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Linda Coffman

May 4-11, 2003

by Kim Harmstad

Diary of a First Time Cruiser

Please keep in mind that this review is written from the perspective of a first time cruiser, so I really do not have any comparisons to make. My husband, Cliff, and I are both in our early thirties, and traveled without kids.

May 4, 2003, Day One: Embarkation
We arrived the day of embarkation on US Air. We arrived at the ship about 3:30, tipped our bus driver from the airport (I thought this was a little much for driving a bus load of people from the airport, but he did tell us a little about Miami as we drove to the pier). Traffic was very busy at that time of day. At the pier we were met with porters with white shirts and white hats. They expect a tip! The person ahead of us just tipped him $1 for 7 pieces of luggage. He stood there and waited for more. (I wonder when he got his luggage—I saw them later watching something floating in the water and wondered hmmm?)

Embarkation was a breeze! I guess since we got to the pier about 4:00 most everyone had boarded, but we filled out our SARS form, showed our ID and went into the room where you check in. There was space for a big zigzag line (like waiting in line at an amusement park) but for us it was almost empty. I imagine earlier in the day that the line had been rather long. There was only one couple ahead of us in line to give our credit card and get our sea pass cards. When our turn came I had filled out all of our information (the couple ahead of us had not) and we just handed them our credit card and signed a form authorizing purchases for both of our sea pass cards. Then we got our cards with our dining room and table number as well as the last three numbers of our cabin. (They do not put your entire room number on the card for safety reasons.) We then headed up the escalator to board the ship. In the hall, we stopped to take the first of many pictures by the ship’s photographer. Then we stopped at another security station where we inserted our sea pass card into a machine and had our picture taken to associate with our account. We found our later that when exiting the ship for excursions you inserted your card into the same machine to check out and then when re-entering the ship you inserted again so security could verify that you belonged on the ship by seeing your photo come up on the screen (they make you take your sunglasses off for this). I was happy to see this process!

From studying the ship’s layout for months I headed straight to our room. I saw others wandering around looking for direction. We got in our room—aft cabin 7690. We were impressed with the balcony size and view. We  didn't mind the framing of the ship at all. I was able to use the zoom on my camera and get shots with no obstructions. 

Our Cruise Critic party invitation was sitting on our bed along with our cruise compass and life jackets. We headed downstairs to Guest Relations to make Portofino’s reservations. They just picked up the phone dialed the extension and handed it to me—I felt pretty stupid because I could have done that from my room.

I opted not to bring my own hair dryer for the trip. The one that was in the drawer was powerful enough for me (I have pretty thick hair) but the only downfall was that it does not stay on. You have to hold the button down the entire time to keep it going. I assume this is for safety reasons. I got used to it throughout the week, but next time I will definitely pack my own.

I was also glad that I had packed all our clothes in 2-gallon Ziploc bags. All of our bags had been searched after we checked them. They had cut our cable ties, inserted a note that the bag had been searched and reapplied cable ties. Since all of our things were in bags, nothing was out of sorts.

Next was the muster drill. This was not my idea of fun standing in the heat with a bunch of people wearing orange life jackets—deodorant had long since worn off. Despite the comfort level, we endured and were happy to know what the procedure was in case of an emergency.

We also asked our Stateroom attendant to empty our refrigerator as soon as we met him since there are sensors inside. If you take something out—you just bought it! He was wonderful, by the way. I called him the "Stealth Steward" because generally we just saw evidence that he had been there, but he was never in the way. He kept ice in our ice bucket and the room straightened up. My Cliff’s tuxedo was not in the closet when we got there (we had ordered online before we left) and he even went on search for it for us and came back 15 minutes later with said tuxedo in hand. Way to go Amador!

We had all our luggage by 6:00. We unpacked and watched us leave Miami from our balcony. Afterwards we wandered around the ship a little before getting ready for the Welcome aboard show and dinner. Dinner tonight for late seating was pushed back to 8:45.

I enjoyed the Welcome aboard show. We saw a little of the singer and dancers, the CD, Ken Rush, a small bit of the comedian—he was pretty funny, the Duo Ignatov—a Russian circus act. We had late seating and when we found our table there was only one other couple there. Our waiter Wises was great. Later in the meal as we were eating the main entree we saw another couple wandering around—turns out they were our tablemates. One of her tags had fallen off her luggage and she had to retrieve it from the Pursers desk herself only to find that her shampoo had exploded all over her clothes—pack in Ziploc bags.  

I thought the food was excellent. If you didn't care for something, you could always try another entree. They were very accommodating and I never saw the bottom of my water glass. After dinner we found a spot for the Bon Voyage parade. It was a nice touch to have a parade on a cruise ship. The costumes were great, but if you miss it, you can always catch it on RCTV in your room along with the Welcome aboard show. Once we found this out we didn't stress out as much about seeing the shows since we could watch anytime. 

There were 2 towels in our room for pool use. There was a note that you could exchange them at the pool for fresh ones during the day, but if the towels were lost you would be charged $20. Every day they added 2 more towels to your stash.

Tomorrow was an At Sea day, so we didn't set an alarm. I took a few minutes and sat on the balcony and wrote in my journal—which became a daily ritual for me.

May 5, 2003 Day Two: At Sea
Today was an "At Sea" day so we really didn’t have a schedule to keep. We set the alarm for 8:45 so one of us could get dressed to go down to Deck 3 Studio B and get our Ice Jammin’ show tickets. The show times were Tuesday 7:30 (for both seatings); Wednesday 7:00 (for Second seating); Wednesday 9:00 (Main seating); and Thursday 7:30 (for both seatings). There were two times today that you could get your tickets 9:00-10:30 and 1:30-2:30. We got there at 9:00 and got our seats for the 7:00 Wednesday show. They seemed to be going fast. The shows did sell out; however, once the show started if there were still seats available they would let you in without a ticket.

After getting our Ice Show tickets I went back to the room to retrieve Cliff and go to breakfast. We ate in the Windjammer. We made it past the super-greeter and walked inside. I lurked around while Cliff stood in line to help his plate and waited for someone to get up from a table by the window. Once our silverware and napkins were securely on a table I helped my plate, and we sat down to enjoy our breakfast. We were just getting started and noticed a couple looking for a window seat so I asked them to join us. We met Ed and Tanya from Canada. They had to go to the medical office every morning for a temperature check since they were from Canada. RCI was really trying to do all they could to stop a potential SARS outbreak onboard. They were a very nice couple and we ran into them several times during the week. (I am now finding myself wanting to strike up a conversation with total strangers to find out where they are from and how many cruises they have been on—LOL.) 

I didn’t think that the food here was all that great. They had grits, which I was really excited about, but they were soupy and had no flavor whatsoever. The scrambled eggs were soupy as well. The French toast was pretty good and the only thing I really cared for was the fruit and Danish. My husband enjoyed the cereals and yogurt available. I never did try the made-to-order omelet station, but overheard several good comments about the food quality. When we finished breakfast we adjourned to the room to get sunscreened up and gather our things. We packed our towels and also packed a pair of socks for each of us for the Rock wall. We went to the pool deck and there were NO chairs to be had anywhere! Towels lay on many with no one in sight. Now I know what all the fuss is about with saving deck chairs. Since we couldn’t find a place to park to enjoy the pool, we went to the rock wall to see if we could climb. We got there right at 11:00 and were the last ones to be taken for that round of climbing. They start taking names 15 minutes before the hour. The Wall was open today from 9-5. We got our gear on (helmet, waist belt, and shoes) and waited our turn. I went first while Cliff took pictures and actually made it to the top—they help you out just a little—don’t tell Cliff—heehee! Cliff made it to the top also. What a rush!

