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Embarkation Cluster for Serenade (and Brilliance) Sailing November 26

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I have time to kill at the Tampa airport, so below is a fairly detailed description of my wife's and my experience with embarkation and our perceptions on the affect on others for this sailing. This is quite a long post. There are additional posts about this on the ROLLCALL for this sailing.

My wife and I arrived in Tampa the day before our cruise and stayed downtown at the Embassy Suites. As is common when I stay near a cruise port, I woke up early and walked toward the terminals to see Serenade and Brilliance docked together at Terminals 6 and 3 respectively. It was still fairly foggy, but visibility seemed ok.

By the time I reached the terminals, the ships were not there, so I checked Marine Tracker, and Serenade was 40 miles away outside the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. I then searched #serenadeoftheseas on Instagram and found this photo (credit @queensonthehighseas):


As you can see from the comment exchange, the conditions outside Tampa Bay prolonged into the early afternoon, so uncertainty that we were going to embark that day grew. I looked into booking another night if that need materialized. So, my wife and I checked out after extending it and left our bags with the bellman at the hotel and went to Hattricks sports bar (recommended) intending to camp out and watch football.

We were there for about five hours monitoring emails from The Royal Comms team, Marine Tracker, Jim Van Fleet’s (Royal’s head meteorologist) twitter account and Instagram to stay current on what was happening. All provided information which combined to give a pretty full picture of what was happening. We received three emails from the Royal Comms team about the sailing. The last email came at 2:28 pm as shown below:


Our boarding time was 11:30 am, so we chose to stay at the sports bar and eat a meal for a few more hours and plan to arrive a little before our adjusted boarding time of 7:30 pm. About 5:00 pm, we walked back to our hotel, got our bags and waited in the lobby until about 6:45pm when we caught the free downtown trolly to the port area (very nice feature in downtown Tampa, btw). We arrived between Terminal 3 and 6 about 7:00 pm. By then, it was dark, and it was difficult to discern where to go. The way finding signage around the port for foot traffic in the dark is terrible. As Brilliance and Serenade were completing their debarkation process, lines for both sailings were forming. Very few people seemed to know where to go. After overcoming some confusion, we walked around 300 yards with our luggage from the trolly stop to the end of the Serenade line along Channelside drive adjacent to what I believe is an administration building for the Port of Tampa Authority. While we were clearly a little early, the number of people seemed to indicate that not all guests were following the instructions from the last Royal Comms team email, meaning that those scheduled later were arriving at the port and causing a bottleneck. I also noted that some guests bound for Brilliance were in the Serenade line. I would not be surprised if the same was true for Serenade guests in the Brilliance line several hundred yards away.

We were queued along Channelside Drive at E Kennedy for about forty-five minutes until the line started moving. It curved around the Port of Tampa Authority administration building into the port area at E Kennedy, and it was apparent that it wrapped all the way to the access gate to the terminal which was closed. Looking further at the terminal, the line extended from the entrance at the north of the building all along its length toward the south. It had quite a surreal feel to it. This was not a good situation.



the above two pics are at the corner of Channelside and E Kennedy by the Port of Tampa Authority Admin building -- we were at this corner for about one hour


pic shows the line from behind the Port of Tampa admin building to the gate to the terminal area. This line was 200 yards long from where I took it to the gate, and another fifty or so yards from the gate to the terminal building

My first observation was that a man in a blue shirt was directing traffic away from the entrance to Terminal 6 at Channelside and E Kennedy to McKay St which is 2 blocks north. While he was helping with the volume of traffic here at the main entrance, those driving in the area were confused. He did not appear to have any official insignia on his clothing and was not wearing a safety vest. I believe he worked for Intercruises. I feared that he would be run over. Customs and Border Patrol, Tampa Police, and Hillsborough County Sheriff’s vehicles all went through this intersection in their vehicles several times and did nothing to support this man. An ambulance and Tampa Fire responded to a medical call further up in our line. They further blocked ingress and egress for about thirty minutes. When they left, the line began inching along. After two hours, we reached the main gate to the terminal area where port staff and Hillsborough County Sheriff Deputies were managing the flow of foot traffic to the terminal building which was overwhelmed. I was particularly irked when I observed the deputies leaning against the barrier, talking and laughing while the chaos at Channelside and E Kennedy was still going on.

When we were ushered into the area adjacent to the terminal, porters were available to take bags. There was no where near enough of them. With the queue along the building, their entrance into the screening area with the large luggage carts was obstructed by people in line. There is no curb cutout directly in front of the entrance they were using, and as a result, several carts spilled bags and were close to tipping over with people in line right next to it. It was chaotic, poorly managed and unsafe. By the time we reached this point, we had been in line for two and a half hours. Note that it was 75 degrees Fahrenheit, and there was no water available. The only bathrooms were on the side of the terminal building, limited seating, and it was not sufficient for the crush of people. Another point of incredulity is in the fact that the line along the terminal building diverged into three separate lines ostensibly to take advantage of three security screening areas. This was about twenty yards long. It then merged back into two lines causing more confusion and frustration among those around us. The Intercruises staff who were there were overwhelmed and doing the best they could. I did not observe presence of Intercruises management.

I also observed Hillsborough County Sheriff Deputies standing around or leaning along the traffic barrier alongside the terminal building and moving or directing traffic that came up as a result of the infrequent drop offs happening there. I could not understand why one of them wasn’t at Channelside and E Kennedy where the man in the blue shirt was directing traffic.

We entered the building after three hours and started checking in. We finally boarded at about 10:15 pm. Throughout the experience, I was concerned for the elderly and those who were less agile dealing with these conditions. While at one point, I saw two hotel staff officers from Serenade walking along the line, I was not sure if they were assessing the situation or not. I did not get a chance to speak with them.

The Top Tier event was held the next day while at sea. It seemed that Captain Steig was not aware of the scope of the situation the night before as he mentioned only that the Coast Guard prevents vessels from entering the Bay during foggy conditions because of a catastrophe a couple decades ago when a cargo ship hit the previous Sunshine Skyway Bridge and caused it to collapse. Several motorists drove right into the bay where the collapse occurred because they couldn’t see due to the fog and were killed. While this Coast Guard order is completely understandable, at that point, I am not sure he was aware how long people stood in line before boarding. He referred to an instance when he was commanding on Brilliance and there was a fog event that held ships outside Tampa Bay for 36 hours causing the subsequent sailing to cancel. The difference between that event and this led to the bottleneck of people with two ships in the same situation on November 26.

Later in the cruise, I attended the Captain’s Corner to see if the senior officers had any other conclusions about embarkation and to hear additional comments. I was prepared to chip in when another guest articulated exactly what I was thinking. This was that the Port of Tampa seems to bear a great deal of the responsibility, and this reflects extremely poorly on them. I also believe that Intercruises did not have enough staff on hand to deal with checking in guests for two ships which were sailing six to seven hours late. I also believe Royal’s assessment should be quicker with instances like this. At a minimum, I think that water should have been provided to guests in line, and accommodations for the elderly and disabled made clearer. I view the embarkation for this sailing to be a complete breakdown by all parties involved, and I plan to share this information with the Port of Tampa, Intercruises management, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and the Crown and Anchor Society.



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  • DunkelBierJay changed the title to Embarkation Cluster for Serenade (and Brilliance) Sailing November 26

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