Friday, June 26, 2009

Cruise Day 8: Coming Home

When we booked our first cruise, it was about a month in advance. We were able to get direct flights both ways, and for the flight home we went standby and were actually able to get on an afternoon flight and get home early. This time we had about two months to book, but trying to get flights was dreadful! They were changing hourly! As written earlier, we had to fly down the afternoon before (which relieved some of Rob's anxiety, but created other issues to freak about, LOL). We were dreading the trip home though.

The ship docks very early, and if you want, you can disembark early and carry your luggage through security. No thanks. Based upon your flight departure time, Royal puts you into time slots to disembark. Our flight was 7:35pm. Yup. About 13 hours after docking. And, we were NOT in the last time slot! When we got down to the waiting area, they were about 45 minutes behind in disembarking...which is 3 time slots. They made up time quickly, but it wasn't well organized and there was some confusion and upset when two lines merged on the staircase.

We got into the terminal, and Rob immediately says our luggage isn't there and it's lost. They were still unloading the time slot before us! Finally it arrives...there was some panic because some of it came together, but one piece was missing...just like when we got on the ship and Rob had to wear sandals to dinner the first night. We got a taxi and headed to the airport.

We went to the United area because our tickets said "United Flight 1234". There was one clerk and the self-check in computer. People would use it, but then have to wait for the clerk to be free to weigh the suitcases and give the tags. Stupid. The people ahead of us were not English and were so confused. They tried the computer, but had trouble so they had to wait. Finally another clerk came out and told us to use the computer. We wanted a human! Unfortunately, we got him, and I'm not sure how human he was. Sorry to be stereotypical, but he was a typical swishy short gay man. Nothing against that, but it was just hard to keep a straight face.

We said we had a 7:35pm flight to Toronto and wanted to know if we could switch to an earlier flight. He said they're not flying to Toronto today. Yup. We show him the ticket. He says "That's not us". Yup. I ask "Well, what other airline is called United? and why does our ticket say this?" and perhaps a few other things. He steps back, swishes his hand under his chin, and says "I know where we're going and we're not going there". Yup. My first thought was he thought I was about to get American-Bitchy and I almost freaked, but then realized he actually meant, "we're not going to Toronto". He said he could fly us to Washington State, or Denver. Or, try Air Canada.

Huh? Our flight down had been an Air Canada/Ted by United combo, but it clearly said that on the ticket. Slightly enthused by the prospect of talking to Canadians, we trudged down to the very end of the terminal (actually, United and AC were fairly close) and got in the Air Canada line. What a difference. There were two or three humans, with smiles, the line moved quickly, the lady was nice and said "Yes, it's an Air Canada flight" and "No, the earlier flight is all booked; you can try stand-by, but I wouldn't". We asked if we could check our luggage yet, and she said not until 3 hours before the flight. There was a little shop down in E (or D?) section that stored luggage for a fee. Fine. We headed down there.

I'm standing looking at the shops, wondering which it was, when I realized it was just a little walk-up counter. I got a bit closer to read the pricing signs. I was trying to figure it out when I heard a little commotion behind me. Suddenly, someone grabbed my elbow!!

An old man turned me to him and said "The queue is back there, miss". People in the line were shouting at me to get to the end of the line! I yelled back "I'm just reading the sign!". They kept yelling at me as I tried to read the sign! I yelled back "I'll get at the back of the line AFTER I read to the sign to decide if I want to leave my luggage!". They kept yelling at me! So, we stepped aside. Now, truly, I hadn't even realized there was a line. We were standing off to the side behind the people at the counter. The line started about 10ft back from the counter, so that people were still walking along the concourse in front of the line. I had no intentions of jumping the line, and would have clued in as soon as the next person went ahead. While appreciative of the quiet way the old man let me know, I did not appreciate being grabbed. And the yelling! What was the point of that?!

We did go to the back of the line after a few minutes (we didn't want to give them the satisfaction of us going directly to the end of the line, LOL). The line barely moved. We waited. And waited, then decided maybe to just take our luggage. We started walking, not knowing where we were going to go, or what we were going to do. After a few minutes, we realized this was stupid and went back to the storage place. The line moved faster and we checked our luggage. You had to let them copy your passport and take your picture!

