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A Cruise of Firsts! - Empress of the Seas Recap - 12/30/19 to 01/03/20


ashonthesea
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Day Two - New Year's Eve Festivities

After hanging out on the sun deck to watch sail away and the little bit of sunset, I popped back down to my stateroom to quickly rinse off from the day's humid walking. When I had taken a shower the first time, I couldn't figure out why the water got so hot, despite adjusting the knob down as low as I could without turning the shower off. This time around, I realized there was actually a second dial, to the right of the one in the center, that controlled the temperature. The one I had been using was just for pressure, so I thought I'd include a photo for anyone else new to cruising.

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The dial my hand is holding in the photo controls the water temperature. The dial in the center is just for water pressure.

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I also found a flyer was left in the stateroom of all the activities going onboard the ship in celebration of New Year's Eve. 

I don't think Empress typically has formal nights, but as it was a holiday celebration, it was noted on the flyer and cruise compass as a "dress to impress" formal night. After my hop in the shower, I got a nice dress on (not a cocktail dress, but nicer than a sundress), and had a look around the ship to see what all was going on so far. The Centrum had quickly been set up for the balloon drop and DJ party.

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Some reservation only seating for the party could be found on decks seven and eight.

I stopped by the Windjammer to see if they had any offerings for NYE, but it looked to be pretty standard. There were many staff at the entrances wearing crowns and hats clapping and wishing people a Happy New Year though. I knew that I would be eating in the MDR tonight, but I saw a delicious looking little cheesecake bite that was calling to me, so I had to try one.

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Standard cheesecake, but so good. These were by the kid's section, on the side where the bar stool sitting area is.

I headed to the Royal Theater for the 7:00pm showing of Bailamos. I again sat on the right hand side, but in the upper balcony level this time. A decent view, but the railings do obstruct the view slightly. The show was wonderful, and I definitely recommend anyone sailing on Empress to check it out. The dancers and singers are all very talented! The show ended just in time for me to make it to my 8:30pm seating in the MDR.

The tables in the MDR tonight had some streamer/confetti type decorations on top, as well as some NYE hats, crowns, and blowers.

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Even the menus got a little bit of decoration.

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Menu for New Year's Eve Dinner

Tonight I had the beef tartare, the oven-roasted turkey, and the spice cake. I'd never had beef tartare before, but I did know it was a raw dish. I tried a majority of it, but it's not my favorite. The turkey and spice cake were both very good. My table mates were a little more talkative this evening. The solo traveler had purchased a $15/day Voom package earlier in order to text family, and said that it was working, but was extremely slow. This complaint was echoed by the family as well, so I'm glad I ended up not purchasing the package.

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Spice cake for dessert

With dinner over, I went back to my room for a quick power nap. I'm usually asleep by 10:30pm, so I figured I could use the extra energy to make it midnight. In the room waiting for me was tomorrow's cruise compass, and a towel friend! It made my smile, it caught me by surprise. I was also happy to get a map of Coco Cay, so I could start making a plan for my Perfect Day.

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A frog? Or crab? Maybe both.

With my catnap finished, I made my way back out, ready to take on the NYE celebration! Live music was happening everywhere, and the Centrum was starting to get people waiting right at the ropes to get choice spots for the balloon drop.

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Some folks waiting for the DJ party to start at 10:45pm. 1hr and 30 minutes until midnight!

After checking out the music in the Schooner Bar and Boleros, I went up to the pool deck. I decided I'd ring in the new year up there, as I expected the centrum to get pretty crowded (which it did). Mass Effect was playing great music, once again. I also took this time to try out the hammocks, which had always been occupied when I'd go by them in the day. The clouds had cleared up, so the hammocks made great spots for stargazing. I'm not super familiar with astronomy, but I was able to clearly see Orion's belt. It was very beautiful, and I was happy to be starting 2020 this way.

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Dancing our way into 2020. Was glad that it wasn't as crowded up here.

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A look down at the balloons ready to be dropped from the windows of deck eleven. 

The giant screen by the pool had been turned into a countdown clock. When I saw it reach 45 minutes to go, I made my way over to the pool bar to grab a drink. While I waited for my drink, I took a look at the rest of the menu. I remembered someone on here asking if there were ciders and non-alcoholic beverages served, so I snapped a couple pics of the Empress' offerings on both.

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Cider, Gluten-free beer, and non-alcoholic beer available on Empress.

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More non-alcoholic beverages available on Empress.

