Thursday, November 29 – Waiting to Go-dot
Everything was going well until we left home. Then things started to fall apart. First there was the confusion over where to park the car at the off-site lot. There were no handicapped spots and we ended up in the airport section of the lot rather than the cruise side. Once a shuttle came to pick us and our Vanderbilt-like luggage, we got it straightened out. The driver loaded the matching bags onto the bus and then drove MA to another spot where D parked the car. We headed to the port to board the Prinsendam.
We had hoped to be on the ship around noon for a sit-down lunch in the main dining room [hereinafter referred to as the MDR]. Well, we got to the terminal around 12, but there was no ship there. There were lots of people, though, all sitting around waiting. And waiting. And waiting some more.
While we expected there might be some rough spots because the Prinsendam was coming directly from a two-week dry dock, we assumed it would at least be on time. D had read earlier in the morning that the expected 5:30 arrival had been pushed back to 9 a.m. which eventually became 2 p.m. And still we waited. The ship had to pass a Coast Guard inspection before it could dock in Ft. Lauderdale, so it waited within sight until 2. Then some of the crew had to be cleared before we could even line up for boarding.
Before we could even attempt that, the terminal crew had to set up and synch their computers with the ship. [There is an unsubstantiated rumor that the computers had to be brought ashore from the ship.] Naturally, they could not begin to do this until the ship was docked and cleared. At least we didn’t have to wait for 900 passengers to disembark. Still it was past 2:15 before the 4-Star Mariners [including us] and the high rollers in suites were allowed to form a queue. And waited.
During a normal embarkation, passengers would arrive in a staggered if not staggering fashion. The priority boarding group would use the 3 lines on the left and the others would use the five on the right. With most of the 900 already there, the system broke down. The priority line moved much slower than the “cattle car” line because of the disparity in stations.
We were in the queue for 45 minutes before we were processed. Because our passports had been collected earlier so the staff could check for the required Brazil visa and Yellow Fever shot, the actual check-in was accomplished in about five minutes. And we waited some more.
After going to the second floor of the terminal building, we joined the crowd of suite and priority passengers waiting to board. Finally the suite passengers were allowed to line up to board followed by the priority passengers. We happened to be standing in front of the “mistress of ceremonies” and were allowed to join the procession before she called the rest.
The result of this bit of blind luck was that we were among the first people on board. We went to our cabin, dropped off our carry-on bags [pills, electronics] and headed to the Lido Deck for lunch. It was past 3:30 by now but we knew that the buffet would be open – there were lots of tired hungry people yet to board.
The opening day or two on a cruise ship are a bit different from the remainder: the buffet is not self-serve. In order to avoid having communicable diseases ravage the passengers and crew, only staff members can serve food. This slows things down even more and makes the serving area very crowded; there are more people involved in the process [crew and passengers] and there are velvet rope barricades blocking the already-narrow passage.
We did not have that kind of problem because there was almost no one else there when we arrived. On the other hand, we saw nothing of interest. We discovered that the pool-side grill was open, so we both order “grilled Reuben” sandwiches. We took them inside where the drinks were supposed to be but there was no iced tea. And we discovered that the sandwich was not grilled, was made with cheddar not Swiss cheese, and had lettuce on it in addition to sauerkraut. And it was delicious.
One of the changes made during the dry dock was the enclosing of an open area behind the Lido buffet. This change serves two purposes. First, it provides more eating space during cold, windy or rainy weather. Second, it now serves as the Caneletto restaurant, an Italian-themed venue which was already in place on all of the other HAL ships. The area is quite nice, has seating for various sized groups at tables and banquettes, and which now carries a $10 surcharge. No thanks.
D stopped to talk to Debbie the events coordinator about tomorrow’s Cruise Critic meeting. Everything is in place, but she was frazzled by too little sleep, too much work coming out of dry dock and a three-hour wait in the immigration line. Four hundred crew members had to be cleared through only two booths. It made our experience seem almost pleasant.
Back in the room, we discovered our luggage. It did not take long to stow our clothing; at the suggestion of another cruiser, we now pack most things in zip-lock plastic bags. All we had to do was pull them from the various suitcases and put them on the shelves; in the drawers; or on the hanger bar in the closet. A few items went into the vanity and nightstand and it was all over in minutes. As we wear things, the current arrangement will morph but not too much.
Although the ship had come from a two-week dry dock, not everything was ship-shape. The air conditioning is still problematic and there does not appear to be enough ho t water. These are things which are out of our control. However, D was able to analyze and fix the non-working refrigerator so we could chill the sodas we brought with us. It was unplugged.
