A Travellerspoint blog

Saturday, March 26, 2011 Turnaround day - Miami

sunny 23 °C

Well today is changeover day. The ship arrived in Miami in the very early morning hours while we were still sleeping. By daylight dock workers were loading and unloading fuel, food and other supplies. The forklifts were buzzing around the dock way below our balcony like a horde of buzzing bees. All of the supplies were laid out in a very orderly fashion in an open air shed the size of a medium sized parking lot. It is amazing how many supplies this floating city of 4200 passengers and crew go through in a week. The supplies were all packed in small containers or shrink wrapped on wooden pallets. The forklift trucks just pick up a whole container or pallet and drive it over onto a ramp leading into a large opening in the side of the ship where it is passed off to another forklift that is inside the ship which then moves the pallet of goods to the appropriate location inside the cargo bay of the ship on deck “0”. It is all very orderly but with lots of hustle and bustle and shouting of instructions back and forth.

Those who are ending their cruise today (80-90% of the passengers) were instructed to leave their packed luggage out in the corridor the night before keeping only their essentials and carry on items with them in their cabin on this their last night. The packed luggage which is left outside your cabin when you turn in for the night is given a special luggage tag with a number on it which corresponds with a luggage area on the pier where the luggage will be found when passengers disembark in the morning. During the night the crew will collect the luggage from the corridors and take it down to the cargo deck. On the cargo deck the luggage is sorted by tag numbers and loaded into large wheeled containers. Once we are tied up the large wheeled luggage containers are off loaded by forklifts and taken to each numbered luggage area where all of the luggage is unloaded from the carts and left for pick up by the passengers as we disembark. The logistics of unloading the 2800 passengers and their luggage, getting them through customs and immigration and then cleaning all the cabins and then loading the new 2800 passengers all within a five hour window is like a precision military maneuver. These folks have crowd control down to a fine art.

Since we are part of the roughly 10-20% of passengers who are staying on the ship for the second week we got to watch the organized chaos. Those of us who are staying on board for the second week have two options - get off the ship and explore Miami for the day or stay on the ship for the day. Either way we stay in our same cabins so no packing and unpacking is necessary. Those of us who decided to stay on the ship for the day still had to disembark to a special little area of the terminal directly connected to the gangway just long enough to clear US Customs & Immigration and then turn around and get right back on the ship. Seems a bit redundant but no one ever said Customs & Immigration was either organized or efficient and our experience today did nothing to dispel that perception.

Once back on the ship we had a complementary lunch in one of their specialty restaurants (a nice touch because they usually charge for these special restaurants) and spent much of our time sorting out things in the cabin and reading and relaxing. By late afternoon the usual excitement of a new crowd had taken over and everything was organized chaos as people got settled in and unpacked. Everywhere you went people looked dazed and confused as they got used to where everything is located on the ship. With 16 decks and over 1000 feet in length it takes several days for most people to get their bearings. Some people seem to be perpetually disoriented. Fortunately, outside every elevator and at every stairway there are large diagrams of the ship showing you where you are. One of the most confusing things even for an old sailor like David is which direction you are walking in – towards the bow or towards the stern. The ship is so large and there is very little sense of motion and unless you are in an open area you often can not see outside to determine which direction the ship is sailing in. The main bank of six glass walled elevators are located opposite each other at mid-ship and look into the great open atrium that extends from top to bottom of the ship. So when you get out of the elevator every time you have to decide do I need to turn left or right? Do I need to walk forward or aft? Generally speaking food facilities are located in the aft and the main theatre is located on decks four and five in the bow. Out cabin is located towards the bow and is on deck 8.
Miami Beach from the deck of the Eclipse

At 5:00 pm sharp we cast off from the Miami Cruiseport, as scheduled. The departure is always exciting as the ship has to pass out through a long narrow canal way leading from the inner harbour area out to the ocean front. The canal way is probably several kilometers long with the great long cruise docks and other cruise ships tied up on our starboard side and a major Miami causeway leading to the South Beach area on the port side. Also on our port side are a beautiful group of small (4 to 5 acres) residential islands in the Miami harbour and out towards the end of the canal way we pass beside the Miami Yacht Basin. At that point you can look northward and from our vantage point sixteen stories above the waterline you can look right down the trendy Miami South Beach strip. Just to the right of the South Beach strip is the famous Miami Beach with its row of high rise condos and pristine white beach bordering the blue blue ocean and stretching northwards as far as the eye can see. Once clear of the canal way the Harbour Pilot is let off the ship and we pick up speed as we head off for another week of fun and relaxation.

