Our cruise vacation in review...
Edited 10/18/2011 - link to our pictures on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/duffbert/sets/72157627689085891/
On September 24th, my wife and I took a cruise on the Royal Caribbean International ship Jewel of the Sea. It was a NE/Canada cruise, with the thought that we'd see some of the fall colors. We didn't see many leaves turning (actually, the weather was incredibly good), but a good time was had by all. I don't expect too many people to be interested in this journal of our trip, but it'll help me remember it better down the road...
Day 1 - Off We Go
So today was our first day of the cruise. We hung around the Boston hotel (Omni Palmer House) until 11:30, and then headed over to the pier. There sat our home for the next 7 days... NCL's Jewel Of The Sea. Getting checked in sucks, as it's usually in a big hot warehouse (and this was) with long lines (check) and longer waits (actually, not too bad). We left our luggage with a porter, got checked in, and only ended up waiting around 15 minutes to actually board the ship. It was around 1 pm by now, so we headed up to the Windjammer buffet to grab lunch and wait for our room to open up. 1:30 and it was ready, and miracles of miracles, our luggage was already there! That NEVER happens. I'll be happy to leave Boston, as it's been wet and muggy. I just hope the weather is better going forward...
The room isn't too bad. It's an inside stateroom, so no windows or balconies for a view. The only drawback is that you have no clue as to what time it is in the morning without a window. Ship cabins are small, but overall this one is a bit more than we anticipated size-wise. I lost the closet and drawer war (to be expected), but I actually have all my clothes hanging and put away in drawers rather than living out of my suitcase. Exploring the ship came next, as the first scheduled event is the 4:30 pm muster drill. We did a tour of the spa area, which is very nice. The coolest thing is the heated tiled reclining lounges. You lay back on this thing, and it feels great. The heat soaks into your body, and it's surprisingly comfortable. May have to investigate that further... The muster drill is usually NOT a fun event, as it's hot, you're on deck with your lifejacket on, and you're crunched up among everyone else. To our surprise, they didn't require the lifejackets, so that took some of the pain out of it. Still hot and muggy, but at least not awkward. And with that, we sailed at 5 pm.
With dinner at 5:30 pm, we decided to book some shore excursions. Our first choice in Portland was filled up, so we had to settle for a second choice. We also booked Bay Harbor's excursion for whale watching. The Bay of Fundy Top Ten tour only had one slot left, so we're going to play the odds and hope someone cancels. And for Halifax, we'll probably end up doing the Titanic Mystique tour. Dinner was good, and again we lucked out by having two other couples who are very nice and easy to talk with as our table mates for the week. I think we're the youngest of the group... imagine that! The prime rib was excellent, with the strawberry palavone (think meringue) with strawberry sauce.
Only one stage show this evening, and we were a little late leaving dinner. Given our lack of sleep in Boston (just couldn't drop off), we decided to call this an early night and go back to the room and read (and journal with my iPad and ZAGGmate keyboard which I'm doing now). Great ship, comfortable surroundings, and good times ahead. Let's see if I get get up in the morning and actually hit the fitness area before we have breakfast and leave for our tour of Portland... the OTHER Portland.
Day 2 - Portland Maine
Not a wonderful night of sleep, as Sue wasn't sleeping well and I was afraid I was snoring and keeping her up. I had my alarm go off at 5:45 am to do some gym time, but I almost talked myself out of it. Fortunately, no... 30 minutes on elliptical machine to get the day started. Came back, showered, and we headed to breakfast. It would be nice to have that sort of food selection every day. :)
Our tour of the Portland lighthouses started at 8:30, so we headed down to the bus. After a tour of Portland with some incredible views of the fog over Casco Bay, we ended up at the first lighthouse named Bug Light. Small little thing... Then we headed over to the Springpoint Ledge lighthouse. Again, not what you think of when you imagine the windswept lonely lighthouse. Finally we got to the third and final one, the Portland Headlight lighthouse. This is one that shows up in many of the Maine lighthouse pictures and has been around since the late 1700's. Interesting history there. We got back onto the bus and headed back to the ship to get some lunch and take a nap. After a couple of hours of reading and dozing, it was time to start getting ready for the formal dinner. Shirt, tie, and slacks. I haven't worn a tie in a *very* long time. :) The roast duck was excellent, as was the escargot for starters. nom nom nom...
