Cruising: The Basics of our Cruise

Cruise Info:
Ship – Majesty of the Seas (previously known as the Royal Majesty when owned by another cruise line)
Cruise Line – Royal Caribbean
Cruise – 3 day Bahamas
Ports – Coco Cay (RC’s private island), Nassau, Miami

Thursday:
A flight just before ours to Miami got cancelled (Chicago weather was nasty), and our flight was oversold. We offered to be bumped so that they could put other people on (taking the 6:15am the next morning would have been fine with us), but they declined. So, we took off mostly without incident, only a little late. We were coming in the night before our cruise as insurance, with plans and reservations to stay at a near-airport cheapie hotel for the night.

On arriving in Miami, we took our time leaving the plane, as some folks were trying to make tight connections and we knew that we’d have to wait on baggage claim anyways. So, we were surprised when we got there and our luggage still wasn’t there. It seemed like the carousel was fairly empty. From our flight, we’d seen most people leaving the carousel already. There was one other family waiting on bags. The carousel stopped moving, so we went to the baggage counter to begin the “Where’s our luggage?” process, which we’re very familiar with given that our luggage was lost 3 times on 3 different trips in Nov/Dec.

But, in the first of many tiny blessings on this trip, it turned out that there was just a late baggage cart, which had just our two families’ bags on it. Apparently, the baggage cart with our bags on it also had been 3/4 filled with the bags from another flight, and our bags had been diverted to there by accident. American Airlines sorted it out, and we were thrilled, because the last thing you want to do is be on a 4 day cruise without your bags!

The Days Inn that we had booked for the night claims to be five minutes from the airport. In actuality, they’re about 15 minutes away, and when we called for a shuttle, they said it’d take thirty minutes to get to us. Grr. But, we did eventually get into our (very tiny and not well-planned) room. I plugged in my laptop to re-charge. This was when I remembered that my universal charger (from iGo) doesn’t actually work that well with my laptop. The charging tip doesn’t seat well in the plug on the laptop, so you have to finesse it into just the right spot and then NOT TOUCH IT or jiggle it at all in order to charge. Alternatively, you can sit with your hand holding it tightly into the charging port. This pissed me off, as I knew about this problem from our last trip, but I’d forgotten. I decided to do the hold-it-steady method long enough to get on the internet, but the hotel’s wi-fi didn’t seem to be broadcasting, and the front desk was no help.

I was frustrated and tired at this point, so I gave up. I figured we’d find wifi in the morning or I’d just suck it up and pay the outrageous price on the ship. As I was bitching and moaning and stomping about in a huff, I accidentally kicked my suitcase with bare feet. I broke a toe. Lovely. Knowing there’s nothing that can be done for a broken toe really (aside from just being careful of it until it heals), I just let it be.

Boarding:

Our shuttle from the Days Inn to the seaport was scheduled for noon. We had set an alarm for 9am to allow time to re-pack a bit. I’d discovered only after packing that we’d need a daybag with our swim gear and amusements since our luggage might not arrive in our room until dinnertime on the ship. As always happens before a big trip, I barely slept through the night right up until about two hours before the alarm is set…at which point I sleep like a baby, of course. It’s like murphy’s law of sleep.

We’d planned to walk the 3 blocks to an IHOP for breakfast, but my toe complained at the thought of a long walk, so we ate at the hotel’s restaurant instead. It was so-so at best. So, the point being, my vacation didn’t start very well. We got a call from family indicating that, although the cruise ship documentation had said that they recommended you not arrive before 2pm, they were letting people start the boarding process already and that there was no reason to wait to get over there. With this news, we decided to try to catch the 11am shuttle to the seaport instead of the noon shuttle. We got to the seaport around noon and dropped off our bags with the cruise company (except for our daybag).

