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Published: February 16th 2016
Technically, the shoes are gray (or so I’m told). And my mother calls them “Water Sneakers”. But Sharon likes the way “Blue Water Shoes Cruise” (or maybe non-blue water shoes cruise) sounds. So I guess we must forgive her poetic license. Today’s the day we board the ship with my mother. We slept some after a long day getting to Florida. And we chose to have breakfast in the Rickenbacker which was set up for breakfast. You could order ala carte off of the menu or chose either the American or Continental buffet (which was basically everything that was on the menu). We chose the buffet, which was nowhere near as good as the Lido, and with the hefty price of $20 per person. There was a chef making waffles so you weren’t left toasting an Egg-O on your own, and both my mom and Sharon said that they were quite good (they split a waffle). I had a couple of fried eggs.
The shuttle runs every fifteen minutes from the Airport Sheraton in Miami, and we were the first in line so we waited on the metal benches in the center island of the drive through car and van port. It wasn’t long before over a dozen people had assembled just outside the hotel, many of them airline personnel, and we hoped that our being on the opposite side waiting didn’t push us to the back of the line; which, it appeared to have done when the van pulled up and all of the airline folk surged towards the door and pushed their bags to the porter for stowing in the baggage compartment. We walked around the front of the van and waited to the side. Then another van backed up and was parked in front of the first van and it was this van that would be departing for the airport. We were well positioned for boarding; but, the airline people still pushed onto the van first. I guess they had a flight to catch and they needed to get to their American Airline jet (in case you were wondering who these pushy people were). As it was, there was room for everybody going to the airport, with one extra seat to spare. Everyone was going to American Airlines terminal; except for us, who were getting off at Delta (not to catch a flight, but to meet up with the Holland America representative for our transfer to the ship).
We made our way to baggage claim where the terminal was almost dead at 8:30 AM in the morning. We spotted someone that looked like a cruise ship representative, passing nearby with a clipboard with something printed on it. He was indeed a Carnival representative; but, he hadn’t seen the Holland America representative yet this morning. Soon after we spotted a Royal Caribbean representative. He recommended using the white phone to page for the representative. It was an ordeal getting someone on the line but we did get the page announced. We tried again later and I got into a perpetual voice menu jail. This was a different sound-track from when I called in the first time when they just played perpetual bumper music until someone finally picked up. On this track a cheery voice thanked me for using the Miami Service Information desk and then gave a menu of seven choices. I chose option 6 to leave a page. After a brief pause, that same cheery voice thanked me for using the Miami Service Information desk and gave me the same seven choices. I guess I was a bit slow this morning, not quite awake because I played along and pushed option 6 again. You guessed it. The voice track resumed with that cheery voice giving me those same seven options. I thought okay, at the end it did say, “…or stay on the line for a representative.” So I waited, and after about ten seconds I hear a click, and think that this might be promising until I hear that same cheery voice, again thanking me for calling and offering me those same seven option. I decide to try option 7 to talk to a representative; but, again it just reverted to the cheery voice who was beginning to irritate me. Sharon gives me that what’s taking “you” so long look. I finally give up and go sit down. Sharon decides to try, and she does get through, although she said that she didn’t get the cheery voice track with seven options. Meanwhile, the Royal Caribbean rep came over and said that he’d called his supervisor and advised us that the Holland America rep was on her way. We also heard Sharon’s page come over the PA system. About 5 minutes later the I spotted the rep approaching carrousel 6 and she let us know that the bus would be boarding here about 10:30, so we now had about half-an-hour to wait. She checked our names off of the very short list of people she was waiting for, and it’s a good thing that we were on her list; because, I don’t think they add names on the fly. For flights into a port city (or connecting port city the way Miami is which also offers bus transfers to the ship) that are not booked through Holland America, you need to be on the list and approved two-weeks in advance to take advantage of these transfers. And $25 per person is a bargain when comparing this the taxi or shuttle fares for the same thing. We were waiting in the right spot and she’d let us know when the bus got here.
