Friday, November 4, 2011

Cruise 2011: Day 1, Embarkment and Sail Away

We got a shuttle at 10:45am from the hotel to the port.  Getting close to the port we could see the very top of the ship.  It wasn't quite the dramatic entry as going into the Port of Miami, but actually by just being able to see a little of the ship, made us realize that she really is huge!  There were no other ships in the port this day for comparison.  If you want to see something interesting look at Ft. Lauderdale on Google Maps (satellite).  The airport is easy to find.  Our hotel was just south (two major roads), along the I95.  The port is east of the north end of the airport.  If you zoom in close, you can clearly see either the Oasis or the Allure.  It's the big one on the left, bow pointing south :)
We were brought up to a section of the parking lot at the north-west side of the building, where you can see angled parking spots in the Google map.  A bunch of people immediately sprang up, but then the driver got on the speaker.  Just before he did, the woman behind us told her young daughter (around 8 or 9) that there would be a lot of people and things going on and she'd have to be really patient for the next two hours.  The driver explained that first, all the luggage would be unloaded, then we would get off and find our luggage and give what ever we wanted "checked" to the porter, and keep out all our important stuff in our carry-on.  The woman behind us could see her carry on bag with all the luggage and started going on about not wanting it checked and where on earth is her other suitcase.  Then her daughter started about where is her backpack and she wants it to carry on....then the mother immediately freaks on the daughter and wouldn't let her say another word.  Argh.  She's an excited child, just picking up on her mother's cues!

We got off the bus, and got our suitcases.  We were checking 3 out of the 4.  We didn't have room tags though, as we didn't get our room assignment until Friday evening (more on that later!).  The porters were friendly and got the job done quickly.  We went into the terminal, followed the signs, stood in line, and were in the waiting area in less than 1/2 hour.  A few minutes later, we were heading to the gangway!  We were on the ship by 11:45, I think. 

I have  a lot of pictures to post of today, so I'm not going to include ones of specific areas of the ship right now.  In another post, I'll walk you through the ship and show pictures of each area.

We immediately headed up to Windjammer (the largest buffet on board, and usually the only thing open at boarding time).  This is what to do on any cruise, we've learned.  This time, it's on deck 16, which is one above the pools (the other two ships had it on deck 11 with the pools).  I had brought the deck plans from the cruise book, and we were given a little booklet when we checked in, but hadn't yet gotten an idea of where anything was.  The little booklet is great, when you spread it open on your bed, but not too handy as you're going up the elevator, LOL.  The Windjammer is just as expected, although now there are hand sanitizers everywhere on the ship.  They tend to dispense a little more than my girly hands needed, so be prepared to have some man hands nearby to drip onto :)
 A helicopter cozy!

We went outside to look around, then I remembered we needed to go to the box office right away.  We found out where it was at that moment (it's not a real structure, it's tables set up in a bar, staffed by the recreation staff).  We found the line, and joined it.  It was probably the longest line we dealt with all week (except for the flight home).  However, we were able to get seats to the two shows we hadn't been able to reserve pre-cruise.  Reserving seats pre-cruise is now offered on the Freedom and Oasis classes only, I think.  I remember getting on board with the first cruise, and seeing all the different events we wanted to schedule, and wished we could have known a bit more while still at home.  Even though we had the show schedule at home now, there were still many other events (and shows) that didn't need reserving, and still needed to be worked into the schedule. 
 For some reason, the sight of a machine gun made us smile.

We decided after that to go up and see where our room is.  I had heard that rooms wouldn't be open until 2pm, but it's not an "all at once" type of thing--if your room is ready, you're allowed in.  We were surprised to find at 1pm that not only was our room ready, our luggage was already there! 

After work on the Friday afternoon, Rob checked on line to see if we finally had our room assignment.  We finally had a room, on the 6th deck!  Not only that, but somehow, we had been upgraded to a balcony room!!  Every time we've booked a cruise, we toy with the idea of a balcony room, but don't want to pay the extra.  A balcony is about $200 extra, per person.  We always decided we'd rather use that money for an excursion.  After all, every one says you don't spend much time in your cabin.  Right?  Well.  On the first cruise, I was sick.  I spent a lot of time in the cabin.  On the second cruise, we had already experienced much of the ship, so we, uhhh...did spend some quality time in our cabin.  For views of the standard, inside cabin, check out the links on the left for "Cruise 2008".  The inside cabins on the Freedom class are 152sq ft.  On the Oasis class, they're 149sq ft while the room we got was 182 sq ft.  I'm not really sure how they made the smaller rooms so much smaller--smaller sofa, pushed right to the end of the wall.  The layout of the balcony room we had is slightly different than what they show on line and in the book--our bed was at the front, and the sofa next to the doors.  I think the room would feel bigger with the sofa near the door, and would make it a lot easier for using the closet.  Rob would get something out of the closet and sit down on the bed, making it impossible for me to get in the closet.
 Every few minutes, the weather looked different!

The first thing Rob wanted to check out was the lock on the sliding door.  He had read that it's easy to lock yourself out.  Indeed, it is.  Especially if it's windy; the door makes an irritating squeal, heard both in the room and on the balcony, unless left open a few inches (letting hot humid air into the cabin), or put in the lock position. 

