My perfect vacation

Sometimes you might wonder where I get my ideas. I am a walker. Each week I try and take at least two walks of more than six miles and while I am walking (takes me about two hours), I am thinking about what I want to write. On my last walk, this came to me. It is dedicated to all my readers who don’t or haven’t taken a cruise and don’t understand why anyone would cruise.

The Perfect Vacation Day

Imagine the following vacation day. It is my idea of a perfect vacation day. It’s not the day we fly in from somewhere, it’s just a typical day in the middle of a vacation. Maybe we are in NYC, Amsterdam or Barcelona.

Somewhere between 6:30 and 7:00 I wake up. Kathleen is still sleeping so I dress quietly in the dark and sneak out of our hotel room to go work out at the the fully-equipped gym in the hotel. Lots of bikes, weights, treadmills as well as fitness classes I could take. (I know some of my readers are thinking I am nuts, but I said this was MY perfect vacation day.) After I finish my workout I head back to our hotel room where Kathleen has risen and gotten ready for our day. I quickly do the same and we are off to breakfast.

For breakfast we have a bunch of choices. We can just go and get a latte and a piece of pastry, we can go to the hotel breakfast buffet or we can go to the hotel’s sit down restaurant and be served pretty much whatever we want. They have a fairly extensive menu. The food is good and we probably eat too much.

Then it is off to see the sites. We might walk around the city, we might take a tour—probably a food tour since we love those—or we might decide that we have had enough touring and just go and sit by the hotel pool (OK, not likely for us) or in a nice spot in the lobby area and read or I could write another post or work on processing photos from previous day tours or we could play a game with new friends we made the night before at dinner. Maybe Kathleen would head to the spa for a manicure. You never know.

If we decided to leave the hotel, around lunchtime we might find a quaint little restaurant in the town or city we are in and have lunch. We have done this many times before. We have found an awesome crêpes place in Eze, France, a wonderful Italian trattoria in Sienna, Italy and a brewery with spruce-tip beer and fantastic chili in Skagway, Alaska. But if we decided to stay at the hotel that day, we have the same choices as breakfast—the hotel buffet or a sit down restaurant. Or there is a really great burger place and maybe a few more spots to choose from. All are priced well and we eat for next to nothing.

DSC_0112

After lunch it’s more touring or more relaxing depending on what we decided to do. Around 4:00 pm if we are touring we decide to head back to the hotel and get ready for cocktails and dinner. Since we love to meet people, we change and head out to a hotel bar or maybe one nearby. The hotel has more than 10 different lounges and we are certain we will find something we like in one of them. When we are sipping and nibbling, we meet some folks from another state or another country. We are feeling great because we are all on vacation so we strike up a conversation. We find out about their travels and they find out about ours. We discuss their grandkids and swap photos. We talk about our kids and they tell us about theirs. We never talk politics or religion. Too dangerous.

IMG_3312

An hour or so later we head off to dinner. All those same options are open to us again (hotel buffet, sit down restaurant and lots of other slightly more expensive choices) and we choose the sit down restaurant. Because we have been there the night before (and maybe the night before that) the waiter knows us by name. He knows what we like to drink and it is already at the table.

IMG_3323

The menu is pretty good and we can have a full, three course meal. In fact if we want a four course meal or a five course meal, the waiter says he will be happy to bring us anything else on the menu we like. One night I am decadent and order both the shrimp cocktail and the escargot. We meet other people seated near us and talk and again discuss the same type of topics, sharing our lives. Over the years as we have traveled from hotel to hotel we have met lots of people this way. Many have become life-long friends. When it comes time to order the dessert, I ask the waiter if he can bring us one of every dessert on the menu and let us try everything with our new friends. He says, “Of  course sir,” and is back in a flash with something for everyone to try. He also tells us that if we like one particular dessert, he can bring us an entire one for ourselves.

Then it’s off to a show. We might see a show as good as one we have seen on Broadway, a Cirque de Soleil style performance, a jazz quartet or maybe just a comedian who cracks us up. But no matter what, the hotels lets us see these shows for free.

