Our Boat

Caloosa Spirit

Catalina 42 mkII

Log #106 A Different Kind Of Cruising

Okay, so first the health update—once more with feeling. Let me just again say at the outset that I’m really sick of talking about this. And maybe this will be the last time for a while. Read on.

I’ve seen both my pulmonologist and my infectious disease docs this month. My current x-ray is stable (nothing new that’s cause for concern), my lungs sound clear, I’m not coughing and generally feeling fine, and I’m now off all lung disease meds. Yay!! I was getting increasingly concerned about hair loss and foot blisters, both of which seemed related to the current anti-fungal, but maybe now both issues will resolve themselves. My recuperation from surgery is almost complete in that I’m mostly pain-free and I have my energy back, but I still occasionally get strange needle-like pains in the surgery site. The pains are sporadic and fleeting, so they’re definitely manageable. Blessedly, I’m feeling almost normal.

I have another CT scan scheduled for mid-September just for further clarification. It seems that my insurance company has balked at so many CT scans, so that’s the reason for the recent x-rays. A scan, however, gives a clearer picture, so another one at this time seems prudent. Barring anything of concern that arises from that, I’m free from my docs until December.

Well, hopefully, anyway. A blood test shows that an antibody (IEG?) is highly elevated, and neither doc really knows why, although such a level may apparently be related to an allergic reaction of some kind. There was talk of sending me to an allergist, but due to my being presently symptom-free, that may get tabled. I have a lot of confidence in both docs, so, as I’ve done so far, I’ll just do what they tell me.

Enough of the health-speak. The “different kind of cruising” in the title of this log actually does refer to cruising—on the water, no less. As I mentioned at the end of the last log, we had booked a cruise—on a cruise ship—for our 40th wedding anniversary, 8/20/10. The whole trip was FABULOUS!! Now let me tell you why.

We started driving this morning at 6:30, planning to drive most of the day to make it to north Florida. We had no problems and stopped at around 9:00 PM in Lake City, FL, at a cheap motel. So far, so good.

Hoping to get to the Port Canaveral cruise ship dock at around noon, we left the motel at 8:30 AM. The drive continued to be hassle-free, and we pulled into the parking lot at exactly 12:00 PM.

From our research we expected the cruise ship terminal to be something akin to a flight terminal, complete with a security checkpoint and, hopefully, a food court. Boarding on the ship was scheduled for 1:30 PM, so we assumed we had time to kill. As we toted our carry-on luggage behind us (we didn’t need to check bags for three days, after all) we soon found ourselves in the security checkpoint line just inside the terminal entrance. In quick succession we went through the security arch, got our boarding passes at the check-in desk, and boarded the ship—all before 12:30. While our stateroom would not be ready for occupancy until 1:00 PM, lunch was being served in the Windjammer café on board Royal Caribbean’s Monarch of the Seas. Good deal! Especially since there was no food available in the terminal, and since all meals on board were included in the cruise fare. So we enjoyed a delicious and relaxing lunch as we gazed out at the port surroundings. A fellow passenger at a neighboring table even offered to take our picture.

First lunch
First lunch on board Monarch of the Seas

Monarch of the Seas
Monarch of the Seas

After lunch our stateroom (7550) was ready, so we dropped our luggage there before touring the ship. To our delight, the room was spacious, clean, and comfortable, with a view of the Promenade Deck and the sea beyond. To our further delight, we discovered that a bottle of wine, a fruit and cheese basket, a Royal Caribbean tote bag, and a coupon for a framed on-board portrait had been left in our room, all compliments of our enormously thoughtful children—“all four” of them. What a wonderful anniversary surprise!

Queen-sized bed
The luxuriously comfortable queen-sized bed

Dressing area
A very spacious dressing area, mirror, and closet

The bed was so comfortable we slept like babies every night. If I could have brought it home, I would have. There was plenty of storage and closet space (even including a safe for wallets and valuables), as well as a full-size bathroom with a shower that was significantly more spacious than a broom closet. This was true luxury.

One slight snafu that first afternoon occurred when I discovered that I had left my hat in the car. Jim graciously offered to retrieve it, knowing we had at least an hour before boarding would be closed prior to leaving port. I anxiously awaited his return in the Centrum area of the main deck, trying to enjoy the steel drum band, but fearful that I’d end up spending this anniversary cruise by myself! What if he got held up somewhere and couldn’t make it back in time? But Jim was back on board with 40 minutes to spare, so I was worrying needlessly.

