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Freedom of the Seas - Mar 31 to Apr 8 - Eastern Caribbean LIVE(ISH)

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D'oh! Just realized that I left out the daily drink tally again! Will post it here rather than editing the St. Maarten posting...

  • Fresh squeezed OJ in the MDR at breakfast
  • Grande cappuccino from Cafe Promenade after breakfast
  • Patron Silver margarita from the Bull & Bear Pub - Not mixed nearly as well by the bartender on duty this day as the one I got there previously
  • 1800 Reposado margarita from the Schooner Bar
  • Kendall-Jackson Reserve Chardonnay at MDR during dinner, to pair with my shrimp entree and seafood appetizer (based on pairing a Chardonnay with the lobster salad course at Chef's Table)
    • Interestingly, this glass of wine was delivered much more quickly than the previous nights; we noticed they had additional staff helping the assistant waiters so that bar drinks, particularly wines, were being delivered before the appetizer course was set on the table
    • The MDR must have received a ton of complaints about the slow service on the prior nights and decided to do this to improve the service
    • The wine was OK but not great; I'm really not a white wine person, but thought I'd at least try to follow the example set for us

Also, forgot to note that when we went through port security this time, we only needed our Sea Pass cards and no other form of ID to get through the village and back onto the pier.

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This is going to be another rather photo-heavy post. Not as big as last night's St. Maarten blowout, but a close second.

Day 6 – Old San Juan, PR

Today was going to be tough. We were only in port from 7 AM until 2 PM, with our all-aboard time at 1:30. Even allowing for getting up as early as possible so we could be in the MDR right when it opened for breakfast, we were only going to have a few hours to see what we could of Old San Juan. Luckily, D17 met a girl who lives here through a vocal training camp they both attended last summer, and she had agreed to meet up with us and be our local guide.

I actually set an alarm for this morning, and even with the early time I'd set we were already docked. The sun was only barely over the horizon off to starboard, bathing OSJ in a warm early morning glow.


Standing on my balcony, I could already feel how humid it was. We got down to the MDR right as it opened for breakfast and managed to get a table for the four of us without any delay. We had agreed the previous night that we would just use the available "cereal bar" buffet and skip ordering off the menu. It's really the best of both worlds for breakfast – the far smaller crowd of the MDR and potential for a shared table and shared conversation, plus the speed and enough of the variety of food selections that the Windjammer offers to make for a very satisfactory breakfast. While my wife and the girls had taken advantage of this on prior days in the MDR, this was my first time and I was pleasantly surprised. There was a variety of breakfast deli meats and cheeses (including several, like salami and blue cheese, that I'd really only consider for lunch), sausage, bacon (both crisp and not so much), scrambled eggs (DANGER WILL ROBINSON!!!! DANGER!! DANGER!!), pancakes, French toast, and a nice selection of freshly sliced fruits. And you could still order fresh-squeezed orange juice, get your morning coffee, etc.

After a hasty breakfast, we shot back up to our cabins and slathered on sunscreen for the hot and sunny day ahead. We got off the ship around 8:45, a bit later than we'd wanted, and texted D17's friend Estefania that we were on our way to the CVS that we had been told the previous day by another passenger was across the street from the pier...

Except it wasn't...

That's a Walgreens. What the...?

Looking to our left, we saw the CVS about a block and a half down the street. We shrugged and went there, and waited for Estefania and her mom.

While we were waiting, we saw a homeless man panhandling right outside the CVS, sitting in what little shade there was and trying to get some money. I gave him a couple of dollars, and D14 asked if she could buy him one of the fruit popsicles she had seen for sale inside the CVS. I said absolutely, and she gave him one of the strawberry ones; he was happy to get that on what was already becoming a really hot day, and from the corner of our eyes we saw him enjoying it while we continued to wait for Estefania and her mom to arrive.

As it turned out, they also went to the Walgreens; after some chuckles and a bit of texting back and forth, we finally got together. And, it wasn't Estefania and her mom; it was Estefania and her older sister, Nicole. Their mom was busy and unable to get out, so Nicole went instead.

They asked us what we were interested in doing, and we let them know our main goals for the day were to see El Morro and have lunch at an authentic restaurant, not a touristy place. So they pointed us in the direction of the old fort, and off we went.

Now, @Matt has advised many times that if you want to see El Morro, it's better to get a cab there or take the trolley since it's a pretty steep uphill climb and it can kind of wear you out. But that's not what we did; Estefania and Nicole knew a fairly direct way there that would take us by some parts of town you don't get to necessarily see by taxi, certainly not by the trolley. While I was nervous about how I'd do with this, given my mobility limits, I decided the day was short enough and I'd pumped enough Advil after breakfast that I could make a go of it. And I'm really glad that I did.

The first major building we passed was a small local university; Nicole explained that it wasn't the main college on the island, but a smaller place (I think akin to a community college on the mainland) where people could go who wanted to get some classes out of the way before going for their main degree.



From there, we made our way through a number of colorful side streets. Estefania told us that most of the town isn't that colorful, it's really more the commercial districts and the neighboring nearby homes. Places more on the fringes of OSJ or in areas not so visible to tourists were a lot more low-key.



As we got close to the fort, we came across this small, one-lane street with a building painted with the Puerto Rican flag on one side. This was apparently a rather popular spot for tourists to take photos, so we agreed to follow tradition; Nicole offered to take our picture while standing in front of the building, which was nice since we didn't really have much in the way of family shots yet on this trip.