After the show we wander over to that lounge for a drink and to watch some of our new friends who are ballroom dancing. They finish and join us for a drink and then we all head off to our rooms in the hotel where a full turn-down service has been performed just like in any other five-star hotel. There’s a mint on our pillows and we are beat after our long but rewarding day. We are quickly asleep.

The next morning we wake up and open the drapes out to our hotel balcony and we are shocked (not really) to find that somehow our hotel has magically been transported to another of our favorite cities and we get to do the entire day all over again with new experiences and new places to see. We are a little sad because we had a few more things we wanted to do in the city we were in yesterday so we plan to come back and stay longer.

Here’s my favorite part of all this. If everything is perfect, our total cost for this vacation at this magical hotel is less than $250 day for both of us. Depending on the time of year (if we can travel off-season) it might be less. Remember I said this was my fantasy that I thought of while walking. But see, it really isn’t a fantasy. We have taken this same trip 28 times already and we plan to take it whole bunch more. This is a cruise and our hotel just happens to move most of the nights we are onboard while we are enjoying those shows and then sleeping.

That’s why we cruise. You should try it. If you are reading this, you probably already have but feel free to show this to all your friends who think you are crazy to cruise. Then tell them to join you on your next one.

I learned a long time ago that trying to micromanage the perfect vacation is always a disaster. That leads to terrible times.—Anthony Bourdain

 

Day 1 and Day 2 of Allure of the Seas-at sea

Day 1 Pano
A small pano from the top of the ship

Fully realizing that I promised you some daily updates, I have already missed a day so here goes. A little touch of Allure of the Seas for you.

We left Mike’s house early Sunday morning and got about a quarter mile away when Mike texted and then called us to let us know I had forgotten my bag with my camera and computer in it. This is laughable since my biggest screw up in traveling was leaving that same bag in a rental car the last time we sailed from Fort Lauderdale. After retrieving it from Mike’s (and we were so glad he saw it before we got all the way down to the port…and gave us curbside service for pickupthanks Mike) we had an uneventful trip to the airport where we dropped the car and took a cab to the cruise port. If you have not sailed from Fort Lauderdale the airport is about a 10 minute cab ride from the cruise port so this was really easy.

Embarkation (unlike our departure on Ovation in Seattle in July) was beyond easy. We had filled in everything in advance including uploading our photos. Once we arrived at the line where we would normally have presented credit cards, boarding pass, etc. our passports were checked and we were released to the waiting area for boarding. We found our fearless leader Nate (who would be teaching our classes —I am writing this while he is teaching right now) and after a short wait we were onboard and gone. With Royal, you no longer get your seapass card before boarding. You find it later outside outside your stateroom.

Once on board we raced to our conference room on deck 3 to drop off our carry-on bags and then we raced to the other end of the ship to deck 17 (the top) to see some suites before the folks in those suites got there. If you want to see how the other half lives on board, I have included some of the suite pictures below as well as the staterooms for the rest of us. I also added some pics I took from the ship leaving Fort Lauderdale as well.

After we were done touring the staterooms, we were free until that night. Kathleen and I went to find someplace to eat lunch. Eating lunch on embarkation day is always a challenge. Most people’s first meal on a ship is in the buffet because that’s all they know. We asked our instructor for recommendations and he suggested Park Cafe in the Central Park area on Deck 8. It is one of a handful of complimentary restaurants available during embarkation. It was crowded but we were able to get in and grab a sandwich before we headed off to sit and wait for our cabins to be ready.

I want to make a point here that this is a BIG ship. We were told in class today that there are more than 6,000 passengers on board including more than 900 kids (I want to know how are they getting out of school in October???). This means that this is a very crowded cruise. And you can really see it on embarkation day before the staterooms are ready. That hour or so between the end of lunch and 1:30 when the announcement is made that staterooms have been released is very crowded. We ended up sitting in a bar (not drinking), just sitting on the Grand Promenade for about half an hour before we heard that announcement that staterooms were ready.

They finally made that announcement and we were off to our stateroom (10653) on deck 10, midships. Our stateroom is very nice but not in the same ballpark as the one we were in on Ovation of the Seas in July. This is a fairly old ship and the stateroom looks like it. I have pics below. We hung out in the stateroom until the muster drill which took place at 4:00 pm. This is a mandatory drill and our advice is that if you have a hard time standing for an hour, get to your muster station (ours was in the champagne bar) really early and get a seat. Otherwise you will be standing through the entire, boring exercise.

