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Independence 12/21/17 9 Night Christmas


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Day 5 - St. Maarten.  December 25, 2017.

I awoke for no reason and there arose such a clatter, I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter. Away to the Windjammer I flew like a flash...

It's Christmas morning and I woke before my alarm and to no clatter, but I'm glad I woke up early because I wanted to take in our approach to St. Maarten.  Showered and shaved I went to the Windjammer for breakfast.  Everyone I met was in a good mood.  Morning salutations consisted of either 'Merry Christmas' or 'Good Morning, Merry Christmas' .  Scrooge must have been a pier runner because he missed the ship.

There is a channel on the ship's TV system with a fire in a fireplace set to Christmas music.  I know some TV providers do this as well at home, sometimes called the 'Yule Tide Channel'.

Breakfast out of the way I went to the helipad to watch our arrive.  On the way I caught our pilot approaching the ship.

 

I recognized that row of condos.  I've ridden horses near there and recognized them. The flag was new and would be seen again later in the day. Pilot on board we inched closer to St. Maarten.

 

We arrived early and were quickly docked and cleared before our scheduled arrival time.  My excursion didn't start for another hour so I had time to kill.  So I do what I always do... took a picture.

 

With 45 minutes before the 'meet' time for my excursion I left the ship and headed onto land.  I was an early bird with few people off the ship yet so I had an opportunity to... take pictures.

I've been here several times and the familiar sign was in place with some friendly folks holding a banner to greet us.

 

I also noted a sign on the Diamonds International building.  The sidewalk around the building was being worked on so they had some fences up with temporary walkways into the building,

 

It was a beautiful morning and it's Christmas Day.  

There were some additional greeters this morning and they were happy to have their picture taken.

 

I wandered back through security to the meeting point on the pier for my excursion.  An Island Tour.  We boarded a really nice bus and met Nicholas, our bus driver and tour guide.  

As we drove toward the French side of the island Nicholas provided many facts and interesting information about his life on the island and his experience here.  As a result of living on the French side for a while he spent some time in the French Army.  He has lived on both the Dutch and French side and has family on both sides.  

Not long after the port area damage from the hurricane was hard to miss.  I honestly feel and believe St. Maarten is ready for cruise ships and everyone was very happy to see us.  Locals waved to our bus.  But make no mistake the hurricane damage is very easy to see.  I am choosing not to focus on it because more than damage I saw a spirit in the people and in everyone I met.  They are happy to see us and and eager to see tourists return.  They are moving forward.  They are recovering.  It's very safe here.

I visited St. Maarten by cruise in the 90's not long after a hurricane in '95 did similar damage.  They rebuilt then and they will rebuild now.  The good news is that most cruise ship or tourist excursions are fine.  Beaches are great.  Sail boats and dive boats are operating.  There is quite a bit to do and the pier was lined with several hundred of my fellow guests doing so.  That was really great to see and it's the best way to help the locals since they operate the excursions.

Nicholas kept us entertained and was an excellent guide.  I'm glad I did this tour because I learned a lot about the island I've visited many times.  After a 40 minute ride our first stop was in Marigot.   

 

 

 

It's Christmas Day and local shopping centers were closed but I'm okay with that.  I had mixed feeling about coming on Christmas Day.  On one hand it would be nice for everyone to stay at home with family but on the other they need money.  They need tourists.  They did have a flea market set up along the water

 

Since I had ripped my Caribbean shirt when boarding in Port Everglades I took the opportunity to replace it here.   I bought two new shirts at two different vendors.  I really confused one when I handed her the money plus more in small bills than they were asking.  It took a few seconds as she recalculated it in her head but then a big smile came to her face.  I'll remember it every time I wear that shirt.

 

Nicholas then took us back to the Dutch side where we stopped at Carousel. 

 

It's an ice cream/gelato store with a free Merry Go Round in the back.  Walking towards the back of the establishment we had a similar experience we would have many times.

 

Quite normal then you walk a little further and see the effects of the hurricane.

  

This stop complete we continued our tour.

 

Do you remember the flag in the background behind the pilot boat as we first arrived?  Here it is up close.

 

From here we went back to the cruise ship port.

 

After dropping off the shopping bags in my cabin I headed back to the water taxi to go to the local beach and shopping district downtown.  It was $7 roundtrip but it came with great views.  

 

 

 

 

From here I walked up and down the beach area.  Much of it looked normal but occasionally I would see a business that was rebuilding.  

 

 

 

There were dozens of places to get food and a cold beverage.

 

 

The beach was lined with umbrellas and loungers from various vendors along the entire stretch of it.

