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LMM's Harmony of the Seas Christmas Cruise - PHOTO Review!!


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All aboard!! Hello, and welcome to my trip report for the Shinglebells' 11th Annual Christmas Cruise aboard Royal Caribbean's Harmony of the Seas!

 

It's been years since I've written a photo review on the Royal Caribbean Cruise Critic Board, so let me reintroduce myself. I'm Victoria, a.k.a. Victoria on Vacation, a.k.a. LittleMissMagic. If you're a long-time CCer, you may remember my first ever photo review of Adventure of the Seas (the photos no longer show, but I re-created it with photos here). I also have a travel blog, Victoria on Vacation - I'd love it if you check it out.

 

Back in 2009, my family (the Shingletons - but during the holiday season we refer to ourselves as the Shinglebells.... as in Shinglebells Shinglebells, Shingle all the wayyyyyy!) decided to set sail on a cruise over Christmas, and it's been a holiday tradition ever since. We've sailed the Caribbean - Eastern, Western, and Southern, as well as the Panama Canal (one partial transit from Florida, and one complete transit from Los Angeles to Florida). Often, we'll choose our cruise based on the ports of call and where we would like to travel. However, due to work schedules, we were limited to a 7-day cruise, which meant that most ports of call on the itineraries would be places we've visited many times before. So rather than choosing our cruise based on ports of call, we decided to choose based on a ship we wanted to explore.

 

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Meet the "cast" of the Shinglebells -

Me/Victoria - I'm 28 years old and live in Los Angeles. I'm currently pursuing my license in architecture. I've also been sticking a camera in everyone's face to document and meticulously share our family vacations for over a decade.
Sister/Rachel - She's 26 years old and lives in Atlanta. She works in construction as an assistant project manager for a general contracting company. Rachel is the planner for our cruise vacations. She reads cruise blogs, reviews, and Cruise Critic!
Mom/Sharon a.k.a. Judy (it's her personality, she's a Judy... you'll see) - Not sure if she'd want me to say her age, but sorry, Judes, we're doing this for everyone.... 58 years old and lives in Anderson, South Carolina. A Judy is prepared for everything. Got a problem? A Judy will solve it.
Dad/Boyd a.k.a. Stove (his personality name... you'll get it) - He's 65 years old, living his best life with my mom in South Carolina. He was retired this time last year, but now he's back to consulting because a Stove doesn't slow down. You'll see him on the waterslides, zipline, and even the Flow Rider.

 

Rachel is a master of spreadsheets, data, numbers.... so she created a very thorough spreadsheet of all potential cruises that fit our schedule, along with facts on the ports of call and ship. We then all reviewed and ranked our top five ships in order of our individual preference. That gave us an overall winner - the Harmony of the Seas (we actually had Harmony/Symphony as one option since they were nearly identical ships, only the Harmony set sail from Cape Canaveral and the Symphony from Miami... ultimately chose Harmony because my parents and Rachel could drive down to Orlando and pick me up from my flight (we would all be flying to Miami). If you're curious about which cruises we didn't choose this year, Norwegian Encore, Disney Fantasy, Celebrity Edge, and Norwegian Joy (Mexican Riviera) were in the running.

Harmony of the Seas set sail from Cape Canaveral on Sunday, December 22. We all arrived in Orlando on Saturday, and we spent the night at a Springhill Suites by the airport. The airport was super crazy that day, and so many people were in Orlando for their Christmas vacations. We ate dinner at the Chili's by the airport, and it was PACKED.

