Cruise in review

Caribbean cruise overview:

DATE/TIME: Monday, June 21st, 11:19 AM
LOCATION: At the butt of the big boat, 14th floor, water thingy

I meant to be publishing these entries from the ship, but the brochure, when it assured me that there would be computers and an Internet connection I could use, didn’t say how much it would cost to use said connection. $.50/minute. It took me seven minutes just to log on and read my email. No responding, and no cleaning out the spam, just clicking and reading the entries that looked like they weren’t extolling me to enlarge my breasts/penis or that my mortgage application had been approved. I decided to journal on my laptop, and upload when I got home.

So here I am, somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, on the fourteenth deck at the aft of the Navigator of the Sea, a huge Royal Caribbean cruise ship.

Deep cerulean water, rippling swells tipped with silver like glistening sequins, and a misty horizon. It’s muse food, it surely is. But, the nuts and bolts first:

I’m here with the family: Matthew’s parents, and his brother and wife.

Seven nights on this floating metropolis (3500 guests, 1100 crew!). There are a few more children here than I expected, but yesterday at lunch, a sweet little girl with the most astonishing golden-red hair, pointed out a pod of dolphins in the wake of the ship as we were pulling out of the Bahamas. Her sharp eyes and joy at sharing her discovery with us more than made up for the trio of boys who decided to hit all the buttons on the elevator later that night, from deck three, all the way to deck twelve. The dolphins were far in the distance, just silver and white flashes off their crescent backs as they crested and dove after the ship. They were a ribbon of white in the distance, and we would have totally missed seeing them if it wasn’t for the girl. When she pointed them out to her father, at first he didn’t believe her, until I said. “No, she’s right. Those are dolphins. You can see them cresting, see?” At which point he squinted at the flashing streaks of silver in the distance and agreed that yes, she was right, those were dolphins. And again, more tacit proof that adults totally underestimate and discount the abilities of children.

The little girl wants to be a vet when she grows up. She and I were the only people at the table who knew that a group of dolphins is a “pod.” That’s the kind of child I write for, the clever, curious, and precocious. Whereas the boys on the elevator, those I wish to lock into separate rooms and do Skinner-esque conditioning experiments upon. Perhaps with electric shock.

They had a mandatory “mustering” the first day we were on-board, before we’d launched even. Everyone had to take their life preserver, these huge bright orange vests that are kin to those fake sumo wrestling suits that you can bounce into people with, and cluster in the still, humid air on the fourth deck (where the lifeboats are), and hear a rundown on the safety procedures. The main thought I had was that if there was an emergency, I suspect the odds of surviving it were pretty slim, as it took forever for people to reach the assembly spot, and then it was mass pandemonium. But I took no harm from the number of people I bounced into with my life vest. So there, all safe.

Our first port was Nassau in the Bahamas. Ridiculously early hours. Embarked at 7AM and had to be back on-board by 1:30, or miss the boat. As Cruise-Director-Ken (a man with plastic features, a plastic smile, and a big, loud, plastic voice) announced, if you were the type to be perpetually late, you should bring a camera and a credit card. The credit card to book a flight to the next port to meet the ship, and a camera to take a picture of it from shore, receding in the distance.

We didn’t stay that long on the island in any case. It was Sunday, and since the main religion there is Baptist, there wasn’t much open. And we were harangued by surge after surge of Bahamians who wanted to sell us cheap bracelets (they’d clasp these ugly beaded things on our wrists saying they were “free” and ask us for a “donation” for them) and island guides who wanted to take us on walking/taxi tours of Paradise and Atlantis. We did take a horse drawn carriage tour. And while it was interesting and lovely to see all the pastel buildings and the tropical plants (oleander–so lovely, so sweet smelling, so very, very poisonous), I also felt sorry for the horse who the driver seemed to delight in smacking with the reins at every opportunity. I’ve a weakness for horsies which is how we ended up in the carriage in the first place. But I couldn’t even pet ours, as it turned out. I wanted to, but the guide said she bit, and while I very much doubted that the poor thing had enough spirit to snap at me, I would have felt right bad if I’d been wrong.

This ship is indeed an ocean-faring city. They had a parade on the promenade the first night. A frigging parade. On the ship.

They have something like four nightclubs–a martini/jazz bar (where I’m sitting now as it overlooks the ocean), an old style English pub, a DJ spinning dance club (The Dungeon), and a champagne piano bar. And that’s not even accounting for the various and sundry watering holes throughout the ship–poolside, et al–or the three story dining room.

