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Cruising From Baltimore at Christmastime

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Every cruise truly begins at that moment when you leave the driveway en route to the airport. I shot the usual glance at the rear view mirror to assure myself that the garage door was safely down and smiled at the charming snow-covered vista. Where we were going, there would be no snow! Then I headed in the direction of Cleveland Hopkins Airport. This time, however, we were simply passing the airport, because the port was close enough for us to do it as a road trip. This would turn out to be an enormous stress reliever, since the weather forecast for the next morning was calling for a significant snowfall. I’d decided from the very beginning, that the Port of Baltimore meant no TSA, no safety demo as the plane backed away from the gate, no scramble to claim luggage at the destination airport and best of all … no baggage surcharge. This last delightful novelty had gone to our heads during planning. It strikes me that 2 bags per person is a reasonable amount of luggage. We were so far beyond reasonable that we were actually shipping cargo. We even took a group photo of the assembled stack of cargo in front of the living room couch before we loaded up the car.

 

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So we settled comfortably into our personal premium ground transporter, popped in a Christmas CD to infuse the atmosphere with festive excitement and headed for the Ohio Turnpike. Although we didn’t head out until after dark, we enjoyed relatively light traffic for the entire drive. There was enough of an adrenaline high, that the awareness that it would be after midnight before we reached the hotel was not an issue. We stopped for a light meal at the last rest stop in Ohio since I was relatively certain that the PA Turnpike lacked any rest stops until well into the state. It was a half hour delay, but, at that point, what’s the difference between getting to bed at 12:15 or 12:45 a.m.? We’d be so pumped in the morning, that a short night would be irrelevant.

 

Then back on the road for the short hop to the toll booth. Ohio wanted $5.50 for the 1.5 hours of wear-and-tear of the roadway. That’s not too bad. A couple miles later we crossed into PA and they immediately stopped us for another toll. Huh? We pulled up to the booth and the worker leaned out to advise me I needed to come up with $5.25. He even said it with a straight face. “What does that get me?” I asked. “Thirty miles and then you get a ticket.” Now I know it can be reasoned that they had to move an awful lot more dirt to carve a turnpike through PA than Ohio, but let’s be honest. They moved that dirt 50 years ago. It was paid off long ago. But I caved to the extortion, paid the money and we began the twisting and turning that is the fate of those who travel this way. Periodically, they’d tease us motorists by widening to 3 lanes, but the landscape would close in again and the roadway would revert to 2 lanes. We hoped we were beating up that road 3 times worse that Ohio’s in order to get our money’s worth. When we got the toll ticket 30 miles later, we found that it would be another $13.75 before we exited at Breezewood. I needed to keep reminding myself that it was certainly cheaper than United or Delta.

 

As the miles passed, we chatted about the expectations for this long-awaited cruise. It had to include savory bites, strawberry bisque, key lime pie, and dining room salads … thriller practice, line dances, love-and-marriage show, and the quest … ziplining, sun tanning, exploring and shopping. But mostly, it would be a chance to get away from the stresses of our daily lives … and the best way to do that is to go out to sea, where everyone back home acknowledges that you can’t be reached.

 

We called the hotel partway through Pennsylvania to assure that they were aware we would be arriving after midnight and they advised that we’d probably have to wait for the 11:30 shuttle the next morning, since there seemed to be an awful lot of cruise-and-park people for some reason. We laughed at that, since the “some reason” was CruiseCritic. On the roll call we’d shared our various research efforts to find the best deal for cruise-and-park. There were so many of us at the hotel, we were planning a pre meet-and-mingle in the hotel lobby before the first shuttle. The 11:30 shuttle was not an option for either of us. Even if we’d been willing to wait till then to get to the ship (not a chance), we doubted they’d be willing to find enough room for our cargo if the shuttle was relatively full. So we asked them to simply order us a taxi for 9:30.

 

I have always believed that the passenger in a 2-person road trip is responsible for navigation and map reading. Unfortunately, DD is map-challenged. She begins the process by unfolding the map and dooming herself before she starts by ridiculing the ungainly size of it. When I’ve been foolish enough to push the issue, she has sent us in tortuous detours that have resulted in frustrations on both sides of the vehicle. Fortunately, she now has a smart phone, a data plan and a GPS. This eliminated the stress point that we would have incurred as we neared Baltimore. Instead of DD’s misdirection, I welcomed the sassy GPS lady who doubted my ability to have heard her the first time she told me that a left turn was imminent. Those heading for the BWI Best Western may find it a challenge to locate without a GPS. I thought the location was rather hidden. Maybe they got a real deal on that particular parcel of land, but we found it thanks to the GPS. We pulled up in front shortly after 12:30 a.m. and spotted a big luggage trolley right in front. Bonus! It wasn’t going to take multiple relays to haul all this stuff up to our room. We checked in, transferred the luggage and parked the car in the back. By 1:00 a.m. we were in bed, dreaming of a ship heading our way in the Chesapeake Bay.