 

 

 

I stopped for a cold beer here and there, always leaving a good tip.

 

 

 

With that I jumped back on the water taxi to return to the ship.  Beer was $2 on the water taxi.  It was nice and cold.  One last look as I sipped a Red Stripe on the ride back.

 

It was an amazing way to spend Christmas Day.  Every where I went on land or on the ship every one was in a good mood.  The weather was great and I'm really glad we were able to stop here and contribute to the local economy.  Every local I met was very appreciative.  I never felt unsafe or questioned if a ship should come to St. Maarten.  It was a really great day.

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Thank you for your assessment of the joy and hope in the Caribbean people. I have been through several hurricanes. I am Jamaican Creole. I am part Jamaican and Louisiana Creole. Talk about a double whammy. Every hurricane, I am thinking Louisiana or Jamaica. Thank you for sharing the motto, No pressure No Problem Mon!!!

 

 

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I realized I haven't showed the Christmas decorations of Indy so here are some photos.

 

 

 

And the gingerbread houses in the Windjammer.

 

 

 

Early on Christmas morning they offered egg nog outside of Vintages.

 

Santa made an appearance.  Our cruise director announced his arrival on deck 12 then a quick parade through the Promenade before heading to Studio B.  I was out on the helipad capturing our arrival in St. Maarten and missed Santa.

 

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Man, oh man, Twangster...

 

What a wonderful blog.  I've never been to San Juan, and now I want to go.  

I have been to Ste Maarten, and now I want to go back.

 

Thank you for all of this hard work, and for simply being a good person; the kind of person we should all strive to be.

 

Bravo

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Day 6 - Antigua

Today's excursion was "Amazing Antigua" an island bus tour.  Bus tours aren't always my thing but our guide June did a great job explaining the island's rich history. 

Antiqua has traded hands a few times several hundred years ago before becoming part of the British Commonwealth.  The British used it a base of operations to manage and control their interests in the Caribbean in the days of tall ships and pirates.  June explained who was the founding father of Antigua, slavery in its early years and many interesting buildings we would pass. 

This church was made of red and green bricks.  The red bricks were used as ballast in the ships as they came here and was traded for sugar cane.  The green bricks come from nearby Monserrat.  Ash from the volcano would line the bricks as they were being made and the chemical reaction would turn the bricks green.  

 

The museum I took pictures of on my last trip here is thought to be the oldest building in Antigua and used to be the courthouse hundreds of years ago.

We drove through the country side before reaching Shirley Heights.  This was a military complex used to defend the island and it has a commanding view of the Atlantic ocean.

 

At one time seven canons sat on the pads in an arch.

 

The powder magazine where gun powder was stored.

 

The views are fantastic.

 

 

Part of the complex on a neighboring hilltop overlooks English Harbor.

 

 

There is a restaurant (closed on this boxing day holiday) and some local merchants.  

 

Our guide June explained that all school children must wear uniforms except for one day of the year.  June showed an Emancipation doll from one of the vendors in the colors of emancipation that both men, woman and school children wear on this annual day of celebration.  

 

 

 

Amazing views of the harbor below that for hundreds of years was provided shelter for ships in storms and hurricanes.

 

From here we went to Nelson's Dockyard within English Harbor, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

 

 

Rich in naval history it was a British dockyard where ships would be repaired and maintained. 

 

 

 

From here we boarded our bus and head back to the ship.  Along the way we passed the Cricket Stadium.  They take their cricket very seriously on Antigua and June is an avid fan.  It was a very interesting tour and I learned a lot about Antigua's history and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States that Antigua is a member of.  

Back on board in time for a quick shower and dinner.

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On 12/19/2017 at 12:54 PM, twangster said:

One thing about a holiday cruise I've discovered is that they don't discount Voom before sailing.  Voom Surf and Stream has remained at $17.99 per day even over black Friday and more recents sale events.

My holiday sailing on the Majesty had it on sale as low as $14.99 by itself and $15.99 with the soda package.  I got it with the drink package combo for $54.99.  There's some sort of arcane math behind when and how they decide to discount things onboard.

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Day 7 - St. Kitts

As planned I never left the ship today.  I was here a week or so ago on Anthem and went scuba diving.  After three port days and excursions on each, today was a ship day.  

On the pier in Antigua yesterday I ran into Cole and his mother.  He is the skater in the ice show on Indy.  They loved the holiday skating show photos I shared and asked if I was going to the the regular (non-holiday) skating show "Strings" that evening.  Of course I was, I never miss the ice show on Royal Caribbean.