We started unpacking, and discovered that our room had been booked by a Portuguese speaking couple that were Diamond members (we're Gold members).  You'd think after that many cruises they'd be in a suite.  Maybe they had upgraded themselves.  We never did get our own coupon books--the Guest services said they'd come to the room by the second night, but then we went back and they didn't have any left :(  We couldn't use the Platinum coupons as you have to provide your name and cabin number.  We did enjoy their Welcome Basket snack and robes though!
 Uhhh...are we headed towards that rain?!

After, we headed out to explore some more.  We toured the spa and some of the gym, then headed to the other end of the ship where the Boardwalk area is (all this was on our deck).  It's a nice area of the ship, although not really a relaxing zone--not a lot of seating, except in the AquaTheater. 

At 4:30pm there is a mandatory emergency drill.  On the other ships, you have to take the life jackets out of your room (see Cruise 2008 for pictures), put them on, and line up on the hot, outside, covered slightly, decks, with 100s of other people.  Even the year I was feeling good, I nearly fainted.  It was impossible then to hear all the info on the speakers.  This time, the life jackets are at your meeting place.  As you go there, you have to have your SeaPass card out, and the location is in big print.  You show it to staff standing everywhere with signs saying "Have SeaPass in hand" and they point you which way to go.  When you get to your location (for us, it was the ice rink, otherwise known as "Studio B"), you have to have your card scanned.  You don't have to put on life jacket!  But you sit down with about 350 other people and listen/watch the video.  In the event of an emergency, your leader will take you as a group to your lifeboat.  Ummm.  I know the odds are great that it'll never happen, but I don't really want to go deep into the ship, and wait to be led to the lifeboats!

After that, we headed back to our balcony to watch the send off.  Luckily, we were on the starboard side, and headed south, so we could watch the shoreline.  And watch the clouds.  Mmmm.  The weather wasn't looking so great.  We went out to Central Park to check it out.  It was probably our favourite area on ship.  Despite being mid-ship, and closed in on 4 sides, there was a nice breeze, and lots of places to just sit.  And sometimes some fun characters too!

Our dinner time was 8:30.  Would we get a table of 8 again?  Young people, old people, couples?  English speakers?  We have no idea how they group people.  We went into the dining room and wandered around the main area before asking someone.  There was no logic to the table numbering!  He took us off into a side room we never knew existed!  We were at a table for 4, and there was another young couple there.

Oh boy.  John was 30, a "chef", parent to a 7 year old boy, and married to Vanessa who was 23, about to get her masters in business degree, 10 weeks pregnant, Brazilian but born and raised in Utah.  Together though, there were from Florida, and boy, did John sound like it.  He had a Corona in front of him, and that's all he had until the after dinner shot, but I don't know how much he had in the pre-dinner hours!  He was a big talker.  Slightly repetitive though.  And I could barely understand 1/2 of what he said.  He was very friendly with the staff, almost too much so, for the first night.

Our waiter was Michael Miller, from Jamaica; his assistant was Andrew, also from Jamaica.  I have no idea what the head waiter's name was, but he was from Slovenia.  I don't remember what was on the menu for this night, but Rob and I had Black Angus sirloin (I think) from the "alternatives" menu (otherwise known as the "basic food for picky eaters").  As always, the food was excellent. 
John and Vanessa left without dessert, which of course we stayed for.  As soon as we got into the lobby though, we both cracked up and started laughing hysterically.  We had nothing in common with this couple, but they were quite entertaining (in a "were we ever that young and dumb" sort of way).

It's sort of like Cirque de Soleil.  The pool has a platform that can raise up and down.

We had to head up to the AquaTheater right away for the show, "OceanAria".  Ten minutes before show time they let in those without reservations, so you want to have your seat before then.  The Boardwalk seemed wet, and we think it must have rained during dinner.  The theater was already pretty full by the time we got there, at about 10:15.

 These guys below, are known as "Hand Balancers"

The show, "OceanAria" is a conceptual show--something about what life in Atlantis would be like.  This is a little hard for Rob to follow--he wants a real story.  I say, just watch it for what it is, not for the "plot".  It's an incredible show, choreographing springboard, platform, and extreme high divers, with trampoline, dance, "hand balancers", and airborne acrobatic artists.  Whew.  There's a lot going on at any time.  Pictures don't do it justice, especially when you're still new to your camera's functions (and do NOT use flashes during performances!).  I did find a ISO3200 setting on my camera which is probably the best option for dim light/fast action.

 Yes, that's a trampoline.

After the show, we went to bed.  There were still lots of other things to do on board, but we needed to chill a bit before going to sleep!
 See those people near the top right?  They go over to the platforms directly above the springboards (which are folded up and out of the way).  Then they dive off.  Crazy?  Wait for this next picture...
See the tall tower?  See the person at the top?  Yes, he dives off, and he's not the only one; there's a tower on both sides.  I'll have more pictures on other days to show just how crazy high this is.  These guys are called "Extreme divers".  Since everyone on board does multiple jobs, I wonder what else these guys do!

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