Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Cruising - The Stateroom

Our stateroom was very small. Good thing neither of us is claustrophobic! We had inside accommodations meaning that we had no window. Not that it was really necessary considering that we used it mainly for sleeping. I caught a glimpse of the rooms across the hall. They seemed to be slightly larger, and had a balcony! Now, that would have been nice! Imagine having a pre-breakfast or a late night cuppa on the balcony.

As you walk into the stateroom the bath was to the left and closet to the right. This little entryway led to a sitting room with sofa and coffee table on the left and desk and TV on the right. Straight ahead was the king-sized bed. To my way of thinking, the bed was the best part of the room. Finally! A bed big enough for both of us at one time! Now to be honest, our queen bed at home is large enough, but we usually have a Chihuahua and one or two cats in bed with us. Wyatt (the Chihuahua) wants to be wherever I am; Oliver, our male cat wants to be wherever Dale is, and Dollie, the female cat wants to be in bed during winter months when she gets cold, or whenever she feels the desire to be in our bed. The king will accommodate all of us very nicely. Something I will be looking into come tax return time.

Actually, the bed itself was a bed. Period. Not much different from your average hotel-type bed. It was shoved against the wall so the only way to get in was either from the one open side or crawling in from the bottom. We could have had it moved or even separated, but it wasn't worth the effort. I just crawled in and fought with the sheets and spread until I was comfortable and then slept the sleep of the exhausted.

We had a stateroom attendant named Kerwin. If we wanted or needed something, he was the one to go to. Because Dale's wheelchair wouldn't fit inside the stateroom with us and the luggage, he told us to leave it outside in the hallway where it would be safe. I wasn't too sure, but he was right. It was fine.

Kerwin took care to talk to us the very first day. He introduced himself to us and got our names and from then on, he called us by name. He made sure we had the number to call him if we needed anything at any time, day or night, whether it was his duty hours or not.

Every morning after we left for breakfast, Kerwin made up the room, and every evening turned down the bed. The last four nights when we came back from where ever we had been, there were towels and wash cloths in various shapes: an elephant, an anchor, a monkey, and a lobster. I wish I had taken pictures! I just wasn't smart enough to think of that. A copy of the next day's itinerary and chocolate mints were also left for us.

Several times we would be leaving or coming back to the room while the housekeeping carts were in the hallway. Dale had an extra wide wheelchair which made navigating the hallway a little tight. If Kerwin saw us, he would insist on either moving the housekeeping cart or pushing Dale through the hallway. A few times, I would have Dale walk the hallway (it was good for him to walk as much as he could, but not over do it), and Kerwin would watch to be sure that Dale was able to walk it.

Yes, you could say that he was working for his tip, but he earned it by not only doing his job, but doing it cheerfully, with class, and going above and beyond.

Cruising - The Emergency Drill

When we entered our stateroom the first thing that I saw were two orange life vests lying on the bed. Shortly thereafter the captain (Captain Johnny as he would come to be known), came over the loud speakers to announce that there would be a drill. All passengers were required to put on their vests and proceed to their assigned assembly area when we heard the siren. Didn't matter whether it was your first cruise or your tenth, all passengers would participate.

So Dale and I put on our vests and waited. Very shortly, came the siren: seven short blasts followed by one long blast. While we waited, I read the instructions. We were to proceed to the Lotus Lounge on Deck 5 (one up from where we were). Finally, the siren sounded and we left the room. As did everyone else on our deck. Not really chaos, and not a Chinese fire drill either. Everyone proceeded in an orderly fashion. Some went up the steps, which is what you are supposed to do during an emergency (the elevators might not be working). A crew member saw Dale walking with his cane and suggested using the elevator. He then told us to go to Deck 4. Hmm...I thought the instructions said Deck 5. We went where he told us to go. We got to Deck 4 and another crew member proceeded to tell us we should be on Deck 5. When I attempted to tell him we were told to go to Deck 4, he insisted I was wrong, that wouldn't have happened. I stopped him and told him "A crew member on Deck 6 told us to go to Deck 4. Don't tell me we were wrong. I know what I was told." I could feel my hackles rising. He still tried to tell me we were wrong, and I again said, "No. We did as were were told. Don't tell me it didn't happen that way." He apologized, sort of, but I think he still thought we didn't understand what we were told. In any case, we finally got to the Lotus Lounge on Deck 5.

The Lotus Lounge was packed by this time. As you entered, a crew member noted the number that was on your life jacket. They needed to know that everyone arrived where they should be. Cabin attendants also checked the cabins to be sure that no one stayed behind. The drill was considered that important.

Several hundred people were assembled waiting for the captain to release us to go back to our cabins. Now picture this, a large room, well able to accommodate this group, filled with a sea of orange life vests. It was really all that you noticed. A couple saw Dale lumbering along and jumped up, offering their seats. The first of many similar acts. Captain Johnny came on the loud speaker and told us that the Coast Guard was very pleased with our drill and that we had set a record. The Coast Guard was now allowing us to proceed with our cruise.

