Cruising with Teens
The plan for Tuesday was simple — sleep late, have a leisurely breakfast, attend the CruiseCritic party at 11:00, go to the beach at Casa de Campo and return to the ship for the evening. I had planned to just take a cab to the beach in the Dominican Republic, but after breakfast I decided to be safe and book the beach excursion through the ship. Information about this stop was pretty sketchy, and we could live without unpleasant surprises.
The television booking system was unresponsive, so I went down to the excursion desk and stood in a long, slow-moving line. After half an hour, it was my turn.
“I’d like to book the beach excursion, please.”
“I’m sorry sir, the excursion is full,” replied the man behind the counter. “I can put you on the waiting list.”
I put the four of us on the waiting list and returned to the cabin somewhat dejected.
“We probably won’t get the beach excursion. We’re waitlisted.”
“Shoot,” said Kris. “Guess everybody had the same idea.”
It was time for the CC party, so we headed to Michael’s Club. Winnie Hung, the Social Hostess, was greeting arrivals at the door. She seemed somewhat distracted and detached as she checked names against a list. This was the third time we had introduced ourselves to Winnie, but there was no spark of recognition – very unlike Liz from the Galaxy and Christine on the Mercury.
A number of people had already congregated in the central seating area. Around the periphery, a few pairs and trios stood talking and sipping coffee. We gravitated to the only familiar face in the room – Bev (Nanatravel) was seated with a gentleman she introduced as her husband, Sid.
Kris sat and talked while I wandered around the room trying to make some new acquaintances. There were almost 70 people signed up for this party, though no more than a third of them were in the room. The CC thread for the cruise was lightly trafficked in the weeks leading up to the trip, so only a couple of names were familiar. I eventually met Tom (CRUISEinTIME), who was hovering near the door waiting for his wife to arrive. “She’s in the spa, but will be here soon,” he said.
A lively round of conversation was taking place in the central area, but the seating arrangement made it difficult to penetrate to group. I was looking for an opening when two familiar faces appeared in the entry. Wells and Dan checked in with Winnie and headed straight for the coffee.
“Just get up?”
“What time did you get in?”
I noticed that Wells was wearing his glasses.
“Can’t open your eyes enough to get your contacts in?”
“Where did you find something to do until four in the morning?”
There — I managed to get Wells to double the average number of words per response by the end of the conversation. Another wordy exchange between generations. I’d leave it to Kris to extract the details – she’s good at that. I was still concerned that the boys wouldn’t take to cruising, but I assumed that they wouldn’t have stayed up until four in the morning unless they were having a good time.
Edwin Rojas, the Cruise Director, entered the room and began making the rounds. A few minutes later, he called for everyone’s attention. It was time for a little ceremony involving the “Millennium Gambling Chip”.
I was surprised that I had previously missed the story of this chip, which is passed on from cruise to cruise on the Millennium like some kind of an Olympic torch. It is fabled to bring the bearer luck in the casino. Tom was the carrier of the torch for this cruise, and by reports he did pretty well in the casino.
It seems that Winnie had possession of the chip, but until now she was not quite sure why. Tom explained the tradition, and Winnie is prepared to play the role of chip-passer on future cruises. Anyone interested in participating should look take a look at this thread.
After the chip passing ceremony, the party wound up in a Q&A session with Winnie and Edwin. Winnie warmed up to the group and proved to be quite personable. By the end of the party, I had forgiven Edwin for prolonging my discomfort at the pervious night’s show.
Tom’s wife never did make an appearance. I questioned him about her existence, and he assured me that she was not a fabrication. Bev later claimed to have met her. Could be a conspiracy…
We all headed back to 8106. The boys wanted to send some email, and I convinced them to compose the messages in Microsoft Word first, and then copy and paste the text into the messages while on-line. I’m not sure if this is possible on the public computer stations, but it works with the in-room computers and saves a lot of expensive ‘connect’ time.
Kris settled on the couch with a book while I perused the daily newsletter. Something on the front page caused me to do a double take.
“Well, there’s no way we’ll be going to the beach today.”
Kris looked up from her book. “Why not? Can’t we just take a taxi?”
“I suppose we could, but we won’t get there until sunset…”
Our arrival time for Casa de Campo was listed as 4:30 pm, not the expected 1:00. I would later find out that the strange noises heard early the first morning were associated with a medical evacuation. The ship had diverted to Nassau to transfer a sick passenger to the hospital by speedboat, and consequently we were several hours behind schedule. We were on a waiting list for a beach excursion that wasn’t going to happen anyways. That made my experience at the excursion desk just a couple of hours earlier somewhat mysterious.
