board the ship no problem. I meet up with some of the people I'll be cruising with. Then I head out to take some pictures. But the camera refuses to take the picture. A quick check reveals the problem. When I uploaded the pictures last night I took the memory card out of the camera and put it in the computer. Unfortunately I forgot to reverse the process -- stupid mistake. I have over one hundred gigabytes on over ten memory cards. Unfortunately they are all currently in the hotel room. Fortunately one of my future fellow passengers had an extra memory card.
The tour is great. First I check out the ship and they let us into the engine room. One of the people in the engine room sees how interested I was in the goings on and gave me an information sheet on the ship. Then I head back to the person who lent me the memory card to tell him about the engine room. Soon we are both touring the engine room. Then suddenly it seems half the passengers on the ship show up in the engine room. About the time I finish checking out the ship it reaches the halfway point. The ship turns around and I get the chance to see the goings on around the river on the way back.
After departing the ship I check out the river walk. There is an IMAX Theater and an aquarium. I would check them out but they are $20 plus each, and I don't feel like spending that kind of money right now.
My little walk has lead me to the Cable Street street car. It is only $1.25 to get back, but I end up waiting about twenty minutes until one of the electric trolleys, going in the same direction I want to go, shows up.
Back at the hotel I just relax until it is dinner time. Tonight I am going to try an Italian restaurant I found last night when walking up and down Bourbon Street. One thing I notice when walking to the restaurant is that Bourbon Street is more crowded tonight (Friday night) than it was last night. I end up ordering lasagna with a shrimp appetizer. I also had ice tea, but the tea was pre-sweetened. It was too sweet for me; I ended up having to water it down with water. Total cost, including the tip is $44, and that is the problem. Once a week I get an equally good Italian dinner at a restaurant home for half this price. This is why I tend to avoid the Italian restaurants on the ship. For the most part pasta is pasta. However, there are different qualities of meet (select, choice and prime) and methods of cooking that do make a difference so I do like to go to the ship board steakhouses.
After dinner I am back in the hotel room watching TV, uploading my photographs and working on this. I've enjoyed New Orleans and would not mind coming back here again in the future. But for now it is 2am (again) and I've got a very important meeting I have to make later this afternoon, so until later this morning, good night.
Saturday, March 02, 2013 -- Embarkation day
I'm up at 8am. I check out the Internet for the last time. I don't do Internet on the ship unless there is a lot of interest in the ship, and there isn't that much interest in this ship at this time. Then I pack. Just before I am ready to shower and dress housekeeping knocks on my door. It is only 10am and I am planning to leave at 10:30am. Checkout time is noon, so I tell her I'll be leaving pretty soon. I've learned to bar the door from the inside when I am showing because these people (on land or sea) knock, and if they don't get a reply they use their pass key. Well, if I'm in the shower I am not going to hear them knock.
At any rate I leave the hotel at 10:30am, just like I planned, and catch a cab. My plan is to get to the port at 11am and hopefully board by 11:30am. To my surprise, the cruise ship that was there yesterday (the Oriana) is still there. We are directed to a different location to unload and board. The driver was great, so I ended up giving him a 33% tip. He was asking about the recent cruise ship problems and I we eventually compared plane crashes to ships sinking. I ended up telling him that there were a lot more planes in the ocean than ships in the sky. He laughed and then said he had to agree with me on that. We keep up this back and forth the whole trip, it was quite entertaining.
Well, at any rate I start walking toward the terminal and it looks like people are already boarding. I am both diamond and in a (mini) suite. It is the suite line that is boarding and fifteen minutes after giving my checked bag to the porter I am on the ship.
It is a strange feeling, as this is the first time I have ever repeated a ship. In 2004 all I had was a 3.2 mega pixel camera with a two to one zoom. Now I have a DSLR (16 mega pixels) and the lens I am using to photograph the ship has a six to one zoom (plus I have an even more powerful zoom giving me a total zoom range of about eleven to one). At any rate, I sneak into my cabin, find my cabin steward, tell him I am dropping off my carry-ons, and go about photographing the ship, and this time I know what I want to photograph and where it is from experience (I took over 500 photographs today). Just as I get to the Windjammer they announce that the cabins are ready. What luck, with everyone leaving the Windjammer I have no problem getting a table.
By this time I have photographed everything I want on decks eleven through fourteen. So after lunch I head back to the cabin to see if my luggage has arrived (not yet). So I head over to the cabin of the guy who lent me the memory card. I knock -- no answer. I start to leave and look who is coming down the hall (my timing seems to be perfect today). I give him the memory card (with the pictures still on it) plus interest (I gave him an extra one I have -- don't worry, I still have ten or eleven with me totaling well over one hundred gigabytes).
After that I go to the common areas on the lower decks (decks three, four and five). After all of that it is back to cabin where I find my luggage waiting for me. I put it in the walk-in closet and sit down and rest for a bit. Then I see the sign that if I want ice I have to ask for it and my room steward is nowhere to be found. So I have to drink the not so cold water from the tap. Just in case I put a glass of water in the mini fridge and then photograph the cabin. Once I finish that it is time to unpack. Now it is after 3pm and I figure the muster drill is at 4pm (I was right). So I decide to just rest and have some more water. To my surprise, the water in the cabin refrigerator is cold. For the first time in my cruising history I've got a refrigerator that actually works.
