Friday, March 9, 2012

To Cruise Or Not To Cruise - Day 1

Let me begin by saying that I didn't want to ever go on a Royal Caribbean cruise. Nothing against the RC folks, but I saw the behemoth vessels and the whole concept as just too ... well, pretty much everything.

I was wrong.

I went because my wife blinded me with logic right after Christmas. She pointed out that I had never gone on a cruise liner voyage, so I had no idea what I was talking about, and we were going to escape February in Annapolis.

The best excuse I could come up with was that I had spent the last three months dropping 25 pounds in order to avoid hip surgery and I didn't want to take a vacation on a ship where apparently the primary goal was to shove as much food into your mouth as possible.

We flew on a Friday after work and landed in San Juan at one in the morning. No worries. We had booked a room in the Best Western which is attached to Luis Munoz Marin Airport. 

We walked from the baggage area through an empty airport, following signs to the hotel, came out into the warm Caribbean night, went down a flight of steps to an office where a pretty lady directed us to our room on the top floor, overlooking the airport arrival area. We were sleep walking at that point and immediately crashed in the somewhat cheesy room. But it had a clean and fine bed and we got about five hours of solid sleep before checking out at noon and catching a taxi to the Royal Cribbean boat dock. It's a standard rate for all taxis so there's no gouging. You just hail a cab, tell them where you're going, and you're off. It costs something like $18, plus a dollar a bag, and takes about 15 minutes to get to the boat.

Nothing can prepare you for your first up-close glimpse at a modern tour boat. They are splendidly beautiful in an almost surreal sense of scale, like some ginormous white space ship with all sorts of shiny bells and whistles.
We exited the cab in front of a hundred-foot-long line of passengers. It was 2 o'clock and the boat was leaving at 8.

The Royal Cribbean folks have perfected the entire embarking process to a science. Happy help greet you and explain the drill as the lines move quickly along. Passports are checked. Bags are whisked away. There's lemonade and boat drinks. And in the end, you are given your ticket into the magic kingdom - your SEA PASS - a credit card that pays for anything your heart desires for the rest of the trip.

We climbed the gangway to the fifth deck of the wondrous Serenade of the Seas and entered an inviting and playful world of luxurious elegance.
We had booked an interior stateroom on the 8th Deck. We scoped out the room right away even though we wouldn't see our luggage for many moons thereafter and we were quite pleased. There was a semi-circle king-size bed, a couch; writing desk, TV, many handy cabinets, a refrigerator filled with beverages, huge closet, and a pretty tiny bathroom and shower. It was plenty big. Then again, we didn't spend much time there other than to sleep and change clothes.
It was three o'clock and the boat wasn't leaving for another five hours. So, we went exploring. There weren't that many people on the boat at that point - 4 o'clock being the arrival rush hour - and most of the shipmates we saw were walking around like kids in a candy store, unsure of where they were going but having a ball getting there. Everywhere you looked there were wonders to behold - art work; elevators rising and falling like bubble beads of glass, their etched-glass doors framing the sparkling blue ocean beyond; marble floors; and the whole time, there's this guy playing smooth jaz on his piano down in the Centrum Bar below.
We headed for deck eleven where a lot of the action is. There's a buffet and dining lounges, an outdoor pool and two raised jacuzis, a swinging patio bar where the soundtrack was being handled by a very capable reggae/calypso band called Men of Culture in their matching red Hawaiian shirts. This would be one of my favorite spots on the boat and many a boat drink of the day was consumed at happy hour there.
Continuing toward the bow, we entered the solarium, a quiet, jungle-like piece of heaven with a sea water swimming pool; jet-blasting jacuzi; the Solarium Shack, a snack bar with free food and juices and a bar surrounded by elephantine statues, and along the outside bulkhead, the most comfortable reclining screen chairs in the world, facing out through the glass windows at the ocean. We spent spent every late afternoon watching whales, dolphins and seabirds while reading as the sun receded into the blue horizon.
Beyond the solarium there was the Serenade Day Spa where you could get your hair done, bath in black mud, experience a hot rock massage, or get waxed and polished. Inna got her hair done there by a Dutch girl from South Africa a few days later.
At the end of the deck we came to health club city, complete with a locker room equipped with a spacious steam room sporting lights in the ceiling that faded from red to blue like twinkling stars, a three decker sauna, and big showers. The shower in our room was a circular thing about the size of a telephone booth, so Inna and I used the roomy showers in the locker room every day. A stairway led to the top deck, number twelve, where there was a state-of-the-art gym complete with personal trainers. You could do your treadmill miles facing out at the ocean from atop the world, take classes from yoga to pilates, and then learn about nutrition or how to have happy feet.

We still had an hour until dinner and I was strongly attracted to the pool where the sun was hot and bright. I swam in the sea water pool, and the Men of Culture we're jamming as we we looked out over Old San Juan.
Inna went back to the room to check on our bags. No bags. But there was the ship newspaper for the next day, filled with all sorts of schedules and interesting tidbits about what was happening on-board and at our next destination.

It was soon dinnertime. 
The dining room was straight out of Hollywood. Nothing cheesy. Italian marble and a violin trio. From the Buick-sized crystal chandelier to the sheer beauty of the place, it was two decks of pomp and circumstance. We were on the lower deck at table 111, and would eat every dinner there the rest of the cruise at 6 each night.

I had been dreading this part of the show and it was a big reson why I didn't want to do a cruise. I figured that I could dodge most of the imbecile crap, but having to eat dinner for a week with random strangers seemed a bit too much.

Contestants Number 1 hailed from Redding, PA., about two hours from where we live. They were my people. Four blue-collar straight-shooters from Redding, PA, who were funny as hell and I looked forward each night to see them and discuss the events of the day.

Couple Number 2 were two very charming ladies from Boston who were seasoned travelers and who were a joy to dine with.

Our final contestants were a charming mother and daughter from North Carolina who were so Southern you just had to smile back. They were flowing hair and infectious affection that made us feel like family.

I looked forward to going to dinner every night and even found myself crying several times over the week as I sat there being served like a prince and eating succulent delights. Like on the last night when we were saying goodby to our waiters and our tablemates. A sweet pating indeed.

It's amazing how quickly people can bond with one another given the right ingredients.

After dinner we got our bags and nested in what would be our home for the next 7 days. Then we were rocked to sleep like babes.

No comments :

Post a Comment