Category Archives: Journal

Hurricanes and Contracts

I’m writing this because it’s happening again. Hurricane Dorian is in the Atlantic heading towards Florida the Carolinas. PortMiami is on alert. Cruises are being rescheduled. Ports are being changed. So, the torches and pitchforks are coming out on the cruise line discussion groups.

Hurricane Season is June until November each year in the Atlantic. Many cruisers may not know there’s an actual season, and that it happens every year. These are the people who just think cruises seem to be cheaper this time of year.

Hurricanes are the cruise lines’ worst nightmare. One hurricane can disrupt multiple ships and can close ports long after they’re gone (look at the ports damaged by Irma and Maria in 2017, many of which are still rebuilding). While the cruise lines scramble to reroute ships, they get to deal with thousands of outraged passengers.

Why are they outraged? Not only because their cruise was delayed or rerouted. It because they assume they’re getting refunds because their cruise is delayed or rerouted. This is the time of year when people finally read their cruise contracts. Unfortunately, it’s usually after they’ve been told their cruise was changed or canceled.

I already talked about cruise insurance. Just get it. It’s important. It’s really important during hurricane season. However, much like reading a cruise contract, you need to know what your policy covers. Here’s why: cruise lines hate canceling cruises. It’s much easier to reschedule or reroute it, because then it sailed. So, if they reroute you, there’s no claim – unless your policy covers it. If the new route skips the only port you really wanted to visit (why didn’t you just go there?), there’s no claim – unless your policy covers it. If you decide not to go, it’s not covered unless you have a cancel for any reason policy.

So, read your policy.

If you want to know why you need cruise insurance, and understand what it covers, read your cruise contract. Then, when you’re incensed at your cruise line of choice, read another line’s. There’re probably very similar. Here’s an example, with some [embedded comments]:

[Cruise Line] may change the duration and/or itinerary of the cruise at any time. [This isn’t even in the fine print. This one sentence is really all you need to know. However, a lawyer wrote it, so let’s continue.] The Vessel shall be entitled to leave and enter ports with or without pilots or tugs, to tow and assist other vessels in any circumstances, to return to or enter any port at the Master’s discretion and for any purpose, and to deviate in any direction or for any purpose from the direct or usual course, and to omit or change any or all port calls, arrival or departure times, with or without notice, for any reason whatsoever, including but not limited to safety, security, adverse weather, hurricanes, tornadoes, strikes, tides, hostilities, civil unrest, port closings, emergency debarkations of Guests or crew, late air, sea, car or motor coach departures or arrivals, mechanical breakdowns, US or foreign governmental advisories or travel warnings, all such deviations being considered as forming part of and included in the proposed voyage. [In case you didn’t understand the short version, this was the long one. This is still not fine print.] Except as provided in Clause 7(c) with regard to early termination of a voyage, [Cruise Line] shall have no liability for any compensation or other damages in such circumstances for any change in itinerary, ports of call, ports of embarkation and debarkation, and/or or duration of the cruise, other than as provided by [Cruise Line]’s change of itinerary policy at the time Guest or his agent acknowledges receipt and acceptance of the terms and conditions of the cruise ticket contract. [Basically, “no refunds.” You acknowledged receipt when you blindly clicked through on the website. You don’t read software licenses either, do you?] [Cruise Line]’s change of itinerary policy can be found at on [Cruise Line]’s Website or at [Cruise Line]’s FAQ page. [Actually, the link fails, but it really can’t say much to undo everything here.]

That’s only one clause in the contract! (Clause 7C says the only time there’s a refund is if the cruise is completely canceled. Leaving late, coming back early, going to different ports? That’s not canceled.)

However, if you don’t read (and understand) the contract, and your seven-day Eastern Caribbean cruise becomes a six-day Western Caribbean cruise, or your Christmas cruise doesn’t go to any of the originally scheduled ports, you really don’t have much ground to stand on. You signed the contract when you ordered the cruise. Well, you clicked through.

If you don’t agree to the contract, don’t cruise that line. However, again, all the cruise lines have contracts that say pretty much the same thing.

I’m not saying don’t complain. I’m saying two things. First, when you’re bitching about your changed cruise, take a minute to remember our Caribbean friends. You had a vacation trip that wasn’t what you planned. They may have lost their house and their livelihood. Get some perspective.

I’m also saying when you complain on social media about the cruise line that “done you wrong”, don’t be surprised by the amount of people that have no sympathy.

Those are the people that read the cruise contract. Probably after their cruise was rescheduled last year.

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How clean is your cruise ship?

Cruise ships are inspected, just like restaurants. (There’s probably more to check on a ship.) So, if you’re one of those people that likes to check the restaurant scores from the local sanitation department before your visit, you would be interested in the Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP.) The VSP is administered by the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC.)

All scores are public information. You can review the inspection results and any follow-up reports here:

https://wwwn.cdc.gov/InspectionQueryTool/InspectionSearch.aspx

A passing score is an 86 which is a lot stricter than when I was in school. There are a lot of items that are checked, so there are a lot of places to go wrong, but some things are more serious than others.

There is also general information for cruise passengers available here:

https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/vsp/public/public.htm

If you just want the poop (ha!) on current disease outbreaks, go here:

https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/vsp/surv/gilist.htm#2019

Next time you go on a cruise, see how clean you ship is first!

It’s no longer a hobby

I found some notes I was making one evening, while we were waiting for our Norwegian Cruise Lines Personal Cruise Consulant (PCC) to arrive for dinner (we were in Miami, sailing the next day, so we decided to ask our PCC to dinner, since he’s booked cruises for us for nine years and we had never met him in person.)

I realized while we were waiting for Jorge to arrive that taking a person to dinner specifically because he had helped Virginia spend thousands of dollars might mean we had a slight cruising problem. Then, I realized that was probably not the only sign.