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BOARDING DAY

Setting the alarm the night before had been a waste of time. Too wound up to sleep, I was up by 6 a.m. Today was THE DAY. I slipped out of bed and went over to the window to check out the view … there was no view. Our room was right above the main entry and there was a faux roof there that completely blocked what was probably a boring view anyway. So I showered and got ready for the day.

 

After breakfast, we snagged the trolley again and assembled the cruise cargo. As we unloaded it near the door in the lobby, a few people glanced our way. They were probably wondering where the rest of our party was. We spotted the M&M leader with the mardi gras beads and went over to meet the group. Sure enough, there were plenty of names that we recognized from the posts, and we tried to make the adjustment between screen names and the one mama gave them. It was overwhelming. In the end it was agreed that everyone’s name was “There”. So it was OK to say “Hi, There!” whenever we met. This was a wonderful relief for me, since I am name-challenged.

 

The first shuttle loaded up and took off just as our taxi pulled up at 9:30. The taxi driver didn’t seem surprised by the amount of cargo we kept dragging out there until he realized that there were only 2 passengers. “We’re girls. We don’t travel light,” we noted. He didn’t argue as he climbed into the driver’s seat, but I suspect he may be nominating us for the Guinness Book of World Records. We were underway by 9:35.

 

It was a relatively short drive, but it seemed overlong to me. Life had thrown us so many curveballs in 2013, that I wasn’t going to believe that the trip was actually going to happen until I got on board. So I was craning my neck searching for the first view of the water … and of the ship. And then finally we got to say those three magic words, “There she is!” We came down the ramp and into the parking lot. Everything I’d heard about the Port of Baltimore is true. They are friendly and helpful. You are easily directed to where you get dropped off. The porters were congenial and genuinely interested in assuring you know the next step in the process (which automatically raises the amount of tip I give). They helped us separate the three big pieces we were checking, from the vast amount we were schlepping and helped us assemble the cargo for the trek to the check-in process. Our JS combined with Diamond Status qualified us for the priority line, but there was no difference in the wait for those arriving with gold status, since there were no lines. I was hoping to shoot some pictures of check-in, since I’d never done that, but apparently that was forbidden. I can’t figure out what kind of secrets would be revealed in a cruise ship terminal to nefarious entities, but I’m sure that’s just because I’m such a naïve Midwesterner who doesn’t get out often enough.

 

Once checked-in we were directed to our waiting area which we reached at 10:07. Thirty-seven minutes from taxi arrival to check-in. Very impressive. Photography was also forbidden in the waiting area, which boasted an un-photographable Christmas tree and several rows of chairs. Festive tunes were being broadcast … first it was Jingle Bell Rock and then some steel drum Christmas music. We were probably only there for about 10 minutes before boarding started. I believe it was the full suite and diamond-plus folks who got on first; then we were called. We gathered up our cargo and set off following those wonderful signs that said “to the ship”. Admittedly we were a bit slower than those who were less encumbered, so we hung a bit to the right to enable others to pass us on the left. One woman who went by commented gaily, “At least you won’t have to worry about them losing your luggage!” DD called back, “Oh no. There’s more coming.”

 

We stopped for a boarding photo, although most passengers went on by. For once, Royal Caribbean had a great back-drop for the boarding photo, and we wanted to take full advantage. We donned our Christmas hats, which were strategically part of our boarding cargo and pulled the big Christmas Bear out of the bag to join us for the shot. The photographer got a kick out of the bear … maybe because neither one of us was young enough to seem to need to tote a favorite stuffed animal … or maybe because most people are smart enough to bring something a bit more compact. But we got our shot and then had to go through the process of picking up our cargo and getting underway. The boarding ramp was surprisingly heated, which was unexpected and very welcome. Give Baltimore another plus for that point. This was the final leg of the trip and I didn’t let the length of the multiple switchbacks to bother me. This was it! We’d made it. With a satisfied smile I stepped onto the ship and into the Centrum. Despite the refurb since our last cruise on the Grandeur, it was comfortably familiar. On the opposite side of the Centrum stood the Christmas tree, drawing the incoming passengers like a huge magnet. Basketball-sized ornaments adorned the branches and it was fully lit from floor to the top. The railings above were covered in pine garland entwined with white fairy lights and Christmas music was playing in the background. Months of pre-planning on CruiseCritic had prepared me to find that the ship was “all” decorated for Christmas. In reality, the main decorating was done but there would be more coming. Somewhere below, along with thousands of bags of luggage, tons of food, and several pallets of toilet paper, they were also loading dozens of huge potted poinsettias that would be scattered throughout the ship before we got underway.

