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


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452 days have passed since I booked. Now it's just 6 days away! I'm single digit dancin'! I'm super excited, and I just can't hide it! No more waiting, no more holding back, it's time to get

Day 9 & 10 (Debarkation, Return Home) The dreaded day has arrived. There are no more ports, no more sea days. We didn’t even have a docking to watch when we woke up.   We woke

T-minus 1 day to embarkation... The weather is a lot nicer today, as expected. Just some scattered clouds, and nice and warm. We’ll be catching the shuttle at the Publix in a little bit to get to

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Day 9 & 10 (Debarkation, Return Home)

The dreaded day has arrived. There are no more ports, no more sea days. We didn’t even have a docking to watch when we woke up.

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We woke up at 6:30 to the first announcement, letting those doing self-disembarkation know the ship was docked and that they should be able to leave the ship around 7 or 7:15. We wanted to eat in the MDR and not have to rush, so we up at this point and got dressed. Looking out the balcony window, we could see the port and non-cruise life waiting for us. It was patient, it knew we couldn’t stay on the ship forever.

We went down to the MDR for the final time. As we walked in at 7:20, we heard the first GTFO call for those self-disembarking passengers. No cereal bar in the MDR today, only regular menu. We got seated at a four-top after thinking we’d be sharing a table and at least having some other conversation to distract us, but nope.

No fresh-squeezed OJ available today. The waiter explained the machines were off limits to them on this day. My wife settled for a glass of the regular OJ, but I would not settle; I made do with just water and coffee.

After breakfast, we went back to our cabins one last time and cleaned out the last of our stuff, getting everything into our backpacks and bags.

We went down to deck 5 and were able to get one last round of caramel macchiatos and cappuccinos at Cafe Promenade. It was a little before 9, and we only had a short time before it our time to leave our little slice of heaven. We went to the Arcadia Theater and waited there for our turn to go. The screens in the theater were showing CNN, and it was piped out over the sound system. News?!? What fresh hell was this??

We got called off at 9:15 sharp, and decided to leave rather than stay the extra 15 minutes since we could only stay in the theater and we’d had quite enough news, thanks. We walked out to the deck 4 running track and got in line.

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Wade was trying to figure out where to hide until the next embarkation started. Or who to steal the Sea Pass and passport from. He could pass for a Julian Guilfoyle, right?

I do have to say here that the cruise was not exactly giving us an incentive to return to dry land. The second we walked onto that track, before we even got to the end of the line, our noses were assaulted by the stench of the waste systems being emptied. Couldn’t they have done this from downwind? We all really wanted to turn and go back inside where the air was still pleasant.

It took about 15 minutes to actually get off the ship and into the terminal building. There was a bottleneck at the gangway station where they scanned everyone’s Sea Pass card for the last time, and the gangway itself wasn’t exactly moving at a fast clip.

A woman in the building was calling to all the passers-by that an elevator was right there and ready to go down to the ground floor. No one took it, not even me with my bad feet. She asked aloud why no one was interested in taking it. We all thought the same thing, I know we did: It wasn’t a convenience, it was a speedway back to reality and regular life. No one wanted that, and we all took the nice slow escalator, or the stairs.

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Once in the main waiting area, we found a porter right away; he helped us find our luggage, and took care of hauling our eight bags while we made our way through the customs line. He then led us to where we could wait for our Lyft, then dropped off our bags and headed back after I gave him a solid $2 per bag tip for hauling those 8 bags on a single dolly all that time.

Our Lyft took us back to the same Embassy Suites hotel where our adventure started, and we checked in very early; we had to wait until nearly 2 for our room to be ready. We hung out in the atrium, going through photos, the girls working on some of their remaining homework. 

Once our room was available, we headed up and  got our stuff squared away, then my wife and the girls went to the trolley to check out the Galleria mall and get some lunch. I stayed behind to rest my feet, got a small lunch from one of the places in the Publix mall right there, and went through the photos I hadn’t yet edited or culled.