Normally, we just arrive at the port whenever our boarding pass tells us to (2 PM), but Rachel advised us that we should arrive early because we wanted to get on the ship as soon as possible to figure out our dining situation. See, on Black Friday, Rachel and I were planning to purchase the Unlimited Dining Package ($179/person on Black Friday) for the entire family as a Christmas gift. The Unlimited Dining Package allows you to eat at any of the specialty (for-charge) restaurants on board as many times as you want. This appealed to us because, to be frank, we are bored of the bland main dining room food on Royal Caribbean. We sailed on the Navigator of the Seas last year and were not at all pleased with our main dining room experience. Also, the Harmony of the Seas and other Oasis-class ships have more specialty restaurants, and it's something different that we were excited to try. However, when Black Friday rolled around, we were getting cold feet.... finally on Cyber Monday, I decided I hate the main dining room food, so I need to purchase this..... only to go online and realize it wasn't an option to add to my cart. It had sold out.

I was frustrated, but since I was on the site, I booked the Thrill waterpark pass at Perfect Day Coco Cay for the entire family ($99/person on Black Friday.... I think it may have been a lower price earlier).

A few weeks later, Royal Caribbean sent out an email to all of us saying, "Hurry, book your Unlimited Dining for 30% off." So Rachel got on the website and added to her cart four Unlimited Dining Packages. However, she made the mistake of texting my dad about the Unlimited Dining, so he also got onto his account.... which wouldn't allow her to purchase the two dining packages for mom and dad (they were in a different stateroom). His account locked up and wouldn't let him book anything. Rachel went ahead and purchased the 2 packages for her and myself. We thought, oh, simple technical error.... just call. So my Dad called Royal Caribbean, and they told him he couldn't purchase it because it was sold out. He mentioned that we already bought two, we just wanted two more so the entire family could have it. Somehow, miraculously, he was able to speak to a manager who said she would speak to a manager aboard the ship to see if they could make an exception. Manager called him back... no exception.

I thought, no way, they should be able to accommodate us, it's just two people, and we already have two. So I called... no, it's sold out, we can't do it. The woman I spoke with was comically casual and kept calling me "mamiii." Then Rachel called and asked to speak to a manager, and that person said no, then she called back again and might have gotten the same person but was then allowed to speak to a manager. Anyway, no one could override the system and help us purchase the additional two Unlimited Dining Packages. We were advised by a few of the reps we talked to that we could try to purchase it onboard. So we decided to keep Unlimited Dining for Rachel and myself, and Mom and Dad had the 3-night dining package and would purchase two more individual reservations, so we would eat specialty a total of five nights.... unless Stove could successfully acquire the Unlimited Dining Package once onboard.

So we got to the port very early that day, around 10 AM - earlier than we ever arrive. I've heard of the people that just can't wait to get on the ship, but it's never been us. We thought it might be very crowded, but it wasn't.

This is Rachel, struggling to keep her patience as Stove had to run back for something he forgot in the car.

 

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What's different about boarding the Harmony of the Seas (and maybe other Oasis-class ships) is that you can do a bunch of online check-in that allows you to not have to wait in a line to get checked in at the port (after you go through security). The only thing I didn't know to do was add a photo. But we already had our credit card set up and our passport information entered. We waited in a line where we didn't even have to go to the desk - someone just scanned our Passports, then took our photo... then on to the ship!  Your SeaPass card is waiting for you in your room, and you board the ship using the SetSail ticket that you can print beforehand, or add to your phone in the app. I tried to take a photo of the ship boarding area, but some lady told me that I couldn't take photos there because it was a security area. I believe that she is wrong (we were by where you scan your ticket to board the ship... completely different area of the building than security) and just bored and wanted something to do, but I obliged. So no boarding photos. Blame cranky lady.

We boarded the ship on Deck 5 - they open up a big door by Sorrento's Pizza that you walk through. The plan was that Stove would go and try to get Unlimited Dining (honestly, Rachel and I didn't believe that he would be successful in this venture), and Rachel would make our five specialty reservations. Luckily, since we were on the ship so early, there were no other people there to make specialty reservations. He pretty much had availability for all restaurants, except for some restaurants on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day for which they were doing special events (I think it was Chops and Wonderland - Rachel will read this and confirm). So we made all of our reservations at either 7:00 or 7:30. We weren't given a print-out or anything with confirmation of our reservations, so Rachel had him repeat it back to her and wrote it down. Later, all but one reservation would appear in the Royal Caribbean app.