 

Like so many others, we first paused by the tree for pictures and then went across to the port side to find some seats near the opposite windows to wait until lunch time. We took a secluded corner so we could push the cargo behind us where it wouldn’t be in anyone’s way. We watched as people came in, wandered across and admired the big Christmas tree. A sprinkling of passengers were also wearing Santa hats and everyone was in a festive mood. Around 11:00 we heard that the Windjammer was open. DD and I agreed that one of us should act as scout while the other one stood guard over the wagon train, so I headed to the upper decks. I did check the corridor doors on Deck 8, but they were definitely closed. One deck higher it was clear that people were streaming into the Windjammer. I returned to DD and we discussed our options. We finally decided that we would relay the cargo up to the corridor door on Deck 8 and take turns going to the Windjammer. Once fed, we sat in the alcove by the corridor doors so we’d be away from the stairs and played a couple rounds of rotation rummy until 1:00.

 

Then they opened the doors and we reassembled our cargo for the final trek down the hall. Here’s where we finally got the pay-off for all the schlepping. DD immediately zipped open the first two suitcases and began pulling out the Christmas decorations. We had decided early in the planning that we’d need to make sure any decorations we brought were lightweight, but we really hadn’t tracked on the bulk factor. Those fat plastic peppermints and candy canes and the quilted peppermint-candy bed runners took up an awful lot of space. And DD had been determined from the beginning that we had to carry on the Christmas stuff so we could decorate right away. Within minutes she was sticking magnetic hooks on the ceiling and stringing garland. I began measuring the wrapping paper for the cabin door and cutting the magnetic strips that would hold it in place. The doors to the suites are a bit wider than balcony cabins and the roll of paper wasn’t quite wide enough, so we had to cut a long strip and carefully match the pattern so it would cover the full width of the door. This proved to be a bit of a challenge since the cruise line seemed to have gotten a bit carried away when they decided to furnish the junior suite. Not only did we have 2 upholstered chairs to match the couch. They had also thrown in a small coffee table and two round upholstered footstools. All of this has to fit in half of the main cabin area since the twin beds, two end tables and the desk are in the other half. We ended up stacking furniture on the beds to have room to tape our wrapping paper together. Once completed, we propped open the door and covered it, trimming out holes for the door knob assembly and the peep hole. Then we added the roof and the wreath and draped garland over the top. A work of art! Of course, we decided that we needed to close the door and get some pictures from the hall … which turned out to be problematic. (Unbeknownst to us, we had a defective lock assembly. When we first arrived at our cabin the door was open, so we didn’t need to try and use our sea pass cards.) In very short order, we had completed the door admiration process and tried to move to the re-entry procedure. There was no re-entry. Multiple tries with DD’s sea pass yield the same unhappy result. We had the good fortune however to have one of the maintenance people passing by about that time and he tried his magic red card … which failed as well. He told us that there had been an issue with the door in the past cruise and it really needed a new lock assembly. So we hung out in the hall trying to get out of the way of incoming passengers until he returned with a new lock. He managed to get the door open and then very carefully pulled the paper back to get at the lock. It only took about 10 minutes and the new lock assembly was in place. I expected he’d disappear and leave us to carefully get that paper back in place, but he stuck with the job and replaced our decorations himself, all the while telling us how great it looked. Once he left, we both tested our sea pass cards (with the door open this time) multiple times before we felt comfortable that we wouldn’t get stuck out in the hall again.

 

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Our cabin steward Duane stopped by to meet us and we asked to have the beds separated. He told us he’d do that during dinner and commented on how great the cabin looked. It was shaping up pretty well by that point, but we still had to cover the pictures with wrapping paper and figure out what to do with the additional garland.

 

We didn’t quite finish decorating when the muster announcements were broadcast, so we left everything and headed out of the cabin as we began pulling on coats and gloves. One of our suitcases had arrived so we shoved that inside before heading down to the promenade deck. We joined the people who have correctly identified themselves as part of the group that belongs to “Everyone” and waited for the people that don’t understand that. Initially, there were 8 missing cabins at our station, but two more couples eventually came strolling down the deck toward us. Maybe it’s just me, but when you realize you are late, don’t you think breaking into jogging or scurrying would be a more appropriate pace? Maybe Royal Caribbean would have better luck getting people to show up at these things if they offered free food. “Hot Chocolate Muster on Deck Number 4 Portside … supplies are limited. First 20 cabins at each station get a tray of cookies as well.”

 

We chatted with the couple next to us who bemoaned the fact that people don’t take these things seriously. We have to agree. While it’s a fact that everyone was shifting into party mode, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put the party on hold long enough to make sure you know what to do in case of an emergency. Our station leader selected a solemn toddler out of the group to model the life jacket. He stood there like the little kid in Christmas Story who had so many layers of clothing that he couldn’t move. He was so darned cute, that people watched the process with a bit more attention than usual. Here’s how to put it on, here’s the standard features, no upgrades possible – same life jacket for lowly gold and lofty pinnacle. Then the captain came on to dismiss us, and we headed back inside to get rid of the coats and start the cruise.