Ever since the Costa Concordia landed on the Italian rocks, all cruise lines have taken the emergency drill more seriously. HAL always made it important but had slipped in recent years and become a bit complacent. Our drill today was quite thorough, as always, but had a more business-like atmosphere. There were no photographers hustling to make a sale and passengers were warned to leave personal electronics, especially cell phones, in their cabins. Announcements even emphasized that passengers would be removed from the ship if they did not attend the drill.
Dinner was late for everyone, a natural result of the accumulated lateness. Many of the crew members did not return from immigration until after 4 pm. Their dinner preparations were interrupted by the boat drill and dinner service was supposed to begin 15 after the drill concluded. The situation snowballed so that we did not go to the MDR until almost 8:30 for what was billed as the 8 o’clock seating. Even so, we waited for almost another 30 minutes before we received any attention. Although our table was set when we arrived, the one next door was never completely cleared by the time we finished. The staff was working feverishly to get everything done and the passengers fed. They will get to be later than usual tonight but still be up at 5:30 to start all over again tomorrow.
After dinner [Caesar salads; eggplant cannelloni; maple-glazed tuna] we had cappuccinos. We returned to the room where MA read and went to sleep and D prowled the ship before landing in the Ocean Bar to start writing the blog.
Tomorrow – CC and Sea
Friday, November 30 -- CC and Sea
Because of the inspections which had not been completed by the anticipated sailing time, we did not actually leave Ft. Lauderdale’s Port Everglades until after midnight. It was a rocky ride bumped and thumped throughout the night and into morning. The closet door kept rattling as we rolled around until D opened it and secured it in place by its magnetic catch. He worried all night about things falling off the closet shelves; he had stowed much of the soda there as well as the daily drugs. Fortunately, the seas felt worse than they were and nothing happened.
We went to the MDR for breakfast only to discover that the crew was still feeling its way around. Some items on the menu were either already out of stock or unpacked. There was no rye bread or V-8 juice, but we managed to cope.
D went straightaway from breakfast to the Crow’s Nest where the first of the Cruise Critic meetings was scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. There were already a few CC members present when he arrived. After informal introductions, he proceeded to lay out his materials for the meeting – name badges and commemorative pens he had bought for the occasion. MA joined him shortly thereafter and helped distribute the pens while he handled introductions and badges.
We had arranged with HAL to have the usual coffee and cookies for the group as well as fruit skewers and crudité [the latter at MA’s suggestion last year]. Because things were still unsettled on the ship, the display table did not arrive or the food until 10:15 and the coffee/tea/water never made it. Of course, no one was especially hungry since we had all just finished breakfast.
We had begun introducing ourselves when the Cruise Director, Carlos, appeared. Being the good host, D introduced him and gave him the microphone thinking he would make a few innocuous remarks. No such luck. He did make some gratuitous comments but then commandeered the meeting and continued to have the CC members introduce themselves. Whatever camaraderie we may have managed was destroyed by the interloper.
The Guest Relations Manager had also appeared although she made no comments to the group; indeed, we did not realize who she was until D went over and asked quietly if there was any way to wrest the microphone from Carlos. She smiled and approached him but he plowed on.
By this time, the Hotel Manager, Fermin van Walle, had joined us. We have met Fermin on other cruises and, indeed, spent some time with him at lunches and dinners. He is a good speaker and, more importantly for our purposes, totally honest in his observations. D introduced him and he made some mild comments before asked if there were questions. He knew what was going to happen but still fielded lots of frustrated and angry questions and complaints from the more vocal or angry attendees.
CC members carped about dirty decks and hallways; trash-strewn decks; deficient a/c and hot water; and other things. Fermin assured the group that he was sympathetic to their complaints and that he agreed with almost everything they said. He and Captain Gundersen are even more distressed than the passengers since the condition of the ship reflects on them and they know what the ship should look like. He was charming, as always, but some of the more critical in the group were not mollified nor were they particularly understanding. Despite their anger, they are not likely to get more on-board credit or refunds on their passage.
Carlos continued running off at the mouth but eventually ran out of steam. When he finally relinquished the microphone there was a round of applause. D asked the assemblage whether they were applauding what he said or the fact that he had finally stopped. Regardless, he had, in our opinion, killed the meeting and people wandered off shortly thereafter. We gathered our stuff and went back to the cabin.
D has been under the weather for a few days. His cold has not cleared up and the rocking of the ship has bothered him more than usual. He left the CC meeting for a brief period to get some motion sickness medicine. After the meeting, he lay down to ease the spinning. We sort of slept through lunch because we were still tired from yesterday before dragging ourselves to the Ocean Bar for Trivia.
