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twangster

Empress 7/30/18 5 Nights inc. Cuba

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With Cuba on my mind and with a goal of sailing some of the older and smaller ships in the fleet I booked Empress.  With the current fleet it's hard to get any smaller.  I'm supposed to get a glass block based on my current Crown and Anchor points accumulation so as I thought which ship to 'block' on, getting a glass block from Empress seemed like a really cool idea so I booked this cruise with that other goal in mind.

It's a 5 night cruise:

Day 1 - Embark Miami

Day 2 - Key West

Day 3 - Havana

Day 4 - Sea Day

Day 5 - CocoCay

Day 6 - Debark Miami

It's been a few years since I've visited Key West but I need to get some work done so I'm not sure how far I'll venture off the ship. 

For Havana I've a booked a full day excursion through Royal.  I have an overnight cruise to Havana booked in September so I'm using this trip and excursion to discover and plan my next visit there for maximum cultural enrichment.

I have many Canadian friends who have visited Cuba.  They've been able to fly direct since, well forever.   They've given me some ideas so this full day excursion should check all the boxes for an initial Cuba experience and allow me to better plan my next visit.

I've missed a few calls on CocoCay this year so fingers crossed.

Flights were booked through Air2Sea and I'm taking a dreaded red eye flight with airport transfers to the ship by Royal.  I usually just take a ride-share but as a solo traveler the transfer isn't that bad from a cost perspective and it's for research so I know how well it works getting from Fort Lauderdale (FLL) airport to the Port of Miami and back.  I had to work this weekend so the all night flight is an "efficient" use of my time, or so I keep telling myself to justify it. 

Not sure when I might sail Empress again especially since she does mostly Cuba runs at the moment so I've splurged and booked a junior suite.  My first solo JS experience.  At the time I booked it was a reasonable price difference.

My red-eye departs at 1am local time and I haven't started packing yet.  It's only 5 nights so not a hard cruise to pack for. However I better step away from the keyboard and get started.

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11 minutes ago, twangster said:

With Cuba on my mind and with a goal of sailing some of the older and smaller ships in the fleet I booked Empress.  With the current fleet it's hard to get any smaller.  I'm supposed to get a glass block based on my current Crown and Anchor points accumulation so as I thought which ship to 'block' on, getting a glass block from Empress seemed like a really cool idea so I booked this cruise with that other goal in mind.

It's a 5 night cruise:

Day 1 - Embark Miami

Day 2 - Key West

Day 3 - Havana

Day 4 - Sea Day

Day 5 - CocoCay

Day 6 - Debark Miami

It's been a few years since I've visited Key West but I need to get some work done so I'm not sure how far I'll venture off the ship. 

For Havana I've a booked a full day excursion through Royal.  I have an overnight cruise to Havana booked in September so I'm using this trip and excursion to discover and plan my next visit there for maximum cultural enrichment.

I have many Canadian friends who have visited Cuba.  They've been able to fly direct since, well forever.   They've given me some ideas so this full day excursion should check all the boxes for an initial Cuba experience and allow me to better plan my next visit.

I've missed a few calls on CocoCay this year so fingers crossed.

Flights were booked through Air2Sea and I'm taking a dreaded red eye flight with airport transfers to the ship by Royal.  I usually just take a ride-share but as a solo traveler the transfer isn't that bad from a cost perspective and it's for research so I know how well it works getting from Fort Lauderdale (FLL) airport to the Port of Miami and back.  I had to work this weekend so the all night flight is an "efficient" use of my time, or so I keep telling myself to justify it. 

Not sure when I might sail Empress again especially since she does mostly Cuba runs at the moment so I've splurged and booked a junior suite.  My first solo JS experience.  At the time I booked it was a reasonable price difference.

My red-eye departs at 1am local time and I haven't started packing yet.  It's only 5 nights so not a hard cruise to pack for. However I better step away from the keyboard and get started.

I will be following. I was on Empress last year. Looking forward to your review.

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Safe flight, and an uneventful transfer!

Even though it’s light packing, will this be like your last short cruise in terms of bringing only your iPhone for photography? Or was that a “lesson learned” moment and you’ll be bringing some form of your usual kit in addition to your carry-on / suitcase?

Either way, we know great pictures are heading our way! You could shoot with a pinhole camera and it would come out great! ☺️

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20 minutes ago, twangster said:

My red-eye departs at 1am local time and I haven't started packing yet.  It's only 5 nights so not a hard cruise to pack for. However I better step away from the keyboard and get started.

Lol...you are packing really last minute now...like Hubster lol

Following!  As always.  Safe travels tonight!