After rock climbing, we went in search of the Peek-a-boo Bridge. This was some task considering the winds were blowing at 25 mph. I thought I was going to get blown away. It was closed a lot, along with the helipad, during the week due to high winds. We then started thinking about lunch. We decided to try out Johnny Rockets. We waited about 5 minutes for a table outside. There was a line, but it moved really quickly. As soon as we sat down they brought French fries and onion rings with ketchup and ranch dressing as an appetizer—what service! Cliff and I shared a hamburger; we had a coke and a strawberry milkshake. Everything was delicious. Then we took a walk around deck 4 to work off our lunch. It was here that I played my very first game ever of shuffleboard. It really was pretty fun—even if I didn’t win a single game! We took a stroll down the Royal Promenade on deck 5 and sat outside the Pig and Whistle, an English-type pub, and listened to a jazz band for a little while. I looked at the clock and realized it was 3:05 and the Cruise Critic party was supposed to be at 3:00. (Cliff thought it was 3:30 and he was the one with the watch). 

We made our way up to Deck 14 to High Notes and got signed in for the party. There was about 30 people or so, which was nowhere near the amount signed up—100 I think. But I think some people didn’t receive their invitations. We got a raffle ticket and sat down. There were some hors d’ouvres available (the same ones to be offered at the Captain’s gala) and there was a bartender available. A couple of people from Loyalty and the Cruise director’s staff said a few words and then we had a raffle. They gave away some RCI fanny packs, Dinner for 2 at Portofino’s, and two 12-punch cocktail cards. Cliff won the cocktail cards and the funny thing was that we don’t drink alcohol, but we really wanted the Portofino’s tickets. We ended up trading one of the cocktail cards (worth $45) for the Portofino’s with Joan and sold her the other one for $20. We both ended up happy with the deal. I met some of the folks that I had seen online and we sat around and talked some after the party was over.

Then we headed back to our room, and I took a nap on our balcony. It was heavenly! Cliff woke me up to start getting ready for our first formal night. Cliff’s tuxedo was too big and we tried in vain to get a smaller size, so we made do with what we had. They had brought him a 43L and he needed a 42R. A gentleman actually came to the room and took a look at the tux, then went back down to see if they had an extra 42R. They didn’t—Oh well. We didn’t let it ruin the night, and our pictures turned out great anyway!

Since we were looking spiffy, we decided to get some formal pictures taken. They were on Deck 3,4, and 5 in various places so we tried them all. Pictures were being taken from 5:00-6:30, 7:30-9:00, and 10:00-11:00. If the line was long, we just waited until after dinner and found a shorter line. When we were wandering around during the Captain’s Welcome Aboard Reception, we ended up at Cleopatra’s Needle and were told that the Captain was not taking any more pictures. We didn’t know the Captain had been taking pictures so we thought, "Hey, no big deal" and just walked in to see what was going on inside. As we walked in, someone from the cruise staff asked if we would like to be introduced to the Captain. We said sure and ended up being the last ones that night to have their picture taken with the captain. We bought the picture—it was really great!

Then we headed on to second seating dinner. It was still only three couples there. Mystery fourth couple had not shown up yet. At our table we had a newlywed couple (the one whose shampoo went all over her clothes) from Boston, a couple celebrating their 30th anniversary from Rhode Island and us from SC celebrating our 10th anniversary. (And they said we were the ones with an accent!) We had a ball! After dinner we headed down to La Scala and got a seat on the front row for the Broadway Rhythm and Rhyme show. As we were waiting for the show to start a few VERY drunk people came and sat on the front row as well. 

Ken Rush came on stage to do the introduction. Every time he spoke one of the guys would stand up, hold both arms in the air, and yell at the top of his lungs. After a little while of this, Ken told him he didn’t have to stand up EVERY time at which point the guy got on his knees, held up his arms, and yelled at the top of his lungs. Ken got tickled at this and asked the guy’s name—it was Ken! He was then dubbed Ken "B" for the week. Well, the show started and there were some good singers and dancers as well as some great singers and dancers. They would do partial clips from several Broadway musicals. As the show wore on the wife of Ken "B" began to get a little loud regarding how she could sing much better than those on stage and was about to get up there and prove it when the other people with them decided it was time to take Ken "B" and wife out of the theatre. Here is where it gets interesting. Not wanting to go quietly, the wife decided to turn her backside to the audience, lift up her skirt, and give us all a view of her backside—sans underwear! The two children on the front row especially thought this was interesting! So much for going quietly—or fully dressed!

After the show, we made it back to our cabin and I sat on the balcony and wrote down the day’s events. Here is where I will put in the only negative that Cliff and I found about the aft cabins on Deck 7. The crew area on the back of the ship on deck five stays well lit 24/7 and because the lights shine up, we weren’t really able to see out at the water at night. Other than that, we loved being at the back of the ship. There was not a lot of traffic, and we loved having the bigger balcony. We did notice movement and vibration, but we also noticed that everywhere on the ship. I don’t know if it was the winds, or the 4.5-7 foot swells, but I felt the ship moving all week. In fact I am still swaying even as I type. 

May 6, 2003, Day Three: Labadee
Since we didn’t really have a schedule today, we decided to order room service. This can be done several different ways. There is a door hanger on the wall with the dry cleaning requests that you can fill out and leave on your door prior to 3 am for next morning room service. You just indicate how many people will be eating and then order as much as you want. You also indicate a 30-minute time frame for bringing the meal. You can pick up the phone and call your order in, or you can use RCTV and your remote to order. We chose the door hanger.

We had requested delivery between 8:30 and 9:00. They came at 8:58. We tipped a few dollars and the server actually seemed surprised by this. FYI, from 6-7:30 Windjammer has a Early Riser’s Light breakfast, from 7:30-11:30 Windjammer is open for breakfast buffet, and the Dining room is open from 7:30-9:30—a note here—a different dining room is open every day so you have to check your compass to see which level is open that day. We ordered scrambled eggs with hash browns and bacon, cereal, yogurt, Danish, and orange juice. A word of advice... you have to specify if you want butter and jelly for your croissants or rolls, also, the orange juices are in tiny little glasses so if you like to drink more than a swallow order several glasses. If you order cereal they will automatically bring you milk (we weren’t sure so we ordered milk and ended up with an extra) The eggs  I had for breakfast were better today than they had been in the Windjammer, and I enjoyed the Danish and pastries. We sat out on the balcony and ate while watching the waverunners leave on their excursion. The folks who were bringing up the rear were really far behind and the leaders had to stop and wait for them to catch up. We also saw several Haitian fishing boats being rowed around the cove.

We arrived in Labadee at 8:00, but we lazed around until 10:00 to catch a tender ashore. The last tender of the day was supposed to be 3:15 and departure was set for 4:00. You tender from Deck 1 aft, so we headed down the stairs. You could probably embark quicker by taking the elevators because there was generally a back up on the stairs whereas if you took the elevator you could sort of jump ahead a little. And believe it or not, no one was really cranky about this! Getting on the tender was a relatively painless process. There were stands set up along the line selling frozen bottled water for $3 (I think) plus gratuity. (You could go to any of the bars on the island and get a cup of water from the ship’s desalination supply for no charge). After waiting in a short line, we inserted our sea pass cards into a wood podium type structure where our picture popped up for security. This way ship security knows who is on shore at any given time. The tenders are generally two level boats with the top level being exposed to the sun and wind (remember to put sunscreen on before you leave and hold onto your hat!) or you can sit on the lower level and the you will be in the shade. They were pretty fair about rotating bottom and top passengers when disembarking on the island. When the tender arrived we were unloaded and walked through a covered walkway, and what smiled for our friendly ship’s photographer for a "Welcome to Labadee" picture. There were natives providing music here as well.

