Yes, I know, everyone likes to talk about their vacations and nobody wants to hear about them, kind of like dreams. Must be a quirk in the human conditions. So read on, or not.
My wife decided she wanted to go on a cruise, now I had prejudged cruising and had no desire to ever go on one. But she searched around and found one that had a fishing in Key West excursion to convince me to go. Well she planned the whole thing, did all the work and really made the vacation happen. There was one small moment when we decided to cancel the cruise for financial reasons (her transmission went out) but discovered we were one day past the cancellation deadline, so we must have been destined.
So anyways, on with the vacation.
On the first day we drove down to Miami, about four hours, not to bad. We were so early that we decided to visit Fairchild Tropical Garden. Fairchild is a must see for those with a horticultural bent, eighty some odd acres of lush tropical gardens, though I still felt it wasn't quite as nice as Leu Gardens here. We had lunch at the garden before proceeding to the hotel. We stayed at the Holiday Inn, cheap but surprisingly clean with a friendly staff, and a view of the port. Unfortunately my wife became ill from the lunch, and I don't mean just a little ill, but the throwing up out both ends ill. She was so sick that she was curled up in bed crying. We thought we might have to cancel the cruise. But I loaded her up with acidophilus capsules and a dose of a medicine I take for a condition I have and told her we would decide come morning. Come morning she was feeling better but weak, so we decided we'd continue on with the expedition.
That brings us to day two.
Getting on the boat is similar to boarding the airplane with one noticeable difference, Port security is infinitely more professional than airport security. We only made one mistake, we didn't check our bags. Since you can board hours before the rooms are ready we were stuck with our luggage. There was a moment of Zen when we boarded, they greet you with food and drinks in an atmosphere of sybaritic luxury, but since it was Christmas they were playing music, the song they were playing when we boarded was 'Do They Know It's Christmas'. The rest of the day is exploring the ship and discovering I get seasick, yea!
Nassau, we have swimming with stingrays and snorkeling planned, afterwards we plan on visiting Ardastra Gardens on our own. Swimming with stingrays was pretty cool, and I enjoyed the snorkeling, my wife who doesn't care for the ocean spent her time sunbathing. Eventually that planned excursion was over but we never got to the garden, I was too darned tired from swimming for three hours and my wife was sunburnt. So, back to the cruise ship to do what else, but eat.
Cococay, Royal Caribbean's private island, I have snorkeling planned, my wife has sunbathing. Now, admittedly, we're here at the discretion of the cruise line, so the snorkeling area is prescribed, but it's not bad, there's an area of about 1/2 an acre inside a breakwater and about 5-8 acres outside the breakwater. But here's the interesting thing, of all the people snorkeling, only 5 went outside the breakwater! Which means we each had an acre or more to ourselves (there was an additional area that was closed due to the currents). I did find two 'artifacts' while snorkeling here, the first was a dive glove, so I kept that as a 'trophy', the second, I was snorkeling in about 20 feet of water and spotted a distinctly man made object, a doughnut shape, so I swam down and dug up a bottle top, but not just any bottle top but the top of a pre-civil war 'case' Gin bottle. I though that was pretty cool. Now I've considered the idea that the area was 'salted' but I can't quite believe they would 'salt' with broken glass. So I think it was a genuine find. I, of course, returned it to where I found it after taking a picture.
Key West, I'm really in a bad mood this morning, because we have to do a 'papers please' inspection with ICE, but then it gets MUCH worse. There's an envelope under the door, my fishing trip has been canceled, lack of participants, the minimum was 5 people, I'm the only one who signed up. Anyways, wise to the ways of Gov't, I convince my wife to show up early for the immigration control, reasoning that 'It's better to be 15 minutes early and wait 30 minutes, than be 15 minutes late and wait 3 hours', guy looks at my ID, asks where I was born, they punch my Seapass (onboard ID/CC). So we go looking for another excursion, my wife wants me to go Kayaking, but I'm seriously exhausted from the past two days of snorkeling. So we decide the Butterfly Conservatory and the Aquarium are where we'll go. The Butterfly conservatory was beautiful, with dozens of species flying everywhere, landing on you and a selection of birds thrown in for good measure, The aquarium, well, umm, geez, I don't want to be mean, but I wouldn't go back. After that we walked around and enjoyed the architecture and visited the Mel Fisher Museum since I was hooked on books about treasure hunting as a kid (I have a metal detector, the most valuable object I ever found was my wife's wedding ring several weeks after she lost it.) And then back to the boat for more eating.
Last day, they get you off the ship early, here, you don't want to check your luggage, if you do, you don't get off until they let you, if you carry your luggage, you can get off the ship first thing at 7:30 am. So once we're off the ship all that is left is the customs and the drive back. Customs was nothing, you hand a guy a form and you are done. The drive back was mostly uneventful until the last rest stop, then, of course, the truck won't start. Well it will start, but it's stumbling and sound like only one bank of cylinders are firing, in desperation I stand on the gas and it picks up, think that last fill up had water in it. I baby it the rest of the way home by drafting behind a truck and keeping to 65 and, obviously, we get home.
So, goods, bads, and impressions
The goods. The ships are insane about cleanliness these days, I noted that there was one individual who seemed to do nothing but wipe the stair handrails with disinfectant continually. The service was impeccable. The food was variable, but it varied from just good to fantastic, it was always hot and fresh, and you never saw the same item twice. The room also had a revolving menu of movies to watch, so I finally got to see Wall-e. The Steward cleans the room twice a day and turns down your bed while you are at dinner. The excursions take a lot of the 'what do you want to do? I don't know, what do you want to do?' out of the trip. And the room was surprisingly quiet.
The bad, I realize that the excursions are done through independent contractors and therefore they are not the ones who canceled my excursion, but they could have informed me before hand that there was the possibility that it would be canceled. They push the drinks and the pictures, learn to say no. During the life boat drill the videographer comes up and says 'Can I get a wave from everybody?' and I turned to him and said 'No', he came back with 'Are you kidding me?' and I said 'I can't speak for all these people, but I'm NOT waving' LOL, he walked off. The elevators are slower than hell, if you use them, you will spend half your cruise waiting, use the stairs. Also there are six elevators amidships, three port, three starboard, when you push the elevator button, it only summons the three elevators on the side you push! Poor design, you can cut down the waiting by pushing the button on one side and quickly walking over and pushing the other button, but, of course, you have now tied up two elevators and are increasing others waiting times. Also, no one tells you that you will suffer dizziness after the cruise, both my wife and I have been having dizzy spells and a search shows it is pretty common. Oh, and I used a Walgreens waterproof disposable for the snorkeling, since you don't see any of those pix, you can guess how well it worked.
Cruises are not for xenophobes! Not just the mix of passengers, but the crew is from all over the world, and I like that when they introduce themselves it was often 'Hello, I'm Melvin from the Philippines.' And as a member of the IBWF I enjoyed the diversity.
The formal dining was assigned seating, but we only did it once, I was actually a little uncomfortable with the level of service, three waiters for two people? I'm not used to that. Lastly, tipping is expected, I feel that it should be included in the price of the cruise, so we did the pre paid tips, so we wouldn't have to deal with it. And finally, the myth of the 'ugly American' is just that, a myth, what I learned is that ALL tourists are 'Ugly'
So, in Ebay speak, A++++++ Would Cruise again.
If you read this far, you deserve a drink.