Here’s the list from that night, edited for clarity (never write notes in a bar):

  • Your PCC is on your Christmas Card list
  • You invite your PCC to dinner
  • You invite your PCC to dinner at Scarpetta because you’re trying to outdo your friends who had already taken him to dinner before their cruise
  • Your PCC is in your phone speed dial
  • Your PCC is in your phone speed dial ahead of your spouse
  • You have 3 future cruises booked and you’re looking at itineraries
  • You spend an hour determining why the sea is rough
  • You are friends with multiple crew members on Facebook
  • You are friends with multiple officers on Facebook 
  • You can say “new ship smell” non-ironically
  • Having the Hotel Director recognize you at the Meet & Greet, because he remembers you from another Meet & Greet
  • Having a favorite bartender on multiple ships
  • Knowing when crew members change ships
  • Telling a Cruise Director you know his friend, another Cruise Director, and that he says, “Hello”
  • You keep saying, “Alexa, find me a cruise” just to see what will happen
  • You’re afraid to visit the Philippines because you might be recognized 

We’re not going where?

There have been a couple of articles lately about a woman incensed at Norwegian Cruise Lines for completely ruining her long-planned birthday celebration by rerouting her cruise. It’s always interesting to me that the press covers them at all, because some of them know it’s a waste of time.

This will become even more of an issue for the entire industry now that all cruise traffic to Cuba has effectively been canceled.

Cruise lines do not always stick to the original published itineraries. Usually, this is weather-related, determined while enroute (Norwegian is famous for skipping its own private island, Great Stirrup Cay, where it tenders) and sometimes determined months beforehand – we rerouted from Harvest Caye twice because it wasn’t ready to open, and Hurricanes Irma and Maria rerouted our entire Christmas cruise in 2017.

The bottom line is that if you are specifically cruising to go to one special port, just go to that port. (If it’s one of the cruise lines’ private islands, you’re out of luck.) However, if your heart is set on going to Jamaica, just go to Jamaica for a week – don’t spend one day of a seven-day cruise in your “real” destination.

Cruise lines are regulated by the laws of the countries where they sail, and the laws of nature. If you always wanted to visit one place, just go there.

Kokomo Cruises

We were on a boat back to the ship from one of our excursions this week, and they were blaring music to keep everyone entertained (I think I have a short video of people doing “Baby Shark” and the adults seemed more into it.)

Then, they played “Kokomo.” It’s a song you really want to hate because it’s such an earworm, but it’s the Beach Boys. In fact, I think it’s their last #1 hit. So, from a songwriting standpoint, it’s wildly successful.

However, from a navigation standpoint, and yes, I am a navigation nerd, every time I hear the chorus with all the ports, I think about how implausible a cruise it would actually be – and I’ve actually been to most of the ports. So, I thought I should map it. Given the amount of posts you can find about the song, I may not be the first one to do so, but I’m the first one on this site.

This was just going to be the map, but as I tried to find the lyrics to make sure I had the islands correct, the story of the song started coming out, and it’s just .. interesting, to say the least. A Beach Boys song without Brian Wilson, written by two other California songwriters of great renown, punched up by Mike Love, and recorded for a Tom Cruise movie that I remember seeing – and I had no recollection the song was in the movie.

The mileage noted in the map is approximate, in nautical miles, from the previous port and onto the next port. I had to substitute a couple of ports since the Sea-Distance site didn’t have all the ports (strange!) but it’s probably because a couple aren’t actually cargo or cruise ports, so I just used something close (Key West is less than 100 miles from Key Largo, I used Falmouth for both calls in Jamaica because it didn’t have Montego Bay.)

I would have just asked Alexa but she tends to return distances “as the crow flies” and you can’t just sail across Florida (easily.)

Here’s our itinerary quoted from Google’ version of the lyrics:

Aruba, Jamaica, oh I want to take you to
Bermuda, Bahama, come on pretty mama
Key Largo, Montego, baby why don’t we go

Songwriters: Michael Edward Love / Terry Melcher / Scott Mckenzie / John Phillips
Lyrics Copyright (c) Walt Disney Company

Those are some heavy hitters in the song writing department. Mike Love is a co-founder of the Beach Boys, Terry Melcher produced all sorts of California bands, Scott McKenzie gave us “San Francisco” (wear some flowers in your hair!) and John Phillips founded (and was principal songwriter for) the Mamas & the Papas. John Phillips wrote the original version with Scott McKenzie, it’s on Apple Music here (I had never heard it.) Mike Love added the chorus, so the map is his fault. I’m pretty sure he did not consult a nautical chart when mapping the chorus – or he did, and he really likes sea days. However, it’s what makes the song stick in your head until you have to play something else to get it out.

Six fairly random ports in the Caribbean and Atlantic, and apparently this is a repositioning cruise, since we won’t return to the original port. We do call on Jamaica twice, though. The one place you can’t go is Kokomo itself, since it’s a fictional place.

This is over nine days of sailing – just the sailing – at eighteen knots. It’s a nice cruise, just wandering around a lot.

MSC Seaside – Summary

[Embark] [At Sea] [San Juan] [St Thomas] [St Maarten] [At Sea] [Nassau] [Disembark]

Some final thoughts (some possibly repetitious) from our first MSC cruise. Here’s a map of our journey.

Overall Impression: MSC Cruises wants to dominate the US market. They are trying to “Americanize” their existing product which has been successful in Europe for years, and they seem to have borrowed parts of each of the mass market lines in the US already: ginormous ships with bells and whistles like Royal Caribbean, a ship-within-a-ship concept like Norwegian, relatively affordable like Carnival.

They are still European, and that shows. (Well, much of the crew are Filipino, just like other lines.) If Europeans are tired of cruising near home and want to try sailing the Caribbean, my assumption is they will choose MSC Cruises, because it’s the home team. So, there is a mix of cultures on the ship, more than on the other mass market lines. If hearing languages you don’t understand bothers you, this is not your cruise line.