I will take a few minutes to describe the layout of Labadee for those interested. The beach directly in front of you is Nellie’s beach (it was pretty crowded here) As you leave the covered area there is an information booth set up directly on your right, you can pick up items such as sunscreen, bags, water shoes, RCI logo items etc. They also have colored maps of the island here for you to have for the day. If you continue to your right you will be heading for Columbus Beach. This is where ship sponsored excursions take place. First you will find the kayak tours and banana boat rides, followed by the Waverunner experience, then the Arawak Aqua Park. The Aqua park was open from 9:00-3:00 and we did not go here so I can’t comment on the facilities. Directly across from the water park is the Columbus Cove Bar and Café, which is one of the areas that lunch will be served. Like the other "café’s" there are covered picnic shelters and restrooms here. At the far end of Columbus Beach is the Parasailing departure point and Labadee Coastal cruises.

Leaving the landing and walking straight ahead takes you to Nellie’s Beach and you will see Nellie’s Passion Bar located on your left as you follow the path. From here you can proceed to your left, right, or straight ahead. Take a moment to take in the idyllic setting as you contemplate your direction. You will see shaded areas with lounge chairs, hammocks swaying under palm trees, and most importantly Bar servers walking around with trays and yelling "Coco Loco" "Yummy, Yummy" "Sippin’ Time", "Island Special" (These were yummy drinks that came in a covered plastic cup with a straw and with "Labadee" written on it) If you choose to go right you can go to the Artisan’s Market, the Haitian Flea Market (more on this later), and Café Labadee Bar (another place to have lunch with shelters). You will also pass by a shelter where you can stop and watch Haitian dancers and musicians. I liked watching the drummer—he really got into the music.

If you choose to go straight, you will end up on the other side of the island at Dragon’s Tail Beach. It is very windy on this side and swimming is not recommended here. It is, however, a nice quiet place to sit and watch the surf.

If you choose to go left you either head to Hideaway Beach (my favorite; veer to the left) or Dragon’s Rock Lookout (veer to the right). In between them is Dragon’s Breath pub and Café (another lunch spot). We chose to take a left and head for Hideaway Beach. A native was there who asked if he could set up our chairs. We had our hands full so decided to use his services. We tipped him $2. He asked if we wanted sun or shade and set us up accordingly. We got settled and decided to try out our new snorkeling equipment. We had brought our own, but right there at the beach you could rent snorkel, mask, and vests for $6. The beach was pretty rocky so we wore our water shoes. You didn’t have to have a vest to snorkel. We didn’t see a massive number of fish, compared to Cozumel and Grand Cayman, but for our practice, we really liked it. We saw parrot fish, Sergeant Majors, Sea Urchins, a Trumpet fish, schools of fish floating together, blue headed fish, sponges, sea eggs, etc. so all in all we were pleased. We did hear other people saying that they didn’t see anything, but they were snorkeling at Nellie’s beach where it was way more crowded. If you snorkel around the rock reefs you can see lots of aquatic life. I also took this chance to get some shells for my kids. Be careful though because I ended up with a few that were home to hermit crabs—sorry little guys.

After snorkeling for an hour or so, we decided to trek over to Dragon’s Rock café for lunch. There was a buffet set up from the ship that included hamburgers, hot dogs, ribs, potato salad, cole slaw, fresh fruit, cookies, brownies, and cakes. I mostly just had fresh fruit. The hamburgers were cooked with onion, the ribs were just OK (compared to Southern BBQ) They weren’t very tender but had a pretty good flavor. The drinks included tea (non-sweet), water, cranberry juice. You could also get coke or other beverages with your sea pass card. It was really windy where we ate and had to keep an eye on our paper products. 

Once we were recharged with some lunch, we headed to explore Labadee. There is a tram that runs the entire length of the area. From Dragon’s Rock Café all the way to the parasailing pier. We headed out to Dragon’s Rock. You climb up natural steps to an overlook where you could hear what sounded like a Dragon snoring. It was really cool. There was a guard stationed there (who spoke no English) to keep people from going out on the rocks I assume. We then set out back towards Hideaway Beach and along the route to Nellie’s Beach we saw a path that led into the trees. This was a nice shady path that led to a lookout area where you could take pictures of the ship and look out at the coves. Also along the way we meandered off the path in one area that was before the lookout coming from Hideaway Beach. I found this hole in the ground that was probably 30 feet deep and at the bottom you could see the surf crashing under you. It didn’t seem like the area got a lot of traffic, so I was pleased with my find. Next, we walked through the Artisan’s Market and the Haitian Flea Market.

The locals were very—umm how should I put this—eager for you to buy something from their booths. Somehow it was all handmade and original, but all the booths seemed to have the exact same products. "Come and see—buy one get one free" "All items $1" etc. My son had two requests for souvenirs from the trip. He wanted a shark tooth necklace and a tie-dyed T-shirt. Walking through the Haitian Market I saw this necklace that had what looked like a claw on it. I asked the owner if it was hematite. He agreed. I said I was looking for a shark tooth necklace, to which he replied "Is almost shark tooth" I walked off, stifling giggles. It was on our way away from the market that we stopped and watched the musicians and dancers. We tipped them a $2 I think. I took several pictures. Then we headed back to our stuff at Hideaway, which was right where we left it undisturbed, to do a little more snorkeling. This time we headed out on the opposite side of the rock jetty and swam around to where we thought the hole that I saw on the trail might be. I was going to try to go and look, but Cliff thought it was too rocky and was hesitant for me to try. It was getting close to 2:30 and the last tender was at 3:15 so we packed our stuff up and headed back towards the landing area. The line was TREMENDOUS! We found two lounge chairs under some palm trees, ordered our "Yummy, Yummy, Sippin’ Time, Island Special, Non-alcoholic—COCO LOCO!" We sat and drank our froo-froo drink and waited for the line to die down. We watched the tenders pull to the dock and before they got there we got in line and waited about 15 minutes before we were on our way back to the Ship. This was our first time getting back on the ship after going ashore so we didn’t really know what to expect. The line was long to get back on and we wondered why the delay. This was when we found out that you had to pass through a metal detector and pass your bags through X-ray machine. Also you had to re-insert your sea pass card into wood podium to check back in. They will make you take your sunglasses off so they can verify your picture.

We had Portofino’s reservations for 6:30 tonight so we headed back to the room and got showered and ready for dinner. Cliff and I decided to go down to deck 3 and check out all the photos that we had taken the night before. We bought and 8x10 and the 6x8 of us with the Captain. We also purchased another disposable water camera. I had brought 3 because I had not really planned on taking many pictures in Labadee—I was wrong. And boy was it a costly mistake. The same water camera that I paid $8 at home was $17.99. Oh well, live and learn. 

When we arrived on the 11th floor at Portofino’s we were surprised that it was almost empty. We took our seat by the window and watched Haiti pass outside. Our waiter Paolo, from where else but Italy, was excellent! My husband and I had gotten into the habit of getting one appetizer and splitting it, but here we decided to each get our own. I am glad that I did because the portions were pretty small for each course. We both ordered the shrimp cocktail—yummy. I passed on the soup course, but Cliff ordered the tomato seafood soup. I had a taste and it was good as well. Cliff passed on the salad course and I had a Caesar salad. The next course was pasta. I had the lobster ravioli. It was OK. The pasta was black and white striped ravioli filled with a lobster mixture. Cliff had the penne with tomato sauce. I thought his was better than mine for this course. I was only eating a portion of my courses to save room for them all and Paolo was starting to think that I didn’t like anything. I told him that I was saving room and he acquiesced so long as I promised to eat my entire main course. I had had the filet the night before so I opted for the sautéed shrimp dish. Cliff ordered the Filet Mignon and made me wish that I had ordered that as well. While my dish was very tasty, his filet was cooked to perfection (medium rare) and could be cut with a fork. The meal was served with sautéed green beans, which were also very tasty. I cleaned my plate, much to Paolo’s delight and the last course of dessert was brought out for our selection. We had the option of a Crème and Berries dish that had been marinated in wine, tiramisu served in a cup made of chocolate (literally it looked like a chocolate teacup—very cute) and a White chocolate and orange cake. We couldn’t decide so we asked for all three. After we had our fill of dessert I decided to be cute and pick up the chocolate cup to act like I was going to sip it and it proceeded to fall apart in front of me. Thank goodness it landed on the table and not my lap—LOL! The last thing they brought was a plate of chocolate covered strawberries. I had mentioned that I only liked white chocolate, so Paolo had brought 2 white and one regular chocolate covered strawberries for us. We were too full to eat them so he put a cover on the plate and we took it back to our room for later.