I explained the situation to everyone. The disappointment was surprisingly short lived.
“That’s OK,” said Dan. “There’s plenty to do around here.”
“Yeah, I don’t mind,” said Wells. “We can still go to the beach tomorrow, can’t we?”
I hoped so. There was no beach excursion in Puerto Rico, but plenty of people on the boards reported that a quick taxi ride would get you to a passable patch of sand.
“Sure, we’ll find a beach in San Juan.”
“St. Thomas will be our real beach day. Snorkeling, too” Kris piped in.
The boys finished up their emailing task and excused themselves. We agreed to meet back in the room at 4:00 and go topside to watch the arrival in the Dominican Republic.
In effect we had another leisurely sea day, which was fine with me. It gave us a little time to explore. We started with our cabin.
As you may recall, the original plan had Kris, Wells and me in the Celebrity Suite. When Dan opted in, my request to add him to the suite was denied. The official policy is that the CS accommodates 3 people. I couldn’t understand the policy at the time, and after spending a week living in the CS, I still cannot understand why. A family of ten might be tight, but any smaller group would have room to spare.
For the two of us, the space was positively decadent. The literature describes the CS as occupying 467 square feet – about the same size as our bedroom and two offices at home. You could fit both the Sky Suite from the Galaxy trip and the Cat 2 cabin from the Mercury trip inside the CS without encroaching on the bathroom space.
From the outside, the hints of a special space within are subtle. On each of four decks, the 2 CS doors are adjacent, slightly recessed into the wall amidships. A tiny metal vase affixed to the door holds a sprig of orchids. They are not fake.
CS 8106 was decorated in a classic Japanese style. The most striking components of the décor were three larger-than-life depictions of Japanese ladies lining the entry hall. On the opposite wall, mirrors doubled the number of ladies.
As pleasant as this hallway was, I could not help but note that it took up almost 10% of the available space. Try as I might, I couldn’t come up with a redesign that would reduce or eliminate the ‘waste’.
The dining area sits the end of the 10’ long hallway. A large table for four dominates the space. On one side, corner cupboards flank a large mirror. The cupboards display Japanese objects d’art in glassed upper sections, and various amenities are stored in the lower cupboards – including binoculars, umbrellas, and a set of crystal stemware (red and white wine, champagne, brandy and water glasses).
On the opposite side of this room is a marble-topped sideboard. The cupboards below hold the life jackets, the mini-bar and the safe. Although it appears to have a card reader, operation of the safe requires that you input a 6-digit number of your own making each time you open or close it.
Adjacent to the sideboard, at the end of the hallway, is a connecting door to the neighboring suite. Our neighbor was often taken to fits of coughing and odd moaning sounds that penetrated a few feet into the dining area but were otherwise unobtrusive.
The living room is big, and contains a full size couch with end tables, two comfy chairs with a footrest (which also saw duty as the computer seat) and a glass top table. Four floor-to-ceiling windows form the curving outside wall. Each window has two sets of drapes, one sheer to cut down on the sunlight while preserving the view, and the second heavy and dark. The latter could turn day into night.
The living room tends to be very bright, day or night. The windows admit a lot of light, and when the sun is shining directly in the air-conditioning can be overwhelmed.
I won’t forget the first time I flipped the wall switch for the lights in the living room. There are 16 separate fixtures wired into that switch, and they all flickered on simultaneously to produce a blindingly bright glare. The Galaxy Sky Suite had dimmers for the overhead lighting, and this accommodation sorely needs that piece of technology. The only alternative is a pair of lamps on the end tables, which have the illuminating capability of a decent night-light. It was kind of an all-or-nothing proposition.
The curving wall of glass produces a short wall opposite the main seating area. Here, a built-in cabinet houses a 42” plasma TV and a VCR. I was surprised that there was no DVD player. I actually brought a few DVD’s on the assumption that there would be a player to go along with the high caliber television. Watching a VCR tape on a big plasma TV is like listening to the symphony while wearing ear plugs. Speaking of audio, the TV sound is piped into overhead speakers above the couch, and loud sounds in the broadcast set up a sympathetic resonance in the ceiling housing.
Photos of the CS all showed a fancy wall-mounted Bang and Olufsen CD player. The unit in this cabin must have been retired and replaced with an Aiwa portable in a cupboard above the TV. At first I though it was fastened to the shelf, but once I found that it was movable I relocated it to the bedroom each night where it soothed us to sleep.
A shallow five-foot marble-topped desk unit forms a corner with the TV cabinet. The computer monitor and mouse sit on the surface, the keyboard occupies a slide-out tray and the computer is safely locked away in a cupboard below. Behind the monitor is an odd window designed to allow daylight to pass into the bathroom. Electrically operated blinds are mounted between the two layers of glass. Closed, they provide privacy. Left open, a person at the computer can watch their roommate take a shower until the window fogs up.