I played some Word-Crack, with my “friends”, and Sharon and I also did some Trivia-Crack challenges to sharpen our skills for Team Trivia that will soon be upon us. I guess we must be pretty evenly matched since we seemed to split the challenges 3-3. It was soon time to board our bus and the HAL rep escorted us out of the baggage claim area and across some lanes of traffic to where a nearly vacant bus pull-out was. She shooed the driver of a Mercedes away who appeared to be chatting on the phone, probably with the person he was supposed to be picking up. Reluctantly, he moved on. Our bus arrived and we boarded along with four others. We had the whole bus to ourselves, and the four other passengers that had come in the other terminal building (probably American). Our driver was obviously Cuban, having a flag of Cuba prominently displayed on his sun visor ringed by a gold fringe. For most of the trip to Fort Lauderdale he was engaged in an animated conversation with someone on his handsfree blue-tooth headset. At first I thought that we were getting a tour-guide commentary of Miami and the surrounding area; although, I was having difficulty piecing together words of his heavily accented speech. I soon realized that he wasn’t addressing his passengers, and he certainly wasn’t speaking English.
The Fort Lauderdale Port opens at 11 for new passengers and we passed through the checkpoint at about 11:20 AM. We were in the terminal at ten before noon. Embarkation starts at noon. We had the blue priority 4 and 5 star boarding along with Neptune suite passengers with their red cards and those early snow birds in group 1. Warning about a higher than normal incidence of Noro virus on previous cruise. Extensive decontamination procedures being followed. Cabins not quite ready for us… so we headed to Lido. After successfully handling the somewhat extensive walking yesterday in the airport mother succumbed to the slight incline in the lido walking towards the seating up the gradual ramp. She went down, but was up again before three Hal crew were upon her making sure she was okay. They noted her cabin number, and when they verified she was traveling with us they left her with us. Otherwise I suspect she’d have been whisked off to the infirmary for a more thorough checkout. They didn’t seem thrilled about leaving her in our care that had evidently neglected her needs navigating the uneven surfaces but she hadn’t fallen hard and was unhurt.
Mother wanted a plain cheese burger so I headed to the Dive-In to fetch it for her along with some naked fries. Sharon opted for the herb chicken, but they only seemed to have dark meat. One of the servers finally looked in the holding areas below and found a few small pieces of white. I returned with mother’s burger and went to get myself some of the pseudo-fried chicken; but, all they were serving was drumsticks (I got a couple). I also tried the lasagna and the vegetable curry. The lasagna was quite tasty and well-seasoned, as were the vegetables. The cabins were now ready for passengers so we stopped there to drop off our carry-ons. Luggage had not yet begun to arrive. We made a beeline for the Shore Excursion Desk and made our reservations for the four ports we’d decided on for using the promotional shore excursion credits we got for ordering the cruise when we did. In addition to the $200 per person on-board credit, we also got a dinner in the pinnacle and a dinner in the Canaletto. Mother is travelling in a cabin by herself, and paying the additional surcharge, enjoys a $400 credit for Shore Excursions. We headed back to the cabins and noted that people’s luggage had started to arrive; although, our bags were not among them. We had mail though and opened our complimentary reservations to the Pinnacle and noted that they were for the next evening at the Pinnacle at 6:30 PM. We verified that ours and my mothers were reservations for the same day and time.
We headed up to the Crow’s Nest for the 4:00 PM Sail-Away. On the way up, I realized that I was still thinking that today was Valentine’s Day, which was yesterday, and so the reservations were not actually for tomorrow; but, for tonight! We saw that there was a number to confirm, so we did that. We had no trouble finding a private table for us. I ordered a chocolate mint buzz for myself and for my mom. Sharon decided she would head for the make-shift onboard chapel for 5 o’clock mass. We finished our drinks, and observed the touted blue skies and sunshine of Florida to be more of a dreary cloud shrouded drizzle. We watched the Florida coast of Fort Lauderdale disappear and headed back to the cabin after finishing our drinks. It was barely a quarter past five when Sharon showed up at the cabin to announce that there was no priest onboard this cruise because he left his passport at home. What kind of priest does that? Evidently, a Catholic one. I only hope this wasn’t his dream sabbatical vacation for twenty years of service to the Church. On the first leg of our European venture last fall the priest was onboard for just that reason; and, he had the time of his life. The told them that they may be able to board a priest when we get to Bonaire on Thursday.