Dining: I thought overall the food was good. We ate more meals in the buffet than ever before and it had a decent selection. I could probably live on the pizza. My wife and I are trying to minimize the carbs and there were selections available that would help accomplish that. I’m not saying we always chose them.

I did hear someone ask where the “real food” was in the buffet. I found this hilarious, mainly because the tone was between anger and panic. If you don’t like multicultural dishes, you’ve never heard of veal scaloppine or other Mediterranean dishes and you don’t have an adventurous palate, this is not your cruise line. Look at the list of their international chef partners. If you haven’t heard of any of them, but you know who Guy Fieri is, stay with Carnival.

Late-night dining was a bit of a disappointment. They advertise the buffet is open 22 hours a day, but after 11pm or so (we were there after the late show), it was pizza and sandwiches. This is slightly better than Carnival because the pizza is better, but Norwegian has the Local (or O’Sheehans) which has a wider selection and it’s open 24×7.

The specialty restaurants were good but the meal plans all have a submenu of included choices, and you get one appetizer, one main with one side and one dessert. (In Teppenyaki, you pick your proteins and the rest is a set menu.) This gives you a much more limited selection than the menu shows. If you don’t like any of the options, you can replace it with a equivalent from the full menu at 50% off.

I liked the Butcher’s Cut steakhouse, but I will probably always upgrade since the meal plan choices were an 8oz filet, a sirloin or lamb chops. Ocean Cay (not to be confused with the deck named Ocean Cay or the new private island named Ocean Cay) didn’t have much on the menu that excited me. The was fish but not a lot of seafood. I would skip it next time. The Asian Market was very good, because as a “fusion” concept, you can order a complete dinner that is barely Asian.

We had the Trio dinner plan, which included one night at Ocean Cay, one at the Butcher’s Cut and one at the Asian Market. I prefer Norwegian’s plan where if you purchase three dinners, you can eat at the same restaurant three times if you choose. If the Trio plan requires me to have a meal at Ocean Cay, I need a different plan. There’s nothing wrong with Ocean Cay, the food and service were good, it just was a very limited menu. I had a variation on linguine with clam sauce, which was excellent but not carb friendly and it was the only main course that interested me.

We had one dinner in the dining room and the food and selection were good. I would just eat there, but after our experience with Freestyle on Norwegian, we weren’t looking forward to set dining times and assigned table mates. Of course, our table mates were lovely, and the food was good, so the fears may have been overblown.

On this itinerary, it’s easy to avoid the dining room – we had three nights with the Trio package, ate at Teppenyaki for 20% off the first cruise night, had a second (complimentary) dinner at the Butcher’s Cut with our a Black Card status, and were in port in San Juan one evening.

Entertainment: The entertainment was surprisingly good, which is to say, I enjoyed it. The shows were done by the same cast each evening, so each show was going to feature singers, jugglers, contortionists and acrobats, but each was entertaining and at thirty to forty minutes, the perfect length for the limited attention-span crowd.

There was even an opera matinee – a condensed version of Madame Butterfly. I can now say I’ve been to the opera, it was interesting and it only cost my forty minutes one afternoon.

The finale is a Michael Jackson tribute and regardless of what you think of the person, he produced some iconic music. Unfortunately, the music also had iconic videos, so watching the MJ impersonator dance while jugglers, acrobats, etc are sharing the stage did not always make sense because I was expecting the videos. It was a good show, but I thought Peter Punk, the show the previous night was stronger.

I now really don’t understand the complaints I read about the entertainment. Sure, it’s not Broadway shows, but it’s vastly superior to Carnival’s “make your own entertainment” game shows. Saying that MSC shows are “Cirque-esque” is a bit like saying the minor leagues are just like MLB, but it’s entertainment provided by professionals, and it is entertaining. If you don’t want to see the shows, there were musicians literally all over the ship.

Excursions: We booked all our excursions through MSC and were happy with all of them. In San Juan (an evening port call), we did an evening at Bacardi, which provided a quick history of rum, the history of the distillery and a discussion of the different rums they produce. Plus, you get a drink in the way in and the way out.

In St Thomas, we did a drive around the island with stops at the top of the second-highest mountain on the island and Magens Bay. We skipped the shopping and just took the ferry back to the ship.The driver/tour guide tended to repeat everything so I know Magens Bay beach is one of the top ten most beautiful beaches according to National Geographic.

In St Maarten, we were mostly concerned about times because we had a short day in port. The tour did take us over the whole island, and showed how much still needs to be done to recover from the hurricanes of 2017.

In Nassau, we did the Blue Lagoon island beach day, which is a good day at the beach in theory, except that you get into port late (scheduled arrival is noon) and you leave at seven, but we actually left early. So, with a half-hour to forty minutes each way on the ferry, and the last ferry that would make the ship’s all-aboard time at 4:15pm, it is hardly a beach “day.” This is the second time we’ve been to Blue Lagoon and we never got around to our included lunch either time. Snorkeling was fun. I’ll post the video eventually.

I was happy with the excursions. MSC doesn’t run them, but they seem to hire good companies that do.

Issues: There were only a couple of issues, but they both made Virginia unhappy and that can derail any future business. Our room steward did not know what a sharps container was. I would think he had served diabetics before and known their insulin needles don’t usually just go in the trash. I finally went to guest services where the woman who assisted me knew exactly what was needed, but later called to say they were out. She said the medical department would let us empty our portable sharps container there or the room steward could take it, have it emptied and bring it back. So, problem solved, but by asking two or three people over two days.

The second was Muster Drill. We attended and then got a letter from the Captain saying since we hadn’t attended, we needed to go to the makeup drill. I called guest services, told them we had attended, and they said ignore the letter. Good customer service, bad safety policy.