The bedroom is nicely sized, except for the narrow passage between the foot of the bed and another TV cabinet. This cabinet holds a second 42” plasma TV and a VCR. A low drawer unit and a lamp are positioned on either side of the bed.
The walk-in closet has a vanity with a large counter top, padded stool, extra lighting and a large mirror. Underneath are drawers, and full-length hanging space is provided at either end. Sliding doors with frosted glass separate this area from the bedroom. I plugged a fluorescent night light into an outlet on the vanity, and its blue light made the glass doors glow gently at night. Nice effect.
The marble bathroom has two sinks, a telephone and a scale. The whirlpool tub has very high sides and a showerhead oddly mounted low on the sidewall. The whirlpool was energetic, but Kris complained that it ejected debris into the water. I mentioned this to the Hotel Manager who happened to stop by for a visit within minutes of this discovery. He dispatched someone to clean the unit, but the effort was not entirely successful.
Storage throughout the room was more than ample. We put most of the bags into cupboards and still didn’t use half the available space. Even our giant suitcase fit under the bed.
All things considered I’d have to say that the Celebrity Suite is a fantastic accommodation. Relative to the other suite types, it is a bargain. The extra space easily compensated for the lack of a verandah.
The image below shows the Celebrity Suite floor plan. Measurements are approximate – I used an 8.5” x 11” piece of paper, my fingers and toes to arrive at the dimensions. The numbered arrows indicate the camera position and direction for each of the pictures appearing below the floor plan. Click any picture for a larger view.
<<— Click these pictures to see larger images
1 – The Japanese Ladies
2 – Dining area with corner cupboards, bedroom beyond
3 – Dining area sideboard. Connecting door on the left
4 – Living room seating
5 – Living room computer desk, funny bathroom window and TV cabinet
6 – The view
7 – Bedroom closet and vanity
8 – Bedroom TV (narrow passage to bathroom)
9 – Bedroom
10 – Paul delivers goodies
We spent some time at our sunning spot in the afternoon, and then checked out the shops. Kris spent entirely too much time in the Jewelry shop looking at things she couldn’t buy. We did find some decent Mille coffee mugs, and spent the entire discretionary budget on a pair. We were in the cabin when Paul made his rounds delivering goodies. Kris personally selected all the good stuff.
By 4:00, we had hooked up with the boys and made our way topside to the topless deck to watch the ship dock. The skies were threatening as we entered the tiny harbor at La Romana. The area was much more urban than I expected, with smokestacks belching from nearby factories. A freight train loaded with sugarcane crossed a bridge over the river at the head of the tiny harbor, and the tracks wound down to a dock occupied by two rusting cargo ships. Another passenger tried to point out an armed sentry on the bridge, but I couldn’t spot him.
Another cruise ship was visible behind an island on the southern horizon. Maps would later confirm that this was Catalina Island, site of a ‘beach stop’ formerly used on this itinerary.
We decided to get off the ship and take advantage of the free shuttles being offered by Celebrity. A line wound through a new reception building and out to the shuttle loading area. About ten minutes into the wait, we came to a point where the line split – one side for those wishing to go to the Marina, and the other for Altos de Chavon. Both sites are part of the sprawling Casa de Campo resort.
Kris wanted to go to Altos de Chavon, assuming that its affiliation with the Parsons School of Design would mean lots of original art and crafts. The site was described as a replica of a 16th century Mediterranean village. Knowing the construction techniques commonly used in the Caribbean, I wondered how they could have made concrete and galvanized steel look anything like an ancient village. This ought to be interesting…
Kris and I moved to the left into the appropriate line. Moments later, we glanced at the line on the other side of the divider. Wells and Dan smiled back.
“Hey, where are you going?” Kris asked.
“To the Marina,” Wells answered.
Kris didn’t much like this idea.
“They’re going wherever we’re not,” I said to her. “They’ll be fine.”
I don’t know if I really truly believed that, but thought it best to allow them some ‘space’. I knew nothing about the Marina at the time, and wondered if the Dominican Republic was the best place to turn a couple of 18 year-olds loose. As with Belize, lots of people on the boards were pretty negative about this port. It was uncharted territory.
Just then, a bus pulled up and the Marina line surged ahead.
I managed to say “Be back to our room by 8:15 for dinner,” before the boys vanished in the crowd.
“I wonder if they heard me.”
This day was far from over. Some adventures and surprises lay ahead for all of us…
Next: Casa de Campo