There are some wonderful advantages to living in Florida besides the weather. No matter where you live, you are never more than a three hour drive to a cruise port. Going counter-clockwise south to north there’s Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Palm Beach (gets an occasional small ship), Port Canaveral and Jacksonville on the east coast. Turning west, you have Mobile, Alabama (for the Panhandle folks), then down to Tampa. Here at Port Canaveral we are fortunate to have a fabulous collection of cruise ships from which to choose. Last May, Royal Caribbean moved their floating behemoth, the Freedom of the Seas, from Miami to Port Canaveral. For me, it’s all too wonderfully convenient.
The Freedom of the Seas sails every Sunday afternoon at 4:30pm alternating an eastern or western Caribbean itinerary. I am cruising with my group of eight couples to the eastern Caribbean; CocoCay, Royal Caribbean’s private island in the Bahamas; St. Thomas and St. Maarten.
Boarding at Port Canaveral offers a very civilized pre-cruise experience. Parking is easy, the glassed terminals gleam with Florida sunshine and the embarkation staff is generally very friendly. I backed my car out of my driveway at 2:25pm and was on the ship by 3:20pm; not too shabby. My suitcase arrived almost immediately and shortly after muster, I was completely unpacked and settled in, right down to setting up my iPod docking station.
Speaking of muster, Royal Caribbean is trying something new: boat drill sans life jacket. Instead of walking from your stateroom with the agility of the Michelin Man and simultaneously trying not to trip over someone’s dangling life jacket strap, you can nimbly proceed to your muster station. The Pharoah’s Lounge was my muster station and it was great to be sitting down, jacketless, during the entire procedure. My traveling buddies were not so lucky, however, and still had to queue up outdoors on the deck in the sun. At least they didn’t have to stand there roasting in the life jackets. A good improvement, I must say. I’d guess that this will soon be the norm for all cruise line muster drills.
One of my own “drills” on a cruise is meeting my friends or clients for a pre-dinner cocktail. Tonight we would meet at Vintages on the Promenade. Vintages is the wine bar featuring a fabulous wine selection. We were treated with a plate of little snackies (brie, cheddar, grapes and breadsticks) to accompany our pinot noir.
The Galileo would be our assigned dining room for the week. Located on the fifth deck, the Galileo is the top level of the elegant three-story dining room. Our waiter, Arden and his assistant Jorge, introduced themselves and everyone at our table agreed that we had a good team to see us through the week. Choosing tonight’s fare was easy for all of us, including the waiter; onion tart (presented in a quiche-like slice, filled with crab meat and topped with julienned tomato), Caesar salad and prime rib, all the way around. One suggestion: since you can only order the prime rib two ways; very rare or medium rare, unless you like a truly bloody slice of meat, go for the medium rare. It’s a bit more than medium rare, but sure beats something mooing on your plate. However, the prime rib cut like butter, was nicely seasoned and a good-sized portion. Definitely a do-again.
After dinner, we all went our separate ways, only to all end up in the casino. After my last unsuccessful Vegas experience in August, I searched for the lowly nickel slot machines. In went my $20.00 and lo and behold, I won $160 on a $.25 spin. I love to walk away ahead of the game!
Tomorrow is CocoCay, Bahamas. Want to sound like a know-it-all? Pronounce “Cay” like “Key.” Royal Caribbean does a fabulous beach BBQ…worth the ten minute tender boat ride to the island.
Good night for Day One.