Muster Drill was very poorly run. I’m used to having a leader at each station and the leader’s job during the drill is twofold – to get people to sign in so they are counted as present, and to get people to shut up and focus. Neither was done. I was ready for an emergency because I knew where my muster station was, and I know how to put on a life jacket and follow instructions. I’m not sure all of my fellow passengers pass that test. Muster is a pain in the ass and a buzzkill, but it’s mandatory and the Concordia showed what happens if people don’t know where their muster station is or what to do when the general alarm sounds.

The only “mechanical” issue was the elevators which are the slowest known to mankind. By the third day, even rookies figured out to get in the first elevator that came along, even if it was going in the wrong direction because eventually it would go where you were trying to go.

Room service screwed up our breakfast delivery one morning and then told us the hot food we requested (at an additional charge) was no longer available because the galley was closed. This annoyed me because the delivery was late, so we discovered the problem late, but it was before hot breakfast ended. A customer-centric line would have sent a runner to the buffet to bring us the order. The rest of the time, room service worked, including producing a pot of coffee and a basket of pastries in six minutes. Again, Continental breakfast versus American breakfast.

Drinks: The restaurants serve bottled water by default, so if you ask for “water”, you have just purchased a liter of water. The only exceptions were the main dining room and Ocean Cay, which had pitchers of water. It’s possible there’s a code word for “tap water”, but we didn’t discover it.

In the buffet, there is the drink dispenser with lemonade, fruit punch, and undrinkable iced tea. There was water and ice in the ice machine. There is also a self-service soda (and beer and wine) machine. A 16oz soda from the machine is cheaper than a 12oz can from the bar.

Perks: Virginia and I are Latitudes Platinum Plus members on Norwegian, and we status-matched to MSC Voyagers Club Black a couple of years ago. Our Black status was about to expire, so we booked this cruise. Yes, we sailed to protect our status for our Christmas cruise. First-World problems.

We received more benefits with our Black Card from MSC than we get from Norwegian for being Platinum Plus. Both lines have priority embarkation, but with MSC, that means getting lead around the lines, checked in and boarded in record time. Disembarkation means an early exit but there is a color code designated for just Black members.

There was a bowl of fruit and a bottle of Prosecco in the room when we boarded.

We were invited to a Black Card-only cocktail party, which was attended by the Captain and senior staff. We received a free photo taken at the party. (The last Platinum Plus party we attended was a sales pitch.)

We were invited but didn’t attend the regular Voyagers Club party. From talking with the Captain at other parties, it sounded similar.

We each got a chocolate model of the ship.

We each got a free meal in a specialty restaurant from the meal package menu.

We each got an MSC ball cap.

The Cruise Critic Meet & Greet had free drinks and the Captain and senior staff attended. We all received a free copy of the group photo. MSC managed the party, I signed us up online and there was an invitation in our room when we boarded. On Norwegian, a Cruise Critic member has to drive the attendance and coordinate the event with the ship.

The Behind the Scenes tour included an MSC backpack and a glass of wine at the end.

That seems like a lot of swag for a week. Norwegian doesn’t really do gifts any longer and priority embarkation means you can go onboard whenever – but it took a bunch of cruises before one of our friends told us that. Norwegian gives the room a free meal in two of the specialty restaurants but the meals have limitations that are unique. The MSC limitations are the same as if you have the meal package, so it’s much easier to understand.

MSC Cruises may not care more about their repeat guests than Norwegian but they certainly act like they do.

Overall: I had a great cruise, and I think Virginia had a good to very good cruise. Nothing will ever replace Norwegian in her heart, but at the price differential currently, I would go on MSC Cruises any time, and it’s ahead of Carnival.

MSC Seaside was the largest ship we’ve sailed (I think) but except for the elevators, it didn’t seem overly crowded. The buffet was packed at times, but we always found a table.

I have a feeling many of the complaints aren’t driven by the crew, they’re driven by fellow passengers. (Someone told me when we met in the hallway that they were happy to find someone who spoke English. The crew all speak English.) If you don’t like “foreigners”, then first, you are an ugly American but secondly, don’t sail MSC Cruises.

This is not an American cruise line. This is a European company trying to attract Americans without alienating their European fans, and without having to run different ways in Europe and the US. That is a challenge, but I think they have made a good start.

We’ll be on the MSC Divina at Christmas this year.

MSC Seaside – Day 8 Disembarkation

O’Dark-Thirty: Ships should embark weekly at 11pm so we could get in at a reasonable hour. I feel for the people out partying last night. I was doing homework, and I’m whipped.

One loose end from yesterday: our dessert from the Butcher’s Cut was delivered. Well, mine was. Room Service didn’t have Virginia’s ice cream. When they called to explain, she ordered water and Coke Zero instead. The drinks were delivered with apologies for not having the ice cream. I think the drinks were comp’ed, because I didn’t sign anything.

7:00am: Last view from the balcony.

7:30am: Last moment of panic when I can’t find my key, just to remember that if I’m not in the dark, my key is in the slot by the door.

Virginia just explained the concepts of cruising ducks to the room steward who didn’t grasp a Sharps container. I fear for our duck in the safe.

7:40am: We’re being held up by the number of self-walk off passengers. This is better than “the ship has not been cleared” but not as good as, “we’re delayed, so the Swedish Bikini team is bringing everyone coffee.”

Did I mention I missed coffee in the room?

7:48am: First color called. We’re fourth, I think.

Sleepy Cranky People

7:58am-ish Group called. One more trek across the Seaside. Only a couple of “meant to do that” moments. I will miss the ship.

8:25am: Met Luggage Forward porter. If we never see the bags again, it’s because Virginia didn’t tip him.