 

We headed up to the Viking Crown Lounge to meet up with the Pre-Meet&Mingle CruiseCritic group for sail-away. There were a sizable number already in attendance when we arrived, clustered on the starboard side. This included some from the large group from the Best Western (who were all named “There”) and a fair number of others. We tried to match up faces to names, but it would be a constant battle all cruise for me to do it. (How do school teachers remember all those names anyway? … this is simply a skill I have never been able to lay any claim to.) We were so busy socializing that I didn’t really notice when the lines were cast off. At some point, I realized that the ship was moving away from the dock and the official severing of the day-to-day stresses had taken place. There was a little piece of me that missed the festivity of a warm weather sail-away on an open deck with the breeze blowing, the music wrapping around us, and the gaiety of dancing passengers and CD staffers. There was no way to stage that atmosphere here. Outside decks were prey to the nasty rain-snow mix we’d been experiencing for several hours and inside lounges were more appropriate for making new acquaintances, as opposed to celebratory dancing.

 

We decided to head back to our cabin to unpack, but we ended up re-directing. As we passed the Centrum, DD leaned over the rail and discovered that a party was in full swing below. She broke all land-speed records zipping down four flights of stairs to be on the Centrum dance floor in time to join in for Gangnam Style, the Wobble and Moves Like Jagger. It was our first encounter with Darryl, the Activities Director. What a firecracker! He was a perpetual motion machine and always ready to lead the dancing. When he’d run through the series of planned dances, he called it quits and slipped away, and the party petered out, as if someone had just snuffed out the fuse.

 

DD and I decided at that point to go scope out the Diamond Lounge. When we were on the Grander the previous year, there was no Diamond Lounge, so we wanted to see what the fuss was all about. We met Ruth just outside the Lounge and had a chance to thank her again for the upgrade she’d gotten us on the Panama-to-Miami cruise the previous year. She is an absolute treasure and it was great to see her again. We stuck our nose in the Lounge long enough to get a few appetizers, and then headed off for dinner. (By the way, I absolutely loved the breaded scallops, but we never came back for pre-dinner appetizers, since we were always so very busy … and seriously, do we really need more food?)

 

We had a big round table set for 11, although 2 seats remained empty the entire cruise. I suspect they were probably for Allentownahoy, from CruiseCritic who had to cancel. We had made plans to be at the same table and I had received a table change notice in the cabin shortly after boarding. Our 7 table mates were wonderfully congenial and we spent the first evening getting to know them and sharing bits of information about each other. The first evening was a harbinger of things to come, in that we lingered over dinner because we were having such a good time chatting. We finally decided we’d better get going if we wanted to see any of the comedy show that evening. So we said our good nights, and headed for the theater.

 

I’m not sure if past cruises out of Baltimore have resulted in a lack of interest in going to the evening show on Boarding Day. That’s the best I can come up with in trying to figure out why they had only one show, scheduled halfway between the two dining seatings. We arrived at the theater to find that there were no seats left. We stood there uncertainly for awhile, but decided that we weren’t about to spend the next hour standing to watch a show. Since we hadn’t unpacked or finished decorating the cabin, we decided that made more sense, so back to the cabin we went. Duane spotted us in the hall as we approached and started to sing the praises of our door decoration, saying “Everybody loves your door. Everyone!” We laughed and thanked him, resolving to go see who else was decorating doors too. The whole novelty of Christmastime cruising was so much fun.

 

Two females sharing a single closet poses a certain inherent challenge. We agreed early in the unpacking process how the space would be subdivided, but DD failed to also lay any priority claims to hangers. I therefore began to hang up my things, while she flitted back and forth finding homes for an impressive supply of shoes and the sorts of things that end up in drawers. When she started the process of hanging things up, the ensuing protest about hanger allocation could probably heard down the hall. Mind you, we had also brought a generous supply of plastic hangers to avoid ending up with the wire ones they will supply if you need more. But I frankly think, she just wanted to complain. In the end, no doubling-up was necessary and everything got hung up.

 

This was my first experience cruising from a cold weather port and I was often drawn to the windows of our glittering floating palace to look out at the cold rain lashing the decks. It seemed at such odds with the familiar environment I have come to expect of the first few hours on board. We wandered the ship and stopped at several vantage points during our travels to gaze out the windows, watching the cold driving rain transform the exterior deck areas into forlorn expanses. Deck chairs were assembled into stacks and lashed to railing. From time to time, we’d spot someone scurrying across our viewpoint. I’m not sure if I would have described them as intrepid or misguided. My coat had gone into the back of the closet and I had no intention of doing anything that required its removal from that spot until we returned to Baltimore.