There’s a shopping plaza on the promenade. They had a “rum tasting” the first night, which was the last event I partook of before falling into our queen-size “bunk”, tipsy and rosy-cheeked. They also have a small library, a miniature golf course, basketball court, movie theater, two live entertainment theaters, a chapel, and an ice rink. I signed Matthew and I up for ice skating lessons on Friday. I’ve never gone ice skating before. Also, of course, several feeding places. There’s complimentary soft serve ice cream and coffee, as well as desserts and sandwiches, on the promenade, so whenever I need a pick-me-up, we go get ice cream and coffee.

Went for a late night swim last night. The pools are filled with salt water, which was novel. I wonder if it’s seawater which they’ve filtered? Also, there was a couple practicing their scuba skills in the deep end. I swam into them before I realized they were there. Scuba gear is hard. Ouch. We were going to soak in the whirlpool tubs afterward, but they were filled with children. And the allure of hot tubs, while ever-present, is lessened by the fact that we have one ourselves in our backyard. So instead we went back up to our stateroom and I fell asleep.

There’s a lot of crew. Nearly one for every three passengers. Apparently when they sign on, they’re on-board for six months, then off for two. It must be an interesting life. And I’m really curious about what sort of inter-ship relationships that fosters among the crew. A lot of them are not American. The really pretty bus boy at lunch was Italian, I think. And when I asked him where the ice cream cones were, he gave me a blank looks and said in faltering English “you want a phone?” But he was very pretty to look upon, so I just smiled and waved him away. I thought that was better than speaking slowly and loudly about “ice cream cones.

The ship is so large you usually can’t feel the movement, although in the topmost decks, the wind is strong enough to feel it vibrate past. We love sitting way up here, watching the ocean, and feeling the ship move beneath us.

Writing Stuff:

Writing visual images, notes really, for use later. The words are coming. They swell and ebb. I can feel them building, building, cresting, washing over me, and then building again. The ocean is powerful, beautiful, and vast. My muse sports in the waves, frolics in the salt water, and revels in the sun (although I am slathered in sunscreen and sitting in the shade). There will be more words. Writers should travel.

Also, writing the review for “Shadow Twin,” the Gardner Dozois, George R.R. Martin, and Daniel Abraham novella at Sci-Fiction. I was going to email it to my editor this week, but at $.50/minute, he can wait until I get back.

I did have the foresight to ask Ellen Datlow to email part 3 of the novella to me last week, just in case the connection was unreliable. And I printed it out even. She didn’t have it broken down, so she sent the whole manuscript to me as an MS Word email attachment. It’s got her editorial marks on it, and it’s in submission ms format. Am I being utterly the silly fangirl to be excited by that? Probably.

We’re powering through the endless waves towards the end of the world. Can’t wait to see the view when we tip off the edge of it. La.

DATE/TIME: Monday, June 21st, 3:43 PM

Had lunch in the buffet-style dining area–vegetable curry and rice, roasted potatoes, fruit salad, and marble cheesecake–and then returned to what has turned into my favorite spot on the ship. Deck 14, overlooking the sea.

Bought a Nikon Coolpix 2200 digital camera at the photo shop in the ship. It was an impulse buy, but at least it was a tax-free one. It’s tiny, which was a major selling point with us. Another selling point, for me at least, was the lovely French accent of the sales guy. I kept asking him questions to keep him talking. The lad probably could have sold me swampland in Florida with that voice. And he posed pretty for me when I snapped his picture with the display model. I’ve noticed that most of the waitcrew on the ship are quite attractive. And many of them have sexy accents.

Writing Stuff:

Checked out Rescue Ferrets at Sea by Richard Back from the ship’s library. I brought plenty of reading material, but this seemed so fitting.

DATE/TIME: Wednesday, June 23rd, 10:24 AM
LOCATION: San Juan Port, Puerto Rico

We’re docked for the day in San Juan. Matthew’s brother and his wife are off looking at one of the forts, and the in-laws are out and about. Marilyn’s having her hair done in the salon, and I believe Bob is waiting for her . Matthew and I decided to stay on-board and just lounge on the ship. We’re sitting up on the fourteenth floor again, overlooking the city and the sea. Quite lovely.

Yesterday we stopped over at St. Thomas island, one of the Virgin ones. When the ship first docked, Matthew and I scampered out to look around the port shopping area. Row after row of stores selling amazingly-priced jewelry and duty-free booze. But it got hot right fast, and I wilted. So, without buying either booze or jewels (although I did try on some shiny tanzanite bracelets and sapphire necklaces, and we did sample some of the rum), we returned to the ship for lunch. Ventured out again that afternoon for a driving tour of the island. Breathtaking view and vistas, quaint architecture, and a guide with a thick, barely-understandable Caribbean accent. Also saw some buildings with their roofs torn off from the most recent hurricane. Powerful and frightening evidence of nature’s ferocity out here. The price one pays for living in paradise, apparently.