Posted by DavidandHazel 14:57 Archived in USA Comments (0)

March 25, 2011 At Sea heading to Miami

sunny 27 °C

Since casting off last night we are heading straight back to Miami. It is over 700 nautical miles so the captain has the pedal to the metal so to speak with our speed consistently over 20 knots. As usual the seas were calm and the skies clear.

This morning we went to the Corning Museum’s Hot Glass show. Yes, they have all the special equipment to create and blow glass. It was an excellent presentation. After the glass blowing session we headed off to one of the presentation theatres to hear a presentation on the ship’s engineering systems. It is fascinating to learn about the many amazing systems that keep this floating resort going all the while gliding through the ocean.

Most of the passengers are only on for one week of this cruise so they getting ready to disembark tomorrow, many of them are up on deck getting their last sunburn of the trip. It is quite amazing to see these hundreds of people lying out on chaises cooking in the sun all day long. By mid afternoon we were passing Cuba on our starboard side as we pressed on towards our goal of Miami where we will land around 7:00 am Saturday morning.

Posted by DavidandHazel 16:20 Comments (0)

March 24, 2011 Roatan Island, Honduras

sunny 27 °C

By 9:00 am we were once again stopped and tied up to the standard large concrete pier that most of these little ports have for the cruise ships. Today we are stopped in the small village of Coxen Hole on the island of Roatan. Rotan is a beautiful tropical Caribbean island with the contour of a gentle mountain ridge rising from the sea and stretching from the southwest to the northeast. It is the largest of the Bay Islands, which are a part of Honduras, lying just over 30 miles from the northern coast of the Honduran mainland. There are several towns with cruise ship facilities on this island and we were told that at least one of the others had a set up where the shopping area catered only to the cruise ships (as we had experienced yesterday in Costa Maya). The village also has a major airstrip that brings in the tourists including regular direct charters from Toronto. There are several large resorts on the other side of the island from the cruise ports.

We got off the ship and walked around town which is quite poor. The roads are narrow, crowded and broken down. Many of the houses are in the shack category. We saw lots of school children in various uniforms. The people were friendly and a little less aggressive (but not much) than we had experienced in Mexico. We struck up a conversation with a woman who was proprietor in a little local craft store who turned out to be a Canadian living down here. Her mission was to create opportunities for the local people to produce artifacts and to generate a little income for them.

Although Roatan is known around the world for its beautiful coral reefs, we did not take any excursions to snorkel today. After several hours walking around the village as well as the usual collection of craft shops at the cruise pier we wandered back to the ship for a late lunch.

Later in the afternoon we went to a shipboard demonstration of vegetable and fruit carving. There is a small town in the Philipines which is known for developing this talent in its people and the cruise line actively recruits there for all its ships. The man was amazing but very shy. He just came out and carved. Another chef came along and narrated. He also does the ice carving on board.

Tonight was one of two formal nights on this cruise so the ladies get to dress up in their finest. The gentlemen tend to wear suits or dinner jackets with the odd tux here and there. Although it is a bit of a pain to bring this extra set of clothes it is very nice to see everyone dressed up around the ship. On formal night the dinner is also a little fancier and tonight the menu featured lobster as well as many other wonderful items. After dinner the main stage show was a truly amazing Cirque type event which is one of the best we have seen on or off a slightly swaying ship. The late evening entertainment was the great house rock band playing 70’s and 80’s rock.