 

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Specialty reservations were made, and Stove was still M.I.A., so Rachel and I went ahead and got drinks from the Bionic Bar. We didn't have our SeaPasses yet, but we were able to use the paper tickets.

 

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You choose your drink from a menu on a touchscreen, then the robotic arms mix the drink for you.

 

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Rachel got some sort of "atomic" drink, and I went classic with a margarita. Guys, these drinks were terrible. They were ridiculously alcoholic. It's funny that a robot is measuring the liquid, but it came out with a greater tequila ratio than if a human were. Also, we thought that Bionic Bar would be incredibly popular, but we never saw a line there. We also never went back ourselves all week.

 

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Uh-oh... didn't see what happened here -

 

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Rachel ditched her green drink, and I handed my margarita to Stove who had returned from Mission: Unlimited Dining. "I got it." "WHAT?" "Yeah, I got Unlimited Dining." He said that he just kept asking everyone he spoke to if he could speak to their manager, and he finally made his way up to the manager at Chops who is a very nice woman. She said that she normally doesn't do this, but she would make an exception.... and sold him two Unlimited Dining Packages for $249/person.... oof. But at this point, Stove was buying that package. So we went back to the specialty reservations guy (who turned out later to be our waiter at Izumi) and made two more dinner reservations. I do not recommend this method of acquiring the Unlimited Dining Package. It was very stressful.

Now time to eat! We headed to the Boardwalk to eat lunch at Johnny Rockets. We figured it would be less crowded on embarkation day than later in the cruise (though I actually never noticed it being crowded.... it was always super packed out on the Navigator of the Seas).
 

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Sabor is across from Johnny Rockets. We would be eating dinner there on the first night. It's a specialty restaurant, but the surcharge is only $24/person (vs. $45/person for most others), so it's not the best deal if you have a 3-night or Unlimited Dining Package.

 

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Johnny Rockets also has a surcharge for lunch and dinner (included in Unlimited Dining Package) of $6.95/person. They also serve a complimentary breakfast. I remember in the past using a buy-one-get-one on the milkshakes there included in the Crown & Anchor coupons, but I honestly didn't take a look at the C&A coupons on this sailing... maybe they were on the app? We definitely didn't get a book in our room. But it also wasn't important to us, since we prepaid for everything we were planning to buy.

 

I was surprised.... the burger at Johnny Rockets was really good. I do not remember it being that good, and I know the land-based Johnny Rockets burgers aren't great (I had a really bad one on Third Street in Santa Monica and decided never to go there on land again). But this burger, "The Original," was amazing.

 

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Our waiter asked us if we wanted apple pie, and we said no, but he brought us two slices anyway... which we were thankful for because the apple pie was also super good.

 

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I ventured to the Aqua Theater at the back of the ship. They have two large screens that they play movies on... which is cool except you don't get the pool-side movie on the top deck. I never saw this theater packed out for a movie... probably because it's in a kind of remote location, and you can't just watch a movie while you hang out by the pool.

 

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The purple slide is the "Abyss." It is not a water slide, but an enclosed dry slide that you sit on a mat to ride.

 

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Edited by LittleMissMagic
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After lunch, it was 2:00 PM and our room was ready. We headed to forward deck 6 - our rooms were 6566 and 6568, two balcony staterooms located conveniently near the stairs/elevators, just one floor above the Promenade (deck 5) and two below Central Park (deck 8). When choosing a room, I like one close to the stairs because I really dislike a very long walk through a hallway to get to my room. Royal Caribbean has a "Royal Up" program where you can put in a bid for an upgraded stateroom which they may award. It's a way to get an upgraded stateroom at a lower cost.... but we decided not to put in bids for junior suites because we had carefully selected the location of our rooms, and they were right beside each other.