With my Sparkling Sombrero in hand, I was ready to ring in the new year. Mass Effect played right up until the minute mark, and then everyone got ready for the countdown. It was a great celebration, and although I went to bed a little while after midnight, I understand that multiple parties went on until 3:00am or so. If you really like to party and go all out for NYE, I'd definitely recommend celebrating it on a cruise!

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Cheers to 2020!

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Day Three - At Sea

Woke up around 8:00am and got ready to get breakfast in the Windjammer. I wore my swimsuit and a sundress over top, as I knew I wanted to try out the pool and whirlpools before it got too busy. At the Windjammer, I got kiwi (again), cereal, bacon, and some breakfast tea from the coffee area. Sat in the same barstool area spot as the day before, looking out at the ocean while having my meal. 

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It was a bit cloudy this morning, but was very cool to see spots of sunlight out in the ocean.

After breakfast, I went to the sun deck to enjoy the views, and used one of the hammocks for a little. Around 9:30am, I went to grab a towel from the pool station, and find a chair to keep my things while using the pool. There are notices not to reserve chairs on the pool deck, but I didn’t see evidence of this being enforced during the trip. The pool itself was a little too chilly for me, so I quickly made my way up to the whirlpools. At this time in the morning, there were only three other people using the whirlpools. I enjoyed the whirlpools, and all three seemed to be at different temperatures, so if you find one to be too hot/cold, try out one of the others.

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The Little Towel Mermaid celebrating the New Year at the pool-side towel station.

After pool time, I went back to the stateroom to shower off. I took some time to look over the cruise compass and see what was going on today, before heading out and up to the library on deck 9 to grab the book I had started reading on embarkation day. I went out to the recliners along deck 6 to read for a while.

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These recliners are a nice spot to be outside but still have a bit of shade.

Around noon I returned my book to the library and went back up to the pool deck. The selfie scavenger hunt was going on, so those involved were asking guests and staff if they had certain items on them that they could take a photo with. I briefly walked around up on the sun deck, finding it much busier now. No free recliners up there. Some of the recliners had been rearranged by guests, making it a little difficult to navigate.

I stopped into Windjammer to get a quick lunch (some of the vegetable curry & rice) and then to the pool bar to get the drink of the day, a melon mojito. Once I had my drink, I went up to the sun deck to get a spot overlooking the pool in time for the International Belly Flop Contest, starting at 1:00pm.

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Drink of the day, a Melon Mojito. Good, but I think I prefer regular mojitos.

The competition started by having five contestants show off their best belly flop from the side of the pool. After each jump, the audience held up a hand with a score of 1 to 5 to rate the flop, with 1 being the worst belly flop you’d ever seen, and a 5 being able to feel the pain yourself. After two rounds, the top three contestants went onto a higher block by the corner of the pool to their final jumps. It was fun to watch, very enjoyable.

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Excellent jumping form from the block.

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The winning belly flop with an average audience score of 4.945737.

 

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Day Three - At Sea

After the belly flop competition (and a cone of soft serve ice cream), I headed down to the Schooner Bar for the Game of Thrones Trivia at 1:45pm. The trivia consisted of 15 questions. Each team got a paper to write their answers on, but there were a limited number of pens, so I’d recommend bringing one with you just in case. Each question was read twice and given about 15-20 seconds to think of the answer before moving on to the next question. Once all 15 had been read, teams swapped papers to go through the answers. For being a team of one, I did pretty well with 13 of the 15 questions right! Top three teams got Royal Caribbean keychains and pens.

I stopped by the casino after trivia. No luck for me on the slot machines or coin pushers. The rest of the casino was reasonably full, but definitely not as packed as it had been on NYE. After a bit of roulette watching, I went back to reading, this time in the sitting areas on deck 8. The library on deck 9 has sitting areas as well, but is a little noisy when the pool deck is busy as you can hear chairs moving around. Around 3:00pm I stopped by the Win A Cruise Royal Bingo happening in Boleros. I didn’t catch how much the cards were, but my understanding was that however many cards you purchased was for each of the three rounds. Only one round was for the cruise, but you have to participate in all three, can’t just play the cruise round.  I went out the rear door of Boleros to the seating area on the deck. It has chairs and tables, as well as some very high back chairs that I liked. They reminded me a bit of peacock chairs. I relaxed out there with my book until the sun began to set. 

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Sunset from the rear of the ship, the seating area behind Boleros.

I went back up to the sun deck to catch some more photos of the sunset. The reflections off the water were stunning. It soon got very crowded, everyone wanted to grab that perfect sunset shot.

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Sunset from the sundeck.

