We were up by 7, and immediately headed for Deck 11 to get our first view of the ocean. We would be spending the day steady cruising to Cozumel, Mexico. It was warmer but still a bit chilly. Thin clouds drifted across the sun, making strange patterns on the deep blue water.
The thing that always strikes me the most about the Caribbean is the color of the water. The Gulf of Mexico is a dark, rich, chameleon blue, a combination of water and sky that changes with sunlight.
Why are these tropical waters so clear and blue? Because they are nutrient deficient and very little plankton and the like lives in tropical waters. That means light travels into its depths, and the blue wavelengths get scattered. That produces a turquoise blue ocean. And that's your science fact for the day.
A day at sea on a cruise ship requires a little planning. You are competing with 3,000 people for limited space. And you need to stake your claim on the prime entertainment areas, like the pool, as early as possible.
Every night, your stateroom attendant leaves a copy of the Cruise Compass on your bed, along with a cute little towel critter, sporting your shades. The Compass is the ship’s newspaper and it tells you everything that’s happening on board the next day. The detailed schedule lists the times and locations for movies, games, lectures, seminars, dance and fitness classes, ship tours, kids programs, art exhibitions, bar and dance parties, stage show productions, booze tastings, musical performances, special shopping bargains, contests, gambling tournaments – you name it. It's non-stop fun and games. There’s something for everyone. More than you could ever possibly do. This has the added benefit of spreading people out all over the ship, so you don’t have everyone fighting over the limited parking spaces. It’s amazing that a ship so crowded can feel so spacious and – well, I won’t say empty, but rarely do you ever have to stand in line for anything. And when you end up some place where there are lots of people, you just go find something else to occupy your time. There are countless shiny objects.
We always like to eat breakfast in the cafeteria as early as possible, before the morning rush. The gamblers and other night owls usually don’t roll out bed until after 9. So, the crowds usually don’t start until mid-morning – especially on sea days when the night club attractions are steady rockin’.
You can, of course, eat breakfast in the formal dining room, but we like the informality of the cafeteria. Standing in front of the main entrance to the Windjammer you will always find the official greeter, singing and dancing their shift away as they remind you to “Sanitize!” There are several sanitizer stations in front of every eating establishment. And while the crew make it a happy-go-lucky ritual that brings a smile, it is also serious business. An intestinal bug can run like a wildfire through a cruise ship and the staff is constantly reminding you to wash your hands. It becomes second nature to the point that when I got back home I instinctively kept looking for the squirt machine.
When we walked into the Windjammer at 7:30 that first morning we grabbed some fruit and headed for the fantail section of the dining room where we could sit at the stern and watch the frothing white wake trailing behind the ship. We find the whole scene incredibly relaxing.
The breakfast, lunch, and dinner buffets offer fairly standard fare. And after a week, it gets a bit same old, same old. I’m not a food critic, so I’m not going to try and describe the assortment of dishes. I found everything to be more than adequate. But then, I’m easy to please. I like fruit, and there is never a shortage of fresh berries and melons to choose from. I’m also not a desert person, but the ice cream dispensers and cake trays do a land office business. Friendly waiters are constantly clearing your table and offering you beverages. Apparently, eating is a big part of the show for many cruisers. And there are some very round passengers. But whatever floats your boat is fine with me. Personally, I’d get bored if eating was main objective.
As soon as breakfast was over, Inna hit the Navigator Day Spa and I went over to the towel exchange where I picked up two towels. Here’s the way it works. They scan your Sea Pass and give you two blue towels which you can take anywhere you like – even off the ship. When you bring them back, they swipe your card and you’re free and clear. If you don’t bring the towels back, you get charged $25.
With my two beach towels in hand I headed for the Solarium – my favorite place on the boat – and staked out two lounge chairs on the starboard side overlooking the ocean. I picked that side of the ship because we were heading south and that meant the sun would move across our position during the day. Technically, you aren’t allowed to reserve chairs, and if you leave one empty for more than thirty minutes, the attendants will remove your stuff. But that only is enforced around the main pool where space is at a premium.
Larry and TC snagged their own lounge chairs nearby and after that, we spent the day checking out whatever struck our fancy. I worked out for an hour in the gym, went swimming in all of the different pools and several of the Jacuzzis, watched a free throw contest at the basketball court, hit the steam bath and sauna, caught some rays by the rock wall, did a few laps on the walking track, joined a Zumba class by the main pool, and read to the rhythm of the sea.
Later in the afternoon, I was watching some flying fish rocket along the ship’s churning wake and I realized how incredibly relaxed I was. My home town of Annapolis and all the stress that comes with modern day life had simply melted away. My brain was wonderfully empty. Clearly, it was a time for a boat drink. The drink of the day was a Tropical Sunset – Smirnoff vodka, peach schnapps, and Chambord Black Raspberry liqueur, shaken with cranberry and pineapple juices, for $6.75 plus a 15% gratuity, and I got to keep the fancy glass.
At 4:30, we headed down to Studio B for the Ice Dancin’ Spectacular, a free performance starring an international cast of skaters and featuring the stunning Russian skater Ekaterina doing her amazing Hula Hoop routine. We had heard that the Ice Show was a must see, and it was packed with jaw-dropping thrills and chills. It started kind of slow, with costumed skaters gliding by in parade formations, but then one of the male skaters suddenly rocketed around the rink and did a Triple Lutz, landing within inches of the wall, and the whole audience came out of their seats. Imagine an Olympic performance inside a small rink with no room for error. When the show was over, we walked out just shaking our heads in wonder.
This was one of the two formal dinner nights, so we rushed back to the room after the Ice Show and changed into our Sunday best.
We had the 8-person table to ourselves and our very animated and friendly waiter Alexander, from Ukraine, started jabbering in Russian with my wife and we were like one big happy family.
Dinner is a grand production, like a choreographed show. First, the head waiter Alexander reviewed each of the appetizers and entrees and then offered his own recommendations. We followed his lead because we figured he had sampled the food and knew the best bets on the menu. He never steered us wrong. Each night featured one of the five star chefs preparing dishes showcasing their favorite spice, like saffron or basil. And at the end of the meal, the chef would cruise the dining room to much applause. Dinner is always great fun. And the food is very tasty and beautifully served. The entire staff, from the Maître D to the Assistant Waiter, treats you like royalty. I looked forward to dinner every evening.
After our formal dinner it was time for the Captain's reception on the Royal Promenade, with soft jazz and free champagne. It was funny to see all of us monkeys dressed up, the men looking
uncomfortable, and the women quite ravishing. The Captain, a strapping Scandinavian in his flashy white dress uniform, regaled us with facts and figures about the ship and crew. And then, from atop the Promenade Bridge, the Captain introduced the officers like they were rock stars. It was communal bonding at its best.
As the reception was winding down, we checked out some of the duty free shops and then headed for the upper deck for a brisk walk. By that time we were ready for bed. It's amazing how tired you can get doing nothing. We stopped off in the library to thumb through the odd assortment of books on the mahogany shelves and then crashed for the night.
Tomorrow would be our first island stop and were itching to find some warm weather.
Tip of the Day: Bring an extension chord with multiple plugs, or a multi-pronged adaptor, because they only have two outlets in each room to charge all of your electronics.