Soon the dreaded seven short and one long horn sound. I put my shoes on and open the door just in time to find my room steward checking up on me (they put a red card in the card key slot to indicate that the cabin has been checked. Why, they take roll at the muster drill. At any rate I ask for ice, which he says he will get for me after the muster drill. At the muster drill I am told to stand in a place that allows me to be the first one in the door when the muster drill is over (like I said, my timing is great today -- too bad they don't sell lottery tickets on the ship). We are having our sail-away in the Viking Lounge, so I take an elevator from deck four to deck fourteen.
At the sail-away I have a mudslide (complete with state sale's tax) and watch as the captain uses his thrusters to move away from the dock and then spins the ship so that we can go down river. At this point the Mississippi River is only a little wider than this ship is long. So we are headed down river, a trip that will take about eight hours. As the sun sets I can no longer tell were the river banks are and soon land and river blend into one. I'm not sure how the pilot can tell, since ships don't have headlights.
Finally I leave the sail-away to take a few night time shots (it is dark outside and the lights are on inside, making photography through the windows of the Viking Lounge a bad idea. Then back to the cabin as dinner will be ready soon (I have late seating). I turn on the TV and what do I see, a program on the George Smith incident. At first I wonder why Royal Caribbean is showing this when I realize this is just a regularly scheduled program (Nancy Grace Mysteries).
I don't know if she solved the mystery of how George Smith died (though she seems to be leaning toward blaming the Russians) because I had to leave to go to dinner. There were lots of good choices, so I decide to have both the chicken and the extra cost, cooked to order, filet from Chops (which comes to $18.54 including tip and tax). The chicken was good and the steak was excellent. My tablemates, as well as those at the table next to me, are all part of the group I am in. Great group by the way.
After dinner I am dead tired and head back to the cabin to upload the pictures and work on this. I decide to venture out on my balcony to see what I can see (which is not much) when I notice a big ship headed toward us. It is the Carnival Conquest on its way to New Orleans. I run back into the cabin to grab my camera and I take a few pictures. Then back in the cabin to upload the pictures and continue to work on this. The next time I look up there are a whole bunch of balconies just outside my window. I grab my camera again and run outside again. This time it is an NCL ship. I didn't get the name, but I am guessing it is the NCL Sky. All of this occurred between 11 and 11:10pm. Given we are still in the river, the ships are passing each other at about two hundred feet apart (my estimate -- at the Captain's Corner I learns that the ships are actually 400 feet apart).
It is now midnight and it is too dark for me to tell if we are still in the river. Oh wait a second, there is a clue. The pilot boat is right below me. Okay, we must be ready to say goodbye to the river pilot and set a course in the Gulf of Mexico for, well Mexico (Cozumel to be exact).
At any rate, it is late, I've covered the highlights for today (now yesterday) and I am tired. So, until later today -- good night.
Sunday, March 3, 2013 -- Day at Sea
I wake up at about 6:35am and suddenly realize my mistake. I forgot to check on the status of the sunrise when I first opened my eyes earlier. Still, I do get a couple of good sun risen photos, just to show I was there. Also, either the river has become extremely wide, or we are in the Gulf of Mexico, doing about 17.5 knots on our way to Cozumel. We were going about 15 knots in the river. However, the reason we didn't make much progress in the first eight hours is that the river has many switch backs. Now in the open ocean we are on a straight SSE course and have traveled much further in the last seven hours then we did during the first seven hours.
According to the ship's information channel, we have traveled 243 miles since leaving New Orleans. We are only about one and half miles from land; though that land is straight down (we don't want to go in that direction). The ship's information channel gives all sorts of good information except for one very important bit of information -- the air temperature. Still it felt nice when I was taking the pictures, at least ten degrees warmer than what we were experiencing in New Orleans. I expect we will see temperatures in the lower seventies soon, as the sun is quite warm (though there is a lot of cloud cover). Okay, that was the 7:30am forecast. The 9am revised forecast is nice and cool due to heavy cloud cover. Most of the passengers will not be happy, but I am, I like it cool.
It is single t-shirt weather for me, which is good, because I'm wearing my favorite cruise ship t-shirt. It shows a deer in a forest with arrows stuck in all the trees. The caption reads vegetarian, Indian word for lousy hunter. I bought it on my first cruise in Sitka, Alaska in 1999.
Last night I was so tired I forgot to begin charging my camera batteries. No matter, this junior suite has two plugs. Now all I have to do is find my little camera bag. I don't see it and I do remember packing it when I left the hotel. After double checking all the places I remember putting things in it suddenly occurs to me that behind the side mirrors on the desk is some storage room that is the perfect size for my small camera bag. Sure enough that is where it is.
Well, it is 8am now. Time to shower, get dressed, perhaps get some breakfast and maybe a short video from the bow. Then at 10am we are having a gift exchange followed by a Meet and Mingle at 11:30am in the Dungeon (the disco). What a terrible place for a Meet and Mingle as it is dark down there.