After the drill we went back to our stateroom and as we were walking up to it, Kathleen looked way down the corridor and said, “That looks like our luggage.” Sure enough it was. We wonder how long it would have taken them to get it down to our room. We grabbed them and got them in ourselves and unpacked. That’s the BEST part of cruising—visiting multiple countries and cities and only having to unpack once. We hate living out of a suitcase.

After unpacking, we were invited (by Nate) to a sail-away party on deck 17 but I went up to take some pics as we sailed out, and it started pouring rain. So I took a couple of pics and headed back to our stateroom to change for our cocktail party. That cocktail party was a private event just for our group of around 30 Expedia Cruise Ship Center travel agents from the USA and Canada. It was very nice and we went from there to dinner at 8:00. We don’t usually have late seating (as our friends Paul and Gail will testify to) but the entire group was signed up at 8:00 so we eat at 8:00. Had a nice dinner and had a chance to talk travel with a lot of great agents from all over Canada and the USA. A really great networking experience.

Day two was a day of classes. We started early and had classes from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm. We enjoyed the classes but the rooms were freezing which gave Kathleen a migraine. They run the AC way too cold. Then drinks in the Diamond Club (we get access to the RCL loyalty club because of our status on their sister cruise line Celebrity) and dinner at 8:00 with Kathy and Cheryl from Wisconsin who were some of the few not at a show.

Speaking of shows, we then headed to the 9:30 pm performance of Mama Mia. It was a GREAT performance and we really enjoyed it. I wish I could have taken photos to show you what it was like but they were adamant that no photos or videos could be taken. I learned today from the Cruise Director that they used to have no problem with people taking photos but two reps from the company that licenses the production to Royal were on board and saw people taking pics and warned the ship that if it continued they would pull the rights to the play and they would no longer be able to perform it and that would be a shame as it was easily as good as the one we saw at the Paramount in Seattle and certainly better than the Mama Mia movie because Pierce Brosnan didn’t sing in it 😜.

That ended day two and with that I will conclude. Tomorrow we have more classes and hopefully the water show in the evening. Then St. Kits. I think I will hold off and not post again until after we visit there.

 

What’s the most fetching thing that provokes people? A volcano? Fountains that dance? A pirate ship that sinks? Some other animated device or presentation? Is that as strong as mystery? Allure, intrigue, is much more powerful… It taunts you.—Steve Wynn

Last day in South Florida

Morikami Pano
A panoramic photo of the Morikami Gardens

Just a quick post with some photos before breakfast. We will be boarding Allure of the Seas at 10:30 am and I am writing this in Mike’s family room at 6:30 while Kathleen is getting ready to go.

Yesterday was a really great and relaxing day. Mike does volunteer work at the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens where he is an information specialist (a fancy name I am giving him for the guy who sits at a desk by the entrance and answers questions). The gardens are beautiful and the weather cooperated while we were there.  Big, fluffy clouds on a nice blue sky let me take some great pics while we toured.

After Morikami we headed north on Highway 1 along the coast. We drove by the infamous Mar-A-Lago Country Club (that you-know-who owns) and then a little further before we stopped at Benny’s on the Beach (a really cool restaurant on a pier perched over the Atlantic) for a delicious lunch. After that it was north to Palm Beach where we stopped to buy some postcards (yes, we still send those—I’m very retro, 😀 so sue me) to send to the grandkids and other friends and relatives. Speaking of retro, we got the postcards at a little drugstore that Mike had been to before that was a total throw-back. Even had a little luncheonette. Reminded me of an old Woolworth’s.

Then it was back to Mike’s where we watched a little college football until Mike’s neighbors Barb and Hans came over to see us. We had sailed with Barbara and Hans on a two week South East Asia cruise from Singapore to Hong Kong (one of our favorites) in 2010. It was great to see them. We always have a lot to talk about. Then it was dinner out at a Cuban-American restaurant and that was it—a really nice day.

Here are the pics I promised you and you will get our first report on Allure either later tonight or tomorrow.