From here, it was a very short walk and were on the outskirts of the fortified wall that surrounds much of this part of the island and city. Looking out over the wall, you could see some building that were still wrecked after Hurricane Maria slammed the island last year.



We followed the wall down the street; as I paused to get another photograph, another homeless man asked if I could spare any money. I gave him a couple of dollars as well; when there's no way to know who's truly impacted by the disaster that hit the island and who's a hustler taking advantage of the tourists and the situation, I'd rather err on the side of assuming the former. Even if they're hustling me, it's still money that they'll spend on stuff locally and ultimately help the local businesses and other people there.



We now came into sight of El Morro. I don't know what the "normal" way to get there is when you take a taxi or the trolley, but the way we came brought us in by way of a large field that looked down on the Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery, with the entrance to the fort still rather far off. Nicole told us that this cemetery had so little available space that only the most important and prominent individuals could be buried there now.



The wall in this area had one of the old watch towers (which I have since learned are called "garitas") that you could still go inside of. I've clearly played the Myst series of games far too much, because looking at this little watch tower on the wall, I felt like I was about to step into one of those games' "Ages" as soon as I walked through the entrance, no linking book required. In a way, I did; the view out of the narrow windows gave me a clear view down into the cemetery and the chapel at the far end. I really wish we had been allowed more time in port, as I'd have loved to explore this area as well as the fort. The sculptures and carvings that I could see on many of the graves looked amazing from this distance, and I'd have loved a chance to see them more closely (and maybe learn about some of the prominent individuals buried there in the process).



While I was taking in the view here, the others had moved on along the wall. I caught up with them at the section you can see in the last photo above, behind the chapel. You can see how the the wall curved out there and had several openings, most likely for cannons or other weaponry to fire on the ground below back when the fort was an active military installation and the cemetery wasn't yet built. On my way there, I passed a trio that included a woman who was in a rather fancy-looking dress. She was noticeably "out of place" compared to the two men walking with her, or the dozens of tourists and students who were there to explore the fort and its surroundings, or just relaxing and playing games or flying kites.


Once I reached the part of the wall where the others had stopped to wait for me, I looked around and was totally taken by the view here. Once you climbed up the small ramp to where the wall's openings where, you had clear vantages into the chapel side of the cemetery, as well as the ocean and the city center. And we were still only about halfway to the fort's entrance.



We crossed the field to the path that leads to the entrance into El Morro. Just before we got to the entrance, we were given another amazing view across the bay on that side.



Finally, we had arrived at the entrance to the old fort. I've seen pictures of it myself, but it's another thing to be standing there and taking it all in yourself.



Estefania and Nicole can be seen in the photo above; Estefania is wearing the sleeveless red blouse and talking to D17, while Nicole is standing to the left of her. My wife and I wanted to go inside the fort for a bit and at least see a little of the interior, but the girls wanted to stay outside and walk along the walls, so we split up and agreed to meet back at the entrance in half an hour. As my wife and I paid the admission fee, the person working there saw my Deadpool cap and laughed as he said that Deadpool was taking the tour as well.

Once inside, we went into the five connecting vestibule-like rooms that lined the right side of the fort, facing the entrance to the bay and the open ocean. Each of these rooms had an informational display that recounted the history of the fort, starting with its initial construction in the early 16th century through to the end of World War II. We learned a lot about how the fort changed hands over the centuries, and the role it played in Spanish trade and then as a defensive post and sometimes blockade point during the world wars. In each room, there was an open window in the wall looking out onto the lower courtyard and walls.



After we finished learning about the fort's history, we went out to the main courtyard, where the restored lighthouse now stands. I didn't try to navigate the really steep ramp leading up to it; from what I could see, it was a dead end and you couldn't go inside, at least based on the number of other visitors I saw go up, stay at the base of the lighthouse for a bit, and then come back down.



At the far end of the courtyard was another garita, from which you could see the bunker added on by the US Army during World War II, as well as the lower levels of the fort and the walking path along the coastline. Looking back into the courtyard from here also gave another nice view of the lighthouse.



At this point, it was time to meet back up with the girls. There was a gift shop that also sold water and other beverages right by the entrance, so we grabbed some bottles for everyone before leaving. We found everyone waiting for us, but they hadn't been waiting long. We all rehydrated, then moved on to the city center and towards where Nicole had thought we'd be able to get a nice early lunch.



Unfortunately, the place Nicole took us to wasn't open yet and didn't look like it would be any time soon. They took us along some other roads that started heading us back toward the port, figuring we'd likely find another option along the way. I noticed an unusual building as we worked our way through the central plaza, and Estefania explained it's a museum, but hardly anyone visits it. Since I had asked about it, they led us there so we could have a closer look.


I looked it up after I got home and learned that It's the Museum of the Americas, and originally was the Ballajá Military Barracks. We didn't explore the museum, only the interior courtyard where I imagine the troops who used to be garrisoned here would come out for practice drills or other activities. It's quite an impressive building, and the one doorway that leads down a stairway into another part of the city looks from the center of the courtyard like it just opens straight onto the ocean.



We resumed our journey back toward the pier and our search for a good lunch spot. We passed by the island's School of the Arts, which Estefania indicated was really popular with the local students looking to get an art degree.