8:30 pm was the start of the show by the singing and dancing group on board. It was a show titled West End to Broadway, with musical numbers from a great many Broadway shows. The set and costume changes were incredible, and the dancing was fabulous. After taking dance lessons, I have a great deal more appreciation for what it takes to do a show like that.
And talking about dancing... I actually was on the dance floor in the Vortex dance club for a few numbers after the show. I'm not sure we ever got a good rumba number to dance to, but we actually looked normal out there. Major kudos to our dance instructor for making us look semi-coordinated.
Day 3 - Bar Harbor, Maine
Today was our day at Bar Harbor in Maine. Again, weather to die for at the end of September. 75 and sunny, which was good as we were going to be on the open water... We slept in until about 7:30, which means we didn't set the alarm and get up at any particular time. Our excursion didn't begin until 1 pm, but we thought we'd like to wander around the town a bit before that. So we got dressed and grabbed a quick breakfast before getting in line for the tender. Even though the line stretched up the stairs, it went quickly as each boat can take 150 per trip. A quick five minute shuttle, and we were into Bar Harbor by around 10:15.
Bar Harbor is a cute little town, with a main street of shops and restaurants serving the two Maine staples... lobsters and blueberries. We decided to grab a quick lunch around 11 before things got really crowded, and I can now say I've had a lobster roll. Tasty! After a bit more wandering, we headed back to the pier and boarded the twin hull catamaran for our whale watching tour. After about 45 minutes and 25 miles, we ended up in the area where the shelf drops from 300 to 600 feet and the whales often feed. It was rather slow at first, with only the occasional porpoise showing up. But towards the end, we got pretty close to a smaller humpback that was surfacing about 20 yards away. Spectacular animals! Unfortunately, our time ran out, and we had to head back in to get those of us on the cruise ship back by the last tender run at 4:30. We *just* got back by that time (knowing they couldn't leave without us), but it wasn't a worry... the line for tender back to the ship was around 300 deep. Needless to say, they ran tenders long past 4:30... It was a good time, but I think I'm wearing a fair amount of salt from the boat spray. I also should have taken a jacket along, as a boat kicking up spray at about 25 mph is cold no matter how you cut it.
What was interesting was the tides. I know that tomorrow's trip to Saint John in New Brunswick, specifically the Bay of Fundy, is known for their incredible tide changes. But Bar Harbor is no slouch in the tide differential measurements. We arrived at a higher tide level, and I must admit I wasn't seeing the "harbor". But when we got back from the whales, it became clear. One whole end of the harbor was now dry land, as the tides had dropped around 10 feet and exposed rocks that weren't there before. Much the same with some other areas around the harbor. It was rather stunning.
So, back on the ship and just about time to head to dinner. But as we got in line, Sue felt underdressed for the dining room, so we got to try what I wanted.... the cafe on deck 12 that served reubens. And they are GOOD! Not large, but very good. Furthermore, the buffet area had sushi on the evening offering, so I picked up a few sushi rolls there. Needless to say, I think my dinner was better than what the dining room was offering. We decided to skip the show, as it was a comedian who didn't sound like he was going to be all that funny.
Besides, I need to get my last emails and tweets in before I go cold turkey on internet access until we get back to Boston. :(
Day 4 - Control is but an illusion (Saint John, New Brunswick)
So we made it to Saint John. We were an hour late, and that should have given us an idea as to how the day was going to go...
First off, we were supposed to be here at 7 am. But at that time, we were still approaching the port. Around 7:45, it looked like we were finally here. But "here" and "off" are two different things. First, it was the announcement that we hadn't cleared immigration. 8:30 comes, and we have an excursion that's supposed to start at 8:45. But since no one on the ship is getting off, no big deal. Then it was a crane malfunction with the gangway. Then the ship had to move about 10 feet in order to get the gangway to line up and for us not to be affected by the tides. So around 9:15, we finally were released to go ashore. We found our bus for the Bay of Fundy/Saint John Top Ten tour (yes, we did get lucky with a cancellation). We did the bus ride around parts of the city, and also saw the river that runs in reverse. More on that in a bit...