We had dinner at La Bamba, bringing the trip full circle and wrapping it up the way it started.

After checking out the next day at 11, we took one more Lyft to the airport and waited for our flight. It got delayed by nearly an hour not long after we arrived, but similar to the flight down, they made up most of that time in the air so people with connecting flights weren’t impacted. We managed to pull up to the gate in Newark only about 20 minutes late.

Our baggage showed up fairly quickly, and we made our way to the off-site parking pickup area. Did I mention yet that it was 41° F in NJ that day, and none of us packed for temps that low? We froze at the off-site pickup area for about 20 minutes while we waited for a van to come and get us. Why is it still in the low 40’s in April?!?

We picked up our car from the Park Plus, and headed out for home. It was after 7 t this point, so we grabbed some dinner at the Tick Tock Diner on the way home. We got home just after 9, and after greeting our cats for the first time in almost two weeks and giving them lots of love and attention, we crashed.

Today as I write this, it’s April 12. There are 183 days until my wife and I board Anthem of the Seas and kick off our next cruise.

I’ll write up the final verdict and the things we loved and... not hated, just... found wanting... when I’m on a computer and can make bullet lists, but I think everyone here knows that this was an awesome trip that everyone really enjoyed.

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Thank-you Joe and family for taking me on your wonderful first Cruise I truly felt like I was there with you your photos were outstanding and the narration was even better I will never forget the site of the pidgeons and will actively seek this out for my girls in nov in OSJ once again thank-you Joe and Family for a second shot at having another First Cruise an experience I thought I lost in time 

PS I love the two birds my daughter frequently expresses this sentiment when my camera comes out 

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Awesome job on the live blog @JLMoran, I really enjoyed it! It was especially great for me since on my next cruise I will be going to St. Maarten, San Juan, and Labadee for the first time. The photos are awesome and I would never guess they were taken from a phone. What kind of phone do you have and what was the lens you found most useful? I have been accumulating some photography gear as of late, but I am thinking about getting one as well for our cruise because of the simplicity of use that cell phone cameras provide.

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39 minutes ago, cruiselife said:

The photos are awesome and I would never guess they were taken from a phone. What kind of phone do you have and what was the lens you found most useful?

I have a two year old iPhone 6s Plus, believe it or not. And every photo was taken using the stock Camera app, with one exception: the night-time shot of the Solarium, where I used the app NightCap. The lenses I bought from Moment have made a world of difference for me, and combined with a fresh battery have given this old phone a new life. There was no one lens I found the "most" useful, but certain lenses definitely worked better in certain situations.

  • The telephoto lens was probably the one I used most heavily, only because my older phone has no telephoto lens of its own and always shoots wide. Examples of where I used it in this blog were:
    • The busker in OSJ, or the guy performing in Bull & Bear Pub on night 1
    • The diving woman in the ceiling of the Promenade
    • Surprisingly, it really helped a lot with panoramic photos or the panning style of time-lapses that I took
    • That last sunset photo I posted
  • The wide angle lens was the second most-used. I found it to be most handy in cases where the stock lens just didn't quite capture enough of the area I was trying to shoot, since this lens increases the field of view by about 50%. Some of the places I used this lens were
    • The town square near El Morro in OSJ
    • Some of the pool deck shots on the ship
    • All of my sunset shots, to get the full sky and really capture as much of the colors as possible (after dialing down the exposure on the phone)
    • Big structures like the Museum of the Americas
  • The fisheye lens was least-used, but still handy in some situations; I think part of this is that I've never used one of these before, and I need to practice with it more so I can start seeing cases where it would work better than the wide-angle lens.