The Centrum—these elevators travel through five decks

Before departure we toured the ship, learning our way around the various decks, dining areas, lounges, and pools. All the while we were agog that this five-star hotel actually floated, and would soon have us out on the open sea. When the ship finally departed at 4:30 PM we took our place at the rail to watch Port Canaveral fall off the stern.

Prior to sailing, however, we had to undergo what’s known as a “muster drill”—essentially a “the-ship-is-sinking-so-everyone-into-the-life-boats” drill. For 15-20 minutes virtually everyone on the ship—all 2000+ passengers and 800+ crew members—are gathered on one deck so that everyone knows where to go in an emergency. Needless to say, it was elbow-to-elbow time. But after that, for the rest of the cruise quiet privacy was really not that hard to come by in a variety of areas around the ship. Given our apprehensions because of our usual aversion to crowds, this was truly amazing and greatly appreciated.

At 5:45 we were dressed in our anniversary finery for our first world-class dining experience aboard. Unlike my mother-in-law and my daughter, I never remember exactly what I had to eat, but I’ll never forget the impeccable service and attention and the exceptional quality of the preparation and presentation. Photographers circulated through the dining room, and we ended up with an excellent photo, complete with our anniversary date.

Our 40th anniversary dinner photo

After dinner we made the rounds of some of the entertainment venues. Unfortunately, we missed out on some that we would have enjoyed, because we had accidentally picked up the wrong activities schedule. There was one for each day, and we got today’s mixed up with tomorrow’s. What we did see, however, was outstanding, and we looked forward to each evening’s offerings.

After a superb night’s sleep, we made our way to breakfast and then to the pool. As we walked the deck and looked out at the open sea, we were astonished to see the Gulf Stream as flat as glass—an experience quite different from our other Gulf Stream crossings.

Glassy sea
This is the Gulf Stream?

Pool deck
The pool deck with the 360-degree Viking Crown Lounge at the stern

At around 11:00 AM we began entering Nassau harbor. We couldn’t help remembering that it has been over seven years since we were there on Caloosa Spirit.

Entering Nassau
Entering Nassau harbor

Nassau lighthouse
Passing Nassau lighthouse

It took all of an hour to get the ship turned around and backed in to the dock—a much more complicated process than on Caloosa Spirit. Once the ship was situated, however, scores of passengers debarked for a day of port shopping and/or sight-seeing. Having visited Nassau and feeling no need to partake in the shoreside excursions, we took the opportunity to have the ship more-or-less to ourselves. Relaxation was the order of the day.

Relaxing on deck
A quiet corner on the upper pool deck

I also snapped some shots of some sights visible from the ship.


Conch fisherman
A local conch fisherman

Another cruise ship
Another cruise ship backing into the dock

Bahamian flag
A shopping bazaar right at the dock, and the Bahamian flag flying from the stern’s flagstaff

We were a little confused about the Bahamian flag on the aft flagstaff. That’s normally where the flag of the vessel’s home country flies, but it appeared that the Bahamian courtesy flag was being displayed there. Our understanding of cruising etiquette says that the courtesy flag of the visited country is to be flown amidships. Had we gone ashore (as we did the next day) we would have seen that Nassau is indeed the home port of the Monarch of the Seas, so the Bahamian flag was being appropriately displayed. For some reason, though, Nassau was the only port in which the flag was raised.

This day’s lunch brought another snafu, partially as a result of our first-time status and the cruise-ship learning curve. The dining room serves only breakfast and dinner, so lunch must be had at the Windjammer café—a buffet-only venue. The food there was good, varied, and plentiful, although not in the same class as the dining room offerings. Our mistake was in not selecting a table prior to starting our meander through the numerous buffet tables. At one point after picking up one more delectable-looking tidbit, I turned around and didn’t see Jim—anywhere. I stood for 5-10 minutes in the middle of the buffet area, fully expecting him to find me there. When that didn’t work I circulated through the seating areas, expecting to find him sitting somewhere waiting for me. Again, he was nowhere to be seen. Finally, with my food getting colder and my temper getting warmer, I decided to stand at a bar and eat by myself, continuing to search for some sign of Jim looking for me. By that time, my appetite had evaporated, so after a few half-hearted bites I left my plate and went to search the whole restaurant one more time. It had occurred to me by then that I couldn’t even get back into our stateroom to wait for him there, because I had left my key card in the pool bag that he was carrying. (Groan! Mistake number two!) And calling him on my cell phone wasn’t an option, because our phones had stopped working as soon as we left the U.S.