We have paired ourselves with Vicky and Barry, retired educators from western Canada. We met them on the 2009 on our first Prinsendam cruise, the Grand Med and Black Sea. They were friendly trivia competitors for whom we saved seats if they were late arriving. When D realized they were on this cruise, he immediately propositioned them as team members. We also have Mary and Mark, another CC couple, who seem very nice. We expect to have fun if not success.
And it’s a good thing, too, as we came in a distant 3rd with 11 of 15 correct; the winners had 13. Oh well, Scarlett, tomorrow is another day. After we finished chatting with the group, we came back to the room where we slept again until around 6 p.m. We dressed for dinner and went to the Ocean Bar for a little libation. MA had vodka on the rocks and D had ginger ale to settle his stomach. He was not as queasy as he had been earlier, but it couldn’t hurt. We chatted for a few minutes with Doug and Ferdie, the Beverage Manager and his assistant, very likeable men who run a tight ship on one of the Prinsendam’s profit centers.
Dinner ran more smoothly tonight. The kitchen and dining room crews are getting in synch and, as Fermin said, by the time the ship returns to Ft. Lauderdale everything should be fine. We had asked the assistant dining room manager if we could get “big” shrimp cocktails for dinner and they were ready for us when appetizers were delivered. Our waiter, Endang, suggested the barramundi as a main course and his suggestion was spot-on. D ate lightly because of his stomach issues, but both of us enjoyed the fish. While we were eating, the wine steward came and offered us a drink “courtesy of the ship.” D said, Doug sent you, didn’t her?” and the steward started laughing. So MA enjoyed a glass of wine and D had another ginger ale. Boy, do we know how to live.
We skipped the show without a second thought and returned to the room. We were still tired despite sleeping most of the day away and were asleep by 10:30
Tomorrow – Another quiet day at sea
Saturday, December 01 -- A Day at Sea
The ship continued to bounce around during the night, but we had calm seas come daybreak. The water was almost like glass. We ate breakfast in the MDR with some new people today and enjoyed our conversation. On a small ship, it is good to be friendly to everyone because you will definitely see them again in the next three weeks.
D went to the Ocean Bar to try to catch up on the journal when MA returned to the room for her pills. Shortly thereafter, Barry and Vicky showed up and we began talking about nothing, so D closed down the laptop. Mark and Mary made their way in and we continued to socialize until Carlos made his grand and flamboyant entrance.
We are once again playing as HAL 9000, a team name that has brought us generally good luck since 2001. We did not bring our HAL 9000 shirts or hats, not wanting to offend too many people. Among our competition this year are a couple we met in 2011. He takes it personally if he does not win and always checks to see how we did and which questions we missed. They had the same 11 points we did yesterday, but today we scored 16 of 17 and won the coveted [not] HAL pins. We have given most of ours to our grandsons who will most likely end up with these.
We stayed with our teammates until lunchtime and went to the MDR. Lunch was being served only in the “front” dining room because of a Mariner luncheon. Gildus told us that there are so many repeat passengers that there will be three of these on this cruise. Today’s was the second; ours will be while we are in or near the Amazon.
We stopped at the Front Desk to get a copy of our shipboard account. We wanted to be sure that everything had been credited properly. Sure enough, there was credit for owning Carnival stock, but we have two weeks to rectify that. Regardless, we will still owe money when we disembark, but every dollar counts.
Back in the room, our A/C was still not working. It was 75 in the cabin last night and was now hovering around 78. The afternoon sun, even with the drapes drawn, was a big factor. D went to the Front Desk to request an A/C check and a fan. Our cabin steward was already in the room by the time D returned. After trying four fans, he finally found one which was operational and stable. However, it used a European plug which meant that it had to be in the aisle between the bed and vanity, a hazard in daylight and an accident-in-waiting at night. D returned for the third time to the Front Desk to ask if they could find an adaptor. The irony is that we have at least two adaptors at home but did not bring any because we brought a multi-outlet strip to accommodate all of our power cords. By 3:30, the room was up to 81.5 but was habitable because of the fan.
Tonight was formal night, one of four we will endure during this cruise. The staff was even more attentive than usual and dinner [pasta with goat cheese/rack of lamb] was delicious. Gildus the dining room manager and Fermin, the Hotel Manager, both stopped by to chat and Gildus asked if we would like escargot for dinner tomorrow. MA was quick to accept. D continues to hand out CC commemorative pens to anyone and everyone who has given us good service, from the dining room steward to Fermin.
After dinner, MA read and D updated the journal and tried once again to post it.
Tomorrow – Another sea day and more trivia