8:28am: In the Uber, heading to FLL. MSC terminal has retina scan recognition so one stop, no passports. Customs is declarations only, no forms to fill out.

8:35am: Traffic jam. Did not miss traffic. This will make disembarking look even faster.

9:02am Exiting for the airport. So, for whomever will ask on Cruise Critic this week, no, you probably can’t make a 9am flight from Ft Lauderdale.

9:10am Check-in for flight.

9:25am: American won’t check bags until four hours before a flight at FLL. Yet another reason to fly Southwest whenever possible.

10:25am: Bored, bored, bored. In an hour, we can check our bags. That’s the only thing keeping me alive at this point.

11:20am: Still bored but ten minutes to go. Then, security. I never thought something would make me look forward to being able to go through security.

1:30pm: Have almost memorized which stations have working plugs or working USB plugs or both or neither. Yes, I am bored. Also, old people talk loudly and repetitively, so you don’t need to be that close to get a status.

Inbound plane should be here in about an hour. Please, Lord.

There are a crap ton of people at the gate for a flight that doesn’t leave for two hours.

2:00pm: Lunch time. Unfortunately, FLL Terminal 3 is a wasteland. We may be eating at the bar. Seriously, people in airports are in a hurry. Why are airports being clogged with low-quality, slow-service, expensive restaurants? Can’t we just have a McDonald’s or Burger King which isn’t the best, but it’s fast and consistent?

2:10pm: Case in point – Jack Nicklaus’ namesake restaurant. Potential customer asked if they have food to go. Greeter said “No, but if you sit at a table and order, you can ask for a to go box.” They left. $13 for a club sandwich. We’ll see how long it takes to get. Lobster nachos as a starter. I would only order lobster in an airport restaurant as my last meal, because it would kill me before the executioner could. At least, they have iced tea. I should have ordered an Arnold Palmer, just to see what they would do.

Sandwiches arrived almost immediately. I hope they were microwaved long enough.

$37 for lunch, and you feel obligated to tip because it was table service. It wasn’t bad, but, Lord, it wasn’t good. Airplane food is starting to look reasonable.

3:08pm: On the plane.

3:50pm: Climbing, on the way home.

4:00pm: Just found out on Facebook that one of our pirate ducks is retiring to England. It looks like that particular duck was found three times in two days, because the other finders rehid him. Most are still unaccounted. Waiting for news.

5:15pm: Preparation for landing. iPad stowed? Check. Tray table up? Check. Seat back up? Check. Seat belt fastened? Check. Now, I need to pee? Check.

5:20pm: Ears popped. I never had this problem at sea level.

5:30pm: On the ground. I need a cruise.

5:40pm: Stuck in the DFW penalty box, waiting for our gate to open up. You know, I have never heard a ship’s Captain say, “Uh, there’s somebody at our dock, so we’re just going to anchor out here in the bay until they can push back and get out of our way. Shouldn’t be more than about ten minutes.”

There are no airlines but American at this terminal. Why does this happen so often? Do they not read their own timetable?

I need a cruise.

5:50pm: Moved to a new gate. Yea! Gate has no crew. Boo!

I need a cruise.

6:00pm: Some times, after a week’s cruise and a flight home, you’re given a sign that you’re just a rookie traveler. As in, the men’s room by A16 baggage claim.

The trip is done.

MSC Seaside – Day 7 Nassau

9:15am: Leisurely morning, because it’s a port day, but we don’t get into port until noon. This is my kind of port day.

Received an email from one of our ducks, so that’s a couple that have been found. One had his photo posted on Facebook – the one I think was found, hidden again and found again in about four hours.

Today is the day I really miss having a coffee pot in the room. I may have to see if there is any cold caffeine in the minibar – which would imply someone actually restocked it.

9:30am Actively avoiding my homework at this point. We received luggage tags in our room last night. As Black Card members, we have priority disembarkation tomorrow at 7:45am. That is not my idea of priority. I have to go tell the Luggage Forward people when to meet us outside customs to collect our larger suitcases and start the shipment home.

10:00am Called Room Service and asked for a pot of coffee and a couple of cinnamon rolls.

10:06am Six minutes! Coffee is here. This is a world record for room service. I received a pot of coffee, two coffee cups, five croissants, two chocolate croissants, three cinnamon rolls, cream, sugar, butter and jam. Jackpot! Apparently, the problem all along has been Virginia’s weird-ass food orders.

11:30am-ish We are docked in Nassau. Our excursion doesn’t meet until 12:10pm. MSC excursions seem to meet after all the “must be first off” lunatics have fled the ship.

11:45am Done with half of my homework (the easy half.) Always have three hours on the plane tomorrow to finish.

12:10pm Apparently picked the most popular excursion in the history of Nassau. In a long, long line. Saw a woman put her excursion sticker between her boobs. Uh, White Trash? That is not a temporary tattoo.

1:00pm-ish Made it to Blue Lagoon Island. Paid extra for a clamshell for some shade, since the “natural” coconut trees had fairly pathetic leaves. We also rented snorkel gear, which requires a refundable deposit, but then you have to leave time for the refund transaction.

Claimed a clamshell while Virginia visited the little girls’ room. Was asked twice if I had rented the clamshell already. Much like Muster Drill, saying “Yes” was enough.

Managed to get some snorkeling time. Fish are very close in.

Got two of our six Bahama Mamas and the alcohol almost killed Virginia. Amateur. They are made with light rum, which as we learned from Bacardi rum class can taste more like alcohol than darker rum. Also, someone probably complained about watery drinks, so there be some rum in this, arrr!

After she poured hers out (travesty!), we returned the snorkel gear to get our deposit back and tried another bar. Virginia was still horrified, I thought it was tasty. She switched to fruit punch.

