Sunday, March 11, 2012

Cruise to Aruba - Boarding

From part one :

Boarding the huge ship was smoothly done, but I can't say the same for just getting to the ship to start with. With the convoluted routing and redirects through the construction that dominated the port and the various security control points as we entered Port Everglades, I was really glad I left the driving to someone else. We used a charter-bus to make the 180 mile trip from Port Charlotte to Ft. Lauderdale so I wouldn't have to figure out the parking nonsense in the congested port area. We had friends of ours with us from Germany who speak very little English, and I simply didn't need the added confusion factor or a failure to communicate.

Bernd and Agnes, our friends from Germany
There were seven, huge, state-of-the-art cruise ships being boarded simultaneously in one of the busiest cruise ports in the United States. To say the port was jammed with traffic would be an understatement. The bus trip was easy enough for us, but our driver had my heartfelt sympathy as guard after guard made him move the huge bus after we finally got next to the correct ship in the terminal area. Two guards actually stood in front of the bus at one time, each pointing for him to go in a different direction. Whoever outranked whom finally won, and we again did another five point turn in the confines of a parking garage! Our driver finally got fed up once he was satisfied he was close enough to the entrance and just turned off the ignition. Hordes of porters pushing empty luggage carts descended on the undersides of the bus, and once they started unloading, it was obvious no one was going to move the bus. This driver earned his tip, even with his momentary lapse on the highway. This was his third shift in two days. Welcome to the new America.

Princess had us print everything from the Internet beforehand, so all we had to do was follow our yellow color through the terminal to our designated seating area. We never saw our luggage again, but it was also pre-tagged and color coded just like we were, so I wasn't worried. It had always shown up in front of our stateroom late in the evening on previous cruises, so I expected the same service here. 

After an hour and a half wait, we signed in with the efficient, courteous staff, they were actually quite funny, and after getting our plastic, embossed gold room keys, which are also your boarding cards, we were on our way up the forward gangplank. Ten minutes later we were checking out our stateroom, ready for a tour of the ship. I react badly when being herded and avoid places like Disney World like the plague, but Princess has this down to an art form and the whole procedure was quite painless.

Much of the chatter on deck was French, German, even Russian, with only a few passengers speaking English. The English speaking passengers were the only ones to benefit from the new, expanded safety briefing, however, which had formerly been known as the Parade of New Shoes, or technically, the Life Boat Drill. Over 800 of us listened intently to the Captain's 22 minute safety address over the Public Address speakers in the ship's theater, the “A” muster station, I couldn't help but wonder if we could all get out of the theater in time in case of a real emergency.

The first real shock of new-age cruising came shortly after the lifeboat drill. We went up to the forward pool deck bar and ordered drinks. I simply ordered a Budweiser. Apparently a brand hard to find among the many better known foreign labels. The smiling young woman presented me with the charge slip, they only accept your pre-approved credit card, and watched blandly as I read it several times. No matter how I turned it around, it still came out to six dollars and four cents, gratuity included. Wow, my first and only beer! The grand old days of cruising are over! My wife pointed out it was a sixteen ounce can, rather than the standard twelve ounce size. Doesn't matter, it was a six dollar can of Budweiser! This would be a cruise of abstinence. Well, within reason, of course. Remind me to check the futures market on beer. It may be a better investment than oil.

With heavy, overcast skies and winds steady at over thirty knots out of the northeast, most of the passengers standing outside on the railing had their arms folded tightly in front of them with their shoulders scrunched up to their ears as we crossed out of the protected anchorage and into the open ocean. Most looked like they wished they still had on their northern, cold weather jackets. 

As we watched the pilot disembark well outside the protection of the channel and head back toward Ft. Lauderdale, we wondered just how rough it has to be to get these people worried.  

The Crown Princess weighs over 112,000 tons, and that was probably before they loaded us, the fuel, the food, and who knows how many cases of Budweiser.  Actually, the net registered tonnage is only 83, 977 tons, so the gross tonnage of 113, 561 tons is when we cast off from Port Everglades loaded to the gills.  In that bloated condition she draws 28 feet of water.  In other words, you couldn't put her in your swimming pool unless your pool was 29 feet deep.  At 950 feet long, (that's over three football fields, I think, or over three soccer fields, or something else that makes you say, “Wow, that's long!”) she still shuddered and shook in the 30 knot crosswinds like my Golden Retriever when I give him a bath. 

The in-room television said we had “moderate seas” at four to seven feet, with an across-the-deck wind of 30 knots. We were constantly shaking. Of the five cruises we've done, this one was unique. We had lulled and waited all night in 20 foot seas not far off Palm Beach on our very first cruise many years ago and thought the slow, rolling wind blown waves were as bad as it got, but that ship, the old Sunward II hadn't protested like this one. The constant, quick jerks back and forth that occasionally caused quick side-steps and spilled drinks were new to us.But then we went to dinner and all was well with the world! Our decision to cruise once again was affirmed. Excellent food and outstanding service! I'll even wear a tie if I have to. Personally, the casual dining at one of the three buffets is great for a quick lunch, especially when everyone in your party is off doing their own thing, but the dining room is one reason we cruise.  The food is really good at the buffets, and table service is excellent there as well, but it is not personal.  When you eat in the dining room, you get to meet people like Antonio, our waiter and Alphonse, an assistant Maitre D' who cater to your every whim.  We only wore jackets twice, which to us was a nice change from the Mickey D atmosphere that surrounds the deck area that many of the passengers seem to enjoy.  Love great food!  Love great service!

But, times they are a'changing.  A guided tour of the ship from the bridge to the engine room is still available, but now instead of gratis or free of charge, it costs a staggering $150.00!  Even airline executives must look with envy at the cruise ship industry's ability to gouge their customers. 

Five of the seven cruise ships boarding passengers at Port Everglades, Florida.
The Oasis of the Seas is on the far right

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