Saturday, December 30, 2023

Florida-Bahamas Cruise 2023 - Day 4 - Nassau, Bahamas


Florida-Bahamas Cruise - Day 4 - Nassau, Bahamas - 12/12/23

I woke up very early, and couldn’t get back to sleep. So, I started checking my email before starting my daytime routine, and was unsure about going to the dining room again for breakfast. So I dawdled and went to the buffet.

After breakfast, I bought a couple of cheap watches and found that one of them didn’t work. I’ll have to return it before the end of the day. (Where did I put that tiny receipt?) Getting back to the room, I found that the steward had made the bed - and I proceeded to take my nap. When I got up, I checked my email and social media, finding that someone posted about the cruise I’m taking. Seems like the cruise line’s app is now reporting that instead of the cruise line’s private island,
we’ll be in Miami tomorrow. No one knows what’s up yet.  As I left for lunch, the room steward handed me some papers - Miami is our next port due to weather conditions at the private island.  This meant, we will have to be processed by US Customs before doing anything else for the day. AARGH!

As I noted in an earlier post, the buffet is open for lunch until 2:30 pm. Today, the buffet was relatively empty when I arrived, but there were no utensils to be found. I snagged the last set available in any of the usual places and proceeded to have a totally forgettable lunch. I’m not sure if this is always the case when it’s 20 minutes before closing, as the ship was performing a mandatory crew safety drill. This time, they were practicing (from what I could tell) what they needed to do if there was an accident/emergency that forced the ship to limp back to port. From what I could tell, a good number of the ship’s crew were participating in this exercise, as there were fewer staff than usual manning the public food and drink venues.

I gazed at the light show in the promenade before going to the theater to hear a performer doing show tunes. The singer was very good, but not up to the hype given to us by the cruise director. My next stop was at the cruise line’s steakhouse. The value of the meal was very good, but I’ve had better steaks on both NCL and Princess. (I’m not knocking the steaks on this ship. I’m noting that the head chefs on the other lines have better eyes for good beef being bought en masse.) I must note that the waiter didn’t get my wine order correct. I asked for a Merlot (which is on my plan) and not a Malbec (which is not), then in the end got a Zinfandel. It did go well with the steak, but I was not in the mood to delay my wine service any longer.

My next stop was to exchange the faulty watch, so I killed 45 minutes waiting for the stores to reopen. After a minute or two, I had a new, working wristwatch I could wear with gold jewelry. Then it was back to the theater to see a comedian (Dave Konig) do his act. For the first 20 minutes, he didn’t get much of a laugh from me. But when he started a bit about a fictional “Bronx Airlines”, he got me laughing. (Think of Mafia enforcers running an airline, and you’ll get the idea this gag is built on.) It was a nice way to end the evening.

Friday, December 29, 2023

Florida-Bahamas Cruise 2023 - Day 3 - Port Canaveral


Bahamas Cruise - Day 3 - Port Canaveral - 12/11/23

I had a good night’s sleep last night. How do I know this? I had a strange dream that was pleasant, but can no longer recall. And that’s just as well as I was woken by the alarm on my phone and made it in time to have breakfast in one of the ship’s restaurants. What a mistake that was!

Over the years, I have developed a preference for having my meals in a dining room over getting my meals from a buffet table. This ship, the MSC Meraviglia, has fixed dining hours for its restaurants. Dining room meals are scheduled as follows:
  1. Breakfast - One seating - 7:30 am to 9:00 am
  2. Lunch - One seating - 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm
  3. Dinner - Two seatings - 6:45 pm and 8:45 pm
If one doesn’t arrive within the breakfast and lunch hours, one has to go to the buffet for one’s meals. If one doesn’t arrive within 15 minutes of one’s scheduled dinner seating, one has to go to the buffet for this meal. My first night’s dinner seating was horrendous, because fixed seating on the first night takes a lot more time and effort from everyone involved. But the second night’s dinner was almost a pleasure, save that they assumed that I wanted red wine with dinner before I had the chance to choose my meals from the menu.

Today, I had the chance to try out this ship’s breakfast in the dining room. I wished I had gone to the buffet due to its so-called service.  It took almost 15 minutes to be seated when I arrived - MSC is not good at anything that resembles flexible service. A menu was hurriedly put in front of me, and my order was quickly taken. But that was it for the next 30 minutes. No water was delivered to my table, no one asked whether I wanted coffee (there wasn’t even a cup on the table if I wanted any), and no food arrived for 30 minutes. When the food arrived, I received white toast, instead of the rye toast I had ordered - without the expected butter and jam. It took even longer to get coffee, juice and water. To make things worse, they didn’t have OJ - even though it was on the menu. It took more time for food to arrive at my table than I took eating it. Next time, I’ll play it smart and go to the buffet….