Hundreds of life vests were removed in relief. They really are very uncomfortable to wear when not faced with a real-life emergency. People moved to several different exits and headed back to their cabins where the life vests were placed in the closets for the remainder of the voyage. At least, we all hoped they would remain there and unnecessary.

Cruising - The Dining Experience

When you book a cruise, you are assigned to a dining room where you will have your dinner. You can also go to other places onboard, or, if you have gone ashore, you can eat the local cuisine.

Dale, his Dad, and I were assigned to the Rhapsody in Blue dining room. We were also assigned the second seating which meant we didn't eat until 8:00 pm. Dale's sister, Shay, and her partner Pam, were assigned to the first seating at The Sound of Music dining room. This is not what was supposed to happen. We were all supposed to be assigned a first seating, somewhere together. We really didn't care which dining room, but we wanted to be together. Well, Dad took care of it. We were told to go to whichever dining room we wanted and tell the headwaiter that we were allowed to be seated together. We went to The Sound of Music since that was the room where the first seating was scheduled. The headwaiter was sort of set back. I'm sure this happens all the time, but he still had to figure out where to put us. We ended up sort of in the back, in a corner.

The service and food was first rate. We started out with a choice of appetizers, then a salad, the main course, and finally desert. This is all gourmet dining, so the portions are small (compared to what the average American thinks of as a"normal" portion size), but are well prepared. I had fruit as an appetizer. It turned out to be five segments of orange and grapefruit, very artfully arranged on a plate with a sprig of greenery of some sort, perhaps a mint. I had a salad and a choice of three dressings, which I believe were Ranch, Thousand Island, and a vinaigrette. I had Ranch. Oh, we also had a choice of bread: a roll or a slice or two of bread. For the entree, I chose the ribeye steak, well done. That was a mistake, I should have asked for it either rare or medium. It was rather tough and dry. It was served with vegetables and a potato, if I recall correctly. I don't remember the desert, but I know it was good. The deserts were always good.

Our waiter that evening was Tourgay. He was from Turkey and spoke excellent English. He was very attentive and was everything you would expect from a waiter in a five-star restaurant. If you wanted something not offered, he would get it. Shay is on a special diet and they went out of their way to accommodate her.

The dress code was very liberal. We dressed very casually, but others were dressed more formally than we were. Tuesday and Thursday were formal nights and formal attire was required in the main dining areas. Those nights we ate at the Windjammer.

Now, if you don't like gourmet food, or didn't have formal clothes, you have a choice of several less formal dining rooms. We ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the formal evenings in the Windjammer Cafe. It's buffet style and just about anything you could want. The waiters fall over themselves to be sure that you have coffee and juice at breakfast, and coffee, tea or lemonade at lunch. Dishes are removed as soon as you finish, but you are not rushed away.

Beverages such as coffee, tea, lemonade, and milk are part of your meals. If you want an alcoholic beverage or soda, it is a separate charge and is charged to your credit card, unless you make separate arrangements when you purchase your ticket.

There are several places on the Promenade where you can get food or drink. One place served Danish in the morning, sandwiches in the afternoon and evening, cookies, scones, cakes, and pies all the time. They also had coffee and tea available. A bar was nearby where soda or drinks could be purchased. Dale and I don't drink too much, so we pretty much made do with what came with the ticket. We did get sodas a couple of times, but $3.45 (gratuity included) for two cans of Coke was a bit expensive, I thought.

The remainder of the trip, except for the formal nights, we ate at our permanent table in The Sound of Music. Our waiter was Elena. I never did know where she is from, but she was a delight. Elena always referred to the women at the table as "My Lady" and the men, as "Sir". She was amusing and very good at her job.

Our headwaiter was a woman whose name I never got, but she also was fabulous. She checked with Shay every evening about the next night's meal to determine what substitutions must be made to accommodate her diet. One evening when Shay left early for an event, this lady made arrangements to have her dessert sent to her room.

One evening the waiters and assistant waiters marched to music around the dining room to entertain the diners. Another night, it was the kitchen staff. It doesn't sound like much, but it was very entertaining.

The food was very good. Aside from the first evening with the ribeye, I can't think of a single complaint. And, like the cabin attendants, the dining room staff are working for their tips at the end of the cruise. I personally don't believe in tipping. I think that restaurants should pay their staff like other segments of the workforce are paid, but since that probably won't change in my lifetime, I do tip. And they deserve the money they earn, from the headwaiter, to the waiter, to the assistant waiters. They offer a type of service you don't get at the local Denny's.

Saturday, November 14th, was the one year anniversary of this blog. Wow...can't believe it's a year old. I was on the high seas or I would have blogged about it on the correct date.

::raising glass:: here's to hopefully many more years of this nonsense!

Monday, November 15, 2004

Hello Again!

I hope someone missed me during the last ten days. My husband and I were on a seven-day Caribbean cruise courtesy of my father-in-law. Thanks muchly, Pop! This is something that we wouldn't have been able to do for several more years, if ever. Hmm..reading that makes it look as if we were alone. Pop was with us, and so was Dale's sister Shay and her partner Pam.

