The Cruise, part 2

Our itinerary included four stops:  Roatan in the Honduras, Harvest Caye in Belize, Costa Maya in Mexico and Cozumel, Mexico.  We had the first day at sea and each of the four following days we stopped at a port, ending with another at sea day.  Three of the four ports were fairly pasteurized, ports created for the cruising industry.  Beautiful spots that did allow for excursions and sightseeing but nothing quite like the port in Cozumel.  This was at the city centre, you walked off the ship into the real lifestyle of the community.  For those who wanted authentic, then this was their stop.  Lots to see and do.

For those who didn’t care to sightsee, that was me this trip, the ship offered plenty to do onboard.  We even found a bowling alley.  There was something for everyone, movies everyday, live action game shows, dance lessons, yoga lessons, the whole gamut.  So if you were disappointed you had no one to blame but yourself!

For this vacation, I had decided to throw caution to the wind and live a little.  To try and break out of the humdrum that I have become and make my own fun.  I figured what better place to do it than on a ship with strangers you never have to see again!  I had packed my suitcase for just about any eventuality, took way too much stuff, and sadly needed little of it.  Unfortunately getting sick undermined my whole plan.  I think there is at least one lesson here – don’t put off to tomorrow what you can do today, life is unpredictable, nothing’s guaranteed, and so on.

Regardless, the sunshine was awesome.  Add some heat to that and it was super awesome.  As we settle into winter weather here in Canada it can be quite overcast and gloomy and the sunshine scarce.  It was a nice treat to spend a week with brilliant sunshine and the warmth of the sun’s rays on my skin.

The Cruise

This was my fourth time cruising.  All three previous cruises had been with Carnival.  The last one had been an unmitigated disaster on Carnival’s behalf and really was off putting.  Rather than let one rather lack lustre cruise line ruin the whole experience, we had decided to try a different cruise line.  We chose Norwegian.

Preferring to cruise out of Miami we were somewhat restricted in our selection, but no matter, we had decided on the Caribbean and selected the ship, the Getaway.  On paper and in brochures it looked lovely.  I was good for one more try at cruising as a vacation mode, having reasoned that Carnival was entry level, Norwegian had to be better.

I was a little concerned initially, Norwegian’s embarkation process was not smooth, it was disorganized.  It turned out that there was an equipment malfunction which made registration of patrons slow.  They weren’t good about communication in this regard, leaving us about ten minutes at the registration desk wondering if our little lady had gone on break.  Once that was sorted out it was upstairs to a waiting area.  Then once our number was called, onto the ship.

It was a pleasant surprise.  The ship is not quite three years old.  It sparkled, the windows were clear, the floors shone.  Clean was the first word to come into my mind.  Carnival’s ships always felt worn and tired without that clean sparkle.  So score one for Norwegian.  We couldn’t go to our cabin yet, so off for a bite to eat.  The buffet was enormous, but to get to it you had to go through a hand sanitizer station.  Mandatory and nice (not that it helped me unfortunately, but it definitely helped everyone else), to go near the food you had to have your hands spritzed. Certain stations were self serve, but others, particularly the ice cream station, were served out by a member of the staff.  No one touched the cones with their bare hands until it was handed to you.  This impressed me.

Then there was the overall layout of the ship – it felt spacious.  There was room between tables in the dining areas and spacious walkways around the ship.  Tons of stuff for kids to do, there was no need for them to be around the adult pool because there were water slides, a kids pool, lots of stuff.  For those not wanting the noise of the main adult pool they offered a quiet retreat one deck above.  I don’t want to sound like a brochure, but I was impressed.

The only problem, and it was annoying, seems to be poor administrative communication from head office.  Here’s how this looked for my group.  My sister had bought two on board credits prior to the cruise.  Two $100USD credits or $200USD.  She had brought her paperwork, she’d purchased the credits well before the cruise date.  They weren’t in her onboard account when she checked in.  We went to the client service desk and were told no problem sometimes it takes a day.  Give it time.  After a couple of days went by it was apparent it wasn’t going to show up.  We went to the service desk armed with the papers.  Apparently during the conversion process, a penny went missing.  Head office advised the ship’s customer service desk that my sister hadn’t bought $200, instead she had bought $199.99, she owed a penny before the funds could be transferred, but they were willing to write it off, and graciously put $200 USD in her onboard account.  Not good.