After that, it was a 45 minute drive to St. Martin on the Bay, where we could look at the caves, have some chowder, and hit a few local craft shops. Lo and behold, our bus now has issues. We're an hour outside the main city (and from where our tour is to resume with lunch and lobster rolls), and they're going to send a bus... all while we wait in an area that really has nothing more to see. Ugh! Sue and I were fortunate enough to volunteer quickly to take two of six spots on a different bus (same tour) that had room. So off we go to continue our tour. And fortunately, things were OK from here on out.
We then made it back into town, where we saw the river had now started its reversal. We got to the restaurant for the lobster roll, loaded back onto the bus, and hit a park with a fort/tower, the city center market, and O'Leary's Irish pub for a free Moosehead Light beer (bottled in Saint John). We were only 10 minutes late for dinner, and joined one of our table mate couples (Beverly and Wayne) for a very enjoyable meal and some soft-serve ice cream for dessert. Since it's been a long day with a number of "unscheduled events", we decided to just head back to the room where we are relaxing. Here's hoping we sleep better tonight. Tomorrow's a full day at sea, so there's no schedule or need to be anywhere. YAY!
So the Bay of Fundy and the reversing river... The Bay of Fundy has some incredible tidal shifts... like 28 to 30 feet. At high tide, the bay is higher than the river, so the water flows out of the bay and the river runs inland. You then hit what's called the slack tide. At that point, everything is level, and the river just stops going anywhere. Imagine a long lake... Then when low tide starts occurring, the river is higher than the bay, so the river reverses and runs back into the bay. Strange stuff...
I'm glad we went on the tour, as we got a broad exposure to the history of the area, as well as seeing some interesting things. But some things are out your control, and you can either fret and worry, or just smile and go with it. We chose the second and didn't let the problems bother us. In fact, the tour guide on the second bus was really entertaining. We even learned how to do moose-calling. Yes, that's an actual pastime up there. You take a large juice can (metal) and a flat shoelace. You punch a small hole in the bottom of the can, tie a knot in the shoelace, and thread it through the hole. Wet down the shoelace. Now you simply use your thumb and forefinger to slide down the length of the shoelace. The resulting sound drives the male moose wild. A word of caution... Once the male moose shows up, you're on your own as to what you do from there...
Day 5 - Just Floating Along (At Sea)
Today was our first "day at sea." Those are the days when you don't have a port of call, and you have plenty of time to just kick back, relax, and do some shipboard activities. After yesterday's comedy of errors, it was a welcome change to have nowhere we had to be.
We got up around 8 am and headed up for breakfast. A detour to the casino cost us a bit of money on the slots and video poker, but no big deal. After that, a walk around the decks for a bit. Surprisingly, we saw whales off the starboard side about a quarter mile away. It was hard to mistake them, as they were breaching with large splashes. An incredible sight, even if they're not overly close. Back to the room for some reading, followed by lunch. An exciting life. :)
One of the things I wanted to do this trip is take some time to sit, think, and set some goals for myself. In the day-to-day rush of life, it's hard to take the time to escape to a quiet place with no demands. On board the ship, they have a place called the Solarium, which is a covered pool area for adults only. It's decorated in a Buddist temple decor, with plants and bird noises piped in. The covering is glass, but surprisingly it's not overly hot. I found an open deck chair and got my quiet time. While I was able to find four things I wanted to work on for the next 12 weeks, I also realized I had a hard time coming up with a list of things I wanted to do, be, or accomplish. I think that's a problem in itself, but that topic is for a different time and place. After around 90 minutes, I went back to the room to put on the dancing shoes and head up for a "Latin Impact" dance class. It was 30 minutes of learning a salsa routine. Between all the people on the floor and the impossibility of seeing the person up front showing the steps, it wasn't as good as it could have been, but I was able to make it through. :) Back to the room, some more reading, and then time to get dressed for the 2nd formal night and LOBSTAH! nom nom nom...