Since we ate early tonight we were able to catch the 9:00 show. The headliner was Greg Bonham who did a Vegas style act where he sang and played the trumpet. He was a really good trumpet player and a pretty good singer too. Ken "B" and wife were in this show, and Ken Rush made a comment about her skirt had "blown up" even though there was no breeze in sight. It was cute. At any rate, the headliner was definitely a high-energy show with lots of crowd appeal—and I loved his Australian accent.

We finally made it back to our room to find our bed turned down and a towel puppy guarding tomorrow’s Cruise Compass. We went out on the balcony to enjoy our strawberries and I spent a little while taking notes on the day in my journal and looking over tomorrow’s schedule. Then fell into a much-needed sleep. 

May 7, 2003, Day Four: Jamaica
Today was another beautifully sunny day on our cruise. We set the alarm for 7:30 and got up to start our fourth day aboard the beautiful Voyager of the Seas. We got dressed in our bathing suits and shorts, grabbed the cameras, money, and set out for another day of adventures. Our first stop this morning was a trip to the Main Dining room for breakfast. We had not tried breakfast here yet, and wished that we had eaten here earlier. I ordered the eggs benedict and French toast. It was really, really yummy! We sat down with two other couples to enjoy our meal. I am still trying to get used to not having someone come with a silver tureen and smother my French toast or pancakes with syrup, or grind fresh pepper on my meal, but I digress. Today we were sitting with a couple from New York wearing sweat suits. After dinner Cliff told me that they reminded him of the neighbors in Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation "Well how did it get broken, Todd? I Don’t Know, Margo!" I agreed and we laughed about that all day. I was glad that he had not let me in on this during breakfast because with their workout gear, her curly hair in a ponytail, and his perfectly combed brown hair, he was totally right! 

Today I had booked a tour with the infamous Peat Taylor. I told our breakfast mates all about our plans. We were scheduled to meet Peat at the end of the dock 30 minutes after the ship arrived so we headed down towards Deck 1 for disembarkation. There were no tenders today, so we just inserted our Sea Pass cards and stepped onto the pier into Jamaican paradise. When you step off the ship you see the Island village shopping area with Margaritaville to your left. You proceed down the pier and turn left toward the mainland. At this point, you are asked to "smile for the birdie" for a "Welcome to Jamaica" picture by the ship’s photographer. There were also RCI employees checking ID cards here. At the end of this pier the tour operators are they’re holding up signs. I saw a lady holding two signs "The best of Ocho Rios" and "Peat Taylor" We checked with her since our information from Peat had said to meet in the bus parking lot which was beyond the fence in front of us. She told us to wait here, that she would take us to Peat in the Parking Lot. I realized later that she did this to keep us from being aggravated by people outside the gate asking if we needed a taxi. She directed us to a van where Peat greeted us as we entered his comfy air-conditioned van. Peat had a list of names and we checked in. I told him my names and he said "Oh you were the first to e-mail me (in December!)" We loaded up and headed to Dunn’s River Falls. We sat in the front of the bus and let me tell you, it was a wild ride. There seemed to be no traffic rules and they drove on the opposite side of the road that we were used to so we thought it was very harrowing. I thought we were going to wreck several times and someone tooted their horns and sped by—YIKES! (We sat in the back on the way out!)

When we reached the parking lot, there were some people waiting in line to buy tickets, but Peat had prepaid tickets available for everyone on the van, so we just walked up to the entrance. We got our hand stamped and proceed to find our way to the falls. Along the way, there was a place to rent water shoes ($6 I think) or you could buy a pair for $19 (I think). They also had a few souvenirs here as well. We headed to the area where you get a guide and a locker. We had to wait 2 minutes for the employee to open the locker station and were assigned 2 guides, Wilson and Dillon, for our tour. Cliff had to make a bathroom stop so he headed to the right up the hill to the bathroom station (I went here after the climb with him and the funny thing was that there were two entrances for the men and women, but once inside you could look through to the entrance of the men’s and I saw Cliff leaving as I was washing my hands. He gave me a friendly wave and we both left laughing)

We paid $8 for our locker, which was really a wooden box with a wooden door and a padlock on the outside. We stuffed our things inside and followed our guide down the stairs to the beach where we start the climb. We had to wear water shoes because of the slipperiness, but these guides were barefoot and the soles of their feet must have been 1 inch thick! At this point, I knew that we were going to line up holding hands and I wanted to be at the beginning of this chain instead of the end in case anyone fell. We lined up Girl, Boy Girl, Boy. A lady was in front, then Cliff and then myself and we set off. Word of warning here—the water is cold! You get used to it though, but initially there is a definite screech factor for all involved. Cliff decided to take the plunge and get everything wet right away instead of slow torture. I followed suit. They also had "Peeping Tom" who followed us with camcorder. You could purchase the video for $29. We did not buy the video, so I can’t comment on the quality. They stopped us at several spots along the climb for pictures. At one point the water was rushing behind us and on top of us and a "Ship’s photographer" was there to take our picture. I was so paranoid about "picture taking for $$$" that I passed. I found out later that he really was with the ship, and they had the pictures posted on Deck 3 later that night. Oh well, we had Dillon take one with our disposable water camera.

The climb really wasn’t all that difficult and the lady in front of me was not really very fit and she made it without any difficulty. The stairs go along the falls and you can get off at a lot of points along the way if you decide you can’t go any further. A small note here: I thought I would like to have climbed without a guide and the hand chain, but while climbing I was really glad for the support it supplied. They were there to steady you if you got a little wobbly and we saw some people climbing without a guide who got themselves in a tough spot to get out of. At the end of the climb we sat down on the steps to get the rocks out of our water shoes and "Take care of the guides-Mon!" We gave them each a few bucks and headed to get our stuff from our locker. Everything was safe and sound where we left it so we collected our things and went to return our key and get our $3 refund. We were waiting in line, when our guide told us to just head to the front of the line to return our key, which we gladly did and were handed $3. As you leave, you see a picnic shelter on your right and signs pointing to the "Exit" We had been forewarned not to go through the "Exit" and we just acted like we knew where we were going and went right back the entrance where we got our hand stamped. There was no one there yet telling us which way to go so it was pretty easy. Peat said that he would pick us up at 11:30 by one of the gazebos. I found Peat standing with some other tour guides and he told us where to wait. While we waited for the rest of our group (there were about 15 of us), Peat gathered us by the van and showed us a small mimosa plant on the ground that is like a Venus flies trap. You touched the leaves and they closed up. It was pretty cool. We got in and were off the Fern gully with a Peat Taylor serenade and "No Problem, Mon" all the way!

Fern Gulley is actually a road that is on the site of a prehistoric riverbed. There is beautiful vegetation on either side of the road, which winds up the mountain (yikes, with the driving again and we were in the BACK!) On the sides of the roads Peat pointed out several caves that were boarded up. People actually live in them! There were several roadside markets with various wares to sell and some "flower people" who had adorned themselves with vegetation who could take a picture with you for $$$ of course. One roadside stand had an interesting statue of a very WELL-endowed naked man. We did a double take of the 3-foot wonder and laughed for a good 3 miles! He stopped a little further down the road and showed us some Impatient flowers. He picked some of the buds and when you grabbed them they popped open—I never knew they did that. He also showed us a native fern that looked different colors the different way that you turned it. We looked at some of the wares for sale and they did not hassle "Peat’s folks" some people bought some souvenirs here. 