We continued onward, and after another few minutes Estefania noticed a gift shop with a sign indicating there was a restaurant in the back, and we decided to take a look. It was a good decision, as it was just 11:30 and we were able to have an excellent and relaxing meal.


The rest of the family had one of the chicken or shrimp offerings, prepared as mofongo or one of the salads. I was feeling more adventuresome and tried the conch with the spicy criolla sauce; both Nicole and Estefania said that if I liked octopus or squid (I do), then I'd probably be happy with it. I found it very good, and the sauce was a nice complement. The conch was served with rice and beans plus mashed yucca, which I had never had before and found similar in texture to mashed potatoes, but with far better flavor. D14 tried some of mine and agreed that it was really good. I paired my meal with a mojito, which was incredibly tasty and, while a little strong after being in the heat so long, was also very refreshing. I actually ordered a second one to go so I could have one to enjoy on our way back to the pier. Trust me, the next time you're in Old San Juan, be sure to look this place up.

Before we left, D14 went into the gift shop and used the money her grandparents had given her to get a pretty hand fan that was much nicer than ones she'd previously bought online, with actual cloth for the material instead of paper, and good solid spokes mounted to it. Unfortunately, the pin holding it all together lost its cap on one side, and we need to figure out a fix for it; but it's still a nice souvenir and we're definitely hanging on to it. She also bought a tiny mortar and pestle, as Estefania explained most households had one for grinding their spices freshly as part of daily meal preparation. D17 didn't find anything appealing here, so we agreed to try and find another store where she could get something else for herself and maybe her boyfriend. We passed some interesting courtyards and side streets in our search, so I took some more pics while they shopped.


We didn't really have any luck on the shopping front, but we made one last stop just a few doors down from the pigeon park, located very close to the pier. Everyone wanted to take one last try at finding something in a little shop we found there, so while they shopped I drank the last of my second mojito. As I did, I heard a busker playing a guitar and singing. I tried to take a picture, figuring I'd hand him a tip immediately after; as soon as he saw me holding my phone with the big tele lens on it, he stopped playing and shook his head no. I put my phone down, he resumed playing, and I tried again, and this time he said out loud, "Don't take my picture, man."

At first I was miffed, but then I realized maybe I was doing things in the wrong order. Sure enough, as soon as I walked over and put five dollars into his hat, he chuckled and said, "Now we're talking!" At that point he looked up at me and apologized for being gruff earlier, and told me that while he didn't like having to be an a**hole he also had to make a living. He'd found his image on YouTube and even on TV commercials, where he hadn't been paid a dime for having his picture taken or video recorded, so he was really hard-nosed about no cameras without a tip first. I told him no problem and that I'd guessed as much, and he resumed singing while I now went back across the street and took a picture plus a short bit of video.




By this point, we had to get back to the ship. But we passed the pigeon park on our way and D14 asked if she could just buy one bag of corn for the pigeons and quickly feed it to them. I figured we had just enough time for that, and let her do it. Words can't describe what happened next. This really has to be seen to be appreciated, and I was really glad I had a tele lens in place to properly capture it all, especially with the burst mode photos I took.


It got even better when the guy handing out the bags of corn decided to pour another one into their hands free of charge (most likely because he knew the ship was leaving shortly).


At this point, we had to really hustle to get back to the ship on time. As we got back onto the main roads, we got some of that "typical port market" hustle, but we just told everyone we passed that we were about to miss our ship and they let it go. Except for one guy -- this fellow came up to my wife, urging her to try this cream he thought would be great for her skin. Even after she told him we didn't have time, he was sure she could just try a free sample really quick; he followed us for almost half a block before giving up! We all were laughing about it, and imagining if my wife had in fact tried this skin cream how the guy might have quickly run into the store and then sprinted after us all the way to the port entrance to try and close a sale.

Just before the port, D17 stopped briefly to give a couple of dollars to another busker playing a sax on the street we were rushing down. After that, we reached the port entrance. We said a hurried good bye and thanks to Estefania and Nicole, and then hurried through the security check (where we needed to show both our Sea Pass cards and passports). We made it to the ship just in time, as the security staff at the gangway were starting to take down the canopies and clearly getting ready to close everything up.

We went back to our room, where I skipped the sailaway beverage to have a few minutes to set up for another time-lapse, this time of our sail-away. No table stacking this time! I wasn't about to risk my phone or the table getting knocked over by a random vibration from the ship. It took some doing to get a decent view through the balcony's plexiglass, especially since I decided to try this time-lapse with the wide-angle lens, but I got it set up just in time. I have to say, I'm not as happy with this one; it seems like time-lapses are best done with no lens if you want a moderately wide shot, or ideally the tele lens. Tele would definitely have been better here, especially as we passed El Morro on our way to the open ocean.


After sail-away was done and we were on the ocean again, I showered and changed into fresh clothes after the hot and humid day in OSJ. While the others rested, I worked on editing photos and trying to catch up on my backlog, and nearly caught up with where I was at that point. I totally forgot about catching the sunset until it was too late, but my wife and I still went down to the Schooner Bar so she could get a virgin Lava Flow and people watch. I decided to try a spiced martini for something different; it was OK, but not something I'd order again. We sat and talked while watching a trivia game wrap up. After that, we went back to the cabin, where we all got dressed for formal night, and then headed down to Studio B to catch the early showing of the FreedomIce.com ice show.