I don’t know how many of my readers have been on a cruise. It’d been around 20 years since I’d been on one, and I barely remember the details of it, being that I was a kid then. Overall, I found the boarding process to be efficient and pleasant. I think getting there early was worthwhile. Basically, you start by giving your bags to a porter. Then, you go inside and get your boarding documentation checked (your passport, your customs form, and your SeaPass, which is the equivalent of a boarding pass). The first person you see just basically checks to make sure you have everything you need and that your SeaPass is for this cruise and not some other cruise at the SeaPort. Then, you go up an escalator (all of this happens indoors, in air-conditioned comfort) and walk through a cattle line to another person, who verifies that your passports match the names on your SeaPass. The next cattle line takes you through a metal detector, and blissfully, you don’t have to remove clothing or pull anything out of your bag. The final cattle line takes you to a bunch of counters (it reminded me of the GenCon event purchase line), and the person at the counter basically asks if you have any symptoms of the Norwalk virus (if you do, you can’t board), takes your SeaPass, and gives you a boarding group (like SouthWest). The counter person also gives you a little magnetic strip card with your cruise info and name on it. The little card becomes your ID for the rest of the cruise. Then, you walk down a hallway lined with couches and seats to the waiting area. The waiting area is a giant room of chairs, benches, and couches surrounding another escalator.

Now, when we did this whole process, it was early and so, except for the final cattle line, we were just skipping through the cattle lines as fast as we could, but I imagine that the queueing process is there because at some point, they have a rush of people trying to get on. We ended up in boarding group 2, but it didn’t bother us to wait as about half of our family group was there waiting, too. We got to do the “Hi! How’ve you been?” hugs in the spacious lounge.

Oh, another item worth mentioning: even though I’m not going to explicitly mention it each time in this little recap, about every few hours throughout the cruise, someone hands one of us an antibacterial wipe. I kid you not. The cruise ship companies are keeping antibacterial wipes in business, I think. It’s all in reaction to the Norwalk thing, but it’s also a bit disconcerting. At each bathroom, there’s big signs posted reminding you to thoroughly wash your hands. Before each eating area, a person practically forces a wipe at you. After they check you in, they make you wipe off (in the most polite way but it’s still clear that it’s required).

The actual boarding started around 1pm with the frequent cruisers and pre-boarders going first. It basically went just like you’d expect. They call group numbers; people line up and go up the escalator. After the escalator, you wait in a long hall for a bit. A person takes that magnetic card (henceforth known as your SeaPass) and embeds a picture of you on the card just before you go across the gangway, and then, you’re on the ship.

On the ship:

As you walk in, there are lots of people with alcoholic drinks just waiting to get you drunk. Families with kids get pulled over to a table to check the kids in (kids get a special bracelet with their emergency gathering area written on it as well as a color code for their age group). Your SeaPass is also how you pay for everything on the ship; it’s associated with a credit card that you designate. The first thing I did was to stop by a counter to buy the unlimited soda package. You pay $22 and you get unlimited soda for the rest of the trip, as well as a souvenir mug. I’d estimated that this would be a huge bargain for me, and I think it was. I will admit that it turned out that, in addition to the coffee and juice that had been advertised as “free” beverages, iced tea was also offered as a free beverage. If I’d known that, I would have subsisted off of iced tea and skipped the soda package. However, at this point, I didn’t know iced tea was a freebie drink. Also, Scott doesn’t drink iced tea, and he shared the package with me (explicitly prohibited by the package but everyone does it anyways).

We’d been told our staterooms wouldn’t be ready until 3, but we heard through the grapevine that people seemed to be able to get into them now, so we stopped by our room. It was exactly what you’re told a cruise ship room will be. We had a large window and a king bed. The bed took up 90% of the window end of the room; there was about a foot of space to the left of the bed, which had a storage unit built into it. The room never got any wider than that. We had a small desk/vanity area, with 4 small drawers and a mirrored cabinet. There was a small glass table in one corner with a trashcan under it. The closet was cramped but serviceable and had 4 shelves as well as a dress hanging area and 2 levels of shirt/slack hanging areas. The bathroom was only as big as it needed to be, really. You could either sit on the toilet, stand in front of the sink, or stand in the shower. There wasn’t room to walk around. The ventilation proved to be an issue during the weekend, in that if one of us made the bathroom stinky, there wasn’t a way to suck the stinkiness out. Also, a wet swimsuit hanging in the bathroom made the whole bathroom humid. However, it rapidly became clear that twice each day our stateroom attendant was ventilating the room somehow and also probably running our swimsuits through a spin-dryer if they were dripping wet.