 

We went up to the Viking Crown Lounge to get a good view of the pool deck and found that the movie on the big screen was playing to a very small audience of 3 people in the hot tub. The rain hadn’t let up and it hadn’t gotten any warmer, so I can only guess that a sizeable amount of alcohol had dimmed someone’s judgment. Seriously! When they climb out of the hot tub, they can’t even look forward to wrapping themselves in a warm towel or bathrobe, since that would be getting soaked too. But the movie was incredibly ironic … the Polar Express. We stretched out in those large red couches in the Viking Crown on The Caribbean Express and watched part of the movie. There was no soundtrack up there (that might actually make a nice addition, RCI) but it was just so unique to be watching that winter scene as we sailed through the driving rain en route to the warmth of the Caribbean.

 

When we left the Viking Crown, we detoured past Guest Services to pick up some pills for insurance against the rough waters that were predicted for the next day. I figured I’d take something before going to bed. If it made me sleepy, that was a bonus. After three days of non-stop intense activity, followed by three short nights, it would be a blessing to get a really solid night’s sleep.

 

Late that evening we headed up to the Solarium to make our first visit to Park Café. We stepped out of the pleasant environment of the elevator lobby into the dank cold Solarium. It was unexpected. I always think of the Solarium as the warm sparkling glass enclosure with enticing ocean vistas and soothing background birdsong. Although it would return to that environment within 24 hours, it certainly wasn’t like that the first night. A few hardy folks where using the hot tub, but a team of wild horses couldn’t have succeeded in dragging me into it. The ceiling was dripping in spots … not sure if it wasn’t waterproof, or if that was condensation. And it was cold – really cold. I felt sorry for the staffers that had drawn the short straw and had to work Park Café that night.

 

We went back to the Viking Crown with the intent of working off some of that excellent dinner on the dance floor, but we didn’t stay very long. The smokers have an area they can use up there, and smoke has a way of refusing to remain in its designated air space. Besides, the Viking Crown is so much smaller, now that they added Izumi … it didn’t offer the experience we were looking for that night.

 

So we headed back to The Candy Haus to call it a night.

 

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Edited by emeraldcity

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This is really hard read.

I got lost after a few paragraphs.

You forgot to mention which ship you were on...

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When I saw the suitcases, I thought there were 4 of you :D. LOL

 

I love all the decorations, the room looks great. We'll be on Grandeur in April so I love reading about her.

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When I saw the suitcases, I thought there were 4 of you :D. LOL

 

I love all the decorations, the room looks great. We'll be on Grandeur in April so I love reading about her.

 

Actually, we forgot include the 2 garment bags in the group photo.

 

Too funny ... I didn't put the name of the ship in there at all ... my bad.

 

I wanted to add the "There she is" photo, but that's on DD's camera and she finally found connecting cord this morning so we can pull the photos off her camera.

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We were just on the Grandeur from Dec. 14th to the 24th. The Solarium roof leaks, it wasn't condensation. It rained the day we were at San Juan, and it was dripping all over the place. However, the difference was that it was always warm in the Solarium when we were there. Maybe they turned the heat down or something?

 

Yes, Darryl is a firecracker for sure! He always managed to crack us up when he did the morning shows with Jeffrey. He's very entertaining.

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This is really hard read.

 

I got lost after a few paragraphs.

 

You forgot to mention which ship you were on...

 

The writer's style is a little more creative and animated. Oh, and there are less pictures than you may be used to. I see where this would make it difficult for you. :cool:

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Loving your review and your writing style.... can't wait for more.

 

Cathy

Edited by cathykb

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We live in the Cleveland area and drove to port everglades, long drive! It is not the first time we drove to fl but I would love to cruise out of the east coast for our next one. The only problem is with teens freedom class or bigger would be best and the quantum is out of our price range. Enjoying your review and your decorations.

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The skies began to lighten around 6:30, although due to the heavy cloud cover, there would be no official sunrise. It wasn’t important. I was finally at sea again on the Grandeur, and for me – the ship is the destination. I made myself relatively presentable and slipped out of the cabin, leaving DD to get some additional sleep. My initial destination was the Diamond Lounge to test out the coffee machine. Alas, nobody had milked the cow yet, so the latte part of the show just delivered lots of impressive hissing, but nothing came out. I guess that meant I’d have to head up to the Windjammer and hope they weren’t rationing half-and-half, since it takes an awful lot of creamer to smooth out the edges of the WJ coffee. Once there, I filled my mug and found a whole wonderful pitcher of creamer waiting for me. Very nice touch, RCI. I always feel just a tad conspicuous when taking more than two of those individual containers. This way, I could dump in as much as I wanted. A couple of pastries with a cup of coffee is my preferred way to start the day. With those components in front of me, I climbed onto one of the stools at the breakfast bar area that looks out to sea and relaxed with a sigh. The world outside the windows was a murky mix of heaving seas and gloomy clouds. In a word – it was awesome!