I decided to get dinner at the Windjammer this night, as I wanted to see the Headliner Showtime happening at 8:45pm. I got some food, which included some delicious empanadas, and grabbed a table outside so I could see the beginning of tonight's poolside movie, Aladdin (the new live action one). Once the movie was finished, I spent some more time reading in the library briefly before the start of the show in the Royal Theater. 

The headliner show tonight featured a male a capella group called The Edge Effect. They were great performers and are very talented! This night, I sat in the very back row, close to center, of the upper level. It's not really possible to see the stage from that point, so I wouldn't recommend that seating for anything that you really need to see the stage for. I was still able to enjoy the music though.

After the show, I did some more stargazing from the hammocks on the sun deck before heading back to my stateroom. Another towel friend tonight! I did some planning for the following day at Coco Cay, before heading to sleep for the night.

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Our cruise course so far.

 

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Day Four - Perfect Day at Coco Cay - Chill Island & Snorkeling

Woke up ready for my nice relaxing beach day around 6:45am. Went to the Windjammer for breakfast and then up to the sun deck to catch some photos of the island. The ship docked around 7:00am, and we shared port with Anthem of the Seas. First time seeing what some of the bigger ships look like! Also watched the crew taking supplies out from the ships onto the island for the day.

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Ready for Perfect Day at Coco Cay

Empress got clearance a little before 8:00am. I gathered up some things for the day (sunblock, towel, snorkel gear, etc.) in my bag before heading down to the gangway. There were a number of tram/golf carts taking small groups from the ships to the island.

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The walk to the island, with some trams off to the side.There were also many photographers out along the walk to take photos.

At the main entrance of the island there was live music and dancers welcoming everyone in. I decided to make my first stop of the day at Chill Island, so I took a left at the main entrance to go over the bridge to that area. Coco Cay still had their holiday decorations up at the main entrance.

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Still feeling festive with holiday decor

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Empress & Anthem seen from the bridge to Chill Island

On my way to Chill Island, I passed by the snorkel rental area and the Coco Cay Island Market. There are some merchants on the island that take cash only, so be sure to bring some along if you're planning to do any shopping. The marketplace is brightly colored and vibrant, a very cool area.

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Part of the Coco Cay Island Market

By 8:45am I had found a recliner to set my things down on Chill Island. There were many seats available at that time. I really appreciated that all the seating had umbrellas around as well for an added bit of shade for those who want it. I took a couple photos of the beach before getting on my snorkel gear and heading out into the water. The water was a little cold at first, but I got used to it pretty quickly as time went on. I should also mention that I had brought a long sleeve swim shirt, more so for UV protection, but also was a nice extra layer for the water temp in December. I had tested out my snorkel and mask at home when I first got it, but took it slowly out in the water to get acclimated to breathing slowly and steadily. I was surprised to find fish so close to the coast! There were some really big ones too, simply unfazed by the people near them. 

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Part of Chill Island, around 8:45am. Lots of recliners to choose from!

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One part of Chill Island beaches, with a Norwegian ship off in the distance.

The swimming and snorkeling area is clearly marked by red buoys. There are also a couple of floating platforms throughout, where you can take a break and enjoy the views. There does seem to be a bit of machinery/construction happening on the island to the east, which disturbs the view looking out a bit, but otherwise wasn't noticeable with any loud sounds. I took my time snorkeling through the water out to the farthest platform. By that platform, there is what looks like part of a side of a sunken boat that acts like a reef protection for some of the schools of small fish. It was such a cool experience, I was grinning the whole time. After a short break on the platform, I started to make my way back to shore. I found one of the freshwater showers by a bathroom to rinse off myself and my gear, before heading back to my chair. The area was more crowded now (around 11:00am), but there were still empty recliners available.

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Another area of Chill Island, around 11:00am, still with seats available.

 

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Day Four - Perfect Day at Coco Cay - Oasis Lagoon, Lunch & Island Exploring

I'd planned to stay a bit longer to read at my recliner, but had a chair-neighbor rather loudly taking work phone calls, so I packed up and began to explore around. I walked back towards the marketplace and Chill Grill, where they were setting up for lunch. Around that area I found I great spot with some empty hammocks in a little shade, so I continued reading there.

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A quiet spot with four hammocks between Chill Grill and the Oasis Lagoon.

I definitely recommend this area, at least in the morning. It was quiet, but you could still hear a little bit of music coming from the Oasis Lagoon area. After reading, I went to find a spot near the Oasis Lagoon. This area had more of a party vibe, with a DJ and a swim up pool bar. It was more difficult to find a seat here, but I did end up finding a large section of them on the far end from the pool bar, toward the zero entry area and the hot air balloon. There were many staff around that could have brought me a drink if I wanted to stay put, but I wanted to use the swim up bar purely because I never had ordered at one before. I don't think the Oasis Lagoon is heated, but it was a little warmer than ocean. I didn't have to wait long to find a spot at the bar, and soon had a Mai Tai in hand.