Well, on my third go-around of the circular restaurant (30 minutes after entering) I found Jim sitting at a table not far from where I had at one point started to sit myself. He thought that we had made an agreement about what area of the restaurant we would sit in, but when I missed him on my two previous circumnavigations, I assumed he had gone elsewhere. He was as non-plussed as I, wondering what had happened to me, and why I didn’t come to find him. He had even gone so far as to ask to have me paged. That request was denied, perhaps because losing one’s companion in the buffet area is something of a common occurrence. The whole predicament was apparently a case of both of us searching on opposite sides of the restaurant, managing to miss each other at every turn.

We learned our lesson—several, really. At no point for the rest of the cruise did I go anywhere without having my key card on my person. And from then on we were always careful to make agreements about where we would be, with designated meeting locations if necessary. It’s a very big ship, and it was conceivable that we might go through an entire day without finding one another, without prior consideration of our whereabouts. Such an event would have cast a black cloud over the whole cruise experience.

There was a note of humor related to all of this. At the pool the next day Jim walked away momentarily and told me to “stay right there.” A woman in a neighboring lounge chair overheard and questioned why he was being so dictatorial. I guess she thought he might have been excessively controlling, perhaps even abusive. I quickly told her of the previous day’s lunch snafu, and she found the story amusing. After all, what’s cruising without a good story to share over cocktails in some other port?

That evening brought another superb dinner and excellent entertainment. We heard a charming string duo (violin and guitar) playing easy listening selections and taking requests. Their musicality and expertise were outstanding. In a different lounge we found a jazz group, and in a third was a sing-along piano artist. In addition, we were treated to another marvelous performance in the on-board theater—a comedian with a puppet sidekick. They were both hilariously funny! It was quite apparent that the Monarch of the Seas is a magnet for high-quality talent.

Speaking of talent, we were treated to another form of talent when we returned to our room to dress for dinner. Staterooms are attended to twice daily. The bed is made up for the day, and then prepared for the night, and fresh towels are delivered for both morning and evening ablutions. Evening towels may appear on the bed folded into some creative shapes. This evening we found… we’ll just call him Bowser.

Bowser wearing Jim’s sunglasses

This morning we arose early—well, early for us anyway—at around 7:30 AM. The ship was due to anchor off Coco Cay, Royal Caribbean’s private island in the Berrys, at 8:00, and we wanted to watch the process. It was fascinating to watch someone else giving hand signals for dropping and setting the anchor, and to see the massive anchor chain controlled by a crewman at a two-foot-diameter braking wheel. Mammoth as the ship was, we could actually see it fall off the zephyr-like breeze to sit to the wind and anchor.

Finally anchored
Finally anchored—and I didn’t have to do anything!

After breakfast we boarded a launch for a quick ride to Coco Cay. The island doesn’t yet have any docking facilities for cruise ships, so the only way to shore is by tenders that carry approximately 100 passengers each. We found ourselves seated next to another couple who said that this was their 17th cruise, and they’ve only ever used Royal Caribbean. Each and every experience has been so positive, they’re afraid of being disappointed with any other cruise line. Quite a testimonial for RC!

Coco Cay launches
Launches to and from Coco Cay

Coco Cay is a private island, so nothing happens there that isn’t managed by Royal Caribbean. We again eschewed any organized excursions and set out to see the island on our own. Once away from the small harbor area we pretty much had the roads to ourselves. We even came across a very small cemetery, and found this captivating headstone.


We seriously doubted that this was where THE Blackbeard is buried, especially since this headstone is obviously not several hundred years old. But perhaps some local islander was once dubbed with the old pirate’s moniker and it stuck.

Just as we were able to find solitude on the ship, we also managed to find a quiet stretch of island beach that we could call our own for an hour or so. The water was warm and clear, and we delighted in whiling away the time.

Beach solitude
What a great spot!

Coco Cay beach
The sand and sea don’t get much better than this

Beach chairs and hammocks abounded on Coco Cay—many of them unoccupied—and we managed to find one for ourselves.

Hammock togetherness
Great togetherness

The ship provided a barbecue lunch on the island, and the ribs and chicken were oh-so-tasty. By then the clouds had been threatening rain and wind for an hour or so, so right after lunch we opted for an early return to the ship. We didn’t want to be competing for shelter should the skies open up.

Coco Cay clouds
Clouds over Coco Cay

But the dark clouds gave way to the sun at times. This is the tropics, after all.