 

As the ship cut through the waves, the spray was tossed up on each side and my fellow cruisers were all enjoying the show as much as I was. From time to time an incredibly impressive spray would be tossed higher than others and there were a number of folks that would exclaim in amazement. I wondered idly what the effect was like for those who had the cabin I was originally booked in. Our original plans had been for the May 31st cruise and we’d booked during the last sale to fill up the ship. Consequently we had an oceanview cabin so far forward on deck 2 that we would have arrived in Bermuda before the captain. It would be several days before a chance lunch-table pairing would land me with a couple who was in one of those cabins. They had taken a guarantee cabin to save money and his assessment was that it was OK except when they were underway in rough seas. He heard every wave slamming against the bow and that first night had been a rough one trying to get any sleep. His final assessment … “Lesson learned.”

 

Eventually I decided that on omelet was in order, so I poured more coffee, watched my omelet become a reality, collected it and then moved to a table close to the bow to watch the seas from a different vantage point during the second phase of breakfast. It was my first experience cruising well out into the Atlantic and I was mesmerized by the wave action and the sprays the ship threw aside as it cut through the water. Eventually, I decided I’d better go check on DD, so I headed below and stopped in the cabin. She was still asleep. I picked up my notebook and slipped back out of the cabin to head down to the Diamond Lounge to see if I could get a latte this time.

 

Fortunately, somebody had milked the cow, so I got my first latte and sat down to chat with some of the others who were watching the decorating project. Apparently some of the B2B Diamond Cruisers had decided that the Diamond Lounge needed some Christmas decorations, so they went shopping during the turnaround in Baltimore and were now intertwining garland with strings of lights. Maintenance had loaned the passengers a ladder and they were wrapping the columns with the garland and draping it along the tops of the walls that separated this Lounge from the South Pacific Lounge. I found that the ship’s movement was much less noticeable in the aft, but there was an unmistakable vibration. I couldn’t help wondering if I would like having an aft cabin if the vibration was as noticeable on deck 7 and 8. But it was time to move on to my plans for the 9:00 event in the South Pacific Lounge.

 

Periodically throughout life, you reach one of those gut-wrenching realizations that you’ve become your mother. This thought hit me like a frying pan when I literally planned my morning to include a lecture. There I was sitting in the South Pacific Lounge listening to a college professor go through his Power Point slides and impart his perspective of the history of the Lesser Antilles Islands we would be visiting. The professor was an Ummer. He filled in the pauses between thoughts with “Um” repeatedly. Despite that, I felt it was a well-spent 45 minutes and I learned a great deal. I felt that the topics covered would have benefitted with a bit more smooth narrative and some inclusions of personal humor or interesting anecdotes. But it still wouldn’t have pulled in anyone other than those in my mother’s age demographic … which I have now apparently joined.

 

I returned to the cabin to meet up with DD, who was now ready to face the day. We grabbed our Meet&Mingle invitations and headed for the party. Although the original email had advised that the party would be in the Viking Crown Lounge, the growing size had dictated a change of venue. Our invitations directed us to the South Pacific Lounge. I’m not sure how many of the 150 registered cruisers made it to the M&M, but there was a good-sized crowd already in attendance when we arrived. Darryl and a member of his staff were there and he was infusing the party with his unique spark. On the stage, he had lined up 8 bottles of wine and some goody packages which would be raffled off. We turned in our raffle tickets and collected our little gift. Darryl proceeded to welcome us “Cruise Crickets” and made a point of assuring that we were aware of the additional planned activities that members of the group were organizing.

 

The first of those activities took place right after the M&M – the gift exchange. There were about 20 gifts and we had a good time collecting our gift and seeing what we got. I ended up getting one from another Ohioan. She had come from the part of Ohio that is Amish country and that’s where she went shopping. Gail’s family ended up with the gift I brought, which was an insulated coffee mug from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Her daughter decided that the real prize was the bow on the package … and it promptly became her hairband. Who knew? I could have saved myself a few bucks and that cold walk to the Rock Hall.

 

At this point, our schedule got just a bit tight. We were determined to have lunch in the MDR to get those awesome salads. Since the MDR opened at noon, this was going to involve an eat-and-run tactic in order to make Thriller Dance Practice at 12:30, but we figured we were up to the challenge. We were among the first arrivals at lunch. Once we were seated at the table, we issued a proactive apology to our dining companions for the plan to make short work of the dining experience. The salad was wonderful, and the company was pleasant, but by 12:30 we excused ourselves on target and headed back to the Centrum.

 

We were a bit dismayed to find that the Thriller practice was already underway. So we quickly joined in (Shoulder-Step-Nothing-Step-Shoulder-Shoulder) and quickly caught up to the others. Jimena (I hope I spelled that right) from the CD staff led the class. She was awesome. She seemed to move us quickly to the next set of steps. But she would then return to the beginning sets of steps, reinforcing the first part of the lesson and then progressing into the newer steps. We had an impressive array of aspiring zombies, which included both genders and a wide range of ages. I was able to handle most of the steps easily, but I had some concerns about the kind of stress I was putting on my knee with some of the quick steps that included jumps.