Posted by DavidandHazel 16:18 Archived in Honduras Comments (0)

March 23, 2011 Puerto Costa Maya, Mexico

sunny 28 °C

Once again we woke to the sound of the ship easing up to the pier. The Port of Costa Maya, located near the Mexico and Belize border is essentially a purpose built facility for the exclusive use of the various cruise lines. It is a new and modern tourist shopping mall. The center has a central plaza with saltwater pools and 'swim-up' style bars. There are several jewelry stores and many small shops selling ubiquitous souvenir items. Items are fairly costly by Mexican souvenir standards but the quality is usually good. We got off the ship and wandered around mostly looking for some unsecured Wi-fi – but found none. We picked up a few items and headed back to the ship to spend a leisurely afternoon reading in the sun. As is often the case the ship cast off around 5:30 pm and we got to watch the sun setting from the ships rail.

Dinner provided some very interesting table mates – an orthopedic surgeon originally from Israel (hard core right wing) and his gorgeous wife who had the US distributorship for some cosmetic process designed to eliminate fat. The third couple was from North Carolina with strong ties back to their home state of Kentucky. They even have box seats on the rail for the Kentucky Derby every year. He heads up the sales function for the US Southeast for Medtronics a major medical devices company. She was a middle school teacher. The dinner discussion was very lively as we quickly discovered that the Orthopedic Surgeon’s solution to most issues was to “deport them” or “shoot them.”

Tonight the main stage performance was a hilarious ventriloquist comedian. We almost didn’t go as it did not sound that interesting but he was very funny and the hour long show ended too soon. The late evening entertainment was the main house band and the house dancers with a motown evening on the main pool deck.

Posted by DavidandHazel 16:15 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

March 22, 2011 Cozumel

sunny 28 °C

We awoke this morning to see our ship easing its way into the port of Cozumel. By 8:45 we had the shore lines secured and Mexican customs officials had cleared the boat by 9:00. Cozumel is an island in the Caribbean Sea off the eastern coast of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula opposite Playa del Carmen and close to the Yucatan Channel. The island is about 48 km long and 16 km wide and is Mexico's largest Atlantic island. Cozumel is a flat island based on limestone. The highest natural point on the island is less than 15 m above sea level. Cenotes are deep water filled sinkholes formed by water percolating through the soft limestone during thousands of years.

As soon as the ship was cleared by the Mexican immigration officials around 9:00 am we disembarked as we had once again booked an early shore excursion. Today’s adventure involved driving a 2 person all terrain vehicle called Xrail buggy overland to the Jade Caverns system where there was also an opportunity to swim in the cavern. The buggies were fun but a handful to steer because there was no power steering and the trail was not much more than a bull dozed path through the jungle filled with deep ruts, large boulders and the odd stump – the guide referred to the ride as a “Mexican Massage”. It quickly became clear why we needed helmet, goggles and a four point race car style harness to hold you in the seat. The Xrails have an ATV powertrain and tractor like tires that will climb over almost anything.

The Jade Cavern was a cenote and many of our group elected to swim in the cavern although we did not. The water is fresh on the top, brackish further down and in the depths it is salty. These caves all ultimately connect to the sea. The top of the cave was all stalactites with many little bats darting around looking for bugs. We stopped at another cave system which was dry and loaded with fossils as it was an old coral reef thousands of years ago, while the guide provided a lot of information on the Mayan culture.

We were back on the ship by about 2:30 after wandering the shops along the pier. As is so typical in Mexico there are a lot of souvenir shops and a lot of people at the dock offering private tours as well. There also seemed to be a thriving business renting scooters which all looked pretty new and in good shape.

Once back on the ship we did a bit of reading as well as some exploring of the ship. This ship is very large and it takes a number of days of exploring before one begins to know where everything is. The open atrium at the centre of the ship extends up all the way up from Deck 3 to Deck 15. Around 7:00 pm we headed down to the beautiful Deck 4 dining area. We have selected open seating for dinner so can wander in when we please. The main theatre entertainment tonight was a great musical variety show put on by the in house singers and dancers. The smaller venues around the ship had the usual variety of musicians varying from jazz to classical to rock. All of the entertainment is excellent.

Posted by DavidandHazel 16:13 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

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