I decided to take a mid morning nap, and got up in time to go to the buffet for lunch. Today, it was much less crowded, as many people decided to eat before leaving for their shore excursions when the ship docked - around 1:30 pm. Compared to yesterday, the ship seemed empty. And I was glad about this. About the one thing I didn’t like (and this is a very minor issue not under cruise line control) is that it has to charge state sales tax on all beverages consumed at the bar while in port.

While at lunch, I noticed that there was a ship infested with rodents next to us. Although there were rat guards on the lines securing the ship, I could easily tell that there was a pair of giant rodents onboard. And they even had names for these rodents - Mickey and Minnie.😊  Needless to say, even if one doesn’t like the “House of Mouse”, one has to respect it for what it does.

After a mid-afternoon nap, I decided to explore the ship a little before having the first of my 3 specialty dinners. Not much happens while on the ship on port days, so it was peaceful during the day at port. All of the stores were closed, and the main promenade was relatively empty. Around 6:30 pm, I walked over to the theater to watch the magic show. This show had a variety of magicians including illusionists, mentalists, and conjurers. It was an entertaining show, even if one has an idea of how things were done. With that being said, the entertainment was lacking, as the show was only 45 minutes long.

As the show let out, I was in a rush to visit the first of my 3 specialty restaurants - a Mexican joint called “Hola Tacos!” On the way there, I had to bypass a performance about to begin in the mid-ship promenade. Although I might have liked to see the performance, my stomach was telling me that tacos were needed. Once inside the restaurant, I was shown to my seat and placed my order. The food came out quickly. It was very good, and one could get an unlimited amount of it - I ate more than my fair share. Even if I had to pay the up charge to have a meal at this place outside of the dining plan I bought, $18 would have been a small price to pay for food this good.

At this point, I was done for the day. So I went back to my room to sleep. Before doing so, I had the chance to ask my room steward about the virtual porthole behind my bed, and he noted it was out of service. Just as well. It might have disturbed me in the morning.

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Florida-Bahamas Cruise 2023 - Day 2 - Sea Day

Florida and Bahamas Cruise - Day 2 - Sea Day - 12/10/23

Last night, my CPAP mask frame failed. Unfortunately, I had used the headgear way too long, as the glue holding the hook-and-loop tabs failed. So I ended up Jerry Rigging a fix with adhesive tape, hoping it would last until I returned home on Saturday. Luckily, I fell asleep easy with this fix in place, although I had to be much more careful when wearing the CPAP mask. 

In the morning, I didn’t hear my alarm clock as the volume was set too low for me to hear it. Instead of going to the Main Dining room (MDR) for breakfast, I ended up at the buffet for a forgettable meal. Once back from breakfast, I took a little nap and watched some TV. By the time I was ready for lunch, it was 2:00, and the only thing open was the buffet. As a result, I ended up suffering the crowds to get a bite to eat. Once done, I decided to schedule my specialty dinner reservations then relax a little.  


While in my cabin, I chatted with RQS via Facebook Messenger. She told me that it is raining heavily in New York. That got me hoping that the work being done on our co-op’s retaining wall would be mostly completed by the time the rains started. As much as I've made her think that this is a terrible cruise, it’s not as bad as I’ve made it out to be. MSC is the F.W.Woolworth of cruise lines (5¢ and 10¢ deals - the origin of the phrase "Nickel and Dimeing"), and it shows. I’ve grown to appreciate lines with more personal service, and am willing to pay for it. MSC is a good value for people new to cruising, giving them the chance to encounter a variety of experiences that would help them find a cruise line and itineraries that best fit their desires. But I expect that many people will grow tired of this cruise line once they experience the service provided by other lines.

I’m giving MSC 7 days before I have a final opinion on this cruise and of the cruise line. If I could change one thing, I’d give my highest priority to making the dining experience more flexible, more attentive, and serve a higher quality of food. Having to wait standing in line for almost an hour to get seated at a fixed dining time, not having personal service, and having a meal where none of the food makes me say “Wow!” makes me want to choose another ship and cruise line.

