: My wife had to work a half-day on Friday, so I picked her up in downtown Atlanta at 12:30 PM on the 10th and we headed directly to Florida. Our biggest mistake of the trip was opting to take I-75 to the FL Turnpike instead of I-10 to Jacksonville. The FL Turnpike was fine—about $3.50 between Ocala and Orlando. The problem was FL route 528 which you take from the turnpike to Cocoa Beach. I wasn’t aware that this road was a toll road too, and we racked up about $6 in tolls over a very short distance
. When we were having to stop for the third time in less than 5 miles to pay yet another $2.25 (there was no rhyme or reason to the amounts!), I asked the attendant, “How many more of these tolls are there between here and I-95.” His response of, “I have no idea” did not go over well with me. Needless to say, we took I-95 to I-10 on the way home!
We arrived at the La Quinta Inn and Suites on Cocoa Beach about 9:30 PM. I had reserved the room back in April through Hotwire for $65, so we were pleasantly surprised when we had a nice room overlooking the pool. (The room also included a hot breakfast.) We hadn’t been out of the car since Valdosta, so it was nice to breath the ocean air when we got out of the car! We quickly checked in and moved only our essential luggage to the room before walking two blocks back to A-1A to grab something to eat at Beef O’Brady’s in the Publix shopping center. (Not our first choice, but one of the few places within walking distance still open at 10 PM).
We were going to park our car at the hotel for an additional $30, but the La Quinta doesn’t have a shuttle. I called about two weeks prior to the trip and found out that the average cost of transportation to the port would be about $20 for up to 4 people. Add another $20 to get back after the trip and the cost of parking/transportation was going to cost more than the hotel room. Luckily, I had read on Cruise Critic about the new Park ‘N Cruise on Sea Ray Drive just a few minutes from the port. I made a quick reservation online (which qualifies you for a 10% discount), and our parking arrangements were all set.
: After a short walk on the beach, we left the hotel about 10 AM on Saturday morning ready to start our trip! We drove right past the Dream on our way to the Park ‘N Cruise lot (which you’ll see on your left about 5 minutes before you get to the port if you are coming in from I-95)
. When we drove into their lot, a man greeted us and directed us into a hanger type building. As soon as we pulled inside, they were there ready to unload our luggage. As it turned out, we never touched our luggage again until we were in our cabin. While I paid the $53 dollars for the parking space
, my wife boarded the shuttle bus while the attendant loaded our luggage. I then parked our car in the gravel lot right next to the exit. I liked that we could park our own car because I could leave plenty of space between our car and the van next to it. One other couple was going through the same process behind us, so the driver asked us if we wanted to wait for them to board the bus, or did we want to leave right away. Since it was only 10:30, we were happy to wait for the other couple. As we started to the port, I heard the other man talking to the driver. He said, “I’ve read lots of positive reviews about your business on Cruise Critic. I was even online talking to someone who was going to leave his car at his hotel for the week, but changed his mind when he realized it would be cheaper to park here.” I couldn’t believe it—he was talking about me. With 4000 passengers heading to the ship, we were riding the shuttle with the one Cruise Critic member who had helped me the most over the past 6 months—Crewsweeper! (Otherwise known as Stephen). I quickly introduced myself and we all had a good laugh at the odds of such a meeting.
Once off the shuttle, our bags were unloaded by the driver and handed directly to the porters. We walked a short distance to the terminal, showed our passports and boarding passes at the door, and headed inside to immediately go through the security check point. FYI--I had one water bottle in my bag—with water in it—and they ran my bag through twice just to make sure it wasn’t alcohol.
A quick ride up the escalator and we were handed the usual health form to complete before entering the line for check-in. Less than 10 minutes in line and we were at the counter. By the time we sat down they were just 3 zones away from calling our number (lucky 13). We were on board around 11:30—amazingly fast. One of the best changes was that there were not the REQUIRED family photo shoots
(just the individual ones for S&S card and the green screen face recognition photo). Photographers were set up in the lobby on deck #3, but you could easily walk around them without having to put your luggage down again.
We decided some time ago that this cruise was going to be about relaxation and not about food, so we ignored all the suggestions to go right to Lido deck and decided instead to head for the Serenity deck. What a great decision!
We were the only ones there. We tried out a few clamshells until we settled on one near the bar on the breezy side of the ship (facing the Canaveral launch site).
It was then that we met Alena, the nicest young waitress from Bulgaria. We hit it off immediately, and she took good care of us throughout the week. The Long Island Iced Teas are quite good! Although the entire “Dream Team” is incredibly friendly, Alena was our favorite of all. She always called us by name, and even sought us out at the returning guest reception and made sure our glasses were never empty.
While my wife enjoyed relaxing in the clamshell, I headed back to deck 3 to the excursion deck about 12:30 because I wanted to book the Behind the Fun tour
. The line was still short, so I was done in a matter of minutes. The tour costs $95 per person
. We were the 3rd and 4th people added to the list, but I was told to come back tomorrow while the boat was at sea to actually pay for the tour. Otherwise, they would have to charge tax. My next stop was the dining room to request a table for 2. Although our assignment was in Scarlett, I was sent to Crimson to make the request. The maître-D
greeted me, took my request, and told me that there would be no changes made until after the first night
. If they could grant my request, I would receive a note in my cabin during the first day at sea. My final stop was at the Chef’s Art Steakhouse on deck 12 aft to confirm our reservations for the Chef’s Table and for the steakhouse itself. I had made both reservations back in January, but had been instructed to confirm both reservations once onboard. With all of my “chores” taken care of, I made a quick stop at the Indian buffet near the aft pool on deck 10 (another good suggestion from Crewsweeper), grabbed an assortment of very tasty items (no line at all), and it was back to the clamshell for a 2nd Long Island Iced Tea before checking out our cabin.
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