5:30pm-ish Back from the excursion. Greeted by a filthy room because I managed to leave the Do Not Disturb sign on. Apparently, it really is sacred, even though I’m pretty sure Marc the room steward saw us leave. So, I asked for some extra towels and we’ll let him deal with it while we’re at dinner.

7:00pm Called Specialty Reservations to move our dinner at the Butcher’s Cut, and was told, “No problem.” So, thinking it is a bit pricey down there. We’ll get there when we can, but we have to be done in time to get to Starwalker at 9:45pm. How else to finish a cruise than with a Michael Jackson tribute?

7:45pm Just remembered I have a $70 voucher for the casino. Cash it or lose it before we get 12 miles from Miami.

8:00pm 2 bags packed. Luggage tags done. You have to put a matching tag sticker on your cabin key. I’m thinking this is so the crew can recognize who overpacked. Virginia’s key is now difficult to read.

Both showered. 95% dressed. Hoping to make it to dinner less than an hour late.

Missing first of many pirate activities this evening. Pirate Night seems to be more serious than some of the other themed evenings.

8:15pm Dinner at the Butcher’s Cut. Meal plans get one app, one main, one side, one dessert. If you don’t like the choices available, you can swap for anything equivalent on the main menu for 50% off. (They also remind you that you can purchase anything you like for full price.)

The steaks on the meal plan are an 8oz filet, a sirloin or lamb chops. We upgraded to a Tomahawk for two ($98 list, $49 on the meal plan – I think.)

On our second bottle of water, so the steak may end up looking cheap. It did. I had a gin and tonic, upgraded to Oysters Rockefeller for an appetizer and Virginia had hot tea. The money I couldn’t figure out was the water bill.

9:30pm Checking out quickly before our show reservations are cancelled. Matre’d offered to have our desserts delivered to our room since we ran out. That could be interesting, since Virginia had ice cream.

9:40pm Watching people jockey for seats. It’s getting ugly.

9:45pm Good show. The issue with Michael Jackson’s songs is that the videos are iconic, as well, so adding or replacing items doesn’t jibe.

10:20pm Cashed in our casino “winnings.” Marc will be getting a tip after all.

10:25pm Hid the last two ducks. One was immediately found.

10:40pm Not the time to look at photos. Not that there is ever a good time …

Random Thoughts: I miss iced tea. No cruise line includes sodas, but most include water, tea and coffee. MSC has iced tea in the buffet out of a machine – which means it’s diluted mix and it is vile. I miss decent iced tea for free everywhere on the ship.

MSC Seaside – Day 6 Sea Day

7:00am Waiting for our breakfast delivery. I did the form last night instead of Virginia, so the question is – will we get another breakfast tower or not?

It’s gorgeous outside – it’s a shame it’s so damn early. The Behind the Scenes tour is 90 minutes away.

Morning

Just checked the WiFi because photos aren’t uploading. Except for a couple of hiccups like this, the WiFi has been solid all over the ship – and it hasn’t disconnected at random times. The only issue is that you can’t force a device offline from another device (which Norwegian lets you do.) So, if you leave your iPad online in the cabin, there’s no way to get your phone online until you go back to the cabin, get the iPad and logout.

You also can’t charge devices while you’re away, because the room requires a room key to turn on the power. I haven’t tried using my hotel key which was an old trick on Norwegian until they started enforcing “no bodies, no power” in the rooms.

7:30am Breakfast has arrived and a much shorter tower than yesterday. I am now in charge of ordering breakfast.

Just remembered I have homework due this week. What day is this?

8:00am Slamming down breakfast. Meeting point for the excursion is the theater, so that’s one place we’ve been before. However, it’s four decks down and that means the dreaded elevators. As slowly as Christmas came when you were a child, as slowly as five o’clock comes when you’re an adult, as slowly as Virginia gets ready in the morning, nothing is as slow as the elevators on this ship. Add in the staggering number of people who do not know “down” from “up”, and you are almost guaranteed to be late for everything.

8:20am Signed in. Waived. I don’t remember signing waivers before. Tagged. First question will be “Can you show me where coffee is made and can I have a large sample?” Second question will be “Why is the casino closed when were in the middle of the ocean?”

Seeing a lot of open-toed shoes down here. Waiting to see if there’s a shoe check. (Norwegian sent a woman back to her cabin to change shoes once.)

11:30am Tour wrapping up. With a glass of wine and snacks. It was a very comprehensive tour – I’ll add notes later.

Visited on the tour:

  • The stage, dressing rooms and sound control booth in the theater
  • The Yacht Club (marketing genius!)
  • The crew bar
  • The red and white wine cellars
  • The drink cellar
  • The galley storeroom
  • The laundry
  • The crew & passengers laundry
  • The print shop
  • The main galleys
  • Wine and snacks to end

We were each given a backpack at the end of the tour.

We’ve been on other Behind the Scenes tours, and this felt more detailed than others. It also cost less. We’ve never been allowed in the “private” crew area before. We’ve never heard the print shop mentioned although other ships must have one – that’s where the Daily Planner is created.

It’s interesting that there are two laundries, basically one for linens (towels, sheets, tablecloths, napkins) and one for clothes – staff and officers uniforms and guest laundry items. We saw the infamous machine that puts the semi-permanent tags on your clothes when you send them out. The crew can do their own laundry or some just pay other crew members to do it for them.

Only an Italian (or perhaps French) cruise ship would have separate wine cellars to keep red and white wines at serving temperature.

The genius portion of the tour was visiting the Yacht Club. I now wonder why Norwegian doesn’t think to show the Haven. “Here’s the private bar. Here’s the private pool. Here’s the restaurant – there’s no set times, just eat when you want. Here’s the concierge who solves all your problems.” Seriously? Look at all the room up here. Look at all the services. Why am I in the cheap seats? Brilliant marketing.

MSC crew doesn’t call the main corridor “I-95” like on other cruise lines. It’s the “corridor.”