 

We headed back to the cabin after dance class and I stepped out onto the balcony to watch the wave action for a bit. The air temperatures were already in the mid 60s, so it was shaping up to be far warmer earlier than I’d been told to expect.

 

Shortly before 2:30, we headed to the Schooner Bar to meet the CruiseCritic Cabin Crawlers. I’ve always heard about Cabin Crawls, but this was the first time I got to participate in one. Polly did a great job of organizing it. She quickly readjusted the original plan to slide in another cabin as we were assembling, then the parade headed out to start on the lowest deck and work our way up. Generally we used the stairs to head up each time we were moving to a new deck. At one point, we decided we’d all take the elevator … heavy emphasis on the “all”. I’ll give RCI credit for designing an elevator that would try so hard to ascend with that many well-fed cruise passengers … but it wasn’t happening. Two or three people slipped out to take the stairs and the elevator managed to get the rest us of up to the required deck.

 

I’ve had a wide range of cabins in my cruise history, but have never had a chance to see what the cabins look like when they are made up to sleep more than two. We got to see an inside, a set of connecting insides (we went in one door, through the connecting door, grabbed candy canes to fortify us for the continuing journey and then our into the hall), an oceanview (quad) and a couple of the new panoramic view cabins (I loved the window seat they have). The final stop was our JS, which got rave reviews for the decorations. The biggest attraction however, was the bathroom. We were the recipient of tub-envy. As one woman slipped out into the hall I heard her comment, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s tub.”

 

DD stayed behind after the tour to lay down, since the heavy seas were beginning to get to her. I headed back to the Schooner Bar with the Crawlers for the drawing. RCI had given us 2 bottles of wine and Polly raffled them off. I ended up with the second bottle, which was a nice surprise. I am one of those people who excels at having a Bingo card with lots of four-in-a-row, or a lottery ticket that has 6 numbers that are exactly one more than the 6 winning numbers. I thanked everyone for the fun activity and headed back to the cabin to check on DD. She was sleeping, so I stretched out on the bed to relax. Anyone who has cruised in rolling waves knows just how relaxing that rocking can be … next thing I knew DD was roughly shaking me with the announcement that formal dinner was in 15 minutes. Wow! Where did the time go? I’m not sure how we did it, but we were out of the cabin 20 minutes later (I promised I would publicly admit that she had to wait for me), in our formal finery, with makeup in place and hair combed.

 

We were the last ones to make it to our table, but we weren’t too terribly tardy. I barely sat down and our assistant waiter Dwi slid an iced tea in front of me, since he remembered what I ordered the night before. Then he stopped by DD’s chair to fuss that he hadn’t been able to find any green tea yet (which she had requested the night before), and she said she was fine with the mint tea she’d had the night before and it was not a problem. She really failed to convince Dwi. It seemed to be his personal crusade to find green tea for her. Our waitress was Terry Ann and I cannot imagine anyone who is more of a professional in her position. She was accommodating and attentive. I found her to be very friendly, but she could deftly avoid being friendly enough to step over a line and get drawn into any conversation that would criticize another passenger. Since she had the misfortune to also have the table with the crying baby in early seating, this was a monumental attribute.

 

I didn’t keep track of what we ate each night, I only remember that we never had a meal that didn’t satisfy. We often ordered multiple appetizers or multiple desserts and by mid-cruise we were getting pretty predictable in choosing the berry desserts. Somehow, topping off a big meal with something heavy and chocolate didn’t appeal to either of us … so we ended up getting the dessert that was always described as low-fat berry something. This is, of course, marketing at its finest. Everybody knows that berries don’t have fat, but I have to entertain the possibility that the high sugar content is going to become one with my waistline before the cruise ends. This is of course, something that I don’t have address until January.

 

We emerged from the dining room to find that we were in close proximity to a very short line that would lead to pictures with Captain. We generally seem to screw up our schedule and miss this sort of photo op, so we joined the line and took the typical photo with the Captain on the Centrum stairway. By this time, the poinsettias were practically flowing down the Centrum stairs, so the entire ship looked very festive indeed.

 

One of the things we check the Cruise Compass for every day is the announcement about the Drink of the Day. Today was a clear winner, so we headed to the Schooner Bar that evening for a Caribbean Sunrise. Back home, we have amassed an impressive supply of RCI glasses that we use for festive occasions. DD correctly identified that my kitchen cupboards had probably reached saturation and we could now start collecting glasses for her future apartment. I believe it’s been posted that you can actually buy these glasses in the shops on the ship, but it’s so much more fun to remember the fun, festive drink that was in it originally when you use it later at home.