It doesn’t matter how much I think I know about Florida, it still flips me on the head every time. It’s just an absurd, eclectic place, and the stories that can come out of that place just never stop.—Matt Passmore

Welcome to JKTravelRedmond.com

IMG_2094For my regular readers, sorry to use the same photo again but I am expecting at least a few new readers today when Adventures Await runs at 4:00 on KOMO Radio. (If you would like to listen, click here).

To everyone else, especially all the new folks I hope will stop by, WELCOME! It’s great to have you here. If you dropped by to see the list of apps that Seth and I talked about, then you can click HERE to see the full list of apps.

Then if you are new here (or even if you aren’t), I invite you to click on the About Us link above to meet Kathleen (she’s K of JK) and I. Full disclosure: when you read that you will find that besides writing about travel, and talking to Seth about travel, Kathleen and I are travel agents with Expedia Cruise Ship Centers in Redmond. I am proud to be Seth’s personal travel agent as well. If you are interested in us helping you travel, check the Contact page and drop us a note.

If you would like to read about the places we have been, I usually create an entire website about each trip from before I started writing this blog. You can find that, as well as a lot more, at our personal website that you can get to by clicking here.

If you love talking about travel as Kathleen and I do, we would love to have you subscribe and come back. You can subscribe on the right of this page. I try to post once or twice a week so I don’t overwhelm you but I will warn you that when we travel, I pretty much post every day. (Expect that the October 3-13 as we head to Fort Lauderdale to sail on Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas.) For instance, if you click here you will see the story of our most recent big trip to Scotland, England, Ireland and Iceland in June 2019 and if you click here you can see our full report on our July cruise to Alaska with our grandkids on Ovation of the Seas.

Lastly, if you have another travel app you love, please tell me about it in the comments. If Seth and I do another show about apps, I promise to give you full credit if I love the app.

No one is perfect, and criticism is always welcome and expected.—Amitabh Bachchan

On the radio…talking travel…again

IMG_2094This afternoon Kathleen and I headed into downtown Seattle to KOMO radio where we met up with our good friend and KOMO-TV weather guy and KOMO radio travel expert Seth Wayne. A year ago today we were getting off Explorer of the Seas after celebrating his 40th birthday with 61 of his closest friends (which we are proud to be part of) so it was only fitting we meet up with him today to talk travel.

Seth does a weekly travel radio show on KOMO radio that you can listen to by clicking here at 4:00 any Sunday. It is also available via Tune-In by asking Alexa to “play KOMO Radio 1000.” She will grab the show for you from Tune-In.

Seth tapes the show earlier in the week and sometimes tapes more than one to be broadcast when he is traveling. Today was a day like that. We taped two shows, one on apps for travelers and the other on general travel topics (how to pick the right cruise, travel insurance, having a passport) and we had a great time doing it.

Tentatively the apps for travel show will air this Sunday, September 22nd at 4:00 on KOMO radio and the general travel show at the same time on October 12. I would love to have you tune in for either of them. I would also love to tell you that they would both be available as podcasts but that would be wrong since the people who do the podcasts at the station are kind of slow adding the shows…like a year behind. But never fear, if you are doing something else on Sunday (like watching the end of the Seahawks game) I will endeavor to tape it and put it online for you next week.

In the meantime, I promised on the air that I would put the list of apps we talked about as well as the ones we didn’t get to on this site. So if you click here you can go to the page where those apps are listed. Some will have links that you can go right to the app when I can find them. Otherwise, just search the App Store of your favorite phone or tablet.

I like to discover new things, and I’m always testing new apps. –Francois-Henri Pinault

 

20 Years—we can’t believe it

IMG_2067Can’t believe it. Today Kathleen and I are celebrating 20 years of marriage by taking a two day trip to Vancouver, BC. We have visited here many times in those 20 years as it is one of our favorite cities. We were here last in 2017 with our British buddies Paul and Gail. Before that my brother Steve, his wonderful wife Jamie and our niece Cassie were here in 2015. We used to come here a lot more often before 2006 when we switched out British Columbia focus from Vancouver to Chilliwack because we always had so much more fun with Bob and Judy.