We headed outside and tried looking for a taxi. There were none. Somehow we realized we would have to go back downstairs to arrivals. There, the pseudo-cop flagged one down and asked where we wanted to go. We didn't know exactly, just a large mall, LOL. He told us we could take a shuttle for cheaper, to a particular mall. We just had to go back upstairs and down the way again....So much walking, and it wasn't even 10am. We got out to the shuttle stop and enjoyed the fresh air (as fresh as it can be outside an airport!). And guess who shows up---the yellers!! Apparently, they were NOT American!

We all got in the shuttle and were taken to a mall (don't remember it now). The door we went in was around the back sort of, and labelled "Tourist Entrance"! It was a standard mall. We walked around and got bored. Rob hates shopping. Our feet hurt. We were hungry. We went to the food court but it was mostly names we didn't know. We picked a fresh sub place (a tip jar on the counter? Never in Canada!) and it was okay. We picked up a couple things for the kids, and spent some time in a music store. Then we headed out the front into the outdoor cafe area and into Indigo Books. We browsed the big magazine section.

Suddenly, I needed to know the time. Shock! We had 5 minutes to run back through the mall to the other end and get the bus! We raced back and had a couple minutes to spare. The Yellers were also on the bus. Back at the airport, we headed back to the luggage storage. The Yellers were in front of us. What a big group! I saw them later waiting for a flight to Brussels.

We trudged all the way back to the Air Canada counter and checked our luggage, then headed for security. Slow moving. You end up in the food court, but nothing spoke to us. We wondered down the hall to our terminal and there was still nothing. Back the other way...nothing....back again, and we finally ended up at Quiznos. It was lovely. We were exhausted and still had 1 1/2 hours!!

We headed down to our gate and found some seats. It was really busy. We watched an elderly, high-class couple get wheeled in in wheelchairs. The boys left, and the couple promptly got up and walked to the bathroom, etc. The lady talked on the phone for a bit; useless social chit chat. Her lips were obviously fake. So was much of her attitude, LOL. Once in Toronto, they got the wheelchair treatment again.

We were so exhausted, it could have been midnight--once it's dark out, your brain thinks it's time for sleep. We finally boarded the flight and took off. It was neat to see Florida from the air at night. We had the seats with the little personal screens in front, so we could watch what we wanted. I would have loved a GPS channel so I could see what towns we were looking at. I took pictures, but really, they're not worth the time to download.

We arrived in Toronto around 11:30 and headed for our luggage. We thought it was already in, but turned out to be an earlier flight's luggage that had been delayed and the owners had all left before it came in. It took FOREVER for the luggage to start coming. Finally we got it all and headed for customs. We gave our passports to the young man, and he says "Lisa Marie...that's near Hansen Blvd? Near Lewis St and the park?" OMG. So nice to be home, LOL! He had a friend that lived on Lewis Street in our neighbourhood! We hopped on a shuttle to the parking, got the truck loaded, and headed north.

We had just come through Caledon, it was about 1:30am, and I noticed white on some things. Then, there was more, and more. We realized it was SNOW! By the time we got to Highway 9, everything was covered in several inches of heavy, wet snow! It was only Nov. 16 (or so, LOL). I hadn't gotten all the snow gear organized before we left! There was a basket of hats/mitts, but not boots or pants! We came in the house and Rob's mom was asleep on the couch, all their luggage packed, and Cooper asleep in front of her. He got up, came forward, and growled!!! We were shocked!!

We stayed up chatting for a bit, then went to bed and got up with the kids in the morning and sent them to school. Rob's parents went home, and it was back to reality!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Cruise Life

I know it's been over 6 months since I started posting about the cruise. A lot of things have happened in this time that I would have loved to blog about, but it's also made me re-think blogging a bit. While I love journaling, and miss it, for a lot of my life, I suppose a blog is just not the venue I should use. But, I am going to continue because it is great for sharing photos and kid stories, etc.
This post is about the cruise ship itself.