I decide to bring my breakfast of bacon, eggs, rice and milk back to the cabin to eat on the balcony. And yes, that is a banana in my pocket, except it is in my back pocket. The plates are big, but there are no trays, so things like silverware and the banana have to be transported in my pockets.
After breakfast I update this and then it is off to the helicopter pad for a short video. On the way I take more pictures of the Royal Promenade. I also check out the stores. This is not a good time to go to the stores because this is when they first open and EVERYBODY wants to check them out. Though I'm not going to buy anything, I do get to see what I might be interested in, and it's not much. This of course is a problem with the number of cruises I have taken. I pretty much have everything I want. Maybe later in the week they will have something that interests me.
Now it is 9:40am and time to get ready for the gift exchange. First I tried to give away some of the discount coupons that I received in my diamond coupon book. I couldn't give away all the coupons I had no intention of using. One coupon is good for a fifteen percent discount on $1,000 or more jewelry purchase. If you really like your bedding, I've got a fifteen percent coupon if you are interested in purchasing it. I didn't find any takers either of those two coupons. However, I was able to get rid of my free spin and match play coupons. After the gift exchange I ended up with a mug from Minnesota, which just happens to be the location of the headwaters of the Mississippi River.
Then we went to the stairs near the Metropolis Theater for a group photo. Many of us then went to the Dungeon for another Meet and Mingle event. Though I knew the time and place, I did not receive the invitation -- until I returned to the cabin with my friends AFTER the Meet and Mingle. There was also an invitation to a behind-the-scenes Theater Tour. I did this on the Enchantment of the Seas and I did not find it that interesting. I'll wait until I'm diamond plus when more interesting tours are offered. Finally there is an invitation to a diamond event tomorrow late afternoon.
As I suspected, the Dungeon was not a good place for the Meet and Mingle as it is dark down there. There were a few small prizes given out, than then a friend won the grand prize, which was one of each of the prior prizes in a small backpack. We then spoke for a long time and then went to my cabin followed by my friend's grand suite for our own private, and limited, cabin crawl. They then headed to the ice show and I went back to my cabin where my lack of sleep caught up with me. But prior to that someone came by to check the mini-fridge see if I had used any of the items. I showed him that I moved things too make room for my orange juice and glass of cold water. However, nothing was missing.
After a much needed two hour nap I went up to deck twelve to catch the sunset. I was not the only one there for that purpose. However, the sun set behind the clouds. In short, the sunset was a bust. Then it was time to get dressed for formal night.
I posed for three pictures and then used one of my two for one drink coupons. Then I got in line to have my picture taken with the captain. I was the third or fourth person to have my picture taken with the captain and thus ended up on the DVD, so I paid the $30 for the DVD.
After the introduction of the senior staff by the captain, it was time for dinner. I had the chicken salad with apple slices and walnuts as an appetizer and ravioli with shrimp as the main course. Both were very good.
After dinner I decided to just go back to the cabin, upload my photographs and work on this. It is now a little after midnight and I am going to be swimming with a manatee in about ten hours. So until later today, good night.
Monday, March 4 -- Cozumel
It is 5:30am and even though the sun will not rise for half an hour, I can already tell sunrise will be a bust. Not only are there no clouds overhead, but just to make sure, there are clouds on the horizon. Sunrise is shortly after 6am. We are scheduled to arrive at 7am, which is fairly early. But in the distance I can see a Disney ship already docked. Docked at 6am -- that is really early.
It occurs to me that this is the fourth time I have been to Cozumel and all four times on Royal Caribbean. Tomorrow it will be the fifth time I have been to Grand Cayman and that has been on three different lines (Carnival, NCL and Royal Caribbean).
It is 7:10am and the captain says we have been cleared to go ashore. The current temperature is 68 degrees and is expected to rise to 79 degrees later today.
At 8:20am the Carnival Dream showed up. Given the time, it is time for me to get ready to go ashore, but first a quick breakfast. I just grab a couple of slices of ham and a banana and eat in the Windjammer as I am a bit behind schedule.
In August 2004 I was aboard the Navigator of the Seas and I took a ship sponsored excursion to Chankanaab Park to swim with a dolphin. While there we were offered the chance to swim with a seal for only $59 more, which I took advantage of. Today I took an independent tour to Chankanaab Park to swim with a manatee. It cost $50.15 online. The taxi from the International pier (where we docked) to Chankanaab Park is $11 each way (if you have five it is $16 for the group or $3.20 each). I didn't think the cost of the swim included admission to the park, but they let me in for free, so I guess it did.
While the dolphin swim is usually a group of ten people with one dolphin, there were only three of us (all from this ship) swimming with two manatees. A word of caution, don't go swimming near manatees with your salad, because they eat lettuce -- lots of it. It was great. Swimming with the dolphins is very popular and a lot of fun, but so was swimming with the manatees and we got a lot more inaction with the manatees than one gets with the dolphins (though the manatees will not pull you through the water like the dolphins do).
Unfortunately they don't allow cameras any more (I had a water proof camera with me in 2004 and still bought the video and the pictures). The pictures are one for $35 or all of them (in my case 41 of them) for $79 on a CD (there was no video). I bought two pictures and saved a whole nine dollars. Okay, not really, I bought all 41 of the pictures.