We continued to drive around the countryside and went through a village called Colgate where Peat was born. He turned off the main road onto a very narrow dirt road and said that it was two-way. We all thought he was kidding until we met a truck coming the other way—YIKES! He showed us a kindergarten which was one room with children ages 3-6. We got out and went in. They were absolutely beautiful and let us take pictures with them. They were so happy and seemed perfectly content to be there with their teacher! He drove us up to an overlook on the top of the mountain so we could get out and take pictures of our ship from above. Cool photo op! Then once we reboarded, he told us that he was going to back down the road. We thought he was kidding again, until we started rolling backwards—No problem, Mon—until a truck started coming up the mountain—YIKES again! We made it back to the road safe and sound—Thank the Lord!

At this point Peat said that he would take us anywhere we wanted to go. A group onboard asked where they could parasail and before you knew if Peat was on the phone calling a buddy and got them a deal for $45 a person to parasail from Island Village beach. His friend, Mike, met them at the gate and took them to parasail. Some people were finished for the day and settled up with Peat. A few of us decided to head back to the ship for lunch and Peat was to pick us back up in the parking lot at 2:00. We paid him here and headed back to the ship.

Once on board, we headed to the Windjammer for a quick lunch. I had a hot dog wanted to know where the "yellow mustard" was. As a Southerner this is the French’s bright yellow mustard that we put on hot dogs. The stuff they had in a dish was dijonaise and the waiter directed me to the "yellow mustard"—it was spicy brown mustard—LOL! We went back up to the room to get some cash and headed back to the parking lot to wait for Peat. As we entered the gate where the taxi’s were, we were asked about a taxi, but once we mentioned Peat they laid off—It was like a sacred word—"don’t mess with Peat’s folks, Mon!" We decided that $45 was a deal for parasailing since the ship’s excursion was $89 per person. Peat picked us up as promised, and called Mike to meet us. He took the other couple to town for shopping. Mike met us at the Island Village gate and led us through the market and to the beach without harassment. We had a great conversation with Mike while we waited on the boat to come and pick us up. When we got onboard, we asked if we could ride tandem. They agreed and we got harnessed up! What a rush! The guides told us this was the only legal way to "get high" on Jamaica—LOL! I am not fond of heights, but I have to tell you this was one of the most exhilarating experiences I have ever had! Cliff was not situated in his harness correctly and spent most of the ride trying to adjust the harness and had a great lower back ache afterwards, but I had the time of my life! We tipped the drivers $7 to split and headed to shop at Island Village. We found all the items that our kids had asked for: a shark’s tooth necklace, a shell necklace, and two tie-dyed t-shirts at a store called Hemp Haven. We also bought a tie-dyed backpack all for $60. There really wasn’t any bargaining here and we probably could have gotten a better deal by shopping in town, but we didn’t want the hassle, and were happy with our purchases.

We then decided just to head back to the ship for a shower and a seat on the balcony. As became my habit, I sat on the balcony as I watched the port fade into the distance and wrote in my journal about our day’s events. Tonight was Caribbean Colors night in the Dining Room. We had tickets to the Ice Show for tonight so we headed down to Studio B on Deck 3 and got a ringside seat. This was a fabulous show. The costumes were magnificent, and it was amazing what these people could do on so little ice on a moving ship to say the least! During the show, there was a GREAT act that left us all wondering exactly how she changed clothes so fast. You just HAVE to see this one! After the show we went over to the LaScala theatre for "Win a Cruise Bingo" One card with 6 chances was $15. The prize was a cruise for 2. We were supposed to get an X on our card and several people called false Bingo or "Bongo" because they weren’t paying attention to which pattern we were going for. Needless to say, we didn’t win, and headed off to dinner.

Finally couple #4 showed up and they were celebrating their 30th anniversary compliments of their son. He booked late seating and they like to eat early so that’s why they hadn’t been to the dining room until then. I had the Spinach dip (wonderful!), Caesar salad, (Wises knew exactly how much fresh ground pepper I like by now) jerk chicken (also wonderful!), and the best banana crème pie I have ever put in my mouth. Cliff had Pepper Pot Soup, Blackened Mahi, and the pie as well. His dinner was also fabulous. The waiter’s danced around the room, and we all stood and did the Macarena. I related the entire day’s event and costs to our tablemates.

We headed back to the room to freshen up a bit, and found a towel elephant guarding tomorrow’s Cruise Compass and then we left to go explore. The show tonight was Toxic Audio, which was a group that used only their voices to create the effect of a full band completely a capella. We had not wanted to go to two shows and walked in for the last  two numbers and really wished that we had not missed it. They were quite possibly the best act we saw all week. We walked up to the Pool deck and found a seat for the Caribbean band and watched everyone else enjoy the midnight buffet—we were still way to full from Dinner. When it got crowded around the pool, we headed up the High Notes Lounge on Deck 14 and watched the activity from above and in quiet.

After a well-spent day we headed back to our room, I took a few more notes and we fell into bed with visions of Stingray’s dancing in our head—tomorrow’s port of call, Grand Cayman and a sail to Stingray city with Captain Bryan.

May 8, 2003, Day 5: Grand Cayman
We had yet another action packed day planned so we set our alarms for 6:45 so we could get up and watch the sunrise on our 10th anniversary. We sat out on our balcony and watched the sun come up over the wake and reminisced a little. Then we got ready and went up to the Windjammer for a light breakfast. I didn’t have the eggs today after my first experience. I just had French Toast. A little tip here. The eating area is a little less crowded if you go to the left. Also, even though Island Grill is not open for breakfast you can still take your plate and eat back there.

After a tasty breakfast we headed back to the room to gather our snorkel equipment and pack a small backpack with towels and other essentials. We headed down to Deck 2 to wait for a tender ashore. Everyone had been told that people carrying a ticket for a ship sponsored shore excursion would be getting first priority in getting off the ship. We were a little late getting cleared by local authorities because apparently there can be no passengers on Deck 1 while this process is taking place and folks kept taking the elevator down the Deck 1 anyway. The first tender was supposed to be at 8:00, but it turned out to be more like 8:20 or so when we started to get off the ship. We had booked a stingray city and snorkel trip with Captain Bryan and the check in time was 8:45. Grand Cayman is one hour behind ship time and I was unsure if the time for check in was ship’s time or Grand Cayman time, so we decided to play it safe and try to get off on the first tender. I had bought bottled water upstairs in the Windjammer, but down on Deck 1 getting of the ship, they had frozen bottles of water. Since I had not opened mine yet, I traded my lukewarm bottle for a frozen one. Every time we get to port and are cleared for tendering, the Captain would come over PA system and tell you that we were cleared and let you know what time the last tender was scheduled. 

Today, he said, "The last tender today is at 3:30. If you hear one short blast, you need to be running. We plan to leave at 4:00, If you are onshore and hear three short blasts, you can stop running—you’re a native." Funny! We got in the herd getting off the ship and when we inserted our sea pass cards into the picture machine; it made a funny noise because we didn’t have a ship excursion. The guard just waved us through, and we were on our way. When you get to the shore, there is a street running right in front of you. To get to Captain Bryan’s, we turned left and walked about 2 blocks. Captain Bryan’s was directly beside a cute little English bakery. We checked in at 8:45 (7:45 CST) and were told that we had another 45 minutes before we needed to be there. They let us leave our snorkel gear in the office and walked up the street and wandered around a little until 9:30. We headed back to the front yard of Captain Bryan’s office and chatted with everyone waiting for the tour. We loaded a van driven by Captain Bryan and were driven out to where the trimaran was docked. There turned out to be a total of 19 people on the trimaran including the three people from Captain Bryan’s. There were trampoline areas between the hulls on the front of the boat and Cliff and I parked there for the ride out to Stingray City. The ride was very leisurely and we enjoyed lying there with the wind rushing past us. We approached Stingray City and saw a circle of boats indicating that there were several tours already there. 