We drove up yesterday (Tuesday) and had a wonderful dinner at Edible Canada on Granville Island and then saw an improv show at Vancouver TheatreSports League (VTSL). We have been going to VTSL for almost as long as we have been married. It’s an awesome improv spot that has in its founding members Colin Mochrie and Ryan Stiles of Whose Line Is It Anyway? The show was outstanding. We laughed our asses off.

This morning I went out for one of my early morning photo walks. I have done a bunch in Vancouver and it never disappoints. Saw a couple of cruise ships (one Princess and one Holland America’s Volendam) and thousands of teenage girls line up at 5:45 am for a huge warehouse sale. Just crazy.

After breakfast at our hotel (the Wedgewood—where we have never stayed but we LOVE it) we went to see the Vancouver Aquarium. We can’t believe we have come to YVR so many times and never seen it. It is truly amazing. Then it was a nice drive around the Stanley Park, stopped at Prospect Point to take pictures of the Lions Gate Bridge and have lunch at a superb little bar and grille place there.

Back to our room so I could process photos and take a short nap (we are kind of old, you know) and then dinner at one of our favorite restaurants in the world, CinCin. We have had so many great dinners there since we first went with some of our Martini Mates back in 2005. Tonight was no exception. Truly wonderful Italian food and wine.

More tomorrow when I plan to walk the sea wall all the way around Stanley Park as my early morning photo walk, but in the meantime, here’s some pics I really like from today’s walk and our visit to the Aquarium.

The secret of a happy marriage is finding the right person. You know they’re right if you love to be with them all the time. —Julia Child

Day 7: Victoria, BC–almost home

The last day full day of this cruise we stopped for a full day in Victoria, BC. This stop is facilitated by what I used to call the Jones Act but my friend Bob keeps informing me that  this Act only applies to cargo and that there is a Passenger something-something act that applies to people. Either way, it you haven’t heard of this before, it’s STUPID, ANTIQUATED, OUT OF DATE (can you tell it ticks me off?) law that was created back in the 1800s to protect the U.S. shipping industry. The law says that a foreign-flagged ship can’t sail from one U.S. port to another without first stopping in a foreign country. And since only one cruise ship in the entire world (NCL’s Pride of America that sails the Hawaiian Islands) is registered in the U.S., every other one has to stop in a foreign country (in this case Canada) before they can go back to the U.S. So every single Alaskan cruise out of Seattle must stop in either Victoria or Vancouver. Most stop in Victoria just for the evening. For instance, the day we were there, Celebrity’s Solstice arrived around 5:00 pm and left again around midnight just to satisfy this law.

To prove how really stupid this law is, we sailed from San Diego to Hawaii and back a in 2012 and we had to stop in Ensenada, Mexico for about 15 minutes at 11:45 pm. No one was allowed to get off. We just stopped there to satisfy this crazy law.

So, because Ovation had come to the Alaskan market a year before they were supposed to, my theory is that they could not get a spot in any other Alaskan port (most go to Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan) so they did the two they could get into and then headed for a full day in Victoria. That’s cool. Victoria is a great city and we (Kathleen and I) have been there many times. In fact we went there for our anniversary last August so we really didn’t see a reason to go into town…except my kids and grandkids had never been there so they wanted to go.

So in the morning, we all watched the Masons (M1 and M2) do the Flowrider thing again and then had lunch on board (the buffet was again quiet because so many people were off the ship—but the food was still horrible) and then we took the shuttle bus into town. A quick note about the shuttle bus. On the daily cruise announcement sheet it stated that the shuttle into town (less than 2 miles) was $10 each, either in U.S. funds or Canadian funds. Now that made me laugh because $10 U.S. is $13 Canadian. So the Americans on board were paying a $3 per person premium to ride the Canadian shuttle.

It just so happened that due to our going to Canada as much as we do (when you live this close and your best friends are Canadians, you go a lot) I had about $100 in Canadian money with me. So when we got off (everyone but Kathleen) I paid for the shuttle in Canadian $$$. Then I got a laugh again when the guy taking the money for the shuttle realized I was paying with Canadian funds, thought I was a Canadian. I did nothing to dissuade him because he said, “Oh, Canadian kids are half price,” with a grin. I let him go right on believing we were Canadians and paid half price for the grandkids.