Before swimming with the manatee I took ten pictures with my waterproof camera at Chankanaab Park. After swimming with the manatee the camera stopped working (oh ship!). I recharged the battery back on the ship, but the camera still did not work (double oh ship!!). There is no evidence of water intrusion in the camera, so I'll have to get the camera checked out when I return home. This will make swimming with the turtles tomorrow less fun, but life has its ups and downs, even when one is on vacation. At least it is not as bad as forgetting to make sure there is a memory card in the camera. Oh wait a minute, what am I saying, it is worse -- much worse and a lot more costly. And, I did it again today when I was running around the ship taking pictures of the other ships docked in Cozumel -- I left the memory card in the computer again. The only difference is I had my camera bag with me, which means I had all the spare memory cards with me.
And while running around I stopped for some of the free ice cream available on deck eleven. There is also a Ben and Jerry's on deck five, but that ice cream cost extra. While enjoying my ice cream I ran into one of my group mates. He went scuba diving today.
In between running around the ship and swimming around Chankanaab Park I took a short nap. The sun is a little stronger here, especially since there are no clouds in the sky.
We departed right on time, so I guess everyone made it onboard, as I didn't hear any names called. We are moving our clocks ahead one hour so that the ship's time will be the same as the local time.
At 4:45pm we had the welcome back party. I told the captain that he could save a few hours if he cut a few corners on the Mississippi River. He said there weren't too many corners that could be cut. I said, well, if you are going fast enough and you build a ski ramp -- he laughed.
I bought four pictures today, all eight by ten at $16 each. I think the price of the eight by ten photographs has gone down a little bit (I think they used to be over $20 each). Fortunately, as part of the group booking I received a $100 on board credit (OBC).
It is about time for me to create a spreadsheet to keep tract of my spending. Yes, this information is available on the TV, but I also use it when I am filling out my custom's form. And for those that are interested, I have uploaded over 1200 photographs to my computer taking up over 6.6 gigabytes of disc space so far.
Tuesday, March 05, 2013 -- Grand Cayman
I am up in time for sunrise. Good cloud cover overhead. It is looking good. Oh no, we are headed directly into the sun. So I head up to deck twelve. Even worse, there are clouds on the horizon. So I go down to deck five and then to the helicopter pad for a good forward view. It is windy but nothing I cannot handle. Unfortunately the clouds at the horizon are getting worse (we are moving, so things change). I take a few pictures and a couple of short videos, but nothing worth writing home about. But all is not a total loss, as hardly anyone is up (we lost an hour this morning changing to local time Eastern Standard Time) and the Royal Promenade is empty which makes for good picture taking. The only problem is the firewall above the bridge over the Royal Promenade is closed for some reason. So photographs from the forward end of the Royal Promenade are worthless. However, I get a few good photographs from the aft end of the Royal Promenade. Then I put away my camera and head over to the Windjammer for some take out breakfast, which I enjoy on my balcony. I grab a couple of pre-made omelets, assorted meats, some cheese and a banana. The sign for the ham and cheese omelets and the sign for the vegetable omelets are reversed. I tell them and they switch the signs.
It is now almost 8am and we are two miles from land, though once again that is straight down. At our current speed of 17.7 knots (about 20 MPH) and the captain's estimate (from yesterday) that we will arrive at 9:45am, I would guess that we are about thirty miles from Grand Cayman.
I've decided to give my Wow card to Sandeep, our waiter. He makes dinner feel special.
Well, we are a few minutes late, however, we are the only ship in town today. Two other ships were supposed to be here, but cancelled due to the swells. What swells??? I've seen bigger waves in a swimming pool. The tender ships are the local tenders that hold at least twice as many as the ship's tenders. According to the captain the temperature will be in the upper seventies. We are using a different tender dock than I am used to. We are using the one closer to the middle of town.
I went up on deck to photograph the other ships before the captain said there weren't any (he was right). It is strange, we are floating above half mile deep water, yet a quarter mile in front of us is dry land. Grand Cayman is basically the top of a rather steep mountain.
My plan is to wait a bit for the tender crowd to thin out, then take a taxi to Boatswains Beach (aka the Turtle Farm), spend two to three hours at the park, then do some shopping in town and catch a tender back to the ship before the big crowds start to appear at the tender dock at the end of the day.
Well, I'm back and I learned a lesson in independent shore excursions. Sometimes the ship's excursions are a better deal because of quantity. The admission to the Turtle Farm, online, was $36. I simply decided that I would take a taxi there and back. So when I got off the tender I went looking for a taxi. I found several. None were all too happy to take one person one way, all the way, to the Turtle Farm and all wanted $30, each way. That would bring the total cost of the trip to $100. Fortunately for me, the Turtle Farm had some issue with my credit card and the charge did not go through. So by not going I lost nothing.