We boarded Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas on Sunday, November 7th. We left Port Canaveral at 5:00 p.m. and headed out to sea. Monday was spent at sea. We anchored Tuesday morning at Labadee, Haiti. Tender boats arrived approximately every 15 minutes to take us to the landing where we could visit duty-free shops or take various excursions. (Excursions were available at each port-of-call). We departed Labadee that afternoon for Ocho Rios, Jamaica.

Dale and I stayed onboard at Labadee. Neither of us wanted to go through the hassle of getting his wheelchair on and off the tender boats. Dale slept a lot of the day and I wandered around the ship. I discovered where the casino was located and stopped to play some video poker. If you want to play a slots-type game, video poker offers the best value. It's random play like any slot game, but you have a better chance of winning because you can use your poker skills to make winning hands. The downside is that you can't bluff your opponent because there is no opponent, so you have to rely on the deal and your skills. Well, I lost the money I played that day, but still had fun. There are two rules I live by when gambling: 1. Never gamble with money you can't afford to lose, and 2. Expect to lose your money. If you win, good for you! Dale played later that evening and walked away with $120 on a $20 stake. Yay!

We docked at the pier in Ocho Rios, Jamaica on Wednesday morning. We did go into to the duty free shops at the end of the pier, but didn't venture further. With Dale in the wheelchair it was just a little too much to go further.

Thursday morning found us at Georgetown, Grand Cayman. Again, this was a tendered stop so we stayed aboard. Dale wanted to swim, so we got him into his hermetically sealed rubber boot and he swam in the ship's pool. I sunned. And it was good.

Our ship was the first ship into Grand Cayman since Hurricane Ivan passed through two months ago. We knew that the destruction had been horrendous, but it was mostly repaired by the time we arrived. As I said, our ship was the first in, but close on our heels was Carnival Cruise's Conquest and another ship whose name I forget right now.

Cozumel, Mexico was our last stop and we docked there on Friday morning. Dale wanted to sleep, so I went ashore by myself. I wandered around the shops and found a necklace and the cutest little sombero for my puppy, Wyatt. Of course, he won't wear it, but maybe I can get it on him long enough for a picture. No, I didn't buy much either at Ocho Rios or Cozumel. That's not to say that I didn't want to buy a lot, or didn't see anything I wanted (I wanted lots of jewelry!); I just didn't have the money.

We left Cozumel and headed back to Port Canaveral. I was hoping that we would come close enough to see Cuba in the distance, but we passed Cuba at night. Saturday was spent at sea. Our departure papers were left outside our stateroom to be filled out along with instructions on how to have our luggage picked up.

My father-in-law had called and told Dale about a form we needed to fill out regarding our luggage. Because we never got it, We were assigned a departure time of 1030 am. This was not going to work because the rest of our party was departing at 830 am. We could have departed carrying our own luggage, but with 5 pieces of luggage, my purse, and Dale in a wheelchair, this wasn't gonna happen. So I paid a little trip to Passenger Relations and got the luggage tags we needed and the time changed to 830 am. We also had a Customs Declaration form to be filled out stating what we had purchased and how much it cost. As a couple, we had a duty-free allowance of $800, but fell far short of it.

We arrived at Port Canaveral on Sunday morning. We were up early enough to watch the Mariner dock and to have breakfast before departing the Mariner. Passengers departed according to the color of their luggage tags. Beige, White, Lavender and Gray were early departures. Each color was also numbered either 1 or 2. We were Gray 2, so were among the last of the early departures to disembark. However, since Dale was in a wheelchair, we were diverted to elevators or shorter lines, so we got out fairly quickly.

And finally bid a fond farewell to the Mariner of the Seas and our weeklong vacation of a lifetime.

There's more to tell, and those will come in other installments. Including, the show put on by a celebrity of the past, and getting an autograph from that same celebrity. Hint: This entertainer was part of a group featured in a movie about the 50's. They also had a TV show in the 70's. Can you guess who it was?
Future Cruises

Dale and I decided that if we ever cruise again, and I hope we do, we will invest in a couple of items to make life easier.

1. A motorized wheelchair. If you have pushed 400 pounds of wheelchair and man around, you will have an idea of why I want a motorized wheelchair. I need a vacation from the vacation!

2. Binoculars. If you're going to remain on ship while docked at a port-of-call, you will want binoculars to see more of the port.

3. Walkie-talkies. We could have spent more time with the other members of our party if we had known where they were, or Dale and I could have been apart more doing what we each wanted to do. I also spent a lot of time worrying about Dale walking around ship considering how shaky his balance is on solid land. Cell phones with this feature might work in some ports, but if you can't get your service connection, it won't work. The walkie-talkies I'm thinking of have a range of about 5 miles.

4. Make sure you pack the right charger for the digital camera! I though I grabbed the right one. It wasn't, so I had to be careful taking pictures. An extra battery would be even better. The battery finally died in Cozumel, so I didn't get pictures of that celebrity I mentioned in another post. Darn it!

I'm sure there are others I'm forgetting right now, but those are the big ones. We learned a lot about cruising and will be better informed the next time.