While walking around the ship, I found that it is bigger inside than I first thought. The “main drag” of this ship is located on decks 6 and 7, and reminds me of Freemont Street in Vegas done with a Miami Beach vibe. A picture of the ceiling lights can give a better idea of what I mean by this, as there was a lot of activities going on in this area, and few places where one can get away for a quiet drink and to read a book.

One thing I noticed is that on cruise ships, cell phone times update themselves when in Airplane mode. That happened to me today, and I went to a theater an hour early. After checking with someone, I found that I made this dumb error - and proceeded to kill time in both the lounge reading a book and in the casino playing the slots. (The casino was eerily empty when I was there, only getting busier as the evening progressed.) During my stay in the casino, I added $4 to my bankroll before moving on to the theater for the cruise line’s musical tribute to Houdini. This show featured a cast dressed up as circus performers, including trapeze artists, strongmen, a gypsy, a harlequin and a magician. Was it worth the $5 I (would have) paid for it? To some people, yes. But not to me. So I was glad that they refunded the $5 because the full show couldn’t be performed. Although I sat through the show, I was glad it was over, so I could run down to the main dining room to eat.

Today’s dinner was much better than last night’s dinner. This time, they got much more right. Things were helped by people knowing where they would be seated. Tonight, it was a pleasure to eat there, although I would have liked to have waited to choose my wine, as I wouldn’t have had red wine with fish. Since red wine was poured, I ordered the Chicken Parmesan, and enjoyed the meal. I’m not sure if it is my American taste buds, but the cheese cake wasn’t as sweet as I expected. But that was only a minor complaint. After the end of my meal, the Maitre’D asked me about how I enjoyed the meal, and I noted some things based on yesterday’s experience. The conversation could have lasted longer, but I had a pressing need to return to my room for the evening - which I did.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Florida-Bahamas Cruise 2023 - Day 1 - Embarkation


Florida-Bahamas Cruise - Day 1 - Embarkation - 12/09/23

Today was a day where I had to get my act in gear and get out of the house in time to make a 9:37 train - and I almost didn’t make it.

But first….

Last night, I finally got everything packed (and maybe over-packed at the same time).  But I didn’t get to sleep until 3:00 am, so I knew that I’d need to nap a little as soon as I was able to board the cruise ship.

This morning, I awoke very early (around 6:00 am), and I knew that it was the Adrenalin (or some other stress related hormone) that caused me to wake up.  Instead of rushing to burn off that energy, I tried to relax for a while until the clock told me that I had to get up and get ready to go.

Around 9:00 am, I called the local taxi service to bring me to Croton-Harmon station, and the cab was a little late.  Then, it had to pick up an elderly passenger going to the same place at the same time.  So I barely made it in time to buy my ticket and get on the train - this time with all my bags intact. (The memories of my Chicago trip are still fresh in my mind.) 


Arriving in Manhattan around 10:45, I had a decision to make: Do I take the subway to South Ferry and try to make it to Pier 11 in time for an 11:30 ferry?  Or, do I take a cab to the pier?  The cab won out, as it would be a more direct, but expensive trip.  And this was a wise choice, as I made it to Pier 11 with 20 minutes to spare.

Now that I knew I’d make it to the Cruise Terminal in time, I could start thinking about what would come next.  Arriving at the Cruise Terminal a little before noon, I dropped off my big bag and started carrying both my CPAP bag and my weekender bag along the path through the terminal, then onto the ship, and finally to my cabin.  (Next time, I’ll use my rolling carry-on bag for this task.  Without a bag to rest the weekender bag on, I was very uncomfortable.)

Reaching my cabin was an effort.  I had chosen a cabin at the far aft of the ship, and the rear elevators are best described as mid-ship elevators.  So I will likely be getting a fair amount of walking in on this cruise, as I’ve already put in 2.6 miles before 6:00 pm.  But I digress.  Once on the ship, I had to associate my room key with a credit card, so that onboard charges could be made. And this was a minor headache, as the process wasn’t as clear as it could have been.

When I finally made it to my cabin, I found that it was designed for two uses, both of them imperfectly.  The first was for a solo cabin, the way it was laid out when I arrived.  The closet doors wouldn’t open completely because the sofa bed was made up to be a bed for two, instead of for one, and I had to shift the bed a little so that I could hang my dresses in the closet.  The second was for an attached cabin, where one of the connecting doors would be opened so that people in the same party could pass through a doorway separating the two cabins. 