In town we walked around a little, took a horse and carriage ride (35% off due to the exchange rate) and then walked around some more before heading back to the ship for our last dinner on board. It was a nice and easy day. We spent the evening packing our stuff up and putting it out for the attendants to take it off the ship so we could pick it up in the terminal the next morning.

And that’s about it. I have a few more pics to share before I wind this all up tomorrow or Saturday. I don’t have another day to post about but I do want to add some closing comments. You see there are a bunch of people out there who think we had a bad time on this cruise and that nothing was any good. This is just not true and I am so sorry if I have given that impression. The cruise started off really poorly because of problems that RCI and Ovation could have fixed easily but it got better and there were some really standout things I loved about Ovation despite all the problems. So come back next time and find out what they were. I promise, nothing but positives.

 

 

Day 6—At Sea again, headed south

This post will be short and to the point. For some reason I awoke today (August 7, not the day I am writing about August 1) at 12:35 and could not get back to sleep so I am writing this quickly before I fall asleep.

Forgot to mention when I finished last night’s post that last Wednesday, the day of the glacier, July 30 was also my daughter Jenna and her husband Joel’s 14th wedding anniversary. Way back on Christmas when we had surprised the whole family with the cruise, Kathleen had also purchased a special dinner for just the two of them at Jamie’s Italian, one of Ovation’s specialty restaurants. We picked up the kids from their stateroom at 4:45 and they went to the dining room with us. We had an AWESOME time with just kids and Bob, Judy and their family at the next table. Then we took the kids to see the evening show, the comedian/juggler. Even though (thankfully) many of his jokes went over their heads, they loved him and we found him pretty funny as well. He’s a typical cruise ship entertainer and he says so and is proud of it. After the show we took the kids back to our stateroom for a little television before Mom and Dad picked them up. Jenna and Joel loved Jamie’s Italian and we loved having the kids to ourselves.

The next morning was a sea day. The kids slept in and we went to breakfast by ourselves. Joel was coming down with a cold so the morning was pretty quiet. I took the kids up to play another round of foosball and air hockey and do some arcade game. This was the first cruise we have ever taken where we spent more on air hockey and arcade games that on adult beverages for us. That’s a huge first.

We did lunch at Fish and Ships, Ovations fish and chips restaurant where they have a grand total of seven items on the menu. Three (fish and chips, chicken strips and chips and a fish sandwich and chips) are free and three (halibut and chips, popcorn shrimp and chips and lobster and chips) are available for an added cost. The seventh item on the list was a deep-fried candy bar for dessert. We stuck to the free stuff which was good and of course the kids had to try a deep-fried candy bar which only costs $1.

The afternoon was spent watching M1 and M2 surf on the Flowrider. (Explanation here: M1 is Mason, Bob’s grandson. He is 13 and we have known him since he was three. When our grandson was born eight years ago, he became M1 because our grandson is Mason as well, thus he is M2. And the Flowrider is RCI’s surfing simulator at the back of the ship.) M1 had been using it all week. He had started with the boogie board on his knees and by the end of the week he was doing stand-up surfing. We had gone to watch M1 surf a couple of days before as something to do with the kids one afternoon and M2 became convinced he wanted to surf too, if only on the boogie board. I will be totally honest here, I was not sure if he was going to be able to do it. He’s not the athlete M1 is but he blew me away when he just jumped in and kicked butt. By the end of the cruise he had gotten to where he could get up on his knees and surf with his hands up off the board. What an awesome kid. I am sure that Maylee would have been right there with them if she had been four inches taller and a year older.

After surfing, we headed off to formal night (not that formal) but the kids dressed up in what they had worn to one of their Dad’s work banquets and looked great. Mason and I split some escargot and Maylee spent dinner poking Grandma K and talking her ear off. All-in-all, it was one of my favorite days on board.

Here’s some pics with captions that are mostly Mason.

My grandkids are AMAZING! —Me

This did not start well

A note before I post this—We had little or no internet access onboard our Ovation of the Seas cruise we have been on since July 26. Certainly not enough to post anything but I kept writing it, day by day. Now my intent is to post it day by day as if we were leaving today. So here’s what you would have read last Friday if I had been able to post.