Palm tree
Ahhh, the tropics

As it turned out, the rains never did come, but we got another relaxing afternoon by the pool before the rest of the throngs returned.

Alone on the ship
Alone—well, almost—on the ship

Another character was waiting for us upon our return to our stateroom after dinner. We’ll call this one Betty.

Betty Bat
Betty Bat

We had actually gone to a demonstration of towel folding earlier in the evening. It’s quite fascinating and really not that difficult—when you know how to do it, anyway. Both Bowser and Betty were constructed from just two towels—a bath towel and a wash cloth for Bowser, and a bath towel and a hand towel for Betty. Maybe I’ll try my hand at it with the instructions we got. From what we were told, all of the stateroom attendants must have some ability to create towel critters for their assigned staterooms. They get initial training in the art, and they are expected to develop their skills over time. Just one more example of the ultimate hospitality of the cruise line.

Another world-class song and dance show followed another sumptuous dinner. It occurred to us that we could easily have spent the cost of just the dinners and shows for the price of the entire cruise, especially in a more expensive city than Indianapolis. A cruise certainly seems to be an excellent combination of luxury and economy.

Dining room
Vincent’s Dining Room offers fabulous food and service

After two late evenings we decided to make this one an early one. (We’re 60-somethings, after all.) But before heading to one last night in our snug and restful bed, we spent an hour or so sitting on the fantail watching the full moon’s reflection in the ship’s wake. All by ourselves. That’s right—no one else wanted that spot at that time. That boggled our imagination, but we didn’t complain. It was a memorable way to end our cruise.

Sadly, we were back at Port Canaveral and back in our car before 9:00 AM. We were served breakfast in the Windjammer, and our departure from the ship went very smoothly. Even getting through customs was hassle-free. Of course, we had more to carry off the ship than we carried on, but that’s the way of cruises.

As we bid good-bye to the Monarch of the Seas, we took with us wonderful memories of our first cruise ship experience. We also came away with a sense that this is definitely an experience we want to repeat at another time. Getting away and being totally pampered, with no responsibilities for navigation, anchoring, weather-watching, or radio-monitoring, was a treat of magnificent proportion. We’ll be ready to get back to the responsibilities and freedoms associated with cruising on Caloosa Spirit in another few months, but big-ship cruising is certainly an appealing alternative. We’re so glad we did it!

Monarch sign
We’ll be back!

Fair winds and a faithful wake until next time,
Alice & Jim Rutherford
s/v Caloosa Spirit

Posted Monday August 30, 2010

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  1. Glad you had a great experience. Linda and I are looking into an Alaskan cruise for Aug. 2011. I had my doubts about this but base on your experience I’m ready to book passage.
    — Mark Winzenread    08/31/2010 07:44 AM    #
  2. Joanne and I are very happy to hear that Alice is doing fine and we continue to think about you guys and hope to meet up again somewhere in FL. possibly 2011.
    The pics look great and your description of your cruise gives us more insight about that type of cruising.
    Take care,
    Ray & Joanne
    Irwin 38’ CC
    Rock Hall, MD
    — Ray & Joanne Demyan    08/31/2010 08:54 AM    #
  3. Alice & Jim, So so glad that you’re feeling better and out living it up (the professional way) on the high seas. Totally enjoyed your cruise narrative. You are more dedicated to your lively writing than I have been of late. In fact, last week we returned from 3 1/2 weeks traveling around (mostly) Eastern Europe at our own pace – we had a wonderful and exciting trip. But funny coincidence, we started with a week’s river cruise on the Danube. Also our first (like you, never thought we’d enjoy the crowd scene.) Being a river boat and going thru locks and low bridges (some familiar moments to s/v Trinity), this ship carried only 146 passengers. So it was a good intro, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. We went on from there to Budapest, Krakow, and Prague. Learned a lot, walked a lot, came home to relax! Hmmm, with our oldest carrying twins, and baby showers happening, etc, not so much! But life is good. Anyway, hope to see you out there one of these days – we’ll be in port through late spring, enjoying our new granddaughter and grandson, God willing!
    Cheers,and stay well!
    Maureen and Dan O’Brien
    s/v Trinity; at home in Durham, NC
    — Maureen O'brien    09/01/2010 03:06 PM    #
  4. As soon as I get over my envy, I’d like to have lunch with you Somewhere closer-not as pleasant as RC but hopefully without trouble finding each other. :-)
    — Tom    09/23/2010 02:19 PM    #
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