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The swim-up bar at Oasis Lagoon

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Oasis Lagoon - I was able to find seating down at the far end of this photo. The areas near the bar were particularly packed.

After my refreshing drink, I went back to collect my things so that I could go get some lunch. I stopped by Skipper's Grill since it was close by to have a look. Skipper's Grill is buffet style, and had plenty of options to choose from. But I knew the destination for my lunch was at the Snack Shack, back near Chill Island. I remembered reading that I should get the crispy chicken sandwich, but when I got there I realized there were two chicken sandwiches listed. It was prime lunch time, 12:15pm, so I had a little time to debate while I waited in line. I opted for the Shack Crispy Chicken Sandwich, which was delicious and I highly recommend. It was my favorite meal of the day. I got a caesar salad as well, and took my food to a table that I ended up sharing with a nice couple from Baltimore.

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The Snack Shack at Chill Island. The Shack Crispy Chicken Sandwich was amazing.

After lunch, I decided to do a little exploring. I was interested to see if the Coco Beach Club and South Beach areas were open, as there was a lot of conflicting info. The maps we got on the ship had the areas blocked out, but the Royal App and Cruise Compass had activities listed as happening in South Beach. Consulting the island maps, I found the areas listed as "Opening December 2019", which, now being 2020 I was hoping they were just outdated. As I headed toward the tram stop and where Coco Beach Club would be, I saw an area blocked off with scrim and some workers on the roof of a wooden structure. Safe to say that area was definitely not open.

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Coco Beach Club still under construction

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I also noticed while heading back this way, that the wifi doesn't cover this area, with a small sign letting you know.

I backtracked and tried to follow pathways to see if I could make it to South Beach, but wasn't able to find signage or any indication that it was actually open, so decided to head back toward Chill Island instead. While on my way back, I did find some lockers available to use, should you not want to keep your things with you. They appeared to be free to use, but the maps of the Island indicated that they were an additional expense.

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Despite the maps indicating otherwise, I didn't see any pricing posted around these lockers.

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Day Four - Perfect Day at Coco Cay - Back to Chill Island & Departure

I made my way back down towards the area of Chill Island by Diver's Den. I passed by some live musicians playing near the Chill Grill that were very good. I found more lockers for use on the back side of the rental area, again with nothing indicating that they were an added cost. At 1:00pm, much of Chill Island was packed, but I managed to grab a chair by a lifeguard stand as a couple was leaving.

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Wayfinding map of the island

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Musicians playing by the Chill Grill

I decided to go back out snorkeling again. The water was much cloudier up near the shore this time since there were many people there, which stirs up the sand. Farther out though, it was just as clear as the morning and there were still many fish to be seen. If snorkeling at Coco Cay, I'd still recommend doing it earlier in the day though, just because so many other people were out snorkeling as well later in the day. It's a little more magical when there's fewer people about. I came back in and read for a little while longer before deciding try one of the beaches a little farther back.

On the way there, I stopped by the bar next to Snack Shack to order one the island's specialty drink, the Coco Loco. This drink consists of a shot of rum at the bottom of a fruity slushy that I'm not sure the contents of. It was very good, though a little on the sweet side, even for me. I found an empty chair not too far from the Snack Shack, but it took a while to find. This part of Chill Island only had two rows of chairs, compared to the six or so back toward the snorkeling area.

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Chill Island beach by the Snack Shack

I continued to read my book until I had finished it, and then decided to get one last swim in before making my way back to the ship. Since I was not snorkeling this time, I had my feet below me walking out, rather than floating. I realized the farther you go out, the finer the sand becomes, and takes on almost a mud like quality that you sink into, rather than pushing off of. The water was clear enough to see the footprints of people that had walked out still stuck in the mud-like sand.

Happy with my time on the island, I went back to the area with the showers to rinse off and then waited by the tram area to be taken back to the main entrance. The tram arrived a little before 4:00pm. We waited about five minutes before departing. The tram was a nice way to see other parts of the island, though I still wasn't able to find any signage that South Beach was open while on board.

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Sandcastle by the tram stop

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On the tram back to the main entrance

Back at the main entrance, many guests were heading back to both ships. Empress had an all aboard time of 4:30pm, but I don't know what Anthem's was. There was music playing us out, as well as some staff holding a limbo stick for people to do on their way out. Walking down to the ships, some aquatic life (possibly rays?) was spotted jumping in the water. I made it back to Empress around 4:10pm.

