Well, here we are; sailing the Caribbean aboard the awesome Adventure of the Seas, cruising across what looks like a sea of glass. It’s sunny, the temperature is up in the thirties, and there’s a whole fleet of layered, fluffy white clouds drifting by above us, as if keeping the ship company.
Life on board has already settled into the timeless, indolent routine of a Caribbean cruise. The hot tubs are fuller than some of the plates I saw loaded up at the breakfast buffet, and boy, that is saying something. The pools are sparkling in the fresh, mid morning sunlight. The sun beds are full of those happy souls freshly liberated from winter’s cold, clammy embrace. The whole ship seems to be, well- smiling……
Getting out here was quite the journey; there was a short shuttle flight from Newcastle to Heathrow, and then a real lucky break. My Virgin Atlantic flight to New York’s JFK was on the new 787 Dreamliner. We had great service throughout, decent food, and plentiful drinks runs delivered up by a friendly, hard working crew. It’s an old cliché to say that time truly flew by, but the experience of that flight really did put me in a happy place while still 36,000 feet above the Atlantic.
So, too, did the selection of some three hundred and ninety six seat back albums available to listen to, on offer for free. I got to The Kinks’ Greatest Hits, and then stopped looking; there’s something incredibly satisfying about enjoying a glass of wine at 36,000 feet, as the strains of Waterloo Sunset kiss your lugs. A great big thanks to all the staff of VS9 for a wonderful flight.
New York landfall was all frigid, frantic hustle, but I was off the plane and in my hotel room at the Crowne Plaza JFK in just under an hour. I’m normally a vocal critic of the ‘welcome’ extended by certain US airports to visitors, but credit where it’s due; huge kudos to JFK staff for a job very well done.
A quick bite to eat and a couple of glasses of wine in the Crowne Plaza’s Aviator bar were the best that I could manage before an 0430 Saturday wake up call to check in for my flight to Puerto Rico. The cold cut me like a thousand knives as I headed to the airport, but I already knew that sunshine- warm, sweet sunshine- lay not too far ahead in my immediate future. Oh boy, was I ever to be proven wrong….
My Delta flight to Puerto Rico promised a three hour, fifty minute experience. It lofted into a sky where the dawn was just breaking, soaring above a land and seascape packed with marshmallow clouds. I drifted in and out of a fitful sleep until the yelp of plane tyres on runway jolted me back into the here and now.
Royal Caribbean transfers incoming passengers directly from the airport to the ship, while luggage is checked curb side onto sealed vans for direct delivery to your cabin. It’s a smart, simple idea as it means that you don’t have to identify it at the cruise terminal.
An ominously looming thunderstorm broke like a wrathful god over the road leading to the port of San Juan. Dear God, I thought, haven’t these poor people- the all too recent victims of one of the most destructive hurricanes on record- suffered enough? The route to the port was lined with battered palm trees, many with their fronds hanging smashed and limp like so many tattered battle flags. We sloshed on through the downpour, to eventually come to a halt in the shadow of a vast, soaring white phalanx of steel that loomed some fourteen storeys above our heads, This, of course, was the Adventure of the Seas.
Solicitous Royal Caribbean staff covered passengers with umbrellas as, one by one, we were ushered into the warm, welcoming belly of the cavernous ship. Almost at once, all was glitter, soaring ceilings, and attentive waiters bearing drinks and trays of snacks as we boarded. Eyes on stilts, it really was something to take in the awesome scale of this jaw dropping resort on the ocean.
After a quick but welcome lunch at the busy Windjammer Marketplace, it was time to check out our cabins. I lucked out with a Superior Ocean View balcony cabin on Deck Seven. Cool and commodious, it came with twin beds that converted to a comfortable queen, a real, three seat sofa and in house TV set up, ample storage and closet space, and a full, floor to ceiling sliding glass door that led out onto the balcony.
That balcony was something else; it had an overhead covering, and a pair of expansive, mesh covered deck chairs and a proper, full height table that was ideally set up for snacks, drinks, or indeed, both. The flooring was synthetic, and there was a Perspex screen topped by a teak railing. Set inwards from the hull, it was more like a cove than some kind of external addition, and as such it offered the best of all worlds. I had the feeling almost straight away that I’d be spending some quality time out here during the next week or so.
The bathroom was functional and somewhat sparse, but it had everything that you needed. The WC was at a right angle to a shower enclosed in a plastic, semi circular space against the wall, screened by a brace of sliding plastic doors. There was a sink, ample towels, two bars of soap, and a generic soap dispenser mounted on the shower wall. Forewarned in advance, I had brought my own, preferred toiletries. There was ample storage space for all of these.
Because Puerto Rico was still recovering slowly from the effects of Hurricane Maria, baggage at the port had to be loaded by hand. Thus, the luggage of some 3300 passengers had to be manually hand balled onto the ship, and then distributed around ten decks of passenger accommodation throughout this huge ship. And all of this in the face of a furious thunderstorm that drummed the quayside and drenched those trying to work down there. Inevitably, delays in delivery ensued. Some of our passengers got so apoplectic that at least four announcements were made over the loudspeaker situation, both explaining and apologising for it.
I got the frustration, but I also get that nobody can ‘make’ weather, either. It is what it is. And, in comparison to the ghastly ordeal that many of those on Puerto Rico had recently endured when that hurricane had scythed across the island (and many still had no electricity almost two months on), a delay in the arrival of a few cases hardly equated to the Titanic disaster in my mind. It’s disheartening how easily some people take umbrage, and rail at the slightest inconvenience. Both the dockside gang and the Royal Caribbean staff toiled manfully to sort out the backlog. My luggage rocked up at about nine that evening; it was an emotional reunion for both of us.
The rain finally cried off at about eight in the evening. Right on schedule at eight thirty, the Adventure of the Seas shrugged off her ropes, and warped out into open water. Fourteen storeys of light and music loomed out to sea, our siren booming across the widening expanse to the floodlit Malecon, where lights shimmered on ink black water and cars barrelled along the waterfront like swarms of maddened insects. From somewhere ashore, a searing, strident blast of mambo trumpet took flight in the evening air, sizzling in the muggy, humid darkness. We waved goodbye to passengers on the nearby Celebrity Summit and, with that, we were off into the briny; destination Curacao.
It was the first evening and, still somewhat tired after my two day, three flight journey to get out there, I decided to keep in simple. A couple of beers in the Schooner Bar- a popular Royal Caribbean fleet wide staple- fitted the mood perfectly, followed by a quick buffet dinner with some excellent steak and chicken. Already, I was beginning to warm through.
I was just about done, but I did manage to catch the ‘welcome aboard’ show with a rather good headline comedian. By then, I was running on fumes, and that big double bed in my room was looking more and more like a dream destination with every passing moment.
I sagged into it with almost pathetic gratitude, like a puppet with it’s strings cut, and went out only marginally less quickly than the light that clicked sweetly out above my head. Sleep cradled me like a baby, and held me in her arms all night.
Sunday morning came, sweet as slowly falling confetti. The rain had long since gone, and the Adventure of the Seas was gliding like some pristine, perfectly primped swan across what looked like a sea of immaculately polished glass. Tonight would be a formal night, with a Motown themed night to follow in the fourteenth level, glass walled disco. All things considered, the next few days were looking to shape up rather well…..