I am starting this first post on the afternoon of the second day of what I so far consider the WORST cruise I have ever been on and to be honest, that includes our Carnival cruise from hell back in 1998. This one is worse because I had such high expectations for it. One thing after another have turned this into our new cruise from hell. The worst part for me is that I am constantly disappointing my kids and grandkids. So many things we had planned to do that I had been trying to arrange for months are “not available.” Reservations I have had for months are suddenly gone. But that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. 

I guess I should begin at the beginning—getting onboard. The worst boarding experience ever. When we had filled out our boarding pass information on Royal Caribbean’s website before the cruise, we were asked what form of identification we wished to provide for boarding. Because our passports needed renewing, we chose the Royal Caribbean listed choice of using our Nexus cards. If you are unfamiliar with the Nexus card it gives us easy entry into Canada by land, TSA Precheck at all airports, Global entry and more. We had to go through all the interviews, fingerprinting and background check to get them that you do for any Global Entry type card. We were thrilled it was a choice on the RCL website that we could use to check in with so we could send our passports in for renewal without having to pay for expedited service (quite expensive). I even called RCL pre-cruise to make ABSOLUTELY sure that we could use them before I sent our passports in for renewal. I actually have an e-mail stating that it will be no problem.

Guess what? RCL forgot to tell the people at the Port of Seattle that they would accept Nexus, so our friends with passports and our kids with just birth certificates were allowed to board. But we were held outside the security area until someone came all the way down from the ship to tell them that it was OK to take Nexus cards. Are you kidding me? Were we really the first people the entire Alaska season to walk up with Nexus cards? Give me a break. Our friends from Canada had also tried boarding with their Nexus cards and the same thing happened to them but luckily they had brought their passports as well. Ours were (and are) someplace in the State Department being renewed.

Once we got that screw-up fixed (took about 25 minutes), we were told we could go through security and that the young man (who looked to be 12) would scan our cards and our boarding passes. Of course he messed that up because he scanned Kathleen’s boarding pass and paired it with my Nexus card and then could not figure out how to undo what he had done. So we had to wait while someone could escort us up through the security line, get us cleared through the X-ray machines and then take us to someone who could fix the young man’s screw up. All this time, our family and friends were getting further and further ahead of us. I know that may not seem like a big deal for you but I paid for the kids to go so I could see their faces when they first boarded a cruise ship. Thankfully we did get almost everything cleared up in time for us to do that, but… 

One of the other things the woman fixing the mistake told us was that we were now on a completely cash account. She said the credit card we had registered when we did our boarding passes had been compromised and somehow been linked to another stateroom with a family named Anderson in it and NOT Bellomo. She apologized but said that meant that we could not use that card. I told her that the Andersons were my daughter, her husband and my two grandkids and that my card was supposed to be covering the charges to their room as I was treating to this cruise as their Christmas presents. The woman could not fathom that? Seriously? It took her about 15 minutes to figure out what I was trying to do and to fix the problem. 

At this point they started boarding the ship in the absolute worst way I have ever experienced in 28 cruises. Even Carnival never did that back in 2001. No numbers, no lines, no priority, just everyone going for the door. Mass chaos. Total anarchy. Thankfully most of the people waiting were nice about it but I still can’t believe there was next to no supervision. From time to time someone would make a totally unintelligible announcement on the public address system but after hearing at least six of them, I have NO IDEA WHAT WAS SAID ON ANY OF THEM. Sounded like the Muppets Swedish Chef speaking Korean. I was told later that he was announcing that Crown and Anchor Diamond members (their loyalty club) which we are could board first. Even if we had heard the announcement, how were we supposed to get to the front of the massive crowd of people??? And they were also making announcements for Celebrity Solstice at the same time.

So now we are with our kids going out of the terminal and up the gangplank. We get to the top to get on the ship and we get on! Yeah! But wait, the kids and grandkids who have been cleared and even have giant RCL stickers on their boarding passes that says
“CHECKED IN” are told, “You haven’t checked in yet.” Please excuse my French but WHAT THE HELL! How did they get through to that point and how did they those big CHECKED IN stickers on their boarding passes. Luckily a very nice lady from the ship got them taken care of in about 10 minutes but once again, a Royal screw-up.