I dropped my bag off at my room and changed before heading up to the sun deck to see us sail away from Coco Cay. It was a beautiful sight to see as the sun continued to set. 

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So long to Coco Cay and the Anthem

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Sad that my last day of vacation was coming to a close, but appreciative of the beautiful sunset

After taking my obligatory sunset photos, I went to the Windjammer for dinner. They had a bunch of different cakes set out at the dessert area, so I got the black forest cake, which was very good.

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Red Velvet Cake, Key Lime Cake, Black Forest Cake, Carrot Cake, and Chocolate Cake at the dessert station on our last night

After dinner, I went to see the 7:00PM showing of the Production Showtime, which was something about the past, present, and future of showgirls. I found a nice seat at the front of the upper level that actually seems to be perfect for a solo traveler, as next to the seat is a pole that would block the view of a second guest. There is a similar seat on the right side of the upper level. The show was very good, a very big production. The entertainers continued to be wonderful, as they had been the entire trip.

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A seat made for the solo traveler.

Once the show was finished, our cruise director, Elvis, invited us all to go to the centrum to see the Crew International Parade of Flags. I found a nice spot to watch, and really enjoyed seeing where the crew is all from.

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In the centrum for the Crew International Parade of Flags

After the parade, I went to the back of the ship to Boleros, to check out something that had interested me in the cruise compass, Kamikaze Karaoke. I wasn't around when it started to see how it was set up, but the idea is that you put your name in and a song will be randomly selected for you. When I came in, the crowd was being serenaded to the tune of All-Star by Smash Mouth. Everyone was very good sports about the songs that they were given to sing, and the staff picked new songs for some people that had never heard of ones they were originally assigned.

Around 9:30pm, I headed back up to the pool deck to see the last movie on the big screen, Rocketman. There were no captions on this one, so it was a little difficult to know exactly what was being said at some times, but I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. Once the movie ended, I made my way to my stateroom to pack up my suitcase so I could be ready to do the self-assisted debarkation the next morning.

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@ashonthesea, definitely enjoying following along but just realized that you were at CocoCay the same time we arrived there on Anthem.   We got the same pic of the 2 ships side by side and were at the Snack Shack at noon and in the pool right after that (the water was cold).    Small world!

 

Can't wait to sail on Empress next month. 

 

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Day 5 - Miami Debarkation Day  ?

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Finishing up our cruise course

On the last morning of the cruise, I woke up at 6:15am. I packed up the last few of my things and then took my camera and went to the sun deck to watch the sunrise. It reflected beautifully off the buildings in Miami as we got closer to port.

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Sun rising over Port of Miami

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Joining us in port was the Navigator, a Carnival ship, and a Norwegian ship

I grabbed a quick breakfast from Windjammer and sat out on the pool deck to eat while watching the ship come into port at Terminal G. Royal let guests know that they were providing a shuttle to the Terminal J parking area for anyone that had driven to port. The Empress came into port around 7:00am. I finished up my breakfast and popped back down to my room to gather my things before heading to the centrum. Once in the centrum, I was directed by staff to line up in the Royal Theatre once I had everyone in my party together. Check. In the Royal Theater, everyone placed their bags in a line, and then took a seat while we waited for debarkation to begin.

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Waiting in the Royal Theater for the self-assisted debarkation to begin. Bags are lined up, rather than people.

We didn't have to wait very long. We got clearance to debark at 7:45am, and I was off the ship by 7:50am. Staff directed us down towards customs, which I got through in about 15 minutes. I was easily able to request a Lyft once outside. My Lyft arrived at 8:15am, and dropped me off at my departure terminal at the airport 20 minutes later. I had plenty of time before my flight, so I wasn't worried when I saw what looked like an intimidatingly long security line. It went much quicker than I thought it would though, and I made it to the end of security by 9:00am.

Post Cruise Thoughts

I really enjoyed my first cruise, and am glad that I had it with Royal! It was a fun trip and I would definitely do it again. I would probably give myself the extra day to get to port ahead of time if doing air travel, or make sure to utilize Air2Sea to make sure if there is a delay that Royal would get me there, as mentioned by @JLMoran. I think if you're a light sleeper, ear plugs are crucial. And I think it's completely possible to have an enjoyable cruise vacay without needing to shell out the big bucks for additional excursions!

I hope you all enjoyed this recap, and if you have any other questions feel free to ask!

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