12:15pm Lunch at the Seashore restaurant. This is our first non-buffet lunch. Another relatively small menu.

12:30pm Captain’s announcement – the first I’ve heard. Well, didn’t hear because it’s noisy in the restaurant and nobody else seems to care what the Captain has to say. The beginning was navigation information which very few of us care about so it generally gets drowned out.

1:00pm Photo Gallery. What exactly is in the package Virginia purchased?

2:00pm Cappuccino at the Seashore Bar. First drink at a bar all week that wasn’t comp’ed – and there’s no booze in it. (Virginia tells me before every cruise that she wants to spend some evenings at a bar listening to music and it never, ever happens. We will watch inane game shows. We will see shows. We will go to the buffet. We will have snacks at the 24-hour restaurant. We will never listen to music.)

2::45pm Naps and homework. I’m not napping.

MSC Seaside – Day 5 St Maarten (Abridged)

Crack of Dawn: It’s another early excursion.

7:00am Breakfast arrived – our second attempt at American breakfast. Thinking someone extrapolated three orders of bacon (Virginia meant “extra bacon”) into three orders of everything. This is a lot of eggs. I will just call it the “Breakfast Tower.”

Breakfast Tower

When you order “bread”, you get bread and not toast. When you ask for it to be toasted, you get bread. We did get jelly and butter this morning.

I have coffee, so I’m happy. It really is nice coffee.

They take the order form away after you sign it, so I can’t verify everything, but Virginia had bacon and eggs, and I have coffee, so I don’t care.

Morning in St Maarten.

We have our first trip to Maho Beach today, the beach where you go to see airplanes and not sand. We’ve been to St Maarten before, just never there.

7:55am Slamming down breakfast so we can head out. I thought I should post this for all the ladies desperately waiting for a photo of me in my Speedos.

You’re welcome.

8:35am Checked in for the excursion. No ponchos issued. Good weather ahead!

8:40am Excursion called. Right on time again. Wondering about the people who think MSC is inefficient.

(They did spell “St Maarten” incorrectly, but they knew one of the vowels was doubled.)

9:00am Survived the parking lot march. Driver saved the front seats for us. Sometimes, crying works. As the bus pulled out of the parking lot, an ambulance (with lights and siren blazing) was pulling in. I hope they weren’t coming for us.

9:20am Entering St Martin. Second country in one day. Time to switch from Dutch Gin to French wine.

9:30am Orient Bay Beach. Still rebuilding from the hurricane. Only two bars open. The tour doesn’t even stop. Very sad.

9:45am Driving through Grand Case. Rebuilding. Hurricane Irma was a bitch.

10:15am Marigot. Half-hour stop. Multiply souvenir total charges by two to get dollars spent per hour.

Virginia found the jewelry maker she couldn’t buy something from in 2015 because she ran out of cash. Same vendor, same location, same handmade jewelry – some still hand-colored by his girlfriend (not sure if she’s the same girlfriend.) So, something survived the hurricane.

Hurricane Irma is still the star of the tour, which is tragic. For islands that get almost all their supplies by air or ship, it takes a long, long time to rebuild, especially when most of the money is from tourists who don’t pay to see devastation. It’s not as bad as I feared, but it’s not as good as I had hoped.

11:15am Maho Beach. Plane landed as we were trying to park. Don’t think they have the same guarantee as Alaska whale watching.

Plane-watching at Maho Beach is like deep-sea fishing on other islands – you go when the tour times are, not when the planes actually arrive. So, Jet Blue arrived while we were a couple of miles away (but we saw it) and a commuter plane landed while we were in the traffic jam for the parking lot.

The beach is packed. We found two seats at a bar. All we had was plastic, but if the charge was over $20, they’d take it. Luckily, their signature drinks are $13 each.

Jet Fuel and Purple Nurple

YouTube has invented an entire generation that thinks an iPhone is the best possible way to capture anything and if it’s on a stick, you’re a serious photographer.

I’m pretty sure some of the people in the water are just trying to get other people out of their shot.

12:15pm Carousel Gelato Factory. Why wouldn’t a French-Dutch island have an Italian gelato factory? The Stratcietella was molto bene. Our driver told someone there’s one more photo stop and we’re heading back to the ship. (We sail at 2pm.)

12:30pm One last overlook of the Dutch side. Can’t see the ship. Hmm. Hope it’s further down the road.

Virginia just showed me her photo of what’s in a Jet Fuel. Glad I am not driving the bus. Wondering why I’m not asleep.

1:05pm The ship is still at the dock. Whew. So is the Allure of the Seas. That’s a lot of tourists.

1:45pm Back in the cabin.

2:00pm As suggested by a couple we met at the Meet & Greet, Virginia now has a redneck Sharps container.

2:30pm Finally saw our next door neighbors in the buffet this afternoon, just after I mentioned to Virginia that I hadn’t seen them on their balcony since the first afternoon during sail away when they were wearing matching “God is Good” t-shirts and Virginia decided to tell them about the bimbos on the Norwegian Bliss that had flashed a Coast Guard boat escorting us out of the harbor. Their response was muted “Tsk, tsk, the things people do”, but I figured the rest of the cruise, they’ve been down in the Chapel, praying for her immortal soul. So, I was glad to see them eating at last. Virginia is either saved or a lost cause.

5:00pm Attended our first MSC Voyagers Club party. Since we status-matched from Norwegian Platinum Plus, we are Black Card members (soon to be called Diamond members.) They are changing the name because “diamond” reflects all the values provided. It will also prevent angry people of all races and colors from yelling, “I’m Black, dammit!” at the crew.

The last couple of Platinum Plus parties in Norwegian were hosted by the Future Cruise team and were basically sales calls (with free drinks) but the MSC party invitation came from the cruise director and the Captain mentioned we’d have drinks again when he found out our status at the Meet & Greet, so I have higher hopes.