This is actually the first ship we went on, "The Liberty of the Seas" but I thought it was a good shot of the size of the ship compared to another cruise ship. It looked better though when I looked at it in my photo gallery, LOL. You can see just how high up "The Wall" is, that's the beige area in the middle of the top of the ship. Many of these photos are going to be from "The Liberty" but the "Freedom of the Seas" is exactly the same, although the artwork is different.
This the view as you lay in bed. Rob kept moving the silly coffee table in front of the couch. There is a full length mirror in the center of the photo which is reflecting the desk.

This is the bathroom. LOL. The showers are pretty cozy; if you are a larger person it might cause a problem. However, they have tankless hot water heaters, so you can stand in that tube all day long. The water pressure was awesome, although I still have sand stuck in the 'power netting' of my bathing suit.

The view from the hall door. It was a narrow fit, but surprisingly the closet on the right is spacious (not enough hangers), and the safe didn't work in our "Freedom" cabin. The desk had lots of room, the TV was okay, but our big issue was that there was no clock in the room. There was a curtain though so you could separate the bed from the rest of the cabin. So someone could sleep on the tiny couch?

On both ships, our dining table was in the middle floor, and in the 400 section, really close to each other. This is "The Liberty" dining room. We had a round table right at the railing. There was a couple from Ireland on their honeymoon, a single gal from Washington DC, her divorced friend who brought her 12 year old son; they were living in Georgia I think. Very nice boy, but he ordered a steak every single night!

This is the view looking over the railing as the wait staff did their little showcase song. There was some sort of 'entertainment' each night--some nights the kids from the children's programs did something, some nights it was live music, some nights the wait staff, and one night the chefs.

This was our group on "The Liberty", our waiter, on the left, was Noel from the Philippines; he had 6 kids. The guy on the right was the head waiter for our area (or the maitre d' ?). He was funny and nice, but really, doesn't actually do much but remember people's names. On "The Freedom" the head waiter was a bit less friendly, but one night one of the ladies said she just wanted plain cake with ice cream and strawberries, instead of the fancy desserts, and he made it happen. They were very accommodating this way. Rob had 3 lobsters one night!

This is the theater curtain on "The Liberty". The one on "The Freedom" was similar but more glitzy.

This was a piece of art on "The Liberty". For some reason I liked it, LOL.

This is a little vacuum they use. How could you not smile at seeing that in the morning? One thing I didn't clue into until near the end of the second trip, was that the carpeting in the two ship-length hallways were different colours. Port was one colour and starboard was another colour. Of course, I couldn't remember which was which anyway, LOL. Also, we heard/read how to remember which side of the boat your life station is on...if you're facing the front of the boat, odd numbers were on one side, evens on the other. Of course, I couldn't really remember that either. On "The Liberty" our stateroom was in an inside cabin, and I mean, really inside. When it was time for the life drill on the first afternoon, we couldn't make sense of the little map on our door because we hadn't been on the ship long enough to get familiar with it. After the drill, someone opened a door, and we all just followed the crowd--right into the dining room getting ready for dinner. We didn't even know how to get out of the dining room and the staff was going nuts trying to stop more people from coming in and getting us out, LOL. On "The Freedom" our cabin was also an inside cabin, but on the exterior corridor (I don't think there were any interior corridors on that deck). It made things a LOT easier, except that floor, and the one above it, had the ice rink in the middle, and you couldn't travel from one end to the other end of the ship. You had to go up to deck four and go through the smokey casino, or we'd just go outside and walk the open deck to the other end, LOL.

"The Wall" is one of the highlights of this class of ships. It's huge, and up on the top decks, so very high above the water. We were really looking forward to trying it on "The Liberty" but were a little discouraged at trying to find the right time slot. Finally, on the last sea day (we thought we were going to do it every day!), we had our turn. Despite how sick I was, I was determined to climb it.