So the RC transfer is from FLL to Port of Miami right?  How much was it pp if you don't mind my asking?

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6 minutes ago, Lovetocruise2002 said:

So the RC transfer is from FLL to Port of Miami right?  How much was it pp if you don't mind my asking?

 

The Royal ship transfer was $60 round trip, per person. 

That's from FLL.  MIA (Miami) airport was slightly cheaper for the ship transfer but I almost always find FLL cheaper for airfare so overall it was cheaper flying into FLL.  

13 minutes ago, Lovetocruise2002 said:

Lol...you are packing really last minute now...like Hubster lol

Half packed, still have 8 hours.  No problem mon! 

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4 hours ago, Sweety said:

What camera bag do you use?

It depends.  I have a couple and a new back pack that I like.  

On this 5 night cruise I'm not checking bags so I needed a bigger pack for all my lens and a few things that overflowed from my bag went into my backpack.

IMG_1224.thumb.jpg.15ed25b47ee27b245f62e181947431c1.jpg

6 hours ago, JLMoran said:

Even though it’s light packing, will this be like your last short cruise in terms of bringing only your iPhone for photography? Or was that a “lesson learned” moment and you’ll be bringing some form of your usual kit in addition to your carry-on / suitcase?

Full mirrorless camera kit including 5 lens.  I missed my 'real' camera on Adventure.  A phone camera is fine outdoors in the day, but not so much in low light.  I had too many "if I had my real camera that would be a really great shot"  on Adventure.  I won't make that mistake again.   

New lens for this cruise, a 500mm f6.3  mirror lens (1000mm with a 2x teleconverter).  I'm not expecting great things from this lens, it was $99 new including the 2x converter, but a short and light 500mm lens for a full frame camera may be fun to play around with.  The Sony A7 III has good low light performance so I can push the ISO and use dark glass more.  With the in-body sensor stabilization a lens like this can be used handheld under the right conditions.

    IMG_1228.JPG

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I've made it into the Delta Sky Club waiting for my 1am red eye.  They hold the club open here in Denver until the last flight has boarded.  On nights like this that works out well.  A few extra drinks will ensure I sleep like a baby (or as well as can be expected on a plane).

I couldn't find my phone headset with caterpillar wind screen.  So I grabbed the headset from my business phone and one of the spare wind screen covers I bought from Amazon in a 5 pack and made myself another 'caterpillar wind screen ready for periscope wired Apple headset' as I sat here waiting.   MacGyver would approve.  

Checking my 'Hurricane Tracker' app and there are still no active systems.    

My inbound plane is ahead of schedule.  

I don't recommend flying the day of the cruise but since I booked with Air2Sea and my the next port is Key West that risk was acceptable.  With only carry on bags and traveling solo I can deal with last minute changes.

So far so good.

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IT'S CRUISE DAY!!!!!

I've arrived in Florida, in Fort Lauderdale using the 'FLL' airport.  This was several hundred cheaper than the Miami airport for my days of travel.

Our approach to the airport was from the West and took us over the Everglades with I-75 in the distance, also known as The Everglades Parkway, also known as Alligator Alley.

The Everglades don't look like much in this picture but that's because the whole area is shallow water with I-75 marking a distinct line across the Everglades.   It's very swampy but a very unique eco-system that is part of the larger Florida water system that starts much farther North in the state.

9Zui4mM.jpg

I didn't check any bags so upon deplaning I made my way to the baggage claim area where I knew the Royal Caribbean ship transfer kiosk would be found.  Carnival had their kiosk setup near one exit at one end of the baggage claim area and RCCL had their joint Royal/Celebrity kiosk at the other end.  In Terminal two that Delta uses this was directly across from baggage carousel three.

PrDhbpd.jpg

 First bus to Miami is around 10:45am.  Having landed at 8:46am I've got some time to kill.  Fortunately the FLL airport has free wifi.

Since I'm here at the tail of morning rush hour I thought I'd look to see what prices are like for two popular ride sharing services, Uber and Lyft:

gzU1NnK.jpg

cXWffST.jpg

 

It looks like Uber has a slight edge today.  It's always best to check both because often this is reversed with Lyft being slightly cheaper.  It's morning rush hour so I'd expect these to be lower at other times of the day.

Since I'm solo a regular Lyft or UberX would suffice.  The Royal transfer at $60 round trip is still the best deal for me as a solo but it does mean waiting here in the airport and likely not being at the port when boarding (hopefully) begins.

For larger groups with more luggage an UberXL or LyftXL would be a better choice.  For two people the Royal transfer still looks like it's the cheapest way to go but if there are more people in your party this quickly changes.  