The Captain came by and said, “Hello.” He asked if we were on a back-to-back since he recognized us. He told the couple we were sitting with (Norwegian cruisers and in the Yacht Club this week) he would see them at the Voyagers Club party tomorrow. There’s another one?

Interesting to watch the senior staff all toast and sip with the Captain and then immediately have their glasses collected. Meanwhile, I had three sips of my red wine and was asked if I wanted another.

So, hearing the Captain speak about new ships and the new terminal is much more interesting than hearing a salesperson talk about cruises.

I had another Aperol Spritz after the red wine. I’m hoping we will see the vat of Aperol Spritz on the Behind the Scenes tour in the morning.

Also, the Captain was talking with other guests when we left. The last time I spent that much social time with a Norwegian Captain, I had paid to have him perform our renewal vows.

I have always said there are Captains who are ambassadors of the line and there are Captains who drive the ship. This is an ambassador – even if nobody ever introduces the rest of the senior staff.

6:00pm Had our photos taken on the Bridge of Sighs. This is a romantic bridge across the two towers of the ship. You can look down though the Bridge of Sighs ten decks or so. For Virginia, it is the Bridge of Screams. Mainly screaming, “Don’t look down!”

6:45pm More photos. I hate photos. Virginia has bad legs and a bad back, but she can stand for hours for photos that I can guarantee we will never buy. Ship photographers do the same poses regardless of the subject, so there are some standard poses I know one or both of us will veto. But, boy, can she stand a long time!

6:55pm (or so) Stopped by the photo counter to move the photos in my account to Virginia’s, since she has the unlimited package. Others have said this was very painful and this went easily, so I’m doubtful.

7:05pm Found the funny photographer. He’s the one who shot photos at the Black Card party, He thought our standard “choking” photo concept was funny.

7:30pm Dinner at Ocean Cay, the final specialty restaurant on the ship. Ocean Cay is also the name of one of the decks of the Seaside and the name of MSC’s new private island. Marketing needs to work a bit harder on the naming. We met a woman the other night who was extremely confused because Ocean Cay wasn’t on the Ocean Cay deck. Wait until she finds out Ocean Cay isn’t on Ocean Cay, the island, either.

This is a very small menu and if you are on the dinner package, even more so, because a number of dishes are excluded.

Crab cakes were excellent. The fancy pasta with a name Virginia didn’t recognize was basically linguine and clam sauce and I would order it again.

We both finished with pistachio ice cream. I’m afraid Virginia is going to try to smuggle some home in our suitcases.

9:45pm Tonight’s show is Fly. We missed getting to the theater in time for the XL seats. The MSC theater has comfy seats, but there are a couple on each side and in the front row that are seats and a half. So, if you feel squeezed in a regular seat, find those.

10:45pm Had almost enough luck in the casino to counter Virginia’s lack of it. Almost. The fun part of penny slots is hitting a 500 point win and seeing the lights and hearing the bells go off. The sad part is realizing it’s five bucks.

We found our invitation to the Welcome Back reception in the room. It’s tomorrow night, which means formal attire – it’s the second formal night of the cruise. See earlier tirade on the stupidity of formal night.

Random Notes: This was one of our shortest port calls ever. Because we’re calling on Nassau on Friday instead of just taking two full sea days to get back to Miami, we were in port in St Maarten from 7am until 2pm. Then, we head to Nassau, 940 nautical miles away – over nine times the distance from St Thomas to St Maarten. Probably not a good day to roll your own excursion.

The excursion we took was visiting ten points around the island and it was illuminating, depressing and hopeful all at the same time. The damage from Hurricane Irma was presented very matter of fact, not asking for help or sympathy, just the fact that hurricanes happen and damages result. We learned that September 5, 1995, Hurricane Luis hit St Martin as a Cat 5 storm. Twenty-two years and a day later, Irma hit. There is still damage from Luis. That’s how bad hurricanes can be in a relatively poor country that depends on tourism for most of their income.

We missed port calls on our Christmas cruise at St Thomas and St Maarten (among others) in 2017 because of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. There were people on Cruise Critic and Facebook bitching that their itineraries were changed because of the hurricanes. That was a trivial issue compared to what the islanders dealt with – and are still dealing with today.

Ironically, the best way to help is to visit. They need tourism. Sure, there are still some broken areas, but the islands are open for business. Take a cruise, take a plane, then take a tour and buy some rum. Buy a native a cocktail. Buy hand-crafted souvenirs. Eat in the restaurants, drink in the bars, sleep in the hotels. It’s certainly the most painless way to help your fellow man.

On my bitching about having to take photos every evening, I have been reminded that someone in my party who is not I bought the unlimited photo package so we get digital downloads of all the photos that are taken of us. This of course means we should take lots and lots of photos because otherwise the six that don’t suck are really expensive. It’s much better to have dozens of photos you’ll never show anyone, ever, because the cost per photo is lower.

We need to take lots and lots of photos because the photo situation is radically different than other lines. There is no photographer wandering in the restaurants every evening. (This is not a bad thing.) There are no photographers at the bottom of the gangway as you leave for excursions – this may be because excursion groups are formed onboard and then lead outside to the luxury coaches buses. The only way you seem to have your photo taken is to seek out a photographer or attend a party.

Someone in our party (not I) assumed MSC Cruises interrupted all your dinners and harassed you as you left the ship, and all those photos would be in the unlimited photo package. Oops.

I mentioned yesterday that our Kleenex holder had never been filled and today it was. That is an amazing coincidence or someone at MSC is reading this blog. If someone is reading the blog, I would like a Aperol Spritz delivered at 8am tomorrow, to take the edge off the early morning. (We have the Behind the Scenes tour in the morning at 8:30. So much for sleeping in on a sea day.)