Dear Cruise Diary – Day 1, April 21, 2013

Think of Dear Cruise Diary as my travel journal. These entries will outline the Five Ws (who, what, where, when, maybe why) of my trips. There are probably a lot of details that only interest me, but it’s a good reference for future trips and maybe a memoir one day!


After driving down from Plano yesterday, I spent the night at the TownePlace Suites (Marriott property) in Clear Lake City. Mainland hotels were about half the cost of Galveston hotels; probably because two cruise ships were in port

My nephew Zan rode with me back to school at the Texas Maritime Academy (Texas A&M Galveston campus) after coming home for a couple of days. After dropping him off in Galveston, I spent the early evening doing a little shopping at the mall. Once at the hotel, I finally got my blog set up for the trip.

Sunday morning I had one last work project to finish before heading to Galveston. Zan and his girlfriend Lauren joined me for lunch at Fish Tails, across the Seawall Boulevard from the new Pleasure Pier. Hurricane Ike a few years ago did in the Flagship Hotel that once stood out over the water. Now it’s an amusement park and appears to be quite popular.

By the time Zan dropped me at the port terminal, there was a long line of passengers waiting to go through security, followed by a slightly faster line waiting to check in. I guess sailing on smaller ships has spoiled me. But my vacation motto is “don’t sweat the small stuff” and I didn’t. My Gold status on Royal Caribbean (people who have sailed at least once but not more than 30 days) put me in the middle line, and before I knew it, I had my SeaPass card and was boarding the ship.

Immediately the Royal Promenade impressed me. It’s a three-story passage through the middle of the ship, bordered by shops and eateries and full of lights and color. Interior staterooms have windows that look out over the promenade; I will move to one of them for the second half of this cruise.

I promised myself I wouldn’t use the elevators, but I immediately decided I wasn’t lugging my carryon bags up the stairs. Once on Deck 7, I headed forward to my interior stateroom 7531. My first observation was that while it was small, it is totally adequate, especially for one person. With the two beds together, there was barely room to pass on each side, and I made a mental note to ask my room steward to separate them, which makes the room look much more open. Closet space is less than half of what I have become accustomed to on Holland America (particularly the wonderful Maasdam), but plenty for just me. I made quick work of unpacking my carry-on and headed out to explore.

Four flights up to Deck 11 brought me to the main outside deck. The fitness center is in the bow, with the spa one flight up. The fitness center has lots of treadmills, bicycles and ellipticals, with weights and an area for classes, all surrounded by windows. I vow I will be back.

Moving aft is the Solace pool area, designated adults only. It won’t matter much on this trip, as I have seen very few children. Next is the main pool area – actually two pools side by side with a huge video screen overhead. There will be nightly movies and other videos showing during the day. Just above the pool area is another deck full of lounge chairs and a walking/jogging track. I think five laps makes a mile.

The aft section of Deck 11 has the Windjammer – the buffet where you can get breakfast, lunch and dinner if you want. Many passengers are having a late lunch – don’t want to miss any free food! Two specialty restaurants, Chop’s Grille and Giovanni’s Table, are near the Windjammer. They cost $30 and $20 respectively for dinner; I don’t think I will eat at either. Johnny Rockets (cover charge $4.95) is one deck up on Deck 12, and the areas for the children’s programs are also nearby. Ellington’s bar is on Deck 14 – yet to be explored.

Decks 6-10 are staterooms, although the library and Internet center are tucked into two of them. I head down to Deck 3 and work my way up the inside public decks. Deck 3 has the ice rink (closed at the moment), photo display area and the first level of the main dining room. The three-deck dining room is in the stern of the ship and is open in the middle with a huge chandelier. Passengers with assigned dining times will eat on Decks 3 and 4; I have “anytime” dining, which is on Deck 5.

The main show lounge is forward on Decks 3 and 4; I’ll save exploring it for later. I find the guest service and shore excursion desks on Deck 4, and a piano bar and nightclub are forward on this deck. The outside promenade walkway is on Deck 4. It doesn’t go quite all the way around the ship like on the Holland American ships.

Deck 4 also has the casino, but it is closed the first eight days of this cruise for refurbishment. Each cabin gets a $100 shipboard credit because we can’t use the casino for the first half of the cruise. I’d rather have the money, so I’m a happy cruiser.

As I said, Deck 5 has the top level of dining and the Royal Promenade, as well as another lounge. There are assorted bars, meeting rooms, and a theater on these three lower decks, but I haven’t found all of them yet.

Before we can leave, there is the required muster, or “lifeboat drill” as we used to call it. I think the captain called the boats “survival crafts” during the muster. We gathered on Deck 4 under our survival craft while the crew demonstrated how to put on our personal floatation devices (life jackets). The captain announced that because the rolls of carpet and other materials were not yet loaded, we would not be leaving at 5 p.m. as planned, but rather 7 p.m.

Once dismissed from muster, I headed for the Sky Bar over the pools to join with others on my Cruise Critic roll call for drinks. It was an opportunity to put faces with names of the just a few of the nearly 300 people who had chatted online before this cruise.

My duffle bag had shown up in the cabin, so after unpacking it and texting with friends and family back home, I headed for dinner. I sat with Susan and Dick from the Houston area – a delightful couple who have traveled extensively. They helped lead a bike trip/river-boat cruise in Egypt on the Nile River just before the Arab Spring uprising, which sounded like quite an adventure. Dining room steward Richard said the watermelon/raspberry soup would not be too sweet and he was right. While the recommended pork chop had great flavor, it was a bit tough. I passed on dessert and just had coffee.

We still hadn’t left Galveston, and it ended up being a bit after 10 p.m. when we finally cast off. My large suitcase was in my room after dinner so after the final unpacking, I listened to music in the piano bar and headed for bed by 11 p.m.

Tomorrow: Day 2 – Sea Day