Do be aware that I used some extra tools on my phone to clean up my pictures and handle making resized copies of the final products:

  • The stock Photos app for cropping and image cleanup (I really need to learn how to do it manually instead of relying on the Magic Wand)
  • Snapseed for times when I need to fix the perspective a little (like the one full-on shot of Museum of the Americas), or fix things like the green dot that sometimes shows up in iPhone camera shots
  • Image Size (recommended by @twangster) to watermark and resize a copy of each picture for posting
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14 minutes ago, JLMoran said:
  • The fisheye lens was least-used, but still handy in some situations; I think part of this is that I've never used one of these before, and I need to practice with it more so I can start seeing cases where it would work better than the wide-angle lens.

Wise choice.  Fisheye is cool in some applications but you have to be careful with it.  I have a Photoshop plugin that de-fishes a fisheye which I sometimes use to get an even wider field of view without the fisheye effect.  In some photos fisheye works, but in many it does not.

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On 4/11/2018 at 12:36 AM, JLMoran said:

The Costa ship I'd seen earlier was still there, and I could now see clearly that it was the "new" Costa Classico (which I later learned from our dinner mates was about to be decommissioned, so none of us could figure out what it was doing all the way out here).

Joe,

Interesting thing about the Costa. She was at the port in St. Maarten when we were there last week on Thursday, April 5th. We were on the Allure right next to her and I thought to myself "who in their right mind would cross the Atlantic on that small ship"???? I also noticed that there were very few folks getting off her, there seemed to be a lot of "stuff" piled up on the front of the ship and she showed a lot of rust. I went up to deck 15 to get pool towels and looked down on the Costa pool deck, two very small rectangular pools  and only one had water in it. Yeah, from the looks of that ship, I think she's headed for the bone yard also. Would be nice if they could clean her up so she would be environmentally safe and sink her off shore to become an artificial reef. Nice hoe for a lot of marine life!

rjac

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17 minutes ago, rjac said:

Interesting thing about the Costa. She was at the port in St. Maarten when we were there last week on Thursday, April 5th.

Hmm. Considering that I was in St. Maarten on Wednesday, April 4, that makes me wonder if they're using that Costa ship as a cargo transport for materials to help the St. Maarten recovery effort. Can't see any other reason she'd be in St. Maarten two consecutive days. I'm guessing she just never left port on Wednesday, unless like me you saw her arrive later in the morning after you did? We saw her pulling in to the port around 10:15, right as my excursion was pulling out of the bay.

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11 minutes ago, JLMoran said:

Hmm. Considering that I was in St. Maarten on Wednesday, April 4, that makes me wonder if they're using that Costa ship as a cargo transport for materials to help the St. Maarten recovery effort. Can't see any other reason she'd be in St. Maarten two consecutive days. I'm guessing she just never left port on Wednesday, unless like me you saw her arrive later in the morning after you did? We saw her pulling in to the port around 10:15, right as my excursion was pulling out of the bay.

 

37 minutes ago, rjac said:

Joe,

Interesting thing about the Costa. She was at the port in St. Maarten when we were there last week on Thursday, April 5th. We were on the Allure right next to her and I thought to myself "who in their right mind would cross the Atlantic on that small ship"???? I also noticed that there were very few folks getting off her, there seemed to be a lot of "stuff" piled up on the front of the ship and she showed a lot of rust. I went up to deck 15 to get pool towels and looked down on the Costa pool deck, two very small rectangular pools  and only one had water in it. Yeah, from the looks of that ship, I think she's headed for the bone yard also. Would be nice if they could clean her up so she would be environmentally safe and sink her off shore to become an artificial reef. Nice hoe for a lot of marine life!

rjac

Used to be Costa, it was announced today that she enters service for Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line:

https://www.bahamasparadisecruise.com/blog/introducing-grand-classica/

https://www.cruiseindustrynews.com/cruise-news/18549-bahamas-paradise-announces-details-for-grand-classica.html

"Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line will add a second ship to its fleet with the Grand Classica, which enters service from West Palm Beach on April 13, the cruise line said.

