Beautiful Ocean View

Panama Canal Part 2

The view of the ocean from the cruise ship as it travelled towards South America.

My husband and I are on our way to South America, after traveling by our personal vehicle to Pompano Beach, Fla, with stops in Washington, D.C., Charlotte, N.C. and in an Uber to the cruise port in Miami. We have just set sail on a cruise ship, having experienced a few minor glitches on a line we have never used before.

On every ship, we meet people who have cruised many times, some as many as fifty. There are many incentives for those people, such as free laundry, a few dinners in the specialty restaurants and priority check-in. Most of the people in which we come into contact, like us, have a few cruises under their belts and then there are the newbies. I know many people who say, “I could never do that” or question what takes place on a ship, the size of the staterooms and if passengers are herded around during the entire trip.

First, yes, they could do this! I don’t like water and I do just fine.

The size of the stateroom depends on the price you pay. There are a few very large suites with many large windows and large balconies, but come with a large price tag. We have stayed in small inside rooms with no windows, outside rooms with an obstructed view, meaning there was a lifeboat hanging in front of our window, a room with a round window with a sill large enough to sit in and in a balcony room where one end is a large glass door, opening onto a small balcony, such as this cruise.

Even the most basic room has ample storage space with many drawers, cupboards and a fairly large closet. Under the large mirror is a vanity with a seat and there is usually a full-length mirror attached to the inside of a closet door. An ice bucket and glasses are always present and sometimes a coffee pot, as was the case with this room. There are always bottles of alcoholic beverages and water on the counter and more in the refrigerator, all with a steep price attached.

A measured mile walking/jogging course is often found on Deck 6, which happened to be the case on this ship. Three and a half laps equaled a mile on this course.

All rooms have TVs that offer the ship’s channels. One provides important information about muster drills, another with general ship info, one gives a view from the bow cam or what is directly in front of the ship and there is a channel that pushes the ship’s art auctions and another tells about cruises and excursions. The ship also has a channel that televises their game shows. There are a few movie channels, a sports channel and some news channels. This particular line offered BBC, Fox News and MSNBC. The line-up, also, included an adventure channel and a sitcom channel.

Every stateroom has a safe with most being quite easy to use by entering a four-digit code chosen by the room occupant or by sliding the key card. The safe on this line was more complicated than we were used to, but was not difficult to use.

The bathroom size depends on the room selected. All of our bathrooms have looked pretty much the same and been the same size, compact, but sufficient. On one ship, we were surprised to find another small room that had a mini bathtub, which made this person who prefers baths over showers, very happy. Every square inch of the bathroom is made of a plastic-like material. There is a sink, shelves and mirror on one side of the room and a shower and toilet on the other. Rather than supply little bottles of shampoo, conditioner and body wash, cruise ships have dispensers attached to the shower wall and near the sink. There is a receptacle for a shaver near the mirror. The hair dryer in this particular bathroom was mounted on the wall and resembled the hose of a vacuum cleaner with a small hard plastic end.

A daily program of the next day’s happenings is left in every stateroom each night by the room steward when he or she turns down the beds. The programs, which are printed on the ship, give the weather forecast, time of sunrise and sunset and if it is a sea day or a port day. If it is a port day, information is given about the time the ship docks, the time all passengers must be on board and if they need picture ID. There are notes about safety, if the port is in a questionable area.

A long list of scheduled activities, music venue locations and entertainment are listed. Game shows such as “Deal or No Deal,” “What’s My Line” and others are often played daily or at least several times during the cruise. Bingo is offered for a fee. Many other games are organized by the cruise staff. Daily Sudoku, trivia and crossword puzzles are available in the library, where puzzles and games can be used or signed out.

Most, if not all music, including karaoke, takes place in an area that sells alcoholic beverages. If you turn down the offer of a drink, in most cases, you will not be bothered about it again. There is usually a singing pianist, a guitarist who strums and sings, a jazz ensemble, a string quartet and a DJ located in various spots throughout the ship. This ship had a Latin band as well, which was appropriate for a cruise to South America.

Complimentary theater productions happen in the large theater on some cruise lines. They took place in various areas on this cruise, some in places with limited seating when folding chairs had to be set up by the crew. There is always a comic and magic show. Our ship had a hypnotist. Holland America usually has a large room with comfortable chairs and a drop-down screen for showing movies. They also provide bags of popcorn. Carnival shows movies on the deck by the pool, weather permitting, and popcorn is also provided.