I took over 1,400 photos at the ice show last night and used today to go through them and narrow them down.  My camera can take take several photos in rapid succession which is great for action photography.  I never use most of them but capturing a burst of photos gives you a better chance of getting some good ones. "Strings" is a very good show.  

I've sent them a link to 282 of the best ones I narrowed it down to.  I'll avoid posting 282 photos in this post but it will take some effort to narrow it down to a handful.  

We left St. Kitts at 4:30pm.  Leading up to that time the ship's horn signaled several times.  I assumed someone was missing the ship.  We departed and began sailing away when later we turned around.  It turns out a passenger who missed the ship had some specialized medicine and the Captain made the decision to return to port to retrieve them.  7:40pm we departed St. Kitts a second time.  I don't know the exact circumstances but trust the Captain made the correct decision given the options available.

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8 minutes ago, twangster said:

I took over 1,400 photos at the ice show last night and used today to go through them and narrow them down. 

Oh my goodness lol...did you watch the entire show through the lens of your camera? Sounds like you are having a great time! Thanks for sharing your trip so far 😊 It really helps on days like this when the high temp is -20 degrees Celsius (that's about -4 degrees Fahrenheit for all the Americans out there)!  

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Okay, here we go.  It was tough to pick the best, but here are some of the photos from the ice skating show "Strings".

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With virtually no time between scenes these folks are masters at fast wardrobe changes.

On this cruise free tickets were required for all Ice Skating shows.  They made announcements when they could be obtained or for Diamond level folks the concierge in the lounge also had tickets. 

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Day 8 - Sea Day

We made an unscheduled stop in St. Thomas at 3am for an injured crew member.  The Captain made a PA announcement that woke me up and then I could feel the ship maneuver into port. 

We are running at 20-21 knots presumably to try to make up some time.  

Bridge tour this morning.  It's time for a trip to the Windjammer.

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12 hours ago, twangster said:

With virtually no time between scenes these folks are masters at fast wardrobe changes.

On this cruise tickets were required for all Ice Skating shows.  They made announcements when they could be obtained or for Diamond level folks the concierge in the lounge also had tickets. 

First , wonderful pictures like all your blogs picture , enjoying reading (and nice reminder to my cruise).

funny about the tickets for the ice show , they did not said anything about tickets  (on the 5 days cruise)  the ship was full so I wonder how they decide if ticket is needed or not.

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Bridge Tour!

I'm like a little kid when it comes to seeing the bridge.  Maybe it's all the lights, dials, buttons and knobs.  Maybe it's the incredible power under their control.  

 

 

In the holiday spirit the port bridge wing was decorated with red garland while the starboard bridge wing was decorated with green garland.

 

 

A bridge officer gave a little talk showing the various navigation and radar systems at their disposal.  

 

 

We would normally be doing 18 knots but with the medical diversions yesterday we are doing 20 knots.  That requires operating four of the main engines or generators.  Normally we would be using three.  To reach the top speed of 22 knots they would call on five generators.

Independence of the Seas like other Freedom class has ample power.  With 13,000 sq. meters of side surface approaching a pier in high winds uses a lot of that power.  In St. Kitts yesterday a Carnival ship approached but aborted and skipped the port because of the winds.  We had no issue making port and could have with an additional 10 knots of wind speed working against us. 

One last look at the Captain's chair and the Master's view forward.

 

 

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Housekeeping items

Three formal nights on this holiday cruise.  The regular sea day formal nights plus Christmas Day.

The $25 OBC offered upon boarding has been rescinded.  Since they boarded on time they've decided it doesn't apply.

The announcement channel control in my cabin actually works!  During the day it plays the same background music that plays in the halls and public areas.

Changing time back to Eastern overnight at 2am.

While Freedom had sliding doors from deck 11 aft elevator lobby to the H2O pool area, Indy has revolving doors.  I have found the revolving doors to be slow and less efficient.  A pop rain storm occurred earlier.  The revolving doors really impeded traffic flow trying to escape the rain.  I'll be curious to see if these are changed during the dry dock.   

I wandered around looking at some areas of the ship that we known will be changed in the dry dock based on this blog post:

Deck by deck drydock changes to Royal Caribbean's Independence of the Seas

 It should be interesting, looking forward to seeing how she looks afterwards.

Crew has been excellent.  Not a single grumpy crew experience so far.  My Time MDR service possibly the best I've experienced.  

No signs of any viruses so far with one day left to go.  Washy washy.