So I did a little shopping and on the way back to the tender dock was offered a tour for $15. $15 for a tour - that is not a bad deal. Lesson number two, tour operators like to fill up their bus. So I had to wait fifteen minutes until she found others to go, that was not a big deal. As we walked to the van I stayed at the end, hoping to get the front seat. It looked good until right at the van she found two more people. The front seat holds two and she gave the front seat to the two new people. Then she made some five year old sit on his parent's lap so I could have his seat. I didn't like taking the kid's seat and I told him I was sorry. He didn't seem upset by what had happened, but I still did not feel it was right. I decided I would buy him some small gift to make amends.
Our first stop was Hell. If you are not familiar with Grand Cayman, there really is a town, with a post office, called Hell. I have never been there before, and see no reason to ever go back. The best part of Hell (in my opinion) is that you can buy cold water and shirts that say things like I've been to Hell and back. I bought one of each (cold water and a shirt that has the word Hell on it). However, there was nothing suitable for a five year old stranger.
Our next stop was, are you ready for this, the Turtle Farm. All we had to do was tell them we were in Chocolate's taxi and we could get a limited admission for $10. By limited I mean there were places in the park we could not go. Basically we were limited to the turtle tanks and we were only there for thirty minutes. But still, what was $100 was now only $25 ($15 tour plus $10 admission).
That is when I realized that two things were happening here. The Turtle Farm is near the hotel area. So they get lots of tourists. They charge the tourists full price. But they also get a lot of quantity business from the tours, so they charge the tour operators a reduced price. As for the tour operators, they make their profit off of the quantity. If a taxi can make a profit taking one person there and back for $60, then a tour operator can make a bigger profit by taking thirteen people there and back even if only $6.00 is allocated to transportation.
At the Turtle Farm you can buy Turtle Food (it looks like dog kibble and no, I didn't taste it) for $5.00 for a small bag. Perfect. I gave the kid half my bag. He was happy, his parents were happy, and even though I never wanted to take his seat, I was now happy besides, I wasn't really all that interested in feeding the turtles). Everybody wins.
The tour had all the quality you would expect from a $15 tour. However, it was worth $15, so I am not complaining. Next time I come here by cruise ship, I'll likely just take a ship's tour. But now at least I can honestly say I've been to Hell.
On the way back to the ship, on the tender, something strange happened. I had my SeaPass card in my shirt pocket. It is a typical shirt pocket that opens on the top. To the best of my knowledge gravity was working properly at the time, yet somehow the card few out of my pocket. Fortunately it landed on the tender and someone saw it happen and alerted me to it (I did not know my card flew out of my pocket). Now that I know what happened, I still don't know how it happened.
While on the tour I learned that yesterday the wind was really blowing hard and no ships stopped. I now realize that the other two ships were probably due in Grand Cayman early and that at that time the weather may have been worse, so they chose to cancel the port stop. We arrived later after things had calmed down a bit and we were able to enjoy our day at Grand Cayman.
Back on board I decided to shower and rest up after having spent quite a few hours in the sun (and fifteen minutes in Hell -- sorry, I couldn't resist). The captain made an announcement at 5:30pm that the last of the passengers were on the final tender and that after offloading a medical emergency (the second one of the day) we would be off. Hopefully those people will make a full recovery and hopefully they have insurance to cover the cost of the medical care, their lost vacation and the cost of the flight home (and a passport so that they can fly home).
After the captain's announcement I decided to get some ice cream and a snack. The ice cream was no problem, but the Windjammer didn't reopen until 6:00pm, so I went to Johnny Rockets for a snack. I thought Royal Caribbean was only charging for the shakes, however, my hamburger and fries and shake cost $11. $5.20 for the shake and $4.95 as a cover charge (plus tip of course -- which I added an extra dollar to). But hey, at least the hamburger and fries were free.
Well, it is twenty minutes to dinner, so I'll catch you after dinner.
I was on deck ready for a great sunset. Unfortunately we were moving and as I said before, when you are moving things can change. By the time the sun was at the horizon it was now behind some thick clouds. In fact, one person who was also looking to photograph the sunset had turned away to speak to his friends and had to be told where the sun was, that is how think the clouds had become in less than fifteen minutes.
On Sunday we had taken a group picture. The picture was supposed to be ready on Tuesday. However, after asking to see the picture before dinner, the picture could not be found. The photography staff agreed to look while I was at dinner. After dinner the picture still had not been located. The woman I was speaking to wrote something up and said I could see the picture after 7pm the next day.
There were only two of us at dinner, as most of our table had chosen that night to go to Chops because someone who had been on this cruise earlier had said that Tuesday dinner was the weakest of the week. So the two of us had a nice talk and a quick dinner. I wasn't very hungry, so all I had was a couple of beef sliders, which is basically a small hamburger with a small premium beef patty, and ice cream.
After dinner I was very tired and lay down for a little rest before working on this. Around 11pm I woke up and realizing that I was still tired just decided to go to sleep and work on this the next morning.
Wednesday, March 06, 2013 -- Falmouth, Jamaica
The captain said that we would back in. I thought that mean we would spin before docking. But instead we spun before backing down a fairly narrow channel. We docked with my balcony facing the dock and the village created by Royal Caribbean. So I was at the back of the ship taking pictures of the dock as we approached the pier. The Freedom of the Seas arrived soon after us. Per the captain, we can expect temperatures between the upper seventies and lower eighties. We are also warned that the crew is having a safety drill and that the passengers should ignore the call to muster stations and other safety drill related announcements.