There are social gatherings for solo travelers, LGBTQI groups, military and veterans and some others. Chess and bridge players and knitters and stitchers are often scheduled to meet. Alcoholics Anonymous meets frequently. There are always food demonstrations and/or cooking classes on board. This ship had sushi making and fruit-carving demonstrations and a Spanish 101 class was offered. The more outgoing person may want to learn to Cha Cha or Latin dance at poolside with sunbathing onlookers. A salsa dance class was available in one of the lounges on this cruise.

There are multiple ways to spend money when cruising. Excursions are usually a little pricey, because a middleman is involved. They can be ordered online before beginning the cruise or as late as the morning of the particular outing, but it may be sold out. I’m not suggesting this, but many, including us, venture out on their own. We once went with three others in an older woman’s van for a great tour for little money. Another time we went for a walk while waiting for our excursion to begin, only to find that where we had just been, covered most of the excursion for which we had each paid $65. Use extreme caution if you choose this method and do not venture out alone.

A visit to the ship’s shops may tempt one with perfumes, clothing, sunglasses, cigarettes and cigars and more expensive items such as cameras, binoculars and jewelry. There are art sales, future cruise sales, salons and spas. And there is always the ship’s casino. Some cruisers choose to buy the drink packages for soft drinks, alcohol and even bottled water. This particular line does not allow alcohol or water to be carried on, but some other lines allow a limit of one or two bottles of wine and we have seen people carrying whole cases of water as they boarded. Bottled water was very expensive on our ship, six bottles for $14.95 plus a 20% gratuity and beverage service charge. Resist fancy plastic decanters in the shape of a rocket ship, pirate, monkey or whatever else is filled with the drink of the day, because it costs an exorbitant price and you will, more than likely, put it in the next yard sale.

There is an added fee for meals taken in the specialty restaurants. Attending demonstrations is another way people often spend money, because there is always something for sale at the end that one cannot live without. A foot analysis could end with an attempt to sell a special insert or soothing foot cream. Raffles in the gift shop, jewelry shop and spa and “Guess the Price of the Painting” are sure ways to get mail at your stateroom door offering last chance or one of a kind deals.

Painting classes where everyone paints the same simple picture on a canvas are available for a price. There are professional portrait studios onboard. Some lines snap pictures as you board and at table side in the dining room on every formal dress night or in the atrium. This can be fun or amusing on a first, second or even third cruise, but after that, seasoned cruisers tend to wave the photographers away. After all, how many cruise pictures can you use?

So, think before you hand over your room key card, because it is connected to your charge card. Our friends witnessed a young couple getting their final bill on the last night of their cruise. The computer spit out page after page to the novice cruisers’ dismay. It is too easy to rack up a big bill on a cruise ship, but this does not have to be the case.

Buffet meals and meals taken in the dining rooms are complimentary. Some lines have two formal dress nights per week in their main dining rooms. Norwegian has done away with that. Resort casual and shorts are allowed on other nights, but tank tops, flip-flops and baseball caps are prohibited in all dining venues. Carnival Cruise Line is known for their singing wait staff, who put on a little show that lasts a few minutes several times per week. The headwaiter speaks over the intercom to the diners several times throughout the cruise.

Several lines have assigned seating at assigned times, with an option of anytime dining, if the cruiser signs up when purchasing the ticket or when boarding. Norwegian only uses anytime dining. This applies to the dining room only.

Complimentary pizza and ice cream are available around the clock on Carnival. Ice cream is available until 11:00 PM on Holland America and until 9:30 on Norwegian. I know this because it is one of the first things my husband checks after boarding.

Room service is free on Holland America and a fruit bowl is left in the room. Cruisers make choices on how to fill it by checking apples, pears, bananas and/or oranges on a form.

There is at least one pool on every ship, a few hot tubs and a basketball court. Every guest has use of the gym located in an area with large windows facing the ocean. A measured mile walking/jogging course is often found on Deck 6, which happened to be the case on this ship. Three and a half laps equaled a mile on this course. I was surprised to learn that one end was closed from 8 AM to 8 PM in an effort to discourage jogging at this time, making it difficult to calculate the distance walked. It is still better than the ship that had theirs on a tiny Deck 12 where 15 laps equaled 1 mile. Not only were the walkers walking in circles, but dodging golf balls from the miniature golf course at the same time. Some of the newer, larger ships have water slides, zip-lines and go-cart tracks.

Most ships have a chapel. This particular ship had a self-led Hanukah service every evening at 6:00. We have been on ships that had a resident priest who conducted mass. My husband has arranged Christian services on our last three or four voyages, with 16-60 attending.

So, the answer to the question of whether people are herded on cruise ships is “no,” because there are so many activities, the guests are spread throughout the ship with a few holed up in their rooms reading or watching movies. To be continued.