Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Cruise Diaries: Day 7 - Saturday 25th May 2013 - Another day at sea, and homeward bound.

It's been another bumpy overnight sail on our way back from Crete, but with no port stops today it's a good opportunity for a lie-in.  Unfortunately I am not at my best today - I'll keep it brief, suffice to say that I'm battling a horrific hangover which doesn't leave me till lunchtime.  I am not used to mixing my drinks, and really shouldn't have had that extra cocktail.  But the good news is that I have learned from my mistake as I don't want to feel like that again!  

In case you wonder where we are, that landscape over there is none other than the Reggio Calabria area of southern Italy.  We passed it on the way out, and it's with a little bit of sadness that we pass it again as it means that we're heading back to Civitavecchia and the end of our cruise.

But it's another day at sea and we should get back out on deck.  Only problem is, it's blowing a gale.  A warm gale, but a gale nonetheless which makes it practically impossible to walk around the upper decks.  Meanwhile there is a little sun-trap down on the pool deck and the sun worshippers are out in force, enjoying a poolside BBQ, there's a paella cook-off going on and the bartenders are having a cocktail shaking competition.  Oh please don't mention cocktails....!

Unfortunately our little back-deck haven on the ship has been hijacked by the sun worshippers as it's one of the few places where you're not likely to be swept off your feet by a gale.  So like many others on the ship, we headed for the Cosmopolitan Club which provided us with a great view when the ship passed through the Messina Strait early in the afternoon.

One of the places on a ship which doesn't interest me in the slightest is the casino.  I'm not into gambling at all, apart from being a member of a long-term workplace lottery syndicate which is still waiting for that big win.  I can't imagine why people would spend all that money on a cruise to hang out in a casino for the week but each to their own.  The casino is situated on deck 4 and you have to walk through it to get from Boleros to the Schooner Bar.  But like everything else on this ship, the decor is a visual feast.

The Schooner Bar (above) is a nautical-themed hangout which hosts quizzes during the day and has a piano man playing at night.

Above: the entrance to the Ixtapa Lounge, which hosts music and dancing during the evenings, and some bingo sessions if you're that way inclined.  For us it served the purpose as Cafe Promenade overspill-seating-area as we took our coffees and sat on the sofas at the entrance when there were no seats left in Cafe Prom.

During my pre-cruise research I discovered that the Navigator passed Stromboli, the volcanic island north of Sicily, on the Saturday afternoon, and this was not to be missed.   Anyone who didn't know about it however, was alerted by Captain Frank to the impending appearance of it, on the right hand side of the ship. Even better and on cue, Stromboli put on a show for us and some smoke appeared from the top.  It's not quite an eruption, but I was happy to take this picture anyway.

A brief word about the ever-droll Captain Frank Martinsen who with his crew guided our ship around the Med for the past week.  The Captain quickly became a cult figure with the two of us, and faithful travelling companion incidentally does a brilliant impersonation of his little on-board announcements.  (On the final morning of the cruise, the on-board Royal Caribbbean TV channel on our stateroom TV also featured an interview with the Captain, who in common with many other cruise ship captains, is Norwegian).

I forgot to mention that we had a very special guest in our cabin last night - a monkey! This was the last of our three towel animals on the cruise.

A couple of things on tonight's agenda: the 'Farewell Showtime' variety show and our final dinner in the main dining room.  But firstly: packing.  If you are on a cruise, your case needs to be packed and placed outside the stateroom on the evening before disembarkation day, and you won't see it again until you're off the ship.  So you need to do your packing early.  Instructions are also left in the cabin for disembarkation - where to assemble and at what time.

In case you're not sure of tipping etiquette and rules, I'd definitely recommend pre-paying tips before a cruise which on Royal Caribbean is also a condition of booking My Time Dining.

The final variety show in the Metropole Theatre is "Farewell Variety Showtime" which takes us full circle from the Welcome Aboard Show on Day 1, the featured performers are again the aerial act Duo ArtMotion and the juggler/mime artist Michael Menes.   There is also a nice tribute video of the various staff teams which gets cheers and applause from the audience.   The grand finale is extra special, as the singers and musicians are joined on stage by officers, cooks and staff - including stateroom attendants with their towel animals!

After the show it was time for our last meal of the cruise in the Main Dining Room, with a couple of nice extra touches: the waiters do a parade at one point waving their napkins in the air, and we also have to wave our napkins too!  Later on they gather on the balcony to sing us a farewell song.  Aww!  It's touches like this which make a cruise such a special holiday experience.

We have a lovely dinner and after saying our last goodbyes to our lovely, friendly waiting staff, we take a last late night stroll down the Royal Promenade, before heading back for a early night.

I'm not going to do a separate post about Sunday, as it was all about travelling home.  We couldn't fault the disembarkation process, as we found our cases quickly on leaving the ship and were then straight onto the coach from Civitavecchia to Fiumicino airport.  Which is very disorganised and chaotic, and we'd be happy if we never had to see it again.  But I guess it's a necessary evil, and as the old saying goes, never say never!

So...was it all worth it, and was it the right decision to go a cruise?  Yes!
Would I do it again? Yes!
Would I recommend it to anyone?  Yes!

It was a much more hectic and tiring holiday than I'd imagined though - the combination of long days, early rises, clocks going forward and losing hours, and a busy itinerary did take its toll.  There was never an seasickness, however for a week after the holiday I struggled with "sea legs" and vertigo-type symptoms which were pretty scary but eventually disappeared.

I'm glad I had the opportunity to discover the joys of cruising.  It's a great way to get a flavour of different countries and cultures, discover new destinations whilst enjoying the facilities, activities and entertainment offered on a stunning, massive ship.  It was our first cruise around the Med on Navigator of the Seas, but it will also be our last on this ship, which is leaving the Med to go go into dry dock for refurbishment at the end of this year and will be based in Galveston, Texas from 2014, where it will operate cruises around the western Caribbean.

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