The Classica underwent a major refurbishment in 2014. In October 2017, a comprehensive drydock took place to improve systems and infrastructure, complemented with refurbishments and improvements to ready the ship for the U.S. market."

 

 

 

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1 hour ago, JLMoran said:

Hmm. Considering that I was in St. Maarten on Wednesday, April 4, that makes me wonder if they're using that Costa ship as a cargo transport for materials to help the St. Maarten recovery effort. Can't see any other reason she'd be in St. Maarten two consecutive days. I'm guessing she just never left port on Wednesday, unless like me you saw her arrive later in the morning after you did? We saw her pulling in to the port around 10:15, right as my excursion was pulling out of the bay.

She was already in port tied up at the pier when we came in at 8:00 a.m. on the 5th and still there when we left the port at 5:00 pm. So, you may be correct in your assumption regarding recovery effort. 

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Well, this is a little overdue; but life, as usual, had other plans for me the last couple of days...

Final Impressions

I'm actually going to break this down into a few different sections, since there were so many firsts and so many aspects to cover.

General

  • Overall, we all agree this was a really good first cruise that everyone enjoyed
  • I think we all found the sea days a little too slow on those first two full days, but the last one was appreciated for the down time after four intense port days
    • For me, and maybe my wife, it was because we weren’t fully utilizing the Cruise Compass and trying out things like trivia events or other little “one offs”
    • For the girls, I think their mistake was skipping the first-night Teen Meet and Greet, so they ended up having to do their own thing all the time
  • One aspect that I really came to appreciate was the people I met at lunch or on the helipad, just as casual meetings during breakfast/lunch or sail-away, as I got to meet a lot of nice folks from areas I've never been to (even within my own country) and shared in some good conversation each time
  • I think I'm no longer the only one who's gotten the cruise bug, but we all understand our daily lives make going more frequently problematic right now
  • That said, my wife is very much looking forward to our trip on Anthem in October, where it will just be the two of us

Dining

  • Every one of us had no problems with eating only at the included venues, and especially the MDR; service there was great for all but bar service, and even that was resolved by Day 3 with the addition of the extra staff that we noticed
  • Speaking for myself, I only had one entree in the MDR that was a little disappointing (a fish entree that was a bit tough and dry); I think everyone else had at most one entree or appetizer that they tried and didn't finish
  • The one specialty dining stop at Sabor was OK, but not great, and since I also did Chef's Table I really didn't feel the need for any other specialty dining on this cruise
  • Speaking of Chef's Table – that's getting its own full write-up in the Shore Excursion section, but it really was just an amazing experience and something I think everyone has to do at least once if you're even remotely into good food and good wine
  • Please don't ask me to sample Sorrento's again. Ever.

Drink Packages

  • I definitely got full value out of my drink package, but only because I got a good sale price that made breaking even that much easier, and we had Labadee in the trip
    • If there were more port days or I had to pay a higher price, I’d have lost money
    • Because it was relatively easy to "break even", I didn't really feel any drink fatigue; I drank when I wanted a drink, and never found myself asking, "Am I buying this because I really want it, or because I want to break even?"
    • Best of all, I didn't ever feel like a lush or that I was getting unpleasantly beyond buzzed
  • Based on what I know they got each day, I would say that my wife and D14 also got full value out of the Refreshment Package, though it was close and again helped by the $18 pp pd sale price we got
  • D17 did not get her money's worth out of the package, as she just typically ordered a single covered beverage a day, two at the most; definitely would have been better to just let her go a la carte

Internet

  • Very worth it for the intended purpose of communication, as we were regularly messaging each other to meet up at this place or that one, or say that one of us was going to some place ahead of dinner and would meet up with everyone
  • It was frustrating as hell in our cabins, though; I lost count of how many times one of us would have to go down to the Promenade or another part of the ship with stronger signal so we could forcibly log off and then back on, or at least get a signal good enough for the authentication to re-establish