Second story – again with head office involvement.  My coworker was on the same cruise and it became a bit of a joke as the days passed as to whether or not her room key would be suspended for debts owing.  It had been a schmazel for them as well when registering to board the ship, and the clerk setting them up with their sign and sail cards had neglected to obtain a credit card to put against the account.  No worry they had prepaid everything -gratuities, alcohol package, dining package, stateroom, everything was paid. One would think.  Apparently, while the ship is docked at the port of Miami any alcohol served is subject to another tax that isn’t covered in the alcohol package – about 76 cents per drink.  My coworker had a drink or two.  The tax went on her onboard account, there was no credit card associated with it.  Her room key, which is the sail and sign card would be locked – which meant she couldn’t get into her room.  Anyway by day 3 or 4 I think they had it sorted out.

Would I travel Norwegian again, sure thing.  But I would be prepared to bring copies of every bit of supporting paper with me relating to what I had prepaid for the cruise since their administrative services are not as professional as one would expect. Would I travel Carnival again – not a hope.  The last trip on Carnival left me feeling like I’d been duped out of my money: substandard room, aging ship, poor onboard service, just disappointing.

 

 

What came first, the cold or the cruise?

So much to write about, but where to start?  Let’s start with the flu shot.  I had a cruise booked from November 12 to 19. Out of Miami, and miraculously none of the four ports we were scheduled to stop at had been decimated by hurricanes, typhoons or other acts of God.  What a lovely thought, kicking off winter going some place warm, but I had to get there first.  That meant exposure, germs, coughing, sneezing, slimey little bacteria lurking to nab an innocent victim.

It was a bit early for the flu shot, but I tracked it down – available at a local clinic.  The clinic was open for seniors and immune compromised individuals.  I spoke to my doctor to get in and get the shot, explaining my travel plans.  Fortunately she agreed with me, I needed the flu shot, my history indicated that I don’t travel well.  Three weeks before my cruise I was in and vaccinated.  Take that, evil germs!

I got the shot on a Friday after work, by that night I was feeling awful.  My shoulder really hurt.  The next morning, full of aches and pains I decided maybe I was one of the unlucky ones to experience a more severe reaction.  Oh, well better the suffering before the cruise than on the cruise.  By the next Monday, I was okay, felt a little under the weather but got through the week.  By the next weekend I felt awful again, body aches and pains, a headache, those normal seasonal things that working in a large office exposes one to.  By the end of the week heading into the cruise I was pumped, felt great.  Ready to go, confident that I had dealt with all the stuff that I now associated with that flu shot.  It was worth it to ensure I was in optimal shape for travelling.

Itinerary:  Friday – drive to Toronto and stay overnight at the airport, Saturday – depart Toronto to Miami where we’d overnight and on Sunday pick up the cruise.  A nice leisurely, stress free, relaxed approach to getting from point A to point B.  Not without risk of germs though, flying has always been the most likely place for me to pick up something.

I was travelling with my sisters – one was healthy, one was germy, also a significant risk for obvious reasons. No fear, I had my flu shot.  I was taking immune boosters, I was going into this trip feeling good, I had this.  Nope.  By Sunday night, the first night of the cruise I started to feel awful. By Tuesday I’d lost my sense of taste and couldn’t breathe.  By Thursday, I had my taste back but had started coughing.  By the time it got to the weekend I was dreaming, or was it hallucinating, about my brass bed and my bathtub. I just wanted to be home.

I always bring some supplies with me when I travel, but nothing touched this.  The ship’s store had no supplies to speak of, and the ports we stopped in had all sorts of available medication – but I didn’t know what I needed.  I had a friend on the same cruise with me.  Thank God!  Not only did she bring stuff, but she brought essential oils to use.  Unfortunately the cough, cold, flu whatever had gripped me too fast but at least I could knock myself out with sinus medication.

So here I sit, at home just writing about this now.  Why, because it didn’t end there.  I managed to go into work the Tuesday after I got back and squeaked out the week.  By last Friday I was in the throes of a high fever, aches and pains, extreme fatigue and nausea.  I decided to stay home Monday and heal, nope got worse.  Yesterday I visit the doctor.  A miracle really, because her office was actually closed, she was doing paperwork, but they squeezed a few people in, and I was one of the lucky ones.  The result – “No point in swabbing you now,” says the doctor, “You’ve had this for a bit.  It sounds like the flu, it’s here in the community, but something else is going on there.  Sinus infection.  And to be safe let’s get a chest X-ray while you’re here.  Yes, you’re contagious until the fever goes away and the cough stops.  Bed rest, I’ll call you when I get the x-ray back.”

Today, she called me about the x-ray.  Pneumonia.  Why not?