Unlike cabins I once inhabited on NCL ships, this tiny cabin on MSC is noisy, as loud neighbors were disturbing my rest on the first night.  Luckily, I was able to take a nap after the muster process.  But even the muster process was a mess.  First, I had to ask where the muster station was, then hoof it to the back of the ship on another floor then back to my room (requiring me to walk the length of the ship twice). Then the crew member scanning my cruise card/key had problems with his reader.  And after that, once I returned to my room, I had to make a call to register that I completed the muster process.  Finally, after all of this, I was able to take my nap.

While relaxing in my room, I turned on the TV.  Like the other cruise lines I’ve been on, they have a few live channels and some on-demand movies.  One problem - the connection to CNN, TCM, and other satellite channels can be flaky, and I missed the better part of a movie because of this.

As I believed that I was scheduled for late dining, I made my way to the assigned restaurant 15 minutes before seating time.  There, I found out that I had been scheduled for early dining.  AARGH!   Luckily, this wasn’t a problem, and the Maitre’D fixed my reservation slot.  Then I was told to wait on line.  Late dining starts between 8:45 pm and 9:00 pm.  But the doors to the restaurant didn’t open until 9:35 pm.  Dinner came even later.  If one likes “wedding mill” dining, this place wasn’t too bad.  But they couldn’t get my drink order right.  Again, I was lucky to have purchases the “Easy Plus” drink plan, as I got bottled water, a bottomless glass of Merlot, and a bottle of softly sparkling water when they couldn’t bring me either a Club Soda with Lemon (they brought a can of Sprite), or bring me a Diet Coke with some ice cubes in the glass.  Am I fussy?  Far from it.  But, like wedding mills, the waiters and bus staff do not have the ability to give specialized service.  Here is where I will give both NCL and Princess a strong edge over MSC - they know how to make people feel like they are in a restaurant instead of a catering hall.

Once done with dinner, it was time to go to bed.  It was a long day, and I want to be able to get up early enough for breakfast in the morning.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

I'm back from my cruise - and will soon post about it.

I just got back from my cruise, and will post about it over the next few days in a diary format.  

Being apprehensive about using the MSC cruise line before my vacation, I approached it as both a learning experience and as an opportunity to spend 8 days interacting with the outside world solely (with an exception or two) as Marian.  And this experience didn't disappoint me, although some experiences on the ship did just that.  (I'll explain over the next few posts.)

As much as I wanted to give a solid "thumbs up" or solid "thumbs down" on this ship and MSC as a whole, I found myself unable to do this by the end of the cruise.  Instead, I found myself feeling that, with reservations, I would take a cruise on this ship again - but only with a limited set of itineraries. 

- - - - - -

For someone living in New York's Northern suburbs, transportation to the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal as a solo traveler is a pain in the ***.  For me, when I do it again, I will try to choose as late an embarkation time as possible, but try to get there as early as possible.  Why, you might ask?  The answer comes with the weak links in transportation: The New York City Subway and The NYC Ferry system.  Although both are reliable in their own rights in weather that is not too cold, hot, windy, rainy, or snowy; add stressful weather, awkward connections between transit modes, and scheduling issues to the mix, and a 2 hour trip could take 4 hours.  For a solo traveler on a pension, this is a reasonable trade off, as I could spend only $42 (approx.) round trip between my house and the ship.  Yet, for a family of 4 (including 2 young children), it can make sense to spend $390 in gas, tolls, and parking to reach the same destination.  It all depends on a traveler's circumstances.

I suggest that anyone reading about the trip look for the things they like most or dislike most and comment about them.  I'll answer any questions you might have, so that others like me can travel the world the ways we want to....

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Christmas Eve - Hoping that you will have a Happy Holiday!


By now I have been back from my Bahamas cruise for about a week.  More on that cruise after the holiday....

- - - - - -

Tonight, RQS and I are getting dressed up and going to a fancy restaurant.  It'll be nice to get dressed to the nines with her, and enjoy an elegant dinner.  I know that RQS enjoys seeing me presenting as Mario, but she indulges me by accepting Marian as well.  At least, she will get to see Mario tomorrow, when we go to TCL for an Xmas dinner.

Since I don't have too much to say, I'll see you after the holiday and catch up on what has been happening in my life.

Norwegian Fjord Cruise Vacation - 06/28/24 (Zeebrugge, Belgium)

Today is our last stop in mainland Europe, and our last shore excursion.  We have been choosing relatively low energy shore excursions, as n...