By a first time cruiser
The morning of the 30th dawned clear and mild for a Southeastern Virginia late fall day. The household was just stirring as I made some last-minute preparations before embarking on our adventure aboard the Maasdam. As I set about staging bags for the impending taxi ride to the pier and reviewed the notes left for our son, who would be staying at the house to care for plants and animals while DW and I are gone, I thought back to the Thanksgiving just past and the days between…
My sister, Terry, and her husband arrived on Saturday after Thanksgiving and were only about ½ hour late getting in from Chicago – a good omen, as the weather had been rather bad out there with snow already on the ground before Thanksgiving arrived. They would be accompanying DW and me and a dear friend who lives here in the area on our cruise. Everyone is excited. I had been the mastermind behind the trip and researched (as is my usual mode) every aspect of the cruise. I had made extensive use of the cruise community web sites and sifted through every other source of information I could find to ensure we were prepared to really get the most from the cruise! Among the topics we discussed as we sat in the evening over after dinner beverages were specifics I had identified such as time we would actually be able to board, what to expect when we did, amount of storage we could expect, how the tips worked, what our options were for port time and many other topics as the conversation moved through its natural course.
With the house now abuzz with people, we double-checked our bags and papers before piling (almost literally) into the taxi. I was amazed at how much stuff 4 people had packed for 11 days at sea. I didn’t envy the porter when we added Judith’s bags to the bunch! We would be meeting her (and DW, who went to assist her with luggage) at the Nauticus and all were planned to board together around 1130. However, as boarding began, Judith and DW were nowhere to be found so I sent some bags ahead with Terry and BIL and waited curbside for their arrival. Once they appeared, we were able to sort out the remaining bags and we three went into the temporary processing area to board. Processing was not too bad – even considering that a line had formed while I was waiting for the girls – and we were walking aboard in only about 10 minutes from their arrival. Screening reminded me of airport departure areas except they didn’t mind things like corkscrews (one of which we had for the 12 bottles of wine we brought with us – more on that later). I had arranged to meet Sis and BIL at the atrium lower promenade but found that we were not allowed to go anywhere except the Lido deck upon boarding. Assuming the same rule had been applied to them, we proceeded there to reunite the group. The time is just shy of Noon.
This is it! There they are – seated at a poolside table near the Lido bar with cool libations close at hand. We dropped out carry-on with the bag check located near the forward entrance to the pool area on the Lido deck so we were free to cast about the deck in intial exploration. With a drink in hand, we sat and discussed options for the afternoon. I mentioned we had been told to expect an announcement indicating we could proceed to our rooms around 1:30. We decided lunch was in order and proceeded into the Lido restaurant (at the aft end of the deck, just beyond sliding glass doors behind the bar area) to dine. This was to be the first of many fine Lido lunches we would have – signally and together – over the next week and a half. The Lido food is not 5-star but I would rate it a consistent 3-star and while the variety was not as wide as I might have hoped, it nonetheless offered plenty of options to satisfy our group during our stay. Breakfast was similar in quality and had even less variation in content but, for me, this was not a problem as I had heard about the Swiss Muesli and made sure most days started with a bowl topped with apricots, prunes, bananas or the occasional mango. If you like muesli and have never had it this way you are in for a treat! The rest of the group enjoyed the offerings and sampled just about all of the variations available amongst them.
I digress, however, as the topic at hand was preparation for getting underway. After another round of cool drinks we heard the announcement allowing us to access our rooms so we made plans to stow our gear and meet in my stateroom (our three were all side-by-side amidships on the port side of the Verandah Deck) about quarter to 5 for a proviate sail-away party. As part of my planning (and as a surprise to the other 4 in the party) I had selected several gifts that were in each cabin upon our arrival – among them were flowers and chocolate-dipped strawberries in ours, champagne in Judith’s and various munchies in Terry’s – to be combined to provide for the celebration. Everything was just as planned and our party was a great success as we watched the ship slide away from its mooring on the Elizabeth River and begin its turn to take us to the mouth of the Chesapeake and out into the Atlantic.
Bags arrived between 4 and 5:30 so we had time to finishing unpacking and settling in before we were to get ready for our Early Lower (6:15) dinner. One of the tricks I learned on the boards was to pack a transparent plastic shoe tree to hang on the door to the bathroom. This proved to be one of the most useful hints we used. As we had been warned, there is not a lot of counter space in there and having everything visible and in reach on the door was really a great way to stay (painlessly) organized. We decided this was a great way to travel on land or sea and plan to carry the organizer with us from now on.
A quick check showed that all three cabins had been assigned the same table (which is as we had planned) – 119. When we arrived at dinner, however, we were surprised that it was a table for 6 rather than the 8 I had had the TA request. Ah well, we traded the chance to meet new friends for a seat in the aft window. We would dine at this table every night of the cruise – just us 5 at the table for 6 – and found we had a wonderful time notwithstanding the closed nature of the group. We also found we would have plenty of opportunity to get to know others in the days ahead…
Dinner that night was casual (of course) and seemed very well attended even though the cruise was not sold out (only about 80-90% capacity, as I understand it). We were all wowed by the design and style of the formal dining area – especially the lighted glass ceiling and the two-story Victorian lamps (which looked for the world like huge gas lamps and were quite stunning) – as we entered on the balcony level and descended the curved staircase to our table. This was a ritual we would repeat most nights – being sure to leave, however, by the lower entrance so as to pass the yum-yum man and collect mints and that wonderfully rich and spicy candied ginger!
By the time we finished dinner, the ship was making its way into open ocean and we began to feel “the motion of the ocean” as our captain would say several times during his daily (1PM) “Briefing from the Bridge”. The group had decided to go back to rooms in order to finish stowing and just to relax after a hectic day.
DW and I made our way back and settled in to explore the offerings on the TV and review the ship’s guide and the daily planning guide that had arrived while we were at dinner. I also took this time to really get to understand what was available in the Verandah Suite. I really liked the furnishings, even though the bed cover seemed a bit threadbare – and especially liked the honey-toned wood and mirrors throughout the cabin. I found the new hair dryer that HAL is supplying in place of the underpowered one (still mounted in the bathroom of our cabins) and pointed out the location of the plug for it (under the vanity near the verandah end of the room) to DW. I also noted that there was room in the mini-fridge to chill several bottles of white wine even with the cans in place that comprised the cold portion of the mini-bar setup. Even with snorkel gear and all our bags, were able to fit everything in cabinets, drawers and (for bags) under the bed – which was already made up as a queen when we arrived).
By the time we were ready for bed, the room was settled and we really felt that we were off to a great start. Nestled into bed, we made our last discovery of the day when we turned on music from the overhead speaker while trying to locate the light switches. A few minutes with the music and we had it figured out – including the ship’s announcements on channel 4 that would prove very useful to us later in the cruise. Finally, lights out, we drifted to sleep with the gentle rocking of the ship and pleasant thoughts of the days ahead…
Next - Days at sea, on sand and under the surf at Half Moon Cay