 

My DD and I are Game Show Junkies so by 9:45, we were back in the Centrum to watch Darryl preside over the Finish the Lyric Game Show. Getting volunteers for game shows tends to be a bit more of a challenge early in the cruise. By the middle of the cruise, people are finally losing their inhibitions and a goodly number of volunteers are available to choose from. Of course, by the end of the cruise, people can’t even remember they ever had any inhibitions – and calls for volunteers will result in a mob scene (which is why the Quest is held on one of the last days). So Darryl made numerous requests for volunteers and DD kept egging me on to try it. I finally agreed, against my better judgment. Remember the part about how I always get the 4-in-a-rows for Bingo? I stood there watching Darryl test one contestant after another as two-thirds of the contestants were called before me. I knew nearly every song that was played. But when my turn came, I got the song that I never heard of before. The positive side of the failure is that I didn’t have to take home any “I heart baggage handlers” luggage tags, which I believe was one of the prizes.

 

We decided to give the disco another try that evening and we did a bit of cha-cha and hustle, but we really missed the incredible energy of the Latin crowd we’d cruised with on our previous Grandeur cruise from Panama. We had to accept that this wasn’t going to be one of the places that defined the Baltimore cruise, so we needed to quit trying to make it happen.

 

Somehow the Solarium and the Park Café seemed to be the way we ended every evening. We walked into the Solarium the second evening and it was hard to equate that warm inviting space with the experience of the previous evening. We collected a glass of mango water and some tortilla chips with cheese and then sat down to unwind. It had been an incredibly busy day. How was it that being so busy felt so relaxing? This cruise was shaping up to be everything we wanted it to be and we still had 8 more full days on board to enjoy.

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I loved seeing your cabin during our cabin crawl. You and your daughter did a great job of decorating it.

 

Thank you. We had so much fun planning it all out. The part we didn't track on until we started to fill the suitcases was the amount of luggage that ended up being dedicated to Christmas decorations. It was sheer lunacy ... but we loved the final product and it felt so festive every time we were hanging out in the cabin.

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We were on that sailing with you, I remember seeing your stateroom door at one point. ;)

 

Regarding the solarium roof, yes, it does leak. We too thought it was condensation a few times, but when comparing it to our cruise on Enchantment (identical roof) it certainly seemed to have more of an issue. We noticed that the crew was out and about with caulking guns at various places on the ship so perhaps the solarium roof is on the to-do list.

 

FWIW, the roof is still functional and opens - our group requested it be opened twice during hot days where it was uncomfortably hot in the solarium. The solarium bar attendant seemed unsure if he had EVER seen it open (and suggested it may be non functional, the same story we received on Enchantment when we made a similar request) but after I politely asked people up the chain of command...surprise, it was opened. It quickly became MUCH more hospitable in there.

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Wow, you two do Christmas right--love the decorations and your joie de vivre!

 

Thanks for sharing your cruise with us. You are an excellent writer. Can't wait to read all about it.

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We were on that sailing with you, I remember seeing your stateroom door at one point. ;)

 

Regarding the solarium roof, yes, it does leak. We too thought it was condensation a few times, but when comparing it to our cruise on Enchantment (identical roof) it certainly seemed to have more of an issue. We noticed that the crew was out and about with caulking guns at various places on the ship so perhaps the solarium roof is on the to-do list.

 

FWIW, the roof is still functional and opens - our group requested it be opened twice during hot days where it was uncomfortably hot in the solarium. The solarium bar attendant seemed unsure if he had EVER seen it open (and suggested it may be non functional, the same story we received on Enchantment when we made a similar request) but after I politely asked people up the chain of command...surprise, it was opened. It quickly became MUCH more hospitable in there.

 

I never saw it opened on this cruise ... glad you succeeded. I left the Solarium a couple of times because it was too stuffy.

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I never saw it opened on this cruise ... glad you succeeded. I left the Solarium a couple of times because it was too stuffy.

 

It splits at about the 1/3 part nearest the solarium bar and it can be opened in 2 sections - they only ever opened the one smaller section as to avoid it getting too windy. It was perfect in the end.

 

The attendant that eventually "made it happen" suggested that he had to put a request in to senior operations at which point someone up the food chain makes the decision on if/when to open it. WHERE the controls actually are seemed to be a bit of a secret to every employee I talked to, but the secret slipped out and I know where they are. I won't say where because, well...they're in a foolishly easily accessible area where passengers could muck with them if they pleased. :)

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I love following your review. I also was on Grandeur the week before Thanksgiving to the western Caribbean, had beautiful weather except for one night coming back by the Carolina's, very rough seas and had a cabin at the front of the ship also. Bang! Bang! Bang! Wow, never again take an ocean view guarantee.

I also had Terry Ann as a waitress. At first she was very quiet but after a day or so she turned out to be one of the best servers I ever had. Have a great cruise.

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