The boat was anchored off to the side of the crowd and we were briefed on how we should swim, walk, carry, etc the stingray’s. Looking at the large crowds circled up, we were glad to be with the small group from our tour. Javid and Astor our guides picked up some rays and showed us the difference between male and females and then let us have some play time with them! I have to tell you that I truly loved this! Astor taught us how to give them a kiss. You made the kiss noise and they just lifted up the front of them and met your lips—it was really cool! We all got a chance to hold them if we wanted to and there was a videographer there capturing the whole thing on video. I bought the video for $39 and it really was well done. Annelyse had set the video to music and the quality was top-notch. After our time with the rays, we re-boarded the trimaran and rode over to a reef called "The Aquarium" for some snorkeling. Astor got in the water and went to check to see if the eels were home. After verifying their whereabouts he led us to some spots where he was feeding the fish and we had a great time. We saw lots of fish, coral, three different types of moray eels, and a flounder. The ocean was very salty and made it easy to float without a life vest. At the second reef, where the green moray eel was I swam down very close while Astor was feeding it—it was really cool. Chip warned me that I shouldn’t get that close to something that could have me for lunch, but hey I am Kimpossible after all! After the snorkeling we got back onboard, they cranked up some Caribbean music, unfurled the mainsail and headed back to the mainland. I highly recommend this tour it was really great!

We were brought back to the pier area, and then we headed off in search of a place to have some lunch on the island. We ended up at a place across the street from Captain Bryan’s called "The Wreck on the Rocks" We ate out on the back porch area, where we could look out and see the ship, as well as crabs crawling around on the rocks beside the deck. We had cokes, a virgin pina colada, conch fritters, chicken tikka kebobs, and coconut shrimp for the two of us. I didn’t really care for the kebobs. They were seasoned with LOTS of curry. I thought the fritters and the shrimp were absolutely wonderful. The exchange rate was $1 GC = $1.25 US. Our bill turned out to be $41 with tip.

On our way back to the ship, we stopped at a few souvenir shops, and the only purchase we made was a book about reef fish for snorkeling. We went back to the pier and immediately got on a tender heading back to the ship. After dropping our stuff off in our room, we went up to find the helipad on the front of the ship. Every attempt to get there earlier had been denied because they had it closed a lot due to some pretty high winds. I stood at the "Queen of the World" position and even yelled it to tenders returning to the ship below. I had a ball! After my reign as Queen, we went down to the Solarium and sat in the hot tub while we left port. Note here about the Solarium, they have very true to life naked Greek type statues here. The hot tub was not hot and the water was salt water. Having heard about the spa hot tub, we went to try our luck there. There was just one other couple in the hot tub, and the tub was actually HOT! There were high-powered jets along the side but only two were working when we were there. After getting a water massage from the jets, we went back up the room to get ready for dinner.

Once again, I sat out on the balcony as we left Grand Cayman behind and wrote in my journal. Tonight was the second formal night, so we got ready and went downstairs to have some pictures made and take a look at the ones that were posted down on Deck 3. I tried taking pictures of the ones that we weren’t going to buy. I should have turned the flash off because if I had, they would have turned out really great! We headed to the Dining Room for dinner. Believe it or not, I didn’t write down what I had to eat tonight, so I have no idea. I do know, however, that the meal was delicious. We got our cake from the waiters and they sang "Happy –VERSawee" to us! (That is exactly how it sounded!) Tonight was Dreamscapes and the midnight buffet. We decided to skip the show and were so tired that we just went back to the room and got ready for bed. I realized that we didn’t see the buffet, but I wasn’t getting out of my pajamas to go downstairs to check it out. Cliff was a wonderful husband and went down and took pictures for me. We were both still full from dinner so we didn’t sample it, but from the pictures it looked extravagant!

We fell into a deep sleep thinking about what a fun day we had, and trying to believe that we have been together for 10 years. The time has flown by and I wouldn’t trade a minute of it!

May 9, 2003, Day 6: Cozumel
Today was the day that I was looking forward to the most and it turned out to be one of the best days of the trip. Despite some minor difficulties, we managed to have an awesome day here. This is one place that I would like to come back to and spend a few days. I felt that there was so much to choose from that I needed much more than one day—but we sure packed the one we had full of some fun stuff. We were scheduled to arrive at Cozumel at 10:00 ship time, which was 9:00 Cozumel time. Since we didn’t need an early start, we set our alarm for 8:30 and headed down to the dining room for breakfast. The dining room was definitely my favorite pick for breakfast of the week. I mean who could argue with someone coming around with a silver tureen and pouring syrup on your French toast! We were seated at the table with two more couples. It turns out that all the males at the table did the same type of computer work. I was quite sure that the acronyms were going to start flying when Cliff graciously changed the subject. (I think he knew the results had the conversation followed the logical progression—especially on vacation—LOL) I gushed for about 20 minutes, however, about all the tips that I learned online and all the money that we saved by booking our own excursions. I told them they had to check out the 11th floor men’s room, the helipad, and the peek-a-boo bridge. One of the guys was actually taking notes. (Cliff was shaking his head at this point, but had to admit that our trip had been very pleasant due to all my "research")

After breakfast, we went back up to the room briefly to gather our snorkel equipment and backpack and headed down to wait to get off the ship. This port is one where you don’t have to tender. It was great. We finally were off the ship at 10:30. Today the Captain made some comments about Carlos and Charlie’s and Senor Frogs and getting back to ship regardless of how many shots you had—make sure someone in your group had a watch! At the end of the pier you walk into a department type store, which was very clean and air-conditioned. We then wound our way through a corridor of many shops before we found the exit to the street. Once we were outside there were MANY people with signs to rent anything from scooters to jeeps, along with many more taxi drivers. They had the fares posted for the different destinations on the island. There was generally one set fee. The trip to Chankanaab from here was $10 per cab. We saw some other folks standing there who really had no clue where they wanted to go, so I convinced them that Chankanaab was a nice place to spend the day, and they shared a cab with us. By the way, there were four cruise ships in port today and the pier area was really crowded. This was the only place that I felt crowded for the entire day.

I need to interject that we had bought one of those water wallets that hang on a cord around your neck. They are plastic and hinge open and closed and have a watertight seal when closed. It had worked great for the entire trip with some cash; one credit card and our sea pass cards. Today we packed it full of cash and 4-$20 traveler’s checks. Just keep that in mind. We had a noon Dolphin Swim booked through Dolphin Discovery here at Chankanaab. Which was really 1:00 ship time so we had plenty of time. We walked in and there was an area where you bought a ticket to the park ($10 per person) and a few souvenir shops. After paying the entrance fee, they put a paper band around your wrist as a way of showing that you are all paid. They don’t have printed maps of the park, instead there are free standing maps in several locations throughout the park—sort of a "You are here" type map. We walked past the man with the macaws. He would take a picture of you with the birds, for $$ of course. Next we walked through the Dolphin Discovery area. You can rent lockers here, but if you are scheduled for a Dolphin tour then they give you a complimentary locker. It was pretty spacious. Our backpack plus some extra stuff fit with room to spare. We then made our way around the beach area and found a free palapa on the beach where we could park our stuff and go snorkel for a little while.

We donned mask, snorkel, and fins and headed into the water. It was amazing. I thought that I had seen lots of fish in Grand Cayman, but this was unreal. As soon as you set foot in the water you were surrounded by literally hundreds of fish. You just swam right through them as though they didn’t even care that you were there. It was really cool. We saw Sergeant Major’s, several different types of parrot fish, butterfly fish, blue tangs, and several other types of fish through this area. They had a floating dock tethered off shore a little ways out and we started swimming toward that. There were sunken statues around that you could take pictures of as well. Cliff set his watch so that we wouldn’t lose track of the time and be late for the dolphins. We swam around the cove and at one place I actually saw a green moray eel. Cool! 