I have to say, the show started a bit slowly for me. I was expecting a pretty "WOW" opening number, but I felt it was quite tame. However, as the show progressed the numbers performed by the skaters got more and more intricate. The theme was variations on what "Freedom" meant, in different time periods and different concepts. The songs played included some 70s oldies as well as numbers from the 80s and 90s. There were a few falls, but it wasn't surprising as we all could feel the ship shifting from time to time, as well as feeling the floor vibrating from the engines being pushed harder than the last couple of days. By the time it was done, we all agreed it was quite good and impressive for such a tiny rink on a moving vessel.

After the show ended, we went straight to Leonardo's MDR for our second formal night, which of course was lobster night. But before we got down to the business of enjoying our last fancy dinner, we asked our table-mate Debbi to take a couple pictures of us on the main stairwell.


I also took a picture of Debbi and her son Matt at her request, as her phone's camera wasn't great, and then I sent it over to her so she'd have a copy. After mentioning them so many times and how she knows @mpoole3 and Jason Poole, I figured I should show them once so they can put face to name.


Now for the dinner! I started off with the chilled strawberry bisque and a fresh caprese salad, followed by my requested two lobster tails. Then Jigger brought some extras our way, and I wound up having a third one that leaped from his plate over to mine while crying, "I volunteer as tribute!" In hindsight, I really should have said no thank you; I felt very full afterward, especially since I had the lava cake and baked Alaska for dessert and didn't compensate by just having a little of each. It was the first time I really felt like I'd overindulged.

My wife tried my lobster tail, which was a surprise to all of us since she isn't a seafood eater at all. She conceded it wasn't awful, but the texture really wasn't to her liking and she definitely wouldn't order one for with her meal. D14 chose not to have any lobster at all; she got spoiled after having a whole lobster on a trip to Newport, RI that we took last spring; she now will only eat whole lobster. :4_joy:

After dinner, I made another stop at the casino and the craps table, while everyone else went to the cabins to study, relax, and go to bed. Luck had decided to be against me this time, and I walked away after slowly losing $25 over the course of several throws around the table. I came back after a little while and watched for a bit, but the table stayed cold and I didn't get back into the action.

Defeated, I went back to my cabin and called it a night. My wife was thrilled with this evening's towel animal -- a peacock!


Just one port day left. I really felt like the cruise was going by too quickly! But at the same time, I was kind of glad that this last port day was much more low-key, so I could have a chance to rest my feet and just take it easy.



Drink package tally and random notes:

  • Standard fresh-squeezed OJ at the MDR and cappuccino at Cafe Promenade
  • Bottle of water for our time on OSJ
  • Spiced martini at the Schooner Bar
  • A glass of the Chianti Ruffina, "Castello di Nipozzano" that I'd had on night two (with $5 overage applied to my Sea Pass card)
    • As with the prior night, the MDR had extra staff on hand to deliver bar orders so there was no long wait; my wine actually arrived while we were still taking our pictures on the stairway!

Definitely a money-losing night as far as the drink package goes, but after two awesome mojitos in the early afternoon, I just didn't want to overdo it.

This was also the point where my Fitbit stopped charging for me. Most likely the contacts got too much sunscreen on them, and I just resolved to stow it for now and clean it up after I got home. I knew by this point that was averaging anywhere between 11,000 and 13,000 steps a day, so I wasn't overly concerned about losing my tracking for the last couple of days.


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Day 7 – Labadee

We took advantage of our later port arrival to sleep in a bit. Where in my case, by "sleep in" I mean I naturally woke up at 7 instead of having an alarm jarring me awake at 6. Following my now daily ritual for port days, I went onto the balcony after grabbing my phone and lenses to see what was in view. I thought maybe that Royal had actually routed us to Isla Nublar this time, and instead of lounging in a cabana I'd be running from T-Rexes.



But after about a half hour, it clear that this was no dino-topia...



Especially not after spying the tiny rowboat making its way past us...



When we had gotten close enough, the ship started turning around to actually dock, and I could see the pier and village of Labadee ahead of us.



I had my YOLO shirt from RCBlog on, so I kept it all in stride... (#RCBlog_Supporter, #Chillin, #Mellow)



Everyone else was up at this point, and we did need to get to breakfast before my wife and the girls had to get to their scheduled zip line run. So we headed down and once again just took advantage of the "cereal bar" in the MDR to have a quick meal without the Windjammer crowds. This time around, we got to the MDR a little late and had to share a table. Our table-mates were two elderly ladies who had no plans for Labadee, having "outgrown that stuff some time ago."

After breakfast, we did the usual trip back to the cabins to sunscreen up and get ready to head out. Unlike the other times, we had a persistent wood block tapping coming in through our balcony windows. We quickly realized it was from the little band that had set up on the pier. With the window closed, the only thing we could hear was that wood block; after opening the balcony door we could hear the whole group, which was a lot less irritating for us.

We ended up being a little too leisurely with getting up and ready, and found ourselves hurrying down the pier so all the ladies didn't miss their check-in time for the zip line. After we found where they had to go, I took  their bags and made my way to Nellie's Bach and the cabana check-in desk there. I did have to ask a couple of times for how to get there and where to go, but I eventually got there and was checked in. I let them know that not only would my family be there, but we had also invited our table-mates and they should be expected later in the morning.