 

Rachel and I lucked out with the room configuration that puts the bed by the balcony door, and the couch by the front door. We prefer this layout because it gives you more room to dress/get ready, and you aren't always crossing that small threshold between the bed and the wall to go from closet/vanity to bathroom. Our parents were not so lucky and had the opposite configuration.

 

49300259378_64a4d3455f_b.jpgBalcony Stateroom by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

 

The design of this stateroom is a lot different than what we were used to on some of Royal Caribbean's older/smaller ships. The casework is a darker laminate, and the television is a large flat screen mounted on the wall across from the bed. Also, the curtains are just black out curtains - no sheer curtain behind the blackout, so it's either all dark, or your curtains are open.

 

49300953482_fff6f70cb2_b.jpgBalcony Stateroom by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

 

The closets were located on either side of the couch. In our parents room, the casework is in the same location, so the closets were on either side of the bed, which is a less convenient for sure. Rachel and I hung all of our dresses in the closet closest the the restroom. The closet closer to the bed had two drawers underneath, shelves and the safe inside, and some hanging space.

 

49300257593_7fc9942d65_b.jpgBalcony Stateroom by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

 

The nightstands were very narrow and did not have any drawers - only shelves. And on nightstand top was taken up completely by the phone.

 

49300951897_4e4d46d31f_b.jpgBalcony Stateroom by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

 

We're petite, so we thought the mirror was mounted too high above the vanity. Also, the mirror was too small for us to both stand side by side and do our makeup over the vanity. I wish they would've had one large mirror that spanned the length of the vanity and the dresser. But I did appreciate that the mirror is front-lit - much better for doing makeup.

 

49300951022_9fe1dfa2ea_b.jpgBalcony Stateroom by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

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We had more than enough hangers.

 

49300255208_9fc75a112b_b.jpgBalcony Stateroom by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

 

Our SeaPass card were waiting in the room.

 

49300949397_c1b86dc738_b.jpgSea Pass Cards by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

 

The bathroom was actually pretty spacious and had good lighting (unusual for a cruise ship bathroom)

 

49300253718_27e7d7b3f5_b.jpgBalcony Stateroom by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

 

The tile backsplash above the vanity is actually faux... it's like a laminate glue-on with faux grout. But the floor tile in the bathroom was real tile.

 

49300948327_2d7888498b_b.jpgBalcony Stateroom by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

 

Oh, the horror. 2-in-1 Hair & Body Wash? Ewwwww! I typically pack my own (or ask Rachel to pack for me) shampoo and conditioner because who knows when a cruise line or hotel is going to play the cruel 2-in-1 joke. The only cruise line that I will use the shampoo and conditioner on is Disney because the H20 product line is actually pretty good.

 

49300252828_d958953516_b.jpgBalcony Stateroom by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

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Royal Caribbean still prints out their daily Cruise Compass and puts it in your stateroom every night (Disney Navigator, R.I.P.).

 

49300738416_89e981a1ff_b.jpgCruise Compass by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

 

The room actually felt very wide and spacious for a stateroom.

 

49300251693_177a3dd616_b.jpgBalcony Stateroom by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

 

49300737056_20d4e76750_b.jpgBalcony Stateroom by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

 

49300250138_216504b3aa_b.jpgBalcony Stateroom by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

 

Our balcony had matching chairs with footstools and a table. Our parents' balcony had mis-matched chairs.

 

49300735366_8263e5ec02_b.jpgBalcony Stateroom by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

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Squee - an LMM review! You and your sister are all grown up - I still remember reading your Epic review.

 

Welcome back to the RC boards. Can't wait to hear more about your adventures. Your eye for photography and storytelling skills are superb as always. 

 

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46 minutes ago, windjamming said:

Squee - an LMM review! You and your sister are all grown up - I still remember reading your Epic review.