Port stops

  • St. Maarten was everyone’s favorite port, and we would happily sail with Capt. Bob / Soualiga Destinations again
  • San Juan was a close second, and I think we all wish we could have had more time there so it wasn't so rushed and we'd have been able to explore more
  • I'm going to call Labadee a tie for second, or at worst it lost that race by a nose; it was a really nice beach / relaxation day and a great chance to try some off-the-beaten-path things (coaster, zip line)
    • The cabana absolutely made the day in Labadee for us; I can’t see not getting one of these on every future visit, as long as I can get a similarly good sale price
    • Sharing the day and the cabana with our table-mates also made it a lot of fun
  • St. Kitts was everyone’s least favorite port; without the dolphin excursion or something similarly bucket-listy to improve the visit here, we’d have likely just stayed on the ship. We all agree that we’d prefer an itinerary without this port on any future eastern / southern-ish Caribbean itineraries

Flight and pre-/post-cruise hotel stay

  • United was totally fine for our trip; no lost baggage, no issues getting our seats or having last-minute changes (beyond typical flight delays that were made up in the air)
  • I'd still like to try Jet Blue, though; next Florida cruise, I suppose
  • Fort Lauderdale Airport is way nicer than Newark, although it does look like Newark has had a lot of renovations since the last time we flew out of there
  • I definitely would not fly in so early again, or if I did would absolutely have to get a cheaper hotel further away from port
    • Staying at the Embassy Suites on 17 was nice and very convenient for getting to places to eat or the public trolley, and they had one of the best included breakfast buffets I've ever had, but it was so expensive that just on its own I lost all the savings from the earlier flight
    • Factor in the cost of meals in that area, even at chains like Outback, and I was even further in the hole
    • I will freely admit this was done in full knowledge and that I was splurging to extend our vacation and make it as nice as I could, but I really did put the cart before the horse with booking the flight before looking at hotel rates and doing all the math like I've done with every other aspect of this trip
  • The same goes for staying a day later; the final extra costs for hotel and meals when I was already past the point of what I'd saved on the flight made it just not worth it, and it would have been better to fly home Sunday afternoon since there wasn't a major increase in price to do that
  • In addition to the above, the girls incurred extra absence days at school that bit us once those extra snow days forced the schools to be open almost all of spring break week; they now have 15 absences at school and only a few left before graduation would be blocked, so here's hoping they don't get any bad spring colds!
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@JLMoran so happy to hear that you and your family had a great time.  I personally think the sea days get better as you cruise more because then you tend to know what type of things you like to do during the down times.  I find sea days go by fast now.  And also what I mentioned before, those Oasis class ships have tons to do on sea days :10_wink:

Great tip about the attending the teen meet and greet on the first night.  I most definitely will tell my kids of this when they are both old enough to attend.  

If you liked Freedom, you'll probably love Anthem in October.  A cruise with your wife is going to be a whole different experience than with the family.  It's like night and day.  Can't wait for your blog on that one (if you decide to do one lol).

Thank you for taking us along with you.  I've enjoyed your blog so much.

Sabrina

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Joe & Family,

Thanks for a wonderful blog!  It was refreshing to see things from the eye of new cruisers and experiencing this cruise with you was like living a first cruise all over again - something that isn't easily accomplished.  

Even as I sailed Serenade while you sailed Freedom small things like the incredible cobalt color of the sea were brought back to me.  Instead of just looking at the sea like any other sea from my balcony, you reminded me how incredible it all is.  Thank you for that.

1 hour ago, Lovetocruise2002 said:

 I personally think the sea days get better as you cruise more because then you tend to know what type of things you like to do during the down times.  I find sea days go by fast now.  

Great tip about the attending the teen meet and greet on the first night.  I most definitely will tell my kids of this when they are both old enough to attend.  

When I was new to cruising I recall thinking that sea days were a necessary evil to get there.  Now its different for me.  I love sea days.  