For example, with a party of four, Royal would cost 4 x $60 or $240 round trip.  The ride sharing services above are one way but even with 2 x $72 that's $144, nearly $100 less.  Squeezing 4 people with baggage into a standard Uber/Lyft can be a challenge so I used the XL version for this price comparison.

Traveling solo I'm saving around $14 by using the Royal transfer at the expense of convenience and just being able to jump into the next available car.

This has killed the first hour,  only 60 minutes to go until my bus should depart.  

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I know that people often poo-poo the cruiseship transfers but I really find them to be worth their [few] detractions for the most part.  #1, they are "guaranteed" to get you to the ship on time, which is a nerve soother.  #2, they're easy to find and you don't have to "order" them on your phone and hope someone shows up.  If you are in a hurry to get where you're going then they may not be the best option b/c you do have to wait for the bus to fill up before it will leave but I have never found this to be that big a deal.  Especially in the Twangbot's situation (arriving at one airport and transferring to a different port and vice versa) I find it reassuring to know that your ride WILL be there will get you to the ship on time.

Also, there is a little excitement factor when you walk off the plane and see that "Royal Caribbean/Celebrity" kiosk waiting for you !  When the rest of the people see you going to the cruise kiosk, you KNOW they are envious !

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For the record, Terminal Two has a Starbucks

WSOe36g.jpg

I often see asking questions about after the cruise and what to do with their luggage when they have later flights but want to explore the city or a beach.  

There is a luggage storage service here in the FLL airport.  

H18FDKv.jpg

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Since I had ample time I had a great talk with the people staffing the transfer desk.  One worked for Royal around 15 years before they were outsourced.   Now she works for the outsourcing company.  They used to be able to cruise just for the taxes and port fees.  She has cruised a lot but that perk is gone.  

Overall guests doing transfers has declined over the years, likely the impact of ride sharing.  

More transfers are to Port Everglades, not as many transfer to Port Miami from FLL.  They don't understand that either since they agreed that FLL is a cheaper airport to use even with slightly higher transfer costs.  

On this day 11:30am is the latest flight for a guest using the transfer service.  

Around 11:15 we were led out to the bus.  Other guests from Terminal one also were being led to the bus.  Once loaded we picked up four more guests at Terminal three.  

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They placed Mariner bags in the rear bins under the bus.  Empress bags went in forward bins.  I was told to keep all my carry on bags with me on the bus.  They occupy the seat beside me.

It's a 40 minute ride to the port. At least cabins should be ready by the time I board.  

m65PVtl.jpg

 

 

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2 hours ago, twangster said:

Both Lyft and Uber have increased in price since I first arrived, up ~ $5.

Thanks for posting those prices!  That is bad news for me though in two weeks when I have to make that transfer.  Also flying into FLL to board Mariner out of Miami....

1 hour ago, twangster said:

Around 11:15 we were led out to the bus.  Other guests from Terminal one also were being led to the bus.  Once loaded we picked up four more guests at Terminal three.  

It's a 40 minute ride to the port. At least cabins should be ready by the time I board.  

That's probably the one downside to taking cruise line shuttles...a lot of waiting around when you could be on board sooner.  But a good savings on your part.

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The bus ride down to Miami flew by quickly - on account of me sleeping most of the way.  I did wake up in time to catch our first glimpse of Empress and Mariner.  

It makes you appreciate just how much bigger (or just how small) some ships are compared to others.  Picture was taken just before we entered the tunnel to make our way onto Dodge Island where the port is.

3gEm3qs.jpg

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Empress is using Terminal F today.  Our bus pulled up here first before continuing on to Mariner. 

A short walk to the guest entrance.  No dedicated Suites/Pinnacle entrance or queue for security.  They initially objected to my extension cord (the one I was given by Royal on Adventure) but I was somehow able to talk my way through and was able to keep it.  

Upstairs was the first sign of queues based on C&A level.  Suites/Pinnacle in one, Platinum through Diamond Plus grouped into the next queue.  It's a small ship so this works.

I had to fill out a simple form authorizing Royal to charge me for my Cuba visitors card or VISA as it is also referred to.  The VISA was presented to me blank for me to fill out later.  The check in agent suggested I don't fill it in until I participate in a Cuba presentation at 4pm (or watch it on RCTV later).

As I hoped the ship was already boarding so from here I walked right on around 12:15pm.  That's when it hit me that I know nothing about this ship or it's deck plans.  I found the Windjammer and grabbed a couple of sandwiches to keep it a light lunch.

Shortly after 1pm they made cabins available.   Muster in 40 minutes, I need a nap.

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