I called some snorkelers who were pretty close by and showed everyone my find—I was rather proud of myself. About this time, the watch started to beep signaling the end our snorkeling and the beginning of "the experience of a lifetime". We gathered our belongings and headed over to the Dolphin check in. We booked online and they charged our credit card at that time, so the excursion was already paid for (FYI, if for some reason the ship couldn’t dock or inclement weather our money would have been refunded). All we needed to do was show our credit card that we paid with for verification. They compared the numbers and were shown to the back where we donned life vests and waited for the tour to start.

At this point Cliff opened the water wallet to check out some stuff in the gift shop. We had packed it so full that it had not fully sealed and all the contents had gotten SOAKING wet. Normally this would not have been a big deal—however, all the money had expanded and was NOT coming out of the shell! To make matters worse the traveler’s checks were on the outside of the money roll and any and all attempt to extract said money resulted in ripping of wet paper—not a pretty sight. We decided to put it in the locker with our things and worry about it after our swim. 

Here is where we noticed what was entailed in the ship’s Dolphin Encounter. This consisted of about 35 people standing in waist deep water around the perimeter of the caged in area while the dolphins did tricks for you to see. They got to touch them and I think maybe kiss them. We stood around waiting for everyone to get there for the tour. One person from the Carnival ship in port said that they booked through their ship for the swim and they paid $150. Ours was $119. They then took us into a room and showed us a video on dolphin behavior and such. A trainer then told us where not to touch the dolphins and what was suitable for us to touch. He also told us some basic hand signals or body positions that we would be using during the swim. They broke us up into several different groups of no more than 8 people each. There were 7 people in our group "C". 

After getting assigned our groups we followed our trainer out to the pier to our designated letter. There the videographer started by getting shots of our group before the swim. We met our dolphin Eva, and were getting more and more ready to jump in. The trainer told us that dolphins were very moody and that one of the dolphins would not come over to the swim area. We were told that they are just like female humans—as if we are moody—LOL! He also told us that the dolphins can "see" unborn babies with their sonar, so pregnant women were not allowed to do the swim. We started out with the behaviors that just took one dolphin. We posed for our kiss shots, and I have to tell you that I giggled like a schoolgirl. I was so giddy! It really was one of the coolest things I have ever done! We all got to shake hands with her and then we swam out in a circle for the dolphin to swim around us. Eva was also being moody and would only swim in one area of the circle, so we went back to the drawing board. The group next to us had both their dolphins so we switched for them to do the one-dolphin behaviors while we utilized the two. Next behavior was the hurdle. We swam out in pairs and held up a hurdle in the air. The dolphin would then come and jump over the hurdle—three times. Cool! Since our group had an odd number, I made a sacrifice for the team and went again with the partnerless girl. I know it was a real stretch, but someone had to do it! 

Then we all got our chance to do the dorsal fin pull. You just floated in the water in a T formation and the dolphins swam right into your hands. As they came by, you grabbed on and enjoyed the ride. Exhilarating! Then we did the foot push. For this one, you lay floating with your feet floating behind you, ankles flexed. The dolphins then come up behind you and put their noses on your feet and begin to push you through the water. Keep you knees locked! They got crooked on Cliff and he sort of "surfed" back to the pier. When Cliff was doing his foot push, apparently his Costa Del Mar sunglasses fell out of his pocket. After the trick Capi went back under the water and came up with—his sunglasses on her nose. They fell off and she went back under and retrieved them a second time and gave them to the trainer. Cliff was unaware that they had fallen out of his velcro pocket, but Capi saved the day! The trainer said we owed her a tip! That’s Cozumel for you! When my turn came I swam out as far as they would let me, and they pushed me completely out of the water. I even made beautiful feet first dismount complements of my cheerleading days. Again, exhilarating! We tried one more time for the free time swim in a circle and this time the dolphins cooperated and came by for some petting. They waved goodbye with their flippers and tails and then our adventure was over. They took us to a room where they showed us the video produced from our footage. They recorded it as we watched it and added our names at the beginning. We bought it and have showed it to everyone who wanted to see it—even to a few who didn’t really want to see it! For $49 it was a great souvenir. We also bought the kiss pictures. They had taken pictures of the pull, hurdle, and foot push but since we were buying the video, we only opted for the kiss photo. They would have given a discount for purchasing the whole package. I think the pictures were $10 a piece or so. 

OK, this was where we were supposed to use all the money that was trapped in the little red prison of a water wallet. No mater how hard we pulled that money was just not budging. We then went in search of someone to help us with our dilemma. It was at this point that Cliff had tied smashing it with a rock, stepping on it, etc all to no avail. We asked an employee if they had a hammer and they found us a maintenance man who led us back to the employee area where lots of people were sitting around smoking cigarettes and wondering why these American’s were wandering around in the maintenance area. We finally got someone to understand that we really wanted a sledge hammer to bust that case into a hundred pieces and found said implement of destruction. With one fell swoop our money was free and our case was demolished—one more souvenir to buy while in Mexico. We headed to the gift shop and bought two more cases. One small one just like the one we had, and also a larger size for all the swollen money—sheesh! We bought the pictures and video with soggy money, but no one would take the traveler’s checks with the slightest rip in them—not to mention the fact that they were still soaking wet. By this time, Cliff and I were getting a little testy and we still hadn’t had any lunch. I wanted him to be outside drying the money out, and he just wanted to be cranky about the wet money. We made our way over to the café and were seated at a table by the ocean. At which point, we took very deep breaths, both made our apologies to each other and agreed to not let this ruin our day. We spread the money and ripped traveler’s checks out on the table while we waited for our food to arrive.

While we were at the Dolphin Discovery we had seen a sign for the SNUBA adventure. We had been mildly interested in trying this type of SCUBA without certification so I went to check on the price and what time we maybe could try it out. It turns out that it was only $50 per person for an hour tour and they could take us at 3:15—It was about 2:30-2:45 at this point. I signed us up—paid with the credit cards—since the money was drying out on our table—and headed back to Cliff so I could eat my lunch. By the time I got back, our food had arrived. I ordered tostados and Cliff got a sampler dish. It was both pretty tasty and we enjoyed our sodas. Then went over to wait for our SNUBA adventure. They checked out our masks to see if they were suitable—they were. (Thank heaven’s considering how much we had paid for them at our local dive shop) We then got a crash course in how to equalize pressure while going down (plug your nose and blow out), how to clear water out of your mask, and how to regain your regulator if you lost it out of your mouth. You breath just like snorkeling except you have a tube tethering you to your oxygen tank floating above you on a raft following you as you swam allowing you to go no further than 25 ft under. We donned our weight belts and took off. It took a little getting used to but I really enjoyed it. Cliff did not have enough weight on his belt so he and the guide went back up the surface and signaled for me to wait for them underwater. I got a tiny bit of anxiety right here. I was all alone down there and we had just started the dive. After a few deep breaths and some major prayers I was calming down just as the men were coming back down. That was the only episode of panic that I experienced the whole time. I liked bringing up the rear and being able to see them in front of me. It was very freeing to swim among the fish without holding your breath. They were so beautiful and so unconcerned with our presence. We swam for about 45 minutes and the whole time was absolutely INCREDIBLE! Near the end of the swim, we actually saw and got to hold a sea horse and a sea cucumber—really neat. I’m afraid that I am so hooked. I could really get into this hobby, unfortunately even though we are not far from the ocean, when you swim on the SC coast you can’t see your hand in front of your face. I guess I’ll just have to buy a vacation home in Cozumel—LOL! A word about the SNUBA, you have to fill out a health questionnaire, and can’t participate if you have high blood pressure, asthma, or taking certain medications (I’m not sure what they were). Cliff takes Allegra and that was just fine. We started feeling guilty because we knew that the kids would have had such a good time here that we bought our daughter a T-shirt with dolphins and bought our son a stuffed dolphin. They were a big hit!