Our attendant was a man named Fritz, and he led me to our cabin, which was the next-to-last one down the line. I had a chance later in the day to confirm that at least for these cabanas, they are not reserved based on when you booked, just on when you show up to claim one. So the earlier you get there, the better the cabana you'll be given as far as its position in the line and the view you get. Ours was definitely not at all shabby...



After putting everyone's bags down in our cabana and taking the pics above, I went out and found Fritz, and asked him to please call one of the golf carts for me so I could go and ride the Dragon's Tail coaster before the lines had a chance to build up. It took about ten minutes for a cart to show up, but that was fine; I wasn't in any hurry at that point. Once it arrived, I was quickly whisked to the check-in desk for the coaster, where I filled out my waiver and got my all-day wrist band. While walking the short distance from there to the actual ride entrance, I was surprised to see a wild dog come into view. It was somewhat timid and didn't let me get too close, but I was still able to get a shot.


I rode the coaster a total of four times over the span of about 45 minutes. I recorded every one of them, but I haven't yet reviewed them and decided which is best to share. Two of the times I went fairly slowly; the second time was a little too slow, as I had applied the brake for so long that I almost stopped dead on the track about half-way through! The other two times I went as fast as I was comfortable with while holding my phone (braced in the ShoulderPod grip) in one hand, and using the brake with the other. It was still plenty fast for me, and I definitely had a blast, as well as getting my money's worth out of my all-day pass. I'll try and get one of those videos up on YouTube to share here this weekend.

By this point it was noon, and I was ready to go back to the cabana. The people at the coaster couldn't hail one for me, so I wandered over to the beach bed checkin spot on Adrenaline Beach and asked if they could do it. They could indeed, and paged someone over the walkie-talkies they had there. While I waited for my ride, I attempted to speak to them in French, dredging up what I could remember of my high-school classes to fumble out a basic conversation (prefaced with me letting them know in French that I honestly didn't speak it well but was hoping to have a little chance to practice). They were pretty patient with me and fell back to English when it was clear I just didn't understand / couldn't translate quickly enough what they were saying to me. But it did come back to me to a surprising degree, and I even understood when they said in French that their Creole language was much easier to learn since it didn't have all the grammatical rules and other complications that "regular" French has. They explained that they all had to learn both French and English in school, so they were at least conversant in all three, if not 100% fluent.

By this time my golf cart had arrived. I thanked the gents I'd been speaking with for the conversation, and then hopped on to go back to my cabana. I got there to find that my wife, the girls, and our table-mates were all there. Everyone who'd been on the zip line absolutely loved it, and none of them found themselves scared all that much. They also said the jolt at the end wasn't as bad as the videos we'd watched beforehand made it look, so maybe the next time we're in Labadee I'll give it a try. They wanted to take video and made sure they had hand straps for their phones, but they were told that only head-mounted GoPros were being allowed since everyone had to hold on to the zipline bars with two hands.

Now I was thirsty at this point, and Fritz had just showed up to deliver some drinks for Debbi and Matthew;. I didn't hesitate, and ordered my first Labadoozie of the day (with alcohol, natch). D14 already had a drink in a hollowed-out pineapple that she bought with her OBC, and my wife and D17 were just drinking the Evian that came with our cabana, so I was the only one left empty-handed. Fritz came back in short order, and I tried it out.


As you can see, I totally hated it. :10_wink:

After I had a chance to properly sample my beverage, we asked Fritz to call up another golf cart so we could grab some food from the buffet. Our driver was great, staying nearby so that we could grab what we wanted and then eat it back in the cabana without having to hoof it all the way there. The food was just OK for me, but I'm not a big barbecue fan; everyone else thought it was great.

With lunch out of the way, the girls and my wife went to the Dragon's Tail coaster to try and get a couple of rides in. While they were off doing that, Debbi, Matt, and I went into the lagoon and enjoyed the water. It was very odd after a while; we all kept feeling cold patches going by while we stood there, so the water alternated between feeling nice and warm and feeling freezing cold. I eventually got out and decided to take another time-lapse while I warmed back up.

Wade made another visit and gave his seal of approval...



The ladies came back by this point, having only been  able to get in a couple of rides on the coaster due to the long lines that had formed. Lesson learned -- ride the coaster early if you have an all-day pass, or you won't get nearly as much of your money's worth!

The two girls and Matthew then went to the village to find some trinkets to buy. We adults just hung around in the cabana and enjoyed the lazy day, chatting and relaxing. I had another couple of Labadoozies, because why not?

D17 came back from the village feeling robbed. She tried to haggle, didn't know how to properly do it, and ended up paying the full $25 asked for the two necklaces she wanted. D14 did a bit better, getting a carved bird for $12 (original asking price $20). Matthew was an old hand at this, and got 6 necklaces / bracelets for $4 each. The girls decided to vent their frustrations over haggling with a dip in the lagoon.

I had seen a number of birds flittering around and tried to get some pics, but only got this one fellow as he gathered material for a nest...


I did manage to get a shot of D14's "emotional support chicken" as well..



And just when I'd given up hope of catching any more birds, I got two in one shot!










By this time, the cabanas were being cleared out and the beach was empty of people. We got the not-too-subtle GTFO hint and grabbed our stuff (plus the un-consumed Evian bottles) and started heading back. I tipped Fritz for the four of us, and Debbi tipped him some more for herself and Matthew. And we managed to score one last golf cart ride back to the ship, with the same driver who had gotten us to the buffet and back; my wife tipped him as well for taking such good care of us. We did the short walk back to the ship, once again among the very last to board (without being actual pier runners).