About the Cruise

The cruise last month was my third one in the past 12 months.  All three have been with Carnival.  Carnival is considered to be an entry level cruise line or so I am told.  Regardless of where they sit on the spectrum I have to say the food is stellar. Other things not so good.  Communication on board the ship has been an issue.  There’s nothing like travelling with your sister and having a honeymoon cake delivered to your dinner table complete with little chocolate hearts.  Or the towels made into little hearts on the bed.  The cabin steward didn’t believe me when I told her we weren’t a couple, we were sisters.  I got eyebrows raised in disbelief and a sympathetic smile suggesting I wasn’t ready to come out of the closet.

Ah, Carnival.  Lots of fodder to write about there.  The honeymoon mix up was only one of several things, but that’s to be expected I guess when you have 3000 guests in a confined space.  But on the cruise trying to get  cup of hot tea with milk became a personal challenge.  On one occasion a gentleman from an adjacent table, after watching me request the tea multiple times over a period of 20 minutes, finally ordered it for me from the same server. Guess what, it arrived in, oh, three minutes at most.  This wasn’t unique to one trip – I had the same problem for two out of three, hot tea apparently confounds them, as perhaps do women travelling alone.

I really don’t have anything to compare Carnival ‘s service to at this point, but I will by this time next year.  We have already booked a cruise with Norwegian for November of this year.  I think the intent is to always kick off the winter with a cruise (November) which is around the time of my sister’s birthday, and then kick out the winter blues with a cruise in February. Once I have put a little more distance from Kevin’s death in March 2015, I hope to find a way to go away that month too.  Our anniversary was the 24th and he died on the 29th.  It seems like a good idea to run away from reality that week.

Anyway, it will be interesting to compare the two cruise lines.  My understanding is that the staff to guest ratio is slightly better with Norwegian.  They also have a unique offering amongst all the lines – cabins for singles.  In a secure area, some with balconies – but geared to and priced for people travelling alone.  I haven’t booked one of these cabins since I am travelling with the sis, but who knows what the future holds, so it will be good to check it out. A bunch of us are planning on going – the more the merrier.

Invariably though I find I have a little weep when I am travelling.  It was Kevin’s passion to travel.  I doubt he would have had any interest in travelling by cruise ship, they are just too restrictive.  Even the food wouldn’t have been enough.  But it suits me fine, I am not the most adventurous and there’s plenty to do aboard the boat.  And there are lots of cruise lines.  I’ll just keep going as long as I have someone to travel with.

February and March – I need a strategy

I recognize that, quite likely for the rest of my life, I will need a strategy to get through these two months.

Last year, February of 2016, I went off for a cruise with my sister and, despite my reservations, I enjoyed myself.  So we decided to repeat the event again this year, extending the invitation to two more of my sisters to join us (bringing the count to four out of a potential five and a half – yes I have a half sister).  And they did join us. It was the first time in decades that just us sisters did anything together.  My two sisters live in Newfoundland and my other sister and I live in Ontario, so it is not exactly conducive to family outings.  It came together for us though; the weather was great, the sea was calm, the food on the cruise was amazing.  It was a good thing.

We had one small glitch to deal with in Miami Airport.  It could have cast a pall on the vacation but fortunately it just wasn’t important enough to let it.  We had booked rooms for the night at Miami International Airport – paid way too much for inferior accommodations, but the convenience was the deciding factor.  In the morning we went downstairs to eat at Margaritaville, a chain restaurant located immediately beside the hotel lobby in the airport.

Our server was churlish to say the least – she had a chip on her shoulder so big it was a wonder she could lift a tray.  She took her time coming to our table to take our orders.  She forgot a couple of items we ordered.  Refills on the coffee – you’re kidding me right?  Just a gem.  Anyway, the bill came for the meal – it was $60.  We put cash down of $65 and prepared to leave.

The server was quick to grab the bill.  She walked away and opened up the black plastic bill holder and then came steaming, yup, steaming back.  “That’s not enough!” she said and slammed the bill holder on the table.  She flipped the cover open and stabbed her finger at a line on the bill.  It’s a beaut – it says “Recommended gratuity 15% – $8.99.”  She was royally pissed at us and said, “You need to leave more tip.”  And then she stormed off leaving us and the bill at the table!   Are you kidding me?  That’ll do it, give us a yell lovey and then we’ll pay you more.  Needless to say she didn’t get her $8.99, she got her $5.  In hindsight we should have taken the tip away completely, but the reality is that servers in the US typically don’t have a great hourly wage and rely on their tips, but bullying the customers to get it defies comprehension.

That exchange was off-putting until we realized that we were leaving the place behind for a week of sunshine and laughter.  That bitter little server was stuck in a hell of her own making.  She’s not doing much for the reputation of the restaurant though.  I gotta think that if she treats the customers like that she’s probably a nightmare for the manager to deal with too. Regardless,  I’ll never eat at that chain again.