All aboard was at 6:30, so we headed back to the ship. We shared a cab with another couple heading back, and made our way back through the shops to the ship. There were well-armed police guarding the ship. We had our stuff x-rayed our pictures verified and headed back up the room. I stopped off at Guest relations to see about remedying the situation with the $80 in Traveler’s checks. The purser was able to cash 3 out of 4. The fourth was ripped right where I was supposed to sign, so I took it back to the bank when I got home for a refund. The purser got a good laugh about my experience trying to get someone in Mexico to accept the ripped Traveler’s check!

I took my customary position on our balcony, listened to a really loud party boat leaving the dock and sat down to write in my journal while we left the port. Tonight was casual night and the Love and Marriage Show was scheduled for 7:45. We went down to LaScala for a front row seat. During Ken Rush’s intro a fight almost broke out in the second row over saved seats. He diffused the situation very tactfully thank goodness. He said that they usually do this show on Jamaica night, and now he knows why they don’t do it after Cozumel—aka Carlos and Charlie’s. Cliff wouldn’t let me try to get on stage. After the show, which was absolutely hilarious, we went up to the Dining Room for dinner. Tonight was lobster night. One of our table mates made the following comment after being brought only one lobster tail: "They ought to know that a man needs to eat more than one tail" We laughed so hard that we cried over that comment! Dinner was really good. (Why don’t they take the lobster out of the shell and pour the butter on it for you at the seafood restaurant’s at home—well, I never!)

The ship was really rocking and rolling tonight. I was feeling a bit queasy so I went back to the room and took a bonine. After a little while, I started to feel better. At 11:00 there was a "Rockin’ thru the Ages" dance party in Studio B. We got there a little late after I recovered from the "Rockin’ thru the Caribbean." I soon was caught up in dancing the night away. I love to dance and Cliff humored me by going with me to the Vault after the dance party was over. We stayed out until about 1:30 when we fell into a heap with our towel monkey hanging beside us, swaying us to sleep.

May 10, 2003, Day Seven: At Sea
This was a LAZY day for us! Depression was setting in because we knew that today we would be packing up our floating home and getting ready to return to "real life" Cliff and I both decided to take it easy and I did something that I haven’t done since college—slept until 11:00 a.m. It felt sooo great! After waking from a wonderful night’s sleep, we decided to eat lunch at Johnny Rockets. This seemed only fitting since this was where we ate on our first At Sea day. There was a line when we got there, but we only had to wait about 15 minutes for a table outside. We could have been seated 5 minutes earlier if we had taken the booth inside. The difference in our appetites from that day and this were tremendous. If you remember we shared a hamburger and a milkshake. Today we had two orders of French fries, onion rings. We both had a hamburger. I had a milkshake of my own, and Cliff had some apple pie. What a difference a week makes!

After lunch, we headed to the hot tub in the Spa. After relaxing for a little while and reminiscing a little, we headed back up to our room. We sat out on the balcony and watched the ocean for little bit, and even though we had slept until 11:00, I took a nap on the balcony. Cliff took a nap inside and spent a little time packing. At 3:30 we headed down to final jackpot bingo. They had several "packages" to buy for cards. We bought the "Big Daddy" for $50. It gave you six chances for the first three games and 12 chances for the final jackpot. The final jackpot was somewhere around $11,000, and the final game was blackout. I was two numbers away, when three people called Bingo. One of them was—Joey a singer with the group InSync. The number that they won with put me only one number away, but it may as well been 30 because I lost anyway. I had fun, but we were all pretty ticked that the millionaire won the jackpot!

To soothe my spirit we went down to the Promenade and had a slice of pizza from the café. I also got an ICEE as well. While drowning my sorrows with a frozen Coke, I watched the Krooze Komics perform a clown routine. We decided to skip the Farewell Show and went back to the room for—get this—another nap on the balcony. A low flying helicopter awakened me. I don’t know if it was just flying from somewhere else, or if it had been on the ship. I checked out our sea pass balance on RCTV and went down to Guest Relations and paid the bill. Whew! I also asked them about the customs form at this point. I had only bought a few souvenirs, and asked how detailed I needed to be. I was told that I didn’t need to itemize everything. For example I could put Souvenirs  $$, T-Shirts $$, Perfume $$ I thought that was a good thing to know. 

On the way to dinner, we saw Amador in the hall and gave him his tip envelope. Then we made our way to the Magic Flute Table 528 and sat down to enjoy our last meal with Wises and Placid, and gave them envelopes as well. Our service for the entire cruise was fabulous. Placid never let me see the bottom of my glass, and Wises knew my preferences and my name by night 2. Tonight we had prime rib and it was fantastic. I also had two desserts. I can’t remember what they were, but I know they were very good because I ate every last bite and my tablemates were asking me if I was going to lick the plate. I told them that I just might, because my Daddy always says—"You can take the girl out of the country but you can’t take the country out of the girl!" We strolled down the promenade before going up the room to pack. We watched the debarkation talk on RCTV as we packed a week's worth of memories into suitcases bound for home. We put our luggage in the hall at 11:45 and got ready to settle down for the night. Believe it or not, I was still able to go to sleep even with two naps.

May 11, 2003, Day Eight: Debarkation
We awoke at 6:00 and made our way down to the Dining room by 6:30. We had green tags and were told to be ready for departure at 7:00. We both had eggs benedict and French toast, which had become a staple here in the Dining Room. We just left our carryon luggage at the front of the dining room with the Maitre D. After we had finished breakfast, we went to the Champagne bar and waited for our color to be called. We both called our Mom’s to wish them a Happy Mother’s Day, and at about 7:30 our color was called. We debarked on the same gangplank that we embarked the ship on, but somehow the mood this time was much more subdued. We ended up waiting with Mike and Patty, our tablemates, and laughing about the fun we had. We went through a checkpoint, where we had to show our passport, then we were directed to the correct baggage claim area. Once we retrieved our luggage from the carousel, we turned down the porter since we each just had a suitcase and a carry-on, and headed for the customs check. We didn’t owe them any money, so we went through the turnstiles and were off to get on the bus. Our flight was at 11:30 and we got to the airport about 9:30. We walked around a little, bought a newspaper, and sat down to wait. 

The flight to Charlotte was pretty uneventful. We ate lunch while waiting for our connecting flight home. Once on the plane, we were speeding up for take-off when the plane didn’t seem to be accelerating properly. They pilot slowed back down, and we headed back to the terminal. We were informed that there was an issue with the fuel pump that they had been looking at before take-off and we were heading back to the terminal for them to check it out. At this point I am thinking—get me off this plane! The next announcement was that we would be going back to the terminal to unload. Once at the terminal, we were told that our flight was canceled and that we needed to go to Customer Service to see about getting on another flight. Cliff and I took the last two seats on the last flight home, waited another hour, and then were on our way. One piece of our luggage didn’t make it there that night, but they brought it to our house the next day. Funny thing is—the one suitcase that was temporarily lost contained only our dirty clothes. I got out of washing clothes for another 24 hours—LOL! 

All in all, I have to say that this was the best vacation of my entire life. We did everything that we had planned along with a few things that we didn’t plan. After researching the ship and memorizing everything I could about her, I was still in awe at her size and beauty. She was well decorated, but not too overstated. The staff was friendly and very helpful. The food was wonderful overall. We met some great new friends. Our cabin was superb, and we really felt like we had been pampered for 8 days. I can’t wait to sail RCI again, and this time take our two kids with us. This was the trip of a lifetime, and it left me with memories to last a lifetime. Thank you for letting me share them with you.

Photo courtesy of Kvaerner Masa-Yards

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