We took some time to tour the ship and orient ourselves. We were on the same level as the main nightclub, but we were far enough from it that we never heard it. There was a teen club a few levels up and the showroom just below. The ship had the usual assortment of swimming pools, all outdoor. We ate lunch at the buffet. For this cruise, all food was included but any beverages beyond water, milk, coffee, juices, and (as mentioned earlier) iced tea had to be purchased. There was a buffet open during mealtimes, as well as a 24-hour Sorrento’s pizza and a 1pm-1am Johnny Rocket’s. Also, there was a deli open during most hours serving sandwiches, wraps, and soup. Johnny Rocket’s had a “cover charge” so we never ate there. In the shopping area of the ship, there was a very (VERY) limited sundries shop, a gift shop, and a couple of duty-free shops (jewelry, perfume, liquor). The casino had one auto-deal poker table, and we learned that they were taking a 20% rake up to ELEVEN (!!!) dollars. For comparison, the rake at the casino near us, for human-dealt poker, is 20% up to four dollars. The casino just before the Michigan border that has auto-deal poker is 20% up to three dollars, I think. Point being, the rake was ridonkulus. So, no poker for us. 🙂 There was a Latin nightclub in the midsection of one deck and a sports bar/piano bar on the other side. I got the first of many mojitos at the Latin bar. (I learned through experimenting that the Latin bar made the best mojitos…the other bars seemed to fake a mojito, but the latin bar had real mint leaves.) We went for a swim in the pool just before the 4:30pm mandatory safety drill.

After the safety drill, the ship sailed. We decided to watch the shore go away from the “Royal Crown Lounge” which is a giant circular lounge with windows all around at the top of the ship (14th floor). It was far less crowded than the sun deck, and it was air-conditioned. There, I sampled a tropical martini, and we ran into most of the rest of our family shortly thereafter.

I’m also not going to spend alot of time in this recap talking about meals. We could eat whenever we wanted. We were never hungry. The desserts at dinner were always faboo. We had first seating for dinner (6pm), which I actually didn’t like. I’d have preferred second seating (8:30pm), so as to better enjoy the daylight and not be as rushed after the port calls to go change into nice clothes for dinner. There was one formal night on the ship but otherwise, you could pretty much go casual anywhere. The seated dinner didn’t allow shorts, even on casual nights. I usually wore a sundress to dinner and to the onboard clubs afterward.

Ports:

I honestly wasn’t incredibly impressed by our stops, but I’m not a beach person, and I knew from research that the “deals” in Nassau’s shopping district were not really deals at all. I actually enjoyed Coco Cay far more than Nassau, and I think I’d have been happier with a second day at Coco Cay or somewhere similar. Granted, the weather sucked while we were at Nassau, so that didn’t help.

Coco Cay is the private island of the cruise line. There were lots of excursions you could buy (parasailing, kayaking, water slides, etc.) but we blew those off. Scott played volleyball, and I walked the nature trail. If you do happen to go to Coco Cay, skip the beaches near the dock. Walk the nature trail, and about 3/4 of the way down the nature trail, there’s access to a lovely beach, with chairs and hammocks. Very few people find this other beach, I think; it was deserted when I was there. Sadly, I hadn’t brought my swim gear on the nature trail, or I’d have taken a dip. The only part I didn’t like about Coco Cay was all the sun, and that’s just because I’m a tomato-waiting-to-happen. We only spent a couple of hours on the island because both of us needed to get out of the sun…hence me wishing there was a second day there so I could have spent more time exploring.

We did not go see Atlantis at Nassau. It just didn’t appeal to us. It was raining all day, so I felt sorry for the people who had paid $200+ to have access to Atlantis’ beaches and pools for the day.

I do have some stories to tell, but I’m going to save those for individual posts instead of burying them in this recap/info post.

Departing the boat:

Leaving the ship was equally hassle free. We packed our bags the night before, leaving out our critical items for the next day. If you have your bags outside your room by midnight, the cruise will handle getting them onshore and to a baggage claim area similar to an airline baggage claim. We used that option. The cruise offered breakfast on the departure morning, and it was just as good as the rest of the trip…they didn’t skimp on the last day or anything. Getting off the boat was easy as pie, although waking up early to eat and leave kind of sucked.

One tip for potential cruisers regarding getting to MIA after the cruise: Take a rental car shuttle service to their lot and then move over to one of their shuttles to the airport. We did something similar to this (although we were with people who actually rented a car), and it was a marvelous trick to save a little cash. Cab fare, to my understanding, runs more than $40 from the seaport to MIA, and the transfers from RC were $30 a person. Alamo’s shuttle was free. 🙂