At the mountaintop they’ve set up a bar and shopping area (of course). I had a strawberry daiquiri resulting in more rosy cheeks and a slight headache. Saw a thunderhead beginning to move in. It hit us with a smattering of rain, but then seemed to pause mid-swoop. We didn’t get much rain and the clouds dispersed by the time we got back down. Strangest storm front I’ve ever seen.

Back on-board were headache pills and dinner where the wait-staff danced with candles and cakes on their heads. Last night they sang for us . . . with their multitude of accents. The poor wait staff. I’m sure they’d all be happier just bringing us our food and joking with us. I’ve noticed that whenever you thank them, they don’t say “you’re welcome” or even “no problem,” they all say “my pleasure.” I assume they’re trained to say that. Or I wonder if that’s what’s become vogue in non-American circles? Most of the crew, from what I can tell, isn’t American. The Maitre’d spent about ten minutes talking with Matthew and I about his Bengal cat back at home in Singapore. It sounds like he misses his cat more than his wife and kids!

Afterward we went to the ship’s ice dancing show where I was verily impressed with the performance, even if the skaters did fall a couple times. Hey, if they’re doing doubles on that tiny rink whilst I can feel the ocean beneath us as I sit in my seat, I don’t begrudge them a couple spills.

Next was after dinner drinks at the piano bar. The pianist played many standards–“The Entertainer”, “Piano Man,” various Cat Stevens selections–and was very friendly and talkative. Had a long chat with him between sets. It provided an interesting insight into the life of the crew and entertainers here. Good work if you can get it. He also queried me a lot about my publishing experience, as he’s interested in getting some of his songs published. I told him I was certain that the music industry is way different from the writing one, but he still wanted to know about what I’ve seen.

Closed out the evening at the late night pool party/buffet. The band was steel drum and quite good. We danced, Matthew had bread and cheese, and I had a couple mini-cream puffs and a blueberry torte. Then off to bed. The feel of the ocean lulled me to sleep.

Mark, Matthew’s brother, had a drink with the first mate, who does the graveyard shift. Mark commented on how rocky the ship was the other night, and the first mate replied that he could have put the stabilizers down, but he thinks people on a ship should know they’re at sea. Three cheers for the first mate!

Writing Stuff:

I discovered that the Internet interface on the ship–some sort of Royal Caribbean browser, probably IE based–won’t talk nicely to the Comcast website. Probably a scripting error or other. Got an email from dude_the and britzkrieg both basically saying “how’s it going?” Wanted to send them a quick reply to the extent of “Great! But email is at $.50/minute. Details later!” But while I can read emails, I can’t send them. When I hit the SEND button, nothing happens. Sorry, folks.

Heard from the Blasphemy anthology folks. Soon! they continue to say. Not worrying about it. No problem, mon.

DATE/TIME: Wednesday, June 23rd, 3:32 PM–Leaving San Juan

At around 11:00, Matthew and I started getting restless and actually a bit cold up on the fourteenth deck. So we looked at each other and said “wanna go ashore?” And half an hour later, dressed in tourist garb, ashore we went. Took a taxi to fort San Cristobal, which was actually only something like four blocks away from the pier. An easy eight bucks for the driver.

And then spent an hour and a half wandering through the ancient stronghold. Canons, dungeons, and winding stairways, oh my! It was beautiful, and very evocative.

Since the ship was the largest thing on the skyline, it wasn’t hard to spot, so we decided to walk back to the pier rather than take another taxi back. Saw some lovely Puerto Rican architecture.

Also bought a 128mg memory card for the new camera. We should be set on memory for the rest of the trip!

DATE/TIME: Thursday, June 24th, 1:55 PM
LOCATION: Docked at Labadee island off Haiti, Deck 11, Solarium

The ship is docked for the day at the private island of Labadee, owned by Royal Caribbean International, off Haiti.

View of the island from the ship

Labadee is white sand beaches, palm trees, water playgrounds, jet skis, and aquamarine waters. They don’t have large dock facilities on the island, so passengers are tender boated ashore–three-hundred at a time. The tenders are named, unimaginatively: Nina, Pinta, and La Santa Maria.

