We arrived in Fort Lauderdale before the sun was up. Disembarkation was scheduled to start around 7AM and I was curious to see the first few people who were in the express disembarkation line which means they have to lug all their own stuff on the ship. There were maybe 20 or so passengers along with some vendors or contractors ready to leave as soon as the ship was cleared. Crew would be disembarking from a lower deck directly on to the pier.
A little after 7 am they cleared the ship and the people started flowing off into the terminal. I was able to observe from a small alcove nearby, careful not to add to the mix, but there was never much of a line. After they called the first wave of the normal “Colors” the process came to a stop for about 45 minutes as the shore side did not have nearly enough porters to handle a world cruise disembarkation – where most everyone needed a porter. The Monster RCI Ship “Oasis of the Seas” along with 2 other cruise ships were on turnaround also so there were several ships all competing for porters. If you didn’t need a porter you could leave immediately but would have to wait otherwise, and the ship wisely chose to let people wait in the comfort of their cabins or public areas rather than standing around the luggage collection area.
I have been on Celebrity, Princess, Royal Caribbean and NCL in addition to HAL and HAL by FAR has the best disembarkation process. On HAL, you can remain in your cabin untill you color is called, enjoy a complete room service breakfast – which remains the best in the industry (possible exception being Luxury Lines) and complete service in the Lido. However, if you are an early bird – self disembarker or don’t do room service, then this feature may not matter, but I appreciate it VERY much.
Other lines will claim they force you out of the cabin to ensure new arrivals can be in their rooms by 11:30. HAL manages to let you stay in your room and let new people in their cabins by 11:30. Based on what I learned on a behind the scenes tour on the Oosterdam, HAL turns around their cabins using a different approach than other lines which may be the reason they can let you stay in your cabin longer plus allow new arrivals to check in by 11:30.
NOTE: None of the other cruise lines will allow you to remain in your cabin past 8am or offer room service on the final day. Princess even closed their Omelet station in the Lido on the final day since everyone was involved with moving bags. This creates maximum passenger stress as people are wandering about the ship with their bags looking for a place to sit. With HAL your cruise experience continues until the last moment you leave the ship. They never make you feel rushed to get off. Other lines make me feel like I am “getting in the way” as I wander around looking for an empty seat somewhere.
After I observed the process by the gangway I wandered around the public areas, and it looked like any other port day this cruise. The Lido was busy, but not crowded, no one was sitting around with their bags in lounges, no one was waiting in line on the stair cases.
Before we left the ship we spotted the crew painting over the Grand Voyage Logo on the front of the ship. Sad to see it go.
We left the ship around 9:45 and since we were in transit we could bypass the luggage retrieval area. As we approached customs and immigration we saw the familiar Global Entry Sign – and since we have global entry we were allowed to enter a special line that went directly to an open immigration kiosk – no waiting – where we were processed immediately. We may have only saved 5-10 minutes as the lines were not that long anywhere.
Once outside the terminal we took a cab to a nearby Office Depot to pick up a few more USB sticks, some envelopes and more ink for my Canon PIXMA IP110 Printer. We saw at least 10 other crew members in the store and as we walked around other shops in the area, we ran into a few more. The shopping center is pretty close to the port and has a wide variety of shops and restaurants.
After shopping here for a bit, we took an Uber to a Barnes and Noble bookstore to check out the magazine rack and browse.
We headed back to the ship around 2PM via UBER and were back on the ship by 2:30, well before the 3 PM All Aboard. We made time for another embarkation photo and were soon back in our cabins. NOTE: Uber drivers can gain access to the port area without any difficulty.
The Lifeboat drill began at 3:30 and was as expected. The ship is sailing with over 1300 guests and with only 33 people from the world cruise it is like being on a different ship. We enjoyed seeing all the new faces, smiling with anticipation of an exciting Panama Canal Cruise and they bring new energy and enthusiasm which will make this “new” cruise a lot of fun.
I enjoy talking to new people and less experienced cruisers because they always bring you a fresh perspective and make you appreciate many of the wonderful features of any cruise you often end up taking for granted.
The Sail Away was busy with perfect weather. With the large crew turnover and 50% increase in passengers, there were some growing pains in the beverage service area, but they will be ironed out soon once the crew gets settled in. There were at least 150 crew who left the ship and the new crew were all just starting today themselves after long flights. I am sure there were a lot of tired crew working their first shifts. But they were all cheerful and I have never encountered any crew member who didn’t offer me a quick smile the entire cruise.
We continue to have table 52, but with a new group of people. There were 6 people assigned to our table of 8 but only one other person arrived and by 8:20 we quit waiting and ordered. We are now back to the standard HAL menu after being spoiled by the upgraded menu for so long. Gone is the daily option of a shrimp cocktail for a starter or Crème Brulee as an always available choice on the dessert menu. There are now 7 entrée choices instead of the 8 choices we enjoyed on the World, but hey 7 choices for dinner plus the 3 “always available” is still pretty amazing. We ordered the prime rib and it was excellent.
They have also introduced new dinnerware – all white – which I wouldn’t have even noticed except that the soup bowls are much larger, but they are serving the same portion size of soup. They need to dial up the soup serving temperature because when the soup hits a larger surface area, it cools more quickly than it did before. The soup today was a little cooler than usual, but still very good.
The Wine Attendant was totally overloaded and she was scrambling all night to try and catch up. The problem was the popular wine packages which are heavily promoted on the first night. Selling a wine package requires much more time from the Wine Attendant because each person ordering one will review multiple choices and have a much longer discussion than usual. They should either overstaff the wine attendants on the first night – if possible – or offer a greater incentive to pre order in advance. We will see if things return to normal tomorrow night. We also have a new Wine Attendant that was probably still getting her sea legs. Another option would be to have the waiters serve complimentary house wine the first night and then people could order their packages throughout the meal.
Overall, service was fine and considering our late start we still were finished with our main courses by 9:20. We didn’t have time for dessert since the special introductory show was at 9:30 pm instead of the normal time of 10:00 pm for second seating guests.
I always enjoy the first night’s show as it typically introduces you to the various musical groups and singers and dancers.
Gene opened with a few jokes and introduced the new On Location team. 100% turnover from the World cruise. Details: World Cruise had 2 Show Hosts (Jodie and Erin) and no shopping ambassador. Now we have 1 show host (Joey) and 1 Shopping Ambassador. The location guide is now in the atrium on Deck 4 losing the prime real estate next to the Explorations Café which is now assigned to the shopping ambassador. The World had a 5 piece orchestra, 3 piece band OASIS, 3 piece band Neptune, 2 piece Adagio and the Piano Player. Oasis band is gone and replaced by the HAL CAT singer and a solo guitarist.
After the introductions the HAL singers and dancers did nice song and dance routine. The final act, almost a full 30 minutes, was a return to stage of Comedian Buzz Sutherland. Even though his routine was a repeat of his earlier show on the World, his delivery was much better and he had everyone laughing, so I will chalk up his earlier miss to simply having an off night.
By the time I got to the Casino, the Texas Hold’em cash game was breaking up so I decided to give the new table – Baccarat – a try. Playing Baccarat is a complete no brainer. The player’s only decision is to decide how much to bet and whether to bet on the Player or the Banker. The bet is almost even money and I played 1 complete shoe for 30 minutes and only lost $10 playing $5 hands. I found it pretty boring so I won’t be playing much in the future.
Tomorrow will be my first time visiting Half Moon Cay – should be a nice day.
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