We really loved having that cabana. If I can score one at the same low price I got this one the next time we're in Labadee, I will definitely do that again. It made the day that much more pleasant and relaxing, especially since that day there was absolutely no wind or any breeze to cool things off. We had the shade of the cabana as well as the fan in it to help us keep cool all day.

No sail-away pics or video this time, we were already facing out to the ocean and sail-away was incredibly fast. I also missed the sunset again this time, but my wife got a nice shot from what we think was the deck 4 jogging path...



Dinner this night included tiramisu for dessert. Now I've been on a quest for the best tiramisu for a long time, and I had high expectations. I have to say, when it came out and I took my first bite, I was... disappointed is the only word for it. It seemed bland to me, but my wife and D14 both said I was nuts and that it had really great flavor, and was one of the best they'd had. So, I did what anyone would do... I had a second helping. You know... for research purposes.

I kid you not, it was night and day. That second piece was what I was expecting from a good tiramisu. Jigger was as shocked as the rest of us, and he guessed that because my entree that night was extremely savory and I was drinking some Zinfandel with it, my palate hadn't cleared enough to properly taste the dessert. By the time the second portion arrived, I'd had some additional sweet (a bite of my wife's chocolate panna cotta) and also some water, so I was better set for properly tasting my second helping.

After dinner, my wife and I tried going to the helipad again to try and finally see some stars. And we hit the jackpot! The sky was almost completely clear of clouds, and from the helipad the stars just shined down by the hundreds. We saw more than we'd ever seen before, and could even see their actual colors as well! I'd never seen just how orange Betelgeuse, in Orion, actually is, or how blue Rigel is compared to other stars. We just sat there for almost an hour with a few other adults who'd come out before us, everyone in awe at this amazing view.

And then the teenagers arrived...

First a couple, keeping relatively quiet but using their flashlights on their phones. Then a bunch more, and several of them stupidly trying to take pictures with their flashes going off. Within five minutes, a deckhand came out and escorted every one of us off the helipad, telling us it was closed. Damn kids.

We stayed up to watch the 70s party in the Royal Promenade from the chairs in our elevator lobby. It was OK, but I was glad i wasn't down there in the massive crowd. We called it after about 45 minutes, since it seemed the show was going to go on a bit longer and we'd had enough. Everyone else went to bed, but I wanted another crack at the craps table. Once again, it was cold and no one was doing better than winning a little bit followed by losses. I stopped after I'd lost another $33 on top of the prior night's $25, which was actually perfect -- counting the $50 I'd lost on the slots a few days earlier, I was exactly at break-even. I figured fortune was sending me a pretty strong signal, and decided I was done with the casino for this trip.

I went back to my cabin, where I found a little seal pup waiting for me...



Drink package tally for today -- I definitely made up for the prior day's shortfall!!

  • Fresh-squeezed OJ and cappuccino at breakfast
  • Three Labadoozies -- far too tasty to say no to these! ("Lord, show me how to say no to this!")
  • 1800 Reposado margarita for sail-away, from the Schooner Bar
  • Ravenswood Zinfandel at Vintages
  • Marchesi de'Frescobaldi, Toscana, "Rèmole" at MDR with dinner
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1 minute ago, accio7 said:

LOL, I just noticed in the photo from Labadee, it looks as if your daughter is giving you the double finger :4_joy:

That was no "as if"! She really did it when she saw I was taking her picture yet again, trying to get some candids of her and her sister, and decided she'd had enough!

Like I said.... two birds in one pic! :4_joy:


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Ok , @JLMoran, can I just say I laughed so many times while reading these last few posts!

Your family looks so happy!  It looks like you all had such a great time!  I am so happy for you all!

The pigeons, my first thought was, OMG, someone is going to get pooed on LOL!!!  My second thought was, OMG, there is a pigeon on her head!!!  Obviously, your daughters are not as scared of birds as I am.  I have a backstory to go with that, which I will save for if we ever have the pleasure to group cruise together.

Awesome blog!

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1 minute ago, Lovetocruise2002 said:

My second thought was, OMG, there is a pigeon on her head!!!

You have young kids, and you're Canadian, so I'm guessing you might have heard of Laurie Berkner. As soon as I saw that pigeon on her, I immediately starting singing to myself, "[D14's name] has a pigeon on her head. [D14's name] has a piiiigeon on her head! [D14's name] has a pigeon on her head. She keeps it there all day!"

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7 minutes ago, JLMoran said:

You have young kids, and you're Canadian, so I'm guessing you might have heard of Laurie Berkner. As soon as I saw that pigeon on her, I immediately starting singing to myself, "[D14's name] has a pigeon on her head. [D14's name] has a piiiigeon on her head! [D14's name] has a pigeon on her head. She keeps it there all day!"

Nope.  Had to google her.  We were more the Dora and Wiggles type. :6_smile:  Glad those days are gone lol.

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Day 8 (Sea Day)

It’s the final day of our cruise. We all agreed we were just going to be doing our own thing, since the girls had homework to keep working on, I had photos to edit and review, and my wife had her massage this day.