 

Welcome back to the RC boards. Can't wait to hear more about your adventures. Your eye for photography and storytelling skills are superb as always. 

 

Yay! I was hoping someone would remember me from back in the day. Thanks for reading along!!

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27 minutes ago, Ren1216 said:

Very much looking forward to reading your review, or as much as possible... we board in 3 days!  Great photos and info so far... thanks for taking the time to share your experience with us.

Oh, so fun - you're going to have a great time. Spoiler Alert: We LOVED the ship!

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LMM, welcome back. It’s been a while but I’m looking forward to your adventures.
 

Glad to read that you are still actively pursuing your architecture career and to read that your sis is in construction.  You two have it covered from both side. I’ve sat in on enough job site meetings to know where she is coming from.  It totally explains her spread sheets.😉 Your folks look to be doing awesome as well. I still remember your cruise story from years ago where your dad was chasing, or maybe pushing the taxi, possibly in Costa Rica. 

 

Bring it on Victoria. I’m ready for some good reading. 

Edited by A&L_Ont
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So this is our Emerald Gift. Bottles of water and cookies that I did not even attempt to bite into. My mom earned her Diamond status on our last Christmas Cruise, and my dad was granted Diamond status, too. Rachel and I earned our Diamond status on this cruise.

 

49300243123_d1d4a06fb4_b.jpgEmerald Gift by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

 

We were invited to a C&A Party which was canceled the next day due to high winds.

 

49300728751_2c020a5c99_b.jpgCrown and Anchor Event by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

 

Our bags were delivered super fast, so we decided to go ahead and unpack before Muster Drill. Here's a few pictures of how we organized our cabin. Rachel bought these hooks on Amazon, which were great for hanging things up... like our hair dryers. We were able to take the hair dryer out of the drawer which gave us more drawer storage space. Our hooks are the ones that hold up to 22 lbs (didn't test the weight they actually hold), but they sell stronger magnets, too.

 

49300937137_b99343bdb3_b.jpgStateroom Organization by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

 

Also good for hanging robes and later wet swimsuits (which is good since there wasn't a clothes line over the shower in the restroom).

 

49300240838_c9b4636fa2_b.jpgStateroom Organization by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

 

49300726501_4ca5a26c4b_b.jpgStateroom Organization by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

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There was a cooler in the room that specifically said, "this is not a refrigerator - just a cooler." Which we thought was useless until Rachel had the brilliant idea to turn this into our beauty fridge. In the Caribbean heat, cool beauty products are just so refreshing.

 

49302797497_0749640108_b.jpgStateroom Storage by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

 

And this is a tip I've thrown in before... do you drink from the cups in the bathroom? I stopped after seeing this undercover investigation back in 2008. Not safe for drinking from, but should be adequate for holding your toothbrush.... unless you're one of those people who doesn't even store your toothbrush in the bathroom.

 

49302797212_16493728a9_b.jpgStateroom Storage by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

 

Rachel and I had the Deluxe Beverage Package (bought for $56/day on Black Friday) which includes most alcoholic (I think $13 and under) and non-alcoholic beverages like specialty coffees and sodas. Our parents did not purchase the beverage package because as Diamond members, they got free drinks in the Diamond Lounge between 4:30 and 8 (I think), as well as 3 free drinks between 5 and 8 at other venues.  They had a list of specific alcohols that they could get for their Diamond drinks - some bartenders were accommodating and would switch the alcohol in a drink to be one covered by the Diamond list, and some didn't know how to do that.

Rachel and I were finished unpacking and headed down to the On Air bar to get drinks.

 

49302585066_4bf039b057_b.jpgOn Air Bar by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

 

49302584596_1d05457926_b.jpgOn Air Bar by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

 

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On Air Bar by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

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49300343103_3a48a17f97_b.jpgOn Air Bar by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

 

49301036392_46ee240a39_b.jpgOn Air Bar by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

 

49301035542_d23a6960ae_b.jpgOn Air Bar by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

 

We hung out in our parents' stateroom while Judy did all of the unpacking, until we were called for the Muster Drill.