To end the evening, we went to the stage show where they did a production called City of Dreams. Some good dancing and singing, and a few excellent stage backgrounds, but the storyline was somewhat non-existent. Oh, well. And with that, it's back to the room for, what else, reading before I get tired and drop off. It's been nice to get some uninterrupted time for reading, as I've read far fewer books this year than any time in the last 15 years. Part of it is writing, and part of it is just not focusing as much (too much time wasting).
Day 6 - Halifax, Nova Scotia
Today was our final port of call in Halifax, Nova Scotia. We signed up for the tour titled Titanic - The Mystique. With a 2 pm start, it was a laid-back morning. A semi-late sleep-in along with meals, relaxing, and reading. We then wandered down to the pier to catch our tour.
The guide, dressed in full kilt regalia, was quite knowledgeable. He gave us a tour of Halifax, along with the story of the explosion of 1917 (I think that was the date) which was the greatest man-made explosion ever seen to date. It was only surpassed by the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Two ships, one loaded with armaments, collided in the harbor. They caught on fire, and the resulting explosion leveled houses for a quarter mile, burned a significant amount of the city, and broke windows 17 miles away. We then focused on the role that Halifax played in the story of the Titanic in 1912.
When the Titanic sunk, Halifax was the closest port city that could send out ships for the recovery of bodies. They ended up finding 338 bodies that were brought back to Halifax on board three ships. Actually, 122 of them were buried at sea. The White Star line refused to ship the bodies back home, so only 54 were returned to Europe by those who had money. The remainder were buried in Halifax with full funerals. White Star didn't come out of this accident looking very good, either. They only had enough life boats and rafts for about 1/4 of the people on board (they actually weren't required to have more than that by law). They only paid the crew (or the families of crew that was lost) 1/4 of their paychecks as they figured the cruise only made it halfway through the first half of the cruise. They even had the gall to charge the family of a band member for the non-returned uniform.
We toured the main cemetery where most of the bodies are buried, many of them still unidentified to this day. We saw the grave marker for Jack Dalton, the character played by DiCaprio in the Titanic movie. We also saw the grave marker for the unknown child. All very moving and sobering. We then ended up at the Maritime Museum where they had more Titanic information on display. Overall, it was a very good tour, and one that made you think about how temporary life is.
As we got back to the ship, it finally started to rain. Incredibly, the weather has been extraordinary this week, and tomorrow (our last day at sea) is supposed to be 77 and sunny. Coming back from a NE/Canada cruise with a tan was NOT an expected side effect. :)
Day 7/8 - At Sea/Boston
All good things have to come to an end. The final full day of the cruise is spent at sea, so we had one last day to try and cram in whatever we felt we'd missed. In my case, I didn't feel that was too much. A little time in the casino made enough money for me to feel less guilty for buying a small globe made up of colored gemstones. I've seen them in Caribbean ports, but I always talked myself out of buying one. Didn't happen this time. :)
I spent some quiet time doing some writing, walked the decks, and visited with some of our table mates. We decided to have dinner in the main dining room for the final night, as that's when you normally give the gratuity envelopes to the dining staff. Then it was back to the room to do the dreaded task of packing up and leaving the suitcases out in the hallway so they can be picked up and moved off the ship for pickup.
When we got back into Boston, we still had one more tour. Our flight wasn't out until 4:30 pm, so we took a two hour tour of Boston. Once again, we had a great guide in the bus, and we got a good drive-by tour of Boston and Cambridge. Although it was pretty foggy, we could still see most of the sights (I'll assume the John Hancock building *is* 66 stories), and I think I'd like to come back some day to explore the history of the city. It never ceases to amaze me how far back the history of cities on the east coast can go, when on the west coast it's an entirely different story.
Overall, it was a nice cruise and a good week of vacation. RCI is a very good cruise line, and it's nice to have a ship full of crew who are there to make sure you have a great experience.