As far as the teen meet and greet, I think Matt's advice to take your kids to AO on day 1 just so they are "in" holds true here.  I appreciate for older 'kids' it's not the same AO thing as it is with younger kids, but the same concept remains - get them involved from day 1/night 1 so they are "in".   Ice-breaker out of the way, it's possibly easier to return day 2 and beyond.  

@JLMoran - pay back can be a wonderful thing and you have caused me to invest in some Moment lens for my iPhone.  So for the record I am not the only one causing people to spend money around here :12_slight_smile: - great photos!

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Great recap!  I love how new cruisers see things! Love the pictures! I'd love to learn how to take pictures like that.

It does take a while to settle in the first few sea days. I think there is such a build up that it takes me a few days to wind down and get in the groove. For some reason, I feel like the first 2 sea days never have great weather (at least on our cruises)...pool decks are very windy making it very cold after we get wet. I don't know if its the speed or the direction of the wind. We love sea days but the last sea day always seems to have the best weather without any winds and it is almost too hot.

I always say it is a must to go to the teen club the first night. The flip side of this is that you won't see your teens that much if they meet a group of friends.

Can't wait to hear about your next cruise in October.

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Great review. You may come to love Sea Days now that you know exactly what you're in for. Those are the days that you actually relax from whatever stressors in life and they prepare you for port days. Nothing like sleeping in, a leisurely breakfast, a (lot) of cocktail(s), a beach chair, another (lot of) cocktail(s), pool time, napping...there's so much to do on the ship. :)

 

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Joe and Family thank you once again for the time and effort you put into this fabulous account of your travels .As for sea days I look so forward to them I love the ships even when I was on my first I found so much adventure in these floating cities to be fair when my uncle was alive he owned an 83 foot island hopper and I cruised often the islands such as martenique grenada and Barbados it has always fascinated me the sea life I love the open ocean even having a huge whale scratch himself on the keel for 20 minutes or so it astounded me when I realized how small and insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things. I love the ports don't care much for sand but it has become a thing of mine to try to meet the locals and get there viewpoints of life in general I often spend much time on the lifeboat deck 4 or 5 listening to the healing sounds of the sea going by and many times especially in the heat of the summer will stay on the ship especially at labadee or like ports just to enjoy the grandeur of these magnificent ships and all they offer. Sailing was my goal in life but was cut short by my uncles passing and the sale of the magnificent yacht Sorrento. Your picture treasures are so detailed it brought back so many memories I had of the good times in the BWI bars and magnificent scenery and color changes I shared with my kids. I have learned to so to say wake up and live it all again while there is time on my next cruise in OCT I will open my eyes again peak my senses now that I come to realize that for the most part on my cruises I had taken the been there done that attitude. Thank you once again for the great blog and helping me to bring back the wonder

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Excellent blog, Joe!  Great pictures and well written recaps of all your adventures!  Thanks for taking the time to do this.  It's a shame that our Anthem cruises are two weeks apart (we're be onboard for Halloween).  As a fellow New Jerseyan, I feel ya on the Sorrentos!  Although, we were on Oasis in 2016 and I have to say, it wasn't HORRIBLE there - especially after exercising the drink package :)

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I haven't finished reading your whole blog yet...just had to make a couple comments before I forget them...  The captain driving the boat "like a bat out of hell" made me laugh, lol, not sure why, it was just funny.  That yacht...omg I'll take one!  And finally, if I'm ever in another band, one of our albums will be titled " Cows on the Beach", and I'll add your name in the thank yous 😉.

Now, back to reading the rest of the blog.

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  • Matt featured this topic
  • 2 weeks later...

Such a fun and informative review to read!  I am not new to cruising, although it's been several years, but I am new to RC.  Where oh where do I find those Bloody Marys at?  I will be on the Mariner of the Seas in November so not sure if they have the same bar where you were able to get that one!  

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