We returned to our rooms and found our bags waiting for us in the hall. We spent some time unpacking and then needed to get ready for dinner. We had a nice table for three in the center of the restaurant, but away from the windows. The ceiling decorations appeared to large floating sand-dollars, with veins and ribbings of light that changed illumination and colors slowly over time. We ordered a 5-bottle navigator’s package of wine and chose a bottle of pinot noir from Australia for tonight’s meal. I actually think that will be what we get for all 5 bottles, as this is my mother’s favorite variety. I also got a bottle of San Pellegrino for myself. And the server brought around the bread individually and gave you whatever you wanted. I got several of the crisps and a roll, and Sharon got a piece of white bread that she enjoyed. Her dentures are an issue again and she’s not into having the heavily crusted rolls that she normally enjoys. I enjoyed the complimentary appetizer, a seared scallop atop a pumpkin puree. Mother sampled the puree and made a Casey-smirk that she must have learned from Shirley; because, I don’t know that I’ve noticed that look before on her. My mom used to say the politically correct things when she did like something, and her ever popular “It’s okay” was her slang for “It’s dreadful”. So far I’ve noticed that she’s been much more outspoken about saying she doesn’t like something, or saying that it’s “no good”. I suspect this is the influence of eating meals with Ron a few times a week. He too has a penchant for observing what’s not perfect about a dish, what could be better or what isn’t quite to his liking; even, if as a whole he likes the dish. Very seldom does he simply observe, “That was good.” I decided to have the lobster bisque, and my mother chose to have the spinach salad. My soup was delicious, as it always is. My mother was a bit hesitant pointing to the shaved slivers of apple on her salad, “What’s that.” She was fine once I told her that was the apples and I think she liked them best of all. My mother also ordered the crab cakes, and the waiter was a bit incredulous that this petite 85-year old women had the audacity to attempt to consume TWO appetizers. So what could I do but order a second appetizer for myself, the shrimp cocktail. I had some difficulty letting him know that I wanted the additional fresh horseradish to strengthen the potency of the cocktail sauce; because, his immediate assumption was that this was for the entrée and he inquired about what steak I’d be ordering. I let him know it was for the shrimp cocktail, and when he brought it, it was perfect. Mother enjoyed her crab cake, but wasn’t up to eating two of them, so what’s a son to do but help her clean her plate. And the resulting cocktail sauce with the extra horseradish was superb, truly high-octane, and it did a fine job of clearing my sinuses. The horseradish on this side of the Atlantic must be much more potent than that on the other side, because on this same ship just four months earlier the result was nowhere near this satisfying. On cruises that we’ve done in New England and Alaska; however, the result has always been to my hope and expectations! My mom had the 7-ounce filet; while, Sharon ordered the 10 ounce filet so that I could have a small serving. I ordered the mushroom ravioli which was quite good and I got the French fries with garlic aioli and also the Brussel sprouts with pancetta. Sharon had her mashed potatoes and my mom had a baked potato. The steaks were wonderful. My mom and Sharon both had the Ben and Jerry’s Very Cherry Garcia Baked Alaska and I struggled to finish off my chocolate lava cake. My mother observed that there wasn’t any chocolate ice cream in this Baked Alaska which I guess goes to the point that the Ben and Jerry’s Very Cherry Garcia went right over her head… all she knew was that the daily Baked Alaska with chocolate Ice Cream that she’d had in Alaska was good, and she expected this would be the same. But not all Baked Alaska’s are the same!
Sharon made a bee-line to the casino, and my mother and I took a more leisurely pace, getting lost along the way, although, I don’t know how. I had lived on this ship for almost 3 weeks and never had any trouble finding the casino! When we finally tied up with Sharon, she’d already won three $25 jackpots on her Fishing Bob slot machine. My mother sat down to play and I went to find the Fun-21 table. I watched for a bit as one lone player was having mediocre luck and clearly playing like a beginner. I waited for the end of the shoe and joined the play. I was playing close to even, trading wins and losses. Sharon and my mom stopped by and planned to go to the Showroom to save me a seat. Sharon had cashed out $60 ahead, and my mother was up 35 cents. It came time for me to press with my $25 bet, which I did getting an eleven against the dealer’s eight. I doubled-down, drew the face card and the dealer obliged by revealing his 18. I pulled back to $5 and began a brief winning streak of several more hands. When it was over, it was nearing show time, so I took my modest profit and went to see the Show.
We sat on the lower level. We met Cruise Director Simon, and although his distinctly British accent sounded quite familiar and similar to a number of cruise director’s that we’ve enjoyed in the past, we were quite sure this one was not one that we’d sailed with before. The show started with a rendition by the piano bar guy, who seems excellent both in playing and singing, and he did a rousing medley with several of the HAL women singers, with increasing and decreasing tempo and volume of “Shout”. All of the performers seemed quite talented and we should enjoy the entertainment on this cruise.
Returning to our cabin I noticed that they must have taken one of my cruise recommendations to heart, because the traditional milk chocolate left on our beds had been replaced by Dark chocolate ones instead! Good for me, not so good for Sharon who often wound up with my chocolate.
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