I invited D14 to join me in the MDR for breakfast since we were both up kind of early, but she said she wanted to go to the Wind-jah-mehr. Her loss; Debbi had told us earlier on how sometimes they did a Chocolate Breakfast, and guess what today was? 😋😋😋😋😋 I had chocolate pancakes that were reeeeaaalllly tasty, along with bacon, sausage, over easy eggs, and proper hash browns (not triangle shaped, but the shredded potatoes formed into a nice patty). I shared the table with a couple from Michigan and another from Kentucky, who were there with their grandkids. We had a nice conversation and I actually ran into the couple from Michigan later in the day.

After breakfast I got my usual morning cappuccino and headed back to the cabin. My wife was up and getting ready for her massage at 10:30. We chatted for a bit, then she dashed off to the Windjammer for a quick bite before going to the spa.

D17 went to the Logo Shop sale, and while she didn’t pick up any t-shirts she did pick up one of the long-sleeved shirts (hoodies?) they had on display. I also went down to check out the sale as I was interested in the scale model; while I thought the $32 asked (not a sale price) was semi-reasonable, I realized we have zero space for it in our luggage or carry-ons. 😢🐼

After the logo shop, I decided I’d get some work done on the photos, but I needed a pick-me-up first. Time to hit the Bloody Mary station! I ordered a spicy one with Grey Goose, horseradish, jalapeños, celery, and bacon (because everything is better with bacon).


I sipped on this while doing my photo editing from the balcony and taking in the ocean view, getting one more hit of that deep cobalt. After a while, I remembered I needed to swing by the Schooner Bar to capture another item for my “photo safari”; a pair of collected ships-in-bottles that I passed a couple dozen times walking from the bar into the casino, but somehow never noticed until the day before when my wife and I were down there chatting and people watching.



I also picked up a more literal “safari” capture, a rare and seldom-seen lion...



D14 had her cupcake decorating class coming up at this point, and I decided since I was already on the right deck that I’d walk over to the cupcake place and watch while she did it. They were given two cupcakes, a bag of icing, and some candies; this was magically transformed over the span about an hour into a pupcake. D14 did a great job, and staying true to herself she deviated from the steps for making the face, paws, and tail so that it looked more like a Pomeranian than the plainer puppy-like cupcake the rest of them made.



We went back to the cabin after this to store her pupcake in the room fridge, to enjoy after lunch. My wife was back from her massage, and when she saw me she exclaimed, “Hey hon! I got stoned!” Yup, she used some of her OBC to add hot stones to her Swedish massage. Cost $20 and plus extra tip, and she totally loved it.


D14 and I had to rush now so we could make it to our planned lunch at Sabor as they would be closing their doors in about 20 minutes. We’d both had big breakfasts and wanted to keep lunch light, so we just had the guacamole and two of the small plates: A double order of the chicken stuffed jalapeños wrapped in bacon, which were sooooo good; plus an order of the spicy beef empanadas, which we found just so so. As for the guacamole, we agreed that it was good but not mind-blowing. Could be because it was closing time and they rushed it out; maybe it was because it was the end of the cruise and they didn’t have as good a selection of avocados; maybe it’s because we make our own kind of regularly and tend to make on the spicier side; but we just didn’t did it as awesome as we’d hoped for.

I also got a sweet & spicy margarita, which was very tasty. The Prefect Margarita wasn’t listed in today’s featured ones, and didn’t see it listed elsewhere on the lunch menu. It was fine, I’d wanted to try this one as well.


I just wish it had come with my meal instead of at the end; we had finished off our guacamole and the small plates, and turned down the offer of dessert, and our waiter was bringing the check when I finally had to remind him I hadn’t gotten my drink order. He apologized profusely, and I’m guessing it was again because we came in so close to closing and they were trying to wrap things up and start the dinner slot prep. He brought out my margarita and also the check.   Because we only had appetizers and no dessert, he gave us 20% off (the check showed a “crew-bar” notation for this). I tipped him the full 20% of our meal’s original cost in thanks.

After this, it was to meet up with our MDR table mates for a rousing game of Cards Against Humanity. We had some trouble finding a place to play that wasn’t totally full of young kids, but finally found a spot in “Cloud Nine” room of the Viking Crown Lounge. Hilarity ensued as we played several rounds, with D17 snagging the win with 8 black cards in a clutch comeback.


Now we come to a matter of some unpleasantness. I finally tried Sorrento’s pizza.

I knew everyone here wanted to get my own opinion as a cruise noob and a Jersey pizza snob, so I decided I’d better just do it now or there would be a lot of disappointed readers. I got one slice of the specialty pizza offered this day, a cherry pepper pizza with sausage and pepperoni. My slice didn’t seem to have much of the latter two items, if any.


I braved myself, and took my first bite. I tried to be neutral, and reserve judgement. Really, I did.


I will say this: It wasn’t god-awful. But this pic pretty much sums up my overall feeling.


It was utterly flavorless. The crust was beyond bland; it didn’t taste like there was even any salt in it, and it barely had any crispness. The cheese was also “just there”, and there was no sauce to speak of. The only part with any flavor was the cherry peppers, which actually had heat and tasted like real cherry peppers. There Might have been a tiny bit of pepperoni or sausage in the first bite, but I couldn’t taste anything like either of those.

My mouth was crying for relief from this assault, so I walked over to the Bull & Bear Pub and got a Paulaner Doppelbock, because you still drink beer with pizza. And this was something with actual flavor that could wash away the blandness.



Before dinner, my wife, D17, and I all went back up to the top pool lounge above Deck 12 to catch one last sunset. While we waited for the sun to get lower, my wife and I took some pics of each other.