I have my only ship sponsored shore excursion (Jamaica Swamp Safari Village) that meets on land at 10:15am, so I am in no rush. I go back to the cabin to upload the photographs, work on this and back everything up. Then I shower, dress and grab a banana for breakfast. I head down to the dock to explore the village on my way to where the tour meets. I pose for my only gangplank photo and the woman who I spoke to last night about the missing group photo is there and informs me that the group photo book has been found.
The village is a really neat area with all the usual trappings (Diamonds International, Tanzanite International, Del Sol, hair braiding ...). However, the prices are high, which leads me to wonder what percentage of each sale goes to Royal Caribbean. Also, the tax rate is something else. I bought a hot dog for $5 and with tax it came to $6 (that is 20%). However, that was a cash transaction. Based on a printed credit card receipt I have, a $5.15 drink includes an eight-five cent GCT tax. That comes to 16.5%, which is double the sales tax I pay living in Los Angeles.
I am going to the Swamp Safari Village. I signed up for the tour a while ago and don't remember exactly what it is, but I do remember it sounded interesting. It turns out to be a place crocodiles are brought to when they are captured after threatening people or pets. There is also a bird aviary, snakes and rodents, but mostly crocodiles. It is also the place where the famous crocodile-jumping scene in Live and Let Die (James Bond) was shot. They also have a pet baby goat named shampoo which follows the person who gave him his milk around just like a little puppy. That was an enjoyable tour. It gets my recommendation.
To get back into the village next to the ship every single one of us, while still on the bus, had to show our room key. Yet I am surprised to find at least two school groups inside enjoying the day. I have no problem with it, but if it is only for cruise ship passengers, then why are non-cruise ship passengers allowed in? At any rate I decide to enjoy some jerk chicken at the Spice Chicken and Bar (the only restaurant I saw inside the fenced in area).
Back on the ship I decide to shower rest and work on this, except I get wrapped up in a couple of programs on the TV and don't get much of this done. Before dinner I go get the group picture before they lose it again. At dinner the other table is empty (tonight they all went to Chops). If I recall correctly, our group has one first seating table and three second seating tables, all next to each other. I ask for an appetizer portion of the pasta and order another steak from Chops (which cost less this time as I don't have to pay the Louisiana sales tax). However, I ended up with the full dinner portion of the pasta. In addition I used another one of my two for one drink coupons.
After dinner I head back to work on this, upload my pictures and back everything up. We are moving our clocks back one hour (back to central time) tomorrow morning. I also check out the movie offerings on the TV and find one I might watch on Friday.
Thursday, March 07, 2013 -- Day at Sea
Today is a nice relaxing day at sea. My plans are to leaving the cabin long enough for the room steward to do his thing, attend the Captain's Corner at 1pm, do a little swimming and attend a Top Tier event (which I assume is for Diamond and up). Diamond members also get invited to a behind the scenes chit-chat with the entertainers. I did that on the Enchantment (where I was Emerald) and didn't find it all that interesting. I'm waiting until I make Diamond Plus and then get invited to a bridge tour. Also, tonight is the second formal night.
I'm up in time for sunrise but can see that there are clouds on the horizon, so I never leave the cabin. Later in the morning I shower and dress, then go to breakfast. I don't bring breakfast back to the cabin so that I am not interfering with the cabin steward. After breakfast I run around taking more pictures hoping to kill an hour before returning to the cabin. My plan works and when I return to the cabin the cabin steward has finished his work.
I upload the pictures, work on this and soon it is time for the Captain's Corner. I didn't take notes, but I did ask a couple of questions and I remember one other question that was asked of the captain, who was the only one there (usually the hotel manager, ship's engineer or cruise director also attend).
I asked about the vacation schedule of the lower ranking navigation officers. We all know the captain only works 50% of the year and that the rest of the crew works sixty-seven to seventy-five percent of the year. But nobody ever mentioned what the lower ranking navigation officers' schedule was. They also work 50% of the time and I was surprised to learn that there are more than one first officer and second officer aboard this ship. I also asked about the clearance when turning in the river (when leaving the Port of New Orleans) and when passing the other two cruise ships. The captain said that there was about 45 feet of clearance in back and about 400 feet in front when he spun the ship before leaving New Orleans. He says you always want to leave lots of room in front just in case you have to get going in a hurry. He said there was 400 feet of clearance between the Carnival Conquest and our ship, and slightly less between the NCL ship and our ship.
The other question I remember was about what was learned from the recent Carnival problems. The captain said the report on the Triumph fire is not out yet. As to the Splendor he said that the Carnival ships and the Royal Caribbean ships are built differently. That the Carnival ships have one breaker box while Royal Caribbean ships have two, so that if a Royal Caribbean ship loses one breaker box for whatever reason, the ship will still have half it power available. That sounds like something that should be a requirement on all new builds (in my opinion).