I’m not much of a sun or beach fan, so we walked around the island, then came back to the ship to lounge. There’s a “no-one under 16” pool and deck area–the Solarium–with a Grecian theme.

It’s got an incredible view of the island, with boats and para-sail chutes drifting by. Spent the afternoon in a shady spot on a lounger, napping reading, and writing.

Writing Stuff:

1500 word start on a fantasy short story I’ve dubbed “Island Love Story” (working title only). It’s beautiful here. I think my muse is getting sunburned, the silly thing.

DATE/TIME: Friday, June 25th, 10:57 AM
LOCATION: Deck 14. A bit sore, waiting for the towel folding

Had ice skating lessons this morning. My first time on the ice. There’s a definite strangeness to having an ice rink on a ship. Also that the first time I tried ice skating it was in short sleeves.

Olga, one of the ice dance troupe, was our instructor. A small, blonde, Russian woman, her English was broken and halting, but clear. She skated circles, literally, around us. The ship provided elbow and knee pads, and a helmet, which was fortunate as I used all of them. I only fell on accident once–they made us practice falling first thing, I don’t count that–but when I did, I was glad to have the padding. It’s not the going that’s the tricky bit, but the stopping.

Sore and wobbly, after an hour, Matthew and I doffed our blades and stumbled down to breakfast. It didn’t seem like all that much exercise, but I’m aching from it now.

Each night on the ship, the room tidiers pull down the bedclothes, put a chocolate on each pillow, and leave a towel folded in some charming and clever animal shape at the foot of our bunk. The first night it was a swan, the second a manta ray, the third an armadillo, then a bulldog, and last night it was a monkey hanging from a hanger.

Due to popular demand, they’ve put together a towel folding demonstration. That’s at noon today, and, of course, I want to see it. Maybe after this trip there will be towel animals popping up at home.

Matthew and I are on the fourteenth deck (our favorite spot on the ship) overlooking the ocean and whiling away forty or so minutes. After the towel folding, I expect to spend today watching the sea, reading, writing, and undoubtedly napping.

We passed a few ships today. Snapped this of one. A freighter? And it looks like another one behind it. Not sure from the haze.

DATE/TIME: Friday, June 25th, 3:53 PM

Writing Stuff:

Hello Muse. Been dwelling upon writing a story about a towel animal. Something to do with a theme of “we are more than our function.” Heh. We’ll see.

1500 more words on the “Island Love Story.” The batteries on my laptop are beginning to get low.

Posting this now. More pictures later!

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9 Responses to Cruise in review

  1. puskunk says:

    Wow, my wife is so jealous. I didn’t realize you were going on cruise. Did you actually dock at St. Thomas? Last time I was there, nothing as big as the Navigator could actually pull in, they had to be tendered in, so they had to park the big monsters out in front of my great uncle’s house on Water Island. It’s cool to walk out and look down at the SS Norway.

    • Eugie Foster says:

      Yep, we docked at St. Thomas. Just a steep descent from the gangplank to be ashore. Guess they’ve enlarged the dock–a clever move considering how much of their economy hinges upon tourism.

  2. tripper says:

    Here’s what you missed at Saint Thomas. Barb and I went back in May of 2001 with her parents. There’s a LOT more to it than Charlotte Amalie.

    • Eugie Foster says:

      Oh, we missed a lot on our cruise, I’m sure! With only a handful of hours at each port, we didn’t have time to see much more than a single tourist spot. Although to tell the truth, I really enjoyed the ship days best.

  3. terracinque says:

    That last photo is of a tanker, not a freighter.

    Looks like you had a great time! I’m going to the Bahamas next month. Not a cruise, but I’ll be SCUBA diving every day (I hope) and maybe sea kayaking, so it won’t be completely lubberly.

    • Eugie Foster says:

      Tanker boat. Check.

      Matthew and I discussed scuba and snorkeling for this vacation. Those were optional excursion tours we could take, but we ended up not signing up for them. I’d love to learn how to scuba. We signed up for lessons when we went to Jamaica several years back, but a storm out at sea made the waters too choppy to go.

      • terracinque says:

        Tanker boat.

        Ship! It’s a ship!

        Scuba diving is every bit as otherworldly, exciting and surreal as it’s made out to be in all those nature documentaries. I can’t recommend it highly enough (although it is rather expensive).

  4. Wow! Sounds like a fabulous cruise!


    P.S. LOVE the folded towel-animals! 🙂

    • Eugie Foster says:

      Hee! I’ve started making towel animals around the house. Matthew almost used my first attempt at a towel dog to dry off with, until he realized what it was. Towel animals live precarious lives!

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