Our Muster Drill took place in the Diamond Lounge.

 

49300827166_f905084154_b.jpgMuster Drill in Diamond Lounge by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

 

Quick and painless Muster Drill.

 

49300826401_70d505ded1_b.jpgMuster Drill by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

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We headed up to Deck 15 for Sail Away.

Here is the Solarium at the front of the ship. It's huge and has three hot tubs, a bar, and even a little restaurant (that was always closed when I walked by).

 

49300825566_df100bded7_b.jpgSolarium by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

 

49301032402_f7ca9b2b07_b.jpgSolarium by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

 

Now, you might have noticed by now that it's pretty gloomy weather. It was a high of 70 degrees with scattered showers. The weather in the Bahamas was going to be pretty bad... so bad that they canceled our stop at Perfect Day Coco Cay and changed the itinerary so that our second day would be a sea day, and our third day would be in Cozumel (we would visit Cozumel twice). This also changed the formal night from the third day to the second day. It didn't really affect us, but I did wonder if there were women who had booked spa appointments for formal night that had to reschedule. The Thrill Waterpark passes I purchased were refunded in the form of an onboard credit... and whatever I didn't spend in OBC would be put refunded to my card at the end of the cruise.
 

49300824251_b91a618281_b.jpgPool Deck by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

 

49301030782_db128f5c60_b.jpgPool Deck by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

 

49300335818_f92a05c8d1_b.jpgPool Deck by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

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49301029087_705ae429cc_b.jpgPool Deck by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

 

There was at least one person who found this weather suitable for swimming.

 

49300820981_da9187e9ff_b.jpgPool Deck by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

 

This is the Beach Pool which has a zero-depth entry.... up until the edge of the pool. It's a nice area to sit down in and stay cool without having to tread water (petite problems) or dodge children canon-balling over your head.

 

49300333133_6d9757c2c7_b.jpgPool Deck by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

 

Here's a little splash area for the kids.

 

49300332273_e7bcf028cf_b.jpgPool Deck by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

 

And little child-sized adirondack chairs!

 

49300331158_b25f424fe9_b.jpgPool Deck by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

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49301023722_88db230326_b.jpgPool Deck by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

 

49301022517_08518987cd_b.jpgPool Deck by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

 

The good thing about the Deluxe Beverage Package is that if you get a drink that sucks, just ditch it - no problems. Again, I got a nasty margarita that was just too alcoholic and salty. No problem... ditch the drink and head to another nearby bar.

 

49300328008_75898c153a_b.jpgSail Away by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

 

49301020787_e1063266ff_b.jpgSail Away by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

 

49301019402_ff81d6b260_b.jpgSail Away by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

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49301018777_61dbdd057d_b.jpgSail Away by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

 

It looks like Rachel is on her phone here, but actually my dad really wanted to post an Instagram and he needed her help!

 

49300810926_28f3d0517a_b.jpgSail Away by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

 

Having bad sail away weather meant I could get cool people-free shots like this.

 

49300323938_58d56800e9_b.jpgSail Away by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

 

49300809306_8ae103e28e_b.jpgSail Away by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

 

49300808436_2a2df9b232_b.jpgSail Away by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

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49301015042_2f47fdc27b_b.jpgSail Away by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

 

Judy had the primary camera, and Stove was taking photos on my camera which is why I am not looking in his direction.

 

49301014322_6f513e0301_b.jpgSail Away by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

 

Now I'll pose. It's a rare occasion when I'm in front of the camera.

 

49300806086_b1c5f118c0_b.jpgSail Away by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

 

49301012887_771d71c3c6_b.jpgSail Away by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

 

49300804621_f84afdc582_b.jpgSail Away by Victoria Shingleton, on Flickr

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