After this, we watched and waited as the sun got lower. For the second time, D14 totally missed out. It was by far the most spectacular sunset of the entire trip, and I had to get a ton of pics to show the progression, especially as the sun was eclipsed by the clouds on the horizon and then broke though one final time before disappearing over the Earth’s curve.


When I first saw the sun break through again, I quickly switched to my tele lens and got this stunner before switching back to the wide lens for the other pics.



After this stunning show, we headed down to our final dinner in the MDR. It was Debbi’s birthday, and we were also making this the “anniversary” day since we won’t be on a ship in May. Jigger, Danny, and our head waiter gave us a rousing “Happy Birthday” / “Happy Anniversary” performance, accompanied by a slice of cheesecake for each of us. My wife doesn't care for cheesecake, so I ended up having three desserts that night; a bit much after a goat cheese & tomato tart and pappardelle carbonara.


We went back up to the room and finished packing the bags that we were putting in the hallway for transport to the terminal. We got #29 on our bands, which was only one 15-minute slot earlier than the last group would have been, so we were glad to have a leisurely morning ahead of us.

We realized not long after we got back to our room that I had forgotten to bring down the WOW envelope for Jigger and Danny. So while everyone else kept packing, I grabbed it and shot back down to the MDR. They were both still there, so I was able to hand it to them personally.

We’d also left Miriam a WOW envelope as well. We could see that she had picked it up when she came in to do turndown for us.

We got the last things packed, and had all the luggage out by 10:30. I didn’t take a picture of the hall, didn’t want a reminder of the sad time coming soon.

I tried going to the helipad one last time, but the gate was closed and there would be no last viewing of the stars. 😢🐼 I called it a night and went to bed.


Drink package tally:

  • Fresh squeezed orange juice from MDR
  • 2 grande cappuccinos at Cafe Promenade (morning and afternoon)
  • Spicy Bacon Bloody Mary
  • Sweet and Spicy margarita at Sabor
  • Paulaner Salvator at Bull & Bear
  • My usual Chianti at dinner (MDR)


Random notes:

  • I got the online checkin notice for the hotel, and got that squared away; I was able to request a digital key for my phone this time, so I decided to try it out. This wasn’t offered with our original stay, so it must have been part of the lock maintenance they were doing during our last visit.
  • This was written during my lunch hour. It’s weird to be back at work.
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22 minutes ago, JLMoran said:

Now we come to a matter of some unpleasantness. I finally tried Sorrento’s pizza.

Hooooooo boy.  HERE WE GO!!!  :22_stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

25 minutes ago, JLMoran said:

I will say this: It wasn’t god-awful. But this sums up my overall feeling.

I still say it was god-awful on the Majesty, but what you got on the Freedom seems about the same as what I got on the Allure.  Bland, not much really going for it, on par with a generic frozen pizza.

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Dude.  That was a super-fun blog to see and read!  Your fam is beautiful - thanks for sharing them with us.  The photos....man, you have a great eye.  I think I loved the San Juan pics the most, especially the ones of the street scenes.  The pic of you and the Labadoozie made me feel relaxed, so I know you loved it!


Great job!

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2 minutes ago, coneyraven said:

Question .....

Just out of curiosity ....

I know you have Anthem coming up in October, did you book anything while you were on board?


No, we didn't. My wife and I discussed the possibility of using NextCruise to book that CA/NE sailing on Adventure for 2019, but the $100 pp deposit they were promoting onboard was only valid if you booked an NRD cabin. We couldn't really commit to that, and going refundable meant paying the full $250 pp which was going to be more than we could afford right now, what with damage from the nor'easters that hit us still needing to be cleaned up along with some overdue home maintenance that we need to get done.

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1 hour ago, mbk999 said:

I also noticed your Ocean City shirt, is it the correct Ocean City (MD) or the incorrect one?   

Yes, it's the correct one. :29_smirk: I've lost track of how many times we traveled there for our summer vacation week when the kids were younger.

1 hour ago, Floski said:

Dude.  That was a super-fun blog to see and read!

Blog's not done yet. Still have disembarkation day and my summary write-up to do. :10_wink:

30 minutes ago, Boston Babe said:

the sentence where he says he AND the wife did go to NEXT CRUISE

Well, only I went, but we did discuss before I went there and she gave the thumbs-up for me to at least ask about the NRD vs. refundable deposit rate. She's fine with us booking another cruise at some point, but we do need to get the financial ducks back in a row first or at least have one hell of a promo offered with a far-future final payment date.

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33 minutes ago, Boston Babe said:

I hear you loud and clear! That's why I have mine so spread out. I booked my 2020 Edge booking in early December 2018, so I have 2 years to pay for it! But you  have your beautiful Bermuda cruise coming up!  I'm down to 23 days!!!

Exactly ..... with our finances and vacation time being what it is, once a year is pretty much it right now (unless we win the lottery)

2018 to Bermuda in October

2019 Western Caribbean in April

2020 Eastern Caribbean in March. 

Book them far enough in advance to spread the payments WAAAY out.

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20 minutes ago, coneyraven said:

Exactly ..... with our finances and vacation time being what it is, once a year is pretty much it right now (unless we win the lottery)

Same here, maybe even only once every 18 months after the Bermuda trip. But that doesn't mean I have to like it! :3_grin:

I Wanna Be the BOSHI @twangster


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