I climbed right to the top! It was very hard. Now, I love hiking, and I love mountain/hill climbing, but I had never rock climbed. It was harder than I thought it'd be, and we had a beginner route (but maybe a shorter wall would have been better? LOL). The parts were it juts out and you have to lift yourself up and out and over were killer. I kept pausing, and I'd feel the guy tug on the ropes and I didn't know if he was telling me to come down or hurry up, but I kept going up! I don't know how long it took me, but it felt like forever, and was over way too soon. I felt like jelly afterwards, on an incredibly high feeling. Rob climbed it before me, and he wanted to get to the top because the woman before him did it, and I kept going because he had made it to the top too. LOL.

That's Rob climbing. On our "Freedom" trip, we had planned to do the wall again, but once we were there, we just didn't feel the need. We spent more time enjoying each other (!) and relaxing instead. Plus, I was worried I wouldn't be able to do it again. Despite being so sick the first time, I was in great shape, thanks to babywearing. I had stopped babywearing at the end of June, 2008, when school ended and Meg was over 35lbs. Even though I was still walking lots that fall, I did not feel nearly as strong as I had the year before. I had started babywearing when she was born, solely for the convenience of not needing a stroller to get Huey to school in the winter. I knew about the attachment parenting aspect of it, but the fitness rewards came as a big surprise!

This is the Royal Promenade; the "Main Street" of the Royal Caribbean ships. There are shops, services, and food spots along here. Some were 24 hours, some were not; some were free, some were not. The rooms that look down on to The Promenade can not open their windows, but it must still be noisy and bright. And those rooms were a little bit smaller than our room!

Someone at dinner one night mentioned they wouldn't want to have a cabin under a pool. Well...the Royal Promenade is under all the pools!!!

This is "The Solarium"; the adult only pool. However, it wasn't an adult-only area as it wasn't closed off completely. The little bit of the dome you can see on the left is one of the hot tubs that is cantilevered off the side of the ship. The hot tubs and pools were not 24 hours.

This is the sport pools area. They would adjust the water level for different events. This is where I filmed Rob when the ship was rocking enough to make the waves. There is no 'shallow' end...there is the edge where it's a few inches deep, then it goes right to about 3 1/2 ft deep and gets deeper from there. The temperature of all the pools varied every day, but the Solarium (adult pool) seemed to be the coldest. And I mean, cold! At the far end of the pool decking, in the middle, is the 'stage'. The music was good, but way too loud. We could hear it fine down the deck in the Solarium!

Another shot of the sports pools. I was standing above the Pool Bar in the other photo.

Mini gold was something we did right away on the first trip, and then several more times. While we were still in port, it was very windy! The course was actually quite challenging, but I did get a hole in one. On the second trip, I don't think we did it even once!

Here's the Flowrider. Again, we thought we'd try this, but after seeing people wipe out (search YouTube!), we thought perhaps we'd stick to the hot tubs. If there wasn't a crowd, I might have tried.

These two shots are of the H2O Zone on the "Liberty"; a kids water play area. The hot tubs on the left were great for me because I could sit and not drown, LOL.

The round area on the right is a 'make your own' whirlpool.

These next three pictures were taken on "The Freedom", from the round windowed area up top in the first of the two H2O Zone pictures. That area is "Olive & Twist" a lounge with separate game/meeting rooms. We never went there on the first trip, or the chapel, but we checked it out the second time. We had planned to go hear some live music there, but it just gets too late at night!

The "Olive and Twist" lounge is sort of above "Windjammer Cafe" which opens to the H2O Zone. If you keep going, you come to the Sports Pools (The stage is just on the other side of the wall that says "H2O Zone". Keep going past the sports pools and you come to the Solarium. Go back inside past that and it's the health club.
And there you have it; what it's like to be in a cruise ship. You'd think 3600 people is a lot, but it's funny how you keep seeing the same people over and over again. Things did get a little crowded on sea days, but we found the best time to use the pool was around 4pm, when families left to get ready for dinner. We'd stay in the pool area and watch the sunset (never any good ones though), then head back inside for a snack and to rest up (LOL) for dinner. The events on the Promenade were a little crowded, so we didn't really do any the second time--watched from the TV in our cabin.
So, I still have to post about the day we came home. Not a lot of pictures for that day, but a couple crazy stories!!