This cruise stared, as most do, with an idea and discussion with our cruising companions. As time went by we consulted the Cruise Critic Roll Call and even made a comment or two. As Baltimore is a short four hour drive from Pittsburgh we opt for that as opposed to flying in. This also allows us freedom in baggage and the ability to transport the wife’s mobility scooter; we don’t fly with it as the airlines have not been kind to it. Because weather and mountains were a factor we decided to split the trip into two segments. We left home about 3:30pm and had a scenic drive to Hagerstown Maryland where we stayed at a Country Inns and Suites. The room was quite spacious and comfortable. After dinner at Red Robin (yum) we retired for a good night’s rest before heading to the port. After an adequate free breakfast, we headed down the road to Cruise Maryland. We arrived at the port about 10:00 to the very painless baggage drop-off and parking process. I unloaded the scooter and got The Boss on her way into the terminal building while I parked the '"Family Truckster”. As I made my way into the terminal I found my passport, cruise document (Set-Sail Pass) and Health Certificate. We pre-print out Health Certificate from the CLIA website. As we had a few bottle of water and soft drinks with us, I declared them to the Port Security folks before x-ray and allowed him to examine each and every bottle. Once all that was done, we did the personal security check thing, walk-through for me and pat-down for The Boss. Into the Special Needs line and the official check-in. All that done we got our Sea Pass cards and were ushered to a waiting area. Side note: As was not the case in the past, we were sent to an area not with our friends who were Diamond Plus and we, being Emerald, did not qualify. OK, back on track here. The ship was cleared for boarding and we were sent through the gauntlet of My Time Dining Reservation, Specialty Dining reservation and Photographer type people from the ship. As I was wearing a cam-walker boot for a hell ailment, I asked to not have to walk up the five, fairly, steep ramps to the ship. They still made The Boss drive her scooter up them though. I entered on deck one, the crew entrance, and took the elevator to Deck 4 where I awaited the arrival of my bride. There are six elevators in the Centrum elevator bank. Of those six, two were being used for luggage delivery, and one was commandeered by the Technical staff. That means the onslaught of new passengers was relegated to half the normal elevators, or stairs to get to the upper decks for lunch. And, since the cabins were not ready the only walk-through decks were one and two decks above us as well so the effectively negated the use of the forward elevators. We made it to the Windjammer where we met up with our friends and had a nice little nosh. The cabins were deemed fit for habitation about 1:00. We headed to our "Home away from Home” on Deck 7. The cabin was wonderfully big and spacious abode. We had a sleeper sofa, easy chair, as well as a shelving unit with flat screen TV and a separate closet and large vanity/desk combination. Now for some of the downs of the rollercoaster ride. As I was checking out one of our friends Junior Suites I got a call from my wife. It seems the Handicapped toilets are only 15 inches high, as oppose to 18+ on other ships and she was having an extremely difficult time. She also told me the bed was very low and she had issues there as well. I had passed an Officer on the phone in the deck 8 lobby. I approached him and told him of our issues. He assured me they would be addressed, and they were. We were provided with a raised seat for the commode and blocks for the bed. These modifications served us well. A little later we discovered another "down” there were four emergency call buttons installed in the cabin and bathroom, as well as a phone in the bathroom. The issue arises with the bathroom set. In my past life I was a Paramedic, and found the most bathroom "emergencies” occur in, or near the shower or toilet. Where was the call button and phone? They were located on the wall at the point farthest away from both of these appliances. More bathroom ramblings are the lack of grab rails in the shower, there were three walls that could have had grab rails on them and they had them on two, and the shower seat. If I might a bit about the seat, it was canvas and on a very easy hinge, the issue was height, it too was about 15 inches tall. My Dear Wife surmounted this one by putting the toilet seat riser on the shower chair.
OK, let’s get the rollercoaster back on the upswing. The ship was very clean, neat and in good repair. We only had one minor episode of odor, and I attribute it to folks who flush what they shouldn’t. Smoke didn’t seem to an issue at all. Because of less than stellar weather we didn’t partake of any of the outdoor activities, and most of those held, were moved to the inside. We were entertained by a great Cruise Staff, although the Cruise Director wasn’t as visible as some, his staff was great. Because of our dining schedule we didn’t make any of the shows in the Palladium Theater, but the exhibitions in the Centrum were great, including the aerial show. The live music was SUPERB.
Now for the final hill on the rollercoaster ride, The Food. Overall the food was good. Let me start to "nit-pick”. Breakfast started our day and, in most cases, it was served in the Windjammer Café. Let me start with the Omelet station, suffice it to say, one of the cooks didn’t have a good handle on how to cook eggs and the other cook was worse. Toast was done, usually burnt, on one side and raw on the other. There was no toasting station; it was placed on the line in a covered tray. There was a noticeable lack of variety in the fresh fruit and they had no bananas by day three. Moving on to dinner. We ate in the Main Dining Room three of the evenings and spent the others at either the Windjammer or at Specialty Venues. The first evening we ate at Giovanni’s Table and had an excellent meal. Night two was a formal night so we skipped it and went to the Windjammer Café. Night Three was an MDR night without any notable situations shy of seeing a waiter we had on a previous cruise. When he saw us he went nuts and demanded we dine in his section the next evening. We couldn’t accommodate him for Night Four as we were scheduled to dine at Izumi. Izumi was a unique experience; the sushi was excellent as was the hot rock food. The low points included the lack-luster dessert and lack of coffee; by the way tea was available for $1.50. We will go back to Izumi if the situation were to arise again. Night Five found us back in the Main Dining Room with In (our waiter friend), dinner was good as usual but made better with In and his "Excellent Choice” manner. Night Six was the second formal night and we were back in the MDR for lobster, Status Quo. Night Seven, we went to Chops and had a great steak while we watched the Pilot Boat from Port Henry approach and offload the Pilot for our sailing up the Chesapeake. We spent the rest of the evening packing and getting good night’s sleep for the four hour drive home. Debarkation was one of the better ones we have been involved with. The Windjammer was overcrowded so we took our breakfast to the Solarium and ate there. Back to the cabin for one last check and to grab our carry-on bags. We only waited about 5 minutes for an elevator to Deck Four, then almost directly to Deck One and off the ship. We found our bags and loaded the car for our drive home. Yes, we had a few disappointments on this cruise but they were far outweighed by the plusses. Seeing old friends and making new ones are always top on our list. We hope to see some of those, and others, faces on Explorer of the Seas and Quantum of the Seas on our future cruises.