Once the entire family was onboard (our Canadian friends were way ahead of us), I was sure that everything was going to finally get better but I was wrong. 

We decided to go get lunch (we had planned to do some other reservations before lunch but we were held up for so long, the kids were really hungry and you don’t mess with a five year old’s lunchtime) at the 270 Cafe, a little bistro type place that Kathleen and I had scouted out on our travel agent visit two weeks before. They served (from the looks of it when we went by on our visit) sandwiches, salads, soups and desserts. They did but it was our first introduction to Ovation food and it has proven to be true through lunch today—their food sucks. Only dinner last night was remotely passable. And we lucked into that one. Will explain what I mean by that later. 

The paninis were sad little things that remotely resembled a panini sandwich, a tiny slice of meat with some melted cheese that they microwaved, not pressed. Awful. After trying the sandwich I decided to try one of the salads so I ordered the “chopped salad.” The guy at the counter scooped me up a bunch of lettuce mixed with a few other ingredients, tossed it in a bowl and said, “Here you go.” I said, isn’t a “chopped salad” supposed to be chopped? He shrugged. I said, “Could I at least get some dressing on this?” His answer was that It was already dressed. Well you could have fooled me. And this was one of the better things I have eaten. 

For dinner we have early seating (which on this ship is TOO early at 5:00 pm), which means we have two tables of six for us and our Canadian friends, right next to each other in the dining room. Early seating on this ship is 5:00 pm (our Brit friends Paul and Gail call that lunch) and at 5:15 they close the doors. We had not planned on eating in the dining room on our first night. 

For the first night we had decided that the one thing the kids really wanted to do was drive the bumper cars. And the only time they do bumper cars is 4:00 to 6:00 pm. WTF? The only time? OMG. Talk about ridiculous. And there are more ridiculous scheduling things to talk about later. But let’s get back to dinner. We went ahead and did the bumper cars (which were tons of fun—pics below) but then thought we would head to the buffet to eat dinner. But this time it is 5:10 and the kids are getting hungry. We get to the door of the buffet and it is closed. It doesn’t open until 6:00. Again, WTF? We have NEVER seen a buffet with locked doors on any cruise before. And why would you start dinner in the dining room at 5:00 but not open the only free alternative until 6:00??? SO we rush down to the 3rd floor and barely slide into the dining room (I think they were letting people in late because it was the first night.) We get seated and have a wonderful time service-wise. Our waiter and our assistant waiter are awesome. But the food was just OK. Had I had any of it on a Celebrity ship, I would have sent it back. The prime rib was fatty, I ordered escargot to gross out my grandson and to dare him to try some and amazingly he did and liked them. Who would have guessed. But it was sad. Four tiny escargot swimming on a flat plate of melted butter. We did have a nice key lime pie for dessert. 

And that’s how our first day ended. Totally disappointing and it only got worse before it got better. More tomorrow. 

Get used to disappointment—Inigo Montoya

A different kind of cruise

Tomorrow we embark on a different kind of cruise for us. After 26 cruises, we are going to take one that is less about us than it is about family. On Friday of this week we are taking my daughter, her husband (who we love very much) but most importantly we are taking our grandson and granddaughter on their very first cruise. We are boarding Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas for a seven-night cruise to Alaska and we can’t wait!

Neither Kathleen nor I cruised until we were almost 50 so the very idea of starting our grandkid’s cruising life at five and eight years old is way cool! I am posting this news because I want you to know that I will be doing a complete set of posts on our cruise but I am not sure when I will be able to upload it. We won’t have (because that isn’t a perk that Royal gives its repeat cruisers…what exactly does Royal give its repeat cruisers that is worth a damn?) internet on board. We will have T-Mobile when we are ports so I should be able to post on those days. We are in Juneau on Sunday so hopefully I will get online there.

On the other hand, we may be having so much fun, you just might have to wait until we get back for a full report. Either way, more content is coming—hope you are ready. By the way, we are also going with two of our best friends, their kids and their grandkids as well so it is bound to be amazing.

AWESOME! I went looking for a closing quote about grandkids and found one by one of my personal heroes, Rita Moreno!

My grandkids are everything to me. For me, family is all! —Rita Moreno