After the captain's corner I asked him if he knew the name of the NCL ship. He said it was the Sky or Star. I've been on the Star and it was not the Star. However, someone else said it was the Spirit and that is a possibility. It is either the NCL Sky or the NCL Spirit, but I don't know which. After that I went swimming. The pools were less crowded than I would have expected. However, the weather is nice, not hot, so that may have something to do with why there were not more people in the pool.
After swimming I showered, uploaded the pictures, brought this up-to-date and checked my account balance against my own records. Oops, there is an error. I've been charged for two gratuities today. Down to guest services to have that corrected. I am told that that the extra gratuity is tomorrow's gratuity and that I will not be billed for a gratuity tomorrow (we will see about that).
There was a sunset worth photographing today. There were some clouds on the horizon but not enough to totally block the sun, so finally something worth photographing. And the best part was I never had to leave my balcony.
Well, time to get ready for tonight, so I'll see you after dinner.
Well, the "Top Tier" event was for platinum and above. That is not so "Top Tier" since platinum is the second lowest tier (just above gold which is the lowest tier). Nothing unusual, though the captain did recognize me (I guess I asked too many questions at the Captain's Corner). Still, it was nice event.
Afterwards I posed for four pictures wearing my red Caribbean shirt from Hell (the word Hell was covered up by my jacket). Then for dinner I had the pasta as an appetizer (and this time it was an appetizer portion) and prime rib as the main course. Both were very good. In fact, I would have to say that the meals I have had this week are the best I have had on Royal Caribbean and up there with the best I have had on any of my cruises.
So, I'm back in the cabin now updating this and uploading my photographs (including some food porn from last night and tonight), and updating my spreadsheet with the all the spending I have done (I also used the last of my two for one drink coupons). Tomorrow I've got a group golf tournament at 10am and a garbage pail party at 3:30pm (I have no idea what that is) and unfortunately I also have to pack. So until tomorrow morning, good night.
For those that are interested, I have uploaded over 2300 photographs taking up 12.5 gigabytes of space. This review is currently over nine thousand words taking up sixteen single spaced type written pages.
Friday, March 8, 2013 -- Day at Sea
Once again I am up in time for a sunrise photo (but only by a few minutes). I look outside and realized that there are clouds on the horizon, so I don't bother dressing to go out on deck (my balcony faces west during the trip back to New Orleans).
However, I did shower, dress and eat breakfast in time to join the group's golf tournament on deck thirteen. Then back to the cabin to drop off a few things. I've been out of the cabin for ninety minutes but the cabin steward has not arrived yet. Fortunately I want to look at yesterday's formal photographs and get my DVD and CD. When I got to the photo area I saw a sign that because of the Louisiana tax, the photo shop will close at 8:30pm tonight. The captain said that we would pick up the pilot at 10pm and would pick up the river pilot when we enter the Mississippi River at midnight. When I return to the cabin with four more photographs the cabin steward was just finishing up.
It is time to start organizing my packing. I don't have a scale with me and I was up to 43 pounds when I flew to New Orleans. I am leaving my old dress shoes, so that will save a few pounds and I put some of the heavier things I have purchased in my carry-ons. I also check out the debarkation video, upload some photographs, work on this a bit and watch a movie. Soon it is time for the garbage pail party. It is simply a final get together where everyone brings their left over drinks (thus the name). These are a great bunch of people and I am glad I had a chance to meet them all.
Back at the cabin I upload my new photos, work on this and checkout the sunset from my balcony. Finally, no clouds on the horizon. However, there were some very low clouds overhead, which kept it from being perfect. Still, it was the best sunset of the week.
Well, here we are on the last full day and I realize that I have not really described my cabin. I am in a junior suit on the "hump". I am not in the center of the hump because I wanted a forward facing cabin. So I am in the cabin next to the center, which faces slightly forward. Inside the cabin there is a couch and a stuffed chair with a matching ottoman. In addition there is a small glass table. Otherwise it is a wider balcony cabin with a tub shower and a walk-in closet. It is probably about three feet winder than a normal balcony cabin. There is a post between the sliding door and a smaller floor to ceiling window which would provide a perfect hiding place for a three year old. It is a very nice cabin that would be roomy enough for three or four people (even though this cabin only holds two).
I fill out the survey and the custom's form. Waiting for the time to go to dinner my room steward knocks on the door. Doesn't he know I have late dining by now? Also, I have used the make up my room card every single time. So why is the room steward knocking on my door before 8pm?
Well, dinner was bitter sweat. Dinner was good as usual for this cruise, but I ended up saying good-bye to new friends, both the group and the waiter. For the first time a group cruise I was on when off with no problems. Two group cruises ago our leader suddenly disappeared (really, no one in the group knew where he was or how to contact him). If that wasn't bad enough, the last group cruise I was on, the leader died before the cruise. This was a good group cruise and I'm glad I had the chance to meet everybody. That said, the cruise was really good - one of my favorites. It certainly made up for a much weaker cruise experience on my last cruise. We left one day late and thus only went to one port instead of two. It wasn't a bad cruise, but it sure did not match the enjoyment of this cruise. I would like to cruise out of New Orleans again in the summer when I will be able to see more of the Mississippi River. Also, I sure would not mind cruising out of New Orleans again. This is one of the more interesting cities to visit and cruise out of.