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22 minutes ago, twangster said:

While Freedom had sliding doors from deck 11 aft elevator lobby to the H2O pool area, Indy has revolving doors.  I have found the revolving doors to be slow and less efficient.  A pop rain storm occurred earlier.  The revolving doors really impeded traffic flow trying to escape the rain.  I'll be curious to see if these are changed during the dry dock.   

Speaking of Freedom, did you notice on Indy that area forward of the Solarium that is accessible by glass door is closed off permanently, whereas on Freedom it's a secret area to sit?

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19 hours ago, Matt said:

Speaking of Freedom, did you notice on Indy that area forward of the Solarium that is accessible by glass door is closed off permanently, whereas on Freedom it's a secret area to sit?

Yes!  I saw crew bringing towels and linens out of there on Indy.  

Big changes coming to that general area with the new panorama cabins on the deck above.  Freedom also had sliding doors to walkways above the solarium pool that are missing on Indy.  Curious if those will be added since they are diverting the jogging track to add the new cabins in this area.  Freedom still has a deck 6 Loyalty Desk in the aft elevator lobby that is being consumed on Indy for cabins. The Connoisseur Club was pretty busy last night.  Sad to see it go. 

I had an interesting talk with a bartender who is staying on during the dry dock. It's his 4th or 5th dry dock.  He says the contractors are big drinkers.  They work during the day then drink, drink, drink at night.

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18 hours ago, twangster said:

I had an interesting talk with a bartender who is staying on during the dry dock. It's his 4th or 5th dry dock.  He says the contractors are big drinkers.  They work during the day then drink, drink, drink at night.

Based on that story, it sounds like @Big Dawg Ron is one of the contractors they hired?

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Day 9 - Sea Day

As @Matt observed on his Indy cruise, Voom performance is quite good on Indy.  4 Mbps down, 2 Mbps up, ~210ms latency.  Wifi phone calls worked quite well.  

Last night the Diamond lounge bartender asked if I wanted one last drink as they were winding down.  I wanted a shot of Scotch as a night cap, she returned with a tumbler full to the brim.  I fell to sleep on my bed while thinking "I'll just rest my eyes for a minute before heading to the comedy show".  Needless to say I missed the comedy show.  A bottle of sparking wine was waiting for me in my cabin.  It's a French Brut and quite pleasant with Windjammer OJ this morning.  For those not yet Diamond it's worth it to be loyal and achieve Diamond.  For those long timers I know benefits have changed over time but from a newbie's perspective it's still pretty good.

The Diamond concierge was enforcing the dress policy on formal night last night.  A couple of guests wearing shorts and t-shirts objected and asked "Is there a sign?" to which she marched them out front and showed them the sign.    Everyone else was dressed up and you are going to challenge a polite request from crew to observe the dress policy?  Later she told me this happens a lot with suite guests who aren't Diamond members.  I personally was glad to see it enforced.  Long pants and a collared shirt would have sufficed.

On the future deck plans for Indy the current Diamond lounge is labelled 'Suite Lounge' so we'll see what happens.  On Freedom on certain nights the Viking Crown lounge or "Olive or Twist" bar was Diamond and above during Diamond happy hour.  It will be interesting to see how Diamond overflow is handled on Indy in the future.

Darn it - I just got the email that it's time to check in for my flight.  That confirms it, cruise is almost over.  Time to pack.

I'm working on a brief photo tour of select spots on the ship but time is getting away from.  Nine nights is not enough.  

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1 hour ago, twangster said:

The Diamond concierge was enforcing the dress policy on formal night last night.  A couple of guests wearing shorts and t-shirts objected and asked "Is there a sign?" to which she marched them out front and showed them the sign.    Everyone else was dressed up and you are going to challenge a polite request from crew to observe the dress policy?  Later she told me this happens a lot with suite guests who aren't Diamond members.  I personally was glad to see it enforced.  Long pants and a collared shirt would have sufficed.

Glad to hear I was not the only person to ever be denied access to the Diamond Lounge for wearing shorts :8_laughing:

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23 hours ago, twangster said:

I had an interesting talk with a bartender who is staying on during the dry dock. It's his 4th or 5th dry dock.  He says the contractors are big drinkers.  They work during the day then drink, drink, drink at night.

This reminds me of a conversation I had a few weeks ago with a dining crew member.  I forget how the conversation started but we ended up discussing dry dock.  Hubby asked him if he had a choice does he prefer dry dock or regular sailings with guests?  He told us that he worked dry dock once and never again.  Reasons being that the contractors are huge drinkers and way more demanding than regular guests.  He said it is not pleasant to put up with at all.  Hubby thought that was interesting since one might assume that dry dock would be more calm with more downtime....

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