After dinner I went back to the cabin, changed my clothes and put my luggage out to be picked up. I noticed it was 10pm so I looked outside and it did appear that we had slowed down. I checked the TV and sure enough we had slowed down. I went back outside just in time to see the pilot boat take off. I'll try to stay awake long enough to see us enter the Mississippi River.
I must also say that our captain was a great person. I assume all captains know what they are doing and do it well. But a captain with a personality like Claus Andersen (our captain) can add to the cruise experience, and he did in a very positive way.
Saturday, March 9, 2013
As promised by the captain, we dock at 6am. The Carnival Elation docks in front of us at 7am. I shower and dress and head out for a quick breakfast consisting of a banana and orange juice. Then back to the cabin and over to the Schooner Bar which is the meeting place for those of us taking the City Tour to the airport. Given that there were five busloads of people on this tour, the Schooner Bar was a poor choice for a meeting place. The Ixtapa Lounge, which is right next door, would have been a much better choice.
Departure numbers seven and eight were for the shore excursion people. When it came time to debark they called numbers one through twelve. Instantly the situation when from controlled to messy, as one third of the ship suddenly tries to debark at the same time. Why give out numbers if you are going to send more than one thousand people on their way all at the same time? Since we were right next to the exit door we were in the front of the instantly long line.
I took this tour not so much because it was interesting, but rather because it would chew up a few hours of time and get me to the airport for half the price of a rental car for the day. Thanks to the traffic I barely made it with seven hours to spare. I spent the first three and half hours inside the airport pre-check in on a nice comfortable couch going through my pictures because I don't think you can check in more than four hours early. Besides since New Orleans was kind enough to supply such a comfortable place to relax, I thought it would rude not to take advantage of it.
From where I was sitting I had a clear view of the check in line and thus was able to go check in when the line was very short, like no waiting at all. The security line was less than five minutes and I found a restaurant to sit down and enjoy an early dinner.
Originally I was on a 3:45pm flight that went to San Francisco and then I would change planes to get to LAX. However, United cancelled that flight and this one became available. It leaves four hours later, but I only arrive home one hour later because this is a non-stop. I wonder how we exit the plane if it doesn't stop? Do they fly low and just push us out the door? What about the luggage? Well I guess I'll find out soon enough. At any rate I decide to check on the status of my plane. It is on time, but it is coming from Houston. I realize it will not take seven hours from Houston, but United is kind enough to provide the flight number, so I can check on its status. The plane left San Francisco a few minutes early and is heading to Houston, so it is looking good.
So now I am inside the secure area at a restaurant. This time my right leg (and the rest of my body), made it through the security check point without any problems. I decided to try the short ribs (and they sure are short). It comes with some small cut up potatoes and other equally small purple things. I pass on the potatoes and purple things. While waiting for my meal to arrive I decide to check on the status of my flight again. Now it is a half hour late. What happened? I check the status and it is still a flight from Houston, but now it is coming from Mexico, not San Francisco and is arriving in Houston seventy minutes late. Oh well, better to have this happen on the inbound flight than on the outbound flight (which was on time).
The ribs and pretzel (which I picked up on the way to the restaurant) were okay. But the tax rate of $2.25 for a $19.60 meal works out to 11.5% (about three percentage points more than I pay in Los Angeles). Well, since I am done with my meal and it is not fair to continue to take up a table, I decide to head over to gate. I hope I can make it in time (the plane hasn't left Houston yet).
Well I'm at the gate now and there is a very long line. Why, because the plane to Washington DC is running fifteen minutes late. Why then do half the people need to make other arrangements? Fifteen minutes is no big deal. Meanwhile my plane has not landed in Houston yet.
Well, it is 6:15pm and the plane just landed in Houston. Someone just made an announcement that the plane will be more than thirty minutes late. If we cannot make our connection in Los Angeles, United will pay for a hotel for the night. I'm only worried about a share the ride van. Hopefully they keep track of the flights and know that the flight is running late. Well, back to proof reading, though I usually only catch about 80% of the errors because it is very hard to proof read your own writing.
It is 7:35pm and the plane is on the ground here in New Orleans. Per the schedule we should have taken off two minutes ago. So far I have proof read half of this review (which is over eleven thousand words and 22 single spaced type written pages). So I'll be back at you after I get home.
The flight home was uneventful. The movie was Skyfall, which is the latest James Bond flick. After the move I finished proof reading this. I hope I caught all the errors, but most likely I didn't. At any rate we landed about thirty minutes behind schedule. I get my checked bag and have to wait about fifteen minutes for the van to show up. One more lap around LAX with no new customers we are off. There are only two of us and I am the second one dropped off. I made it home around midnight.
In summary this was a very enjoyable and much needed vacation. It is simply one person's account of one cruise. Soon the Navigator of the Seas will head back to Europe. It will be replaced by the Serenade of the Seas, which is a different class of ship (the Radiance class which is about two thirds the size of the Navigator OTS). I enjoy writing the review and taking the pictures. Hopefully someone will find something useful and/or helpful in this review. So, until my next cruise, good-by and good night.