Cruise on the Voyager of the Seas

It’s Christmas Eve and I finally have a few spare moments to post some pictures and a narrative of our recent Caribbean cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas. We’ll be back to run-of-the-mill gaming postings before you know it.

Earlier this year I reached out to our extended family to see what the interest might be in a family cruise around Christmas as a way to get everyone together without the burden of one family hosting. It was also an opportunity to get my side of the family together with Julie’s. My parents, Julie’s mom & stepdad, and Julie’s brother David and his wife Lisa all decided to participate.

Julie, Jacob, Matthew, brother Dave, and sister Lisa shortly after boarding the Voyager. You can see another smaller ship in the background – we are still in port.

I was eager to give cruising another shot. We did a Disney Cruise back in 2000 (4 days at Disney World, 3 days at sea) and weren’t terribly impressed, especially considering the cost. My parents cruise quite a bit a think highly of Royal Caribbean, and the Voyager class ships have a lot to offer kids. It is hard to describe how massive these ships are, though it does help to see them alongside other ships in port.

I took this picture of the Navigator of the Seas leaving port ahead of us, which is virtually identical to our ship. Fully loaded with passengers and crew, this ship tops out at around 4,500 passengers.

We opted to pay a bit more for rooms with outward facing balconies on the 9th deck (there are 15 decks in all on this ship). Jacob and I tend towards sea sickness so being able to breath fresh air, see the horizon, etc. were very helpful. Quarters are definitely cramped with all four us together in a cabin, and Julie and I both wonder how much longer we’ll be comfortable sharing a room with both boys.

Jacob and I enjoy a game of Fluxx on our balcony.

The service and food were outstanding – I’m convinced our Disney Cruise experience was an abberation. We ate breakfast most mornings at the Windjammer Cafe buffet – they have the most flexible hours and we were often off to an early (7am) start to get onshore to our current port. Dinner was at 6pm sharp each evening in the impressive 3-story dining room (there’s one each fore and aft). There were two scheduled formal nights, though for the second one we opted for dinner at Portofino’s. This is their extra charge but nicer offering and it was well worth the added expense. We left the kids in Adventure Ocean, the kids program, where they had dinner at Johnny Rockets, a 50’s style dinner serving burgers, shakes, fries, and onion rings.

Our dinner table on one of the more casual evenings.

Matthew loved putting on a tie at night, choosing to wear it on even the casual evenings. The entertainment was better than I expected. My two favorites were Beatlemania, one of many Beatles tribute acts roaming the planet, and the ice show. Yes, an ice show on a cruise ship that was as good as anything I’ve seen in a full-fledged arena or on TV. The low point entertainment-wise was a comedian who probably hadn’t updated his material in 15 years – he continually poked fun at these new-fangled music groups like the Beastie Boys and Hootie and the Blowfish.

The lovely ladies enjoying some free drinks on the promenade.

We had mixed experiences onshore at the various ports. I refuse to pay $200 to let someone drive me to a beach and show me how to snorkel, so I planned out all of our self-led excursions ahead of time. Our first stop was Nassau, the Bahamas, and unfortunately we encountered fairly high northerly winds (20-30 knots) which didn’t make for the best beach weather. We caught a taxi over to Paradise Island and hiked for about 30 minutes to a decent area for some snorkeling. Jacob saw a stingray and we saw a few fish and crabs but overall the snorkeling was poor. The beach hike was fun though and the scenery beautiful.

St. Thomas was the highlight for the week. After arriving in port, we caught a cab to Red Hook where we booked passage on a ferry to St. John for some snorkeling. On St. John we caught a taxi to Trunk Bay, a magnificent white sand crescent beach with fabulous snorkeling. There’s actually an underwater trail you can follow with sign-posts describing the reef, fish, and other characteristics of the bay.

A view of the bay in St. Thomas before our departure.

We took a lot of pictures underwater with a disposable camera, so once I develop those I’ll post a few shots. We saw a wide range of critters, including a moray eel, angels, parrot fish, brain coral, and more. The weather was perfect and we all had plenty of time to just relax and enjoy the beach.

Our next stop was San Juan, Puerto Rico. We had limited time in port (7:30am – 1:30pm), but based on some research I did I thought we would have time to explore El Yunque, the rainforest outside of San Juan. Rather than cab it, I opted to rent vehicles and drive ourselves. The plan was OK, but the execution less than perfect. First, the car rental office we used near port took over 90 minutes to get our cars to us. Second, traffic was horrendous, and it took us over 90 minutes to get to El Yunque. You can do the math for yourself – we ended up with about 30 minutes in total to explore. Next time, given the limited time in port, I would probably just explore Old San Juan.

Look kids, El Yunque. Quick, get back in the car and stop crying – we need to get back to the ship.

Our final port was to be Labadee, the port/beach that Royal Caribbean leases in Haiti. This should have been a fun final shore trip (kids water play area, snorkeling, beach bbq), but unfortunately the seas were two high to operate the tender service to get us onshore. The captain informed us early morning that we would not be able to visit and that we should plan on enjoying another sea day. Bummer, but this is one of the risks you take doing a cruise in December.

This is the tender used at Labadee. We hooked up to exchange some people and goods. Here you can see them transferring Christmas trees from the Voyager to the tender.

Our sea days were spent exploring the ship, participating in art auctions, and after we discovered it, playing shuffleboard.

Jacob and I playing shuffleboard late one evening

The interior of the ship is impressive. The promenade is an open shopping and entertainment area that feels like a narrow city street. Below the promenade is the ship’s casino that we walked through several times but never stopped for any gaming. We did participate in every trivia contest we could find though, winning at least two of the competitions.

The promenade at the center of the ship.

I would definitely recommend Royal Caribbean and the Voyager line of ships. It certainly doesn’t have an intimate feel, but I was surprised at the quality of service they are able to provide to search a large group of people. Perhaps this will become a regular event for us every two years or so.

Typical dinner attire for the boys. Matthew, where’s your lanyard?!

Pre-Sail in Miami

I’ve got free broadband access in my hotel room here in downtown Miami. We head over to the ship in about an hour, so hey, why not squeeze in one more post before we take off.

Rather than wake up at 3am on Friday morning and make the 40 minute drive to the airport for our 6am flight, we opted to take advantage of a hotel/parking package near the airport. For about the same cost as 9 days of parking in economy, we got a room and free parking at the Staybridge Suites and got to sleep in an extra hour or so. Great idea if you don’t live close to the airport and will be gone for more than a week.

Jacob, Julie, and Matthew after our arrival in Miami.

We arrived in Miami around 4pm yesterday. I used some upgrade certificates to bump Julie to first class, which was a new experience for her. She hardly took advantage of it, skipping the meal on the Denver-Miami leg and not consuming any free alcohol. The extra elbow room was appreciate I’m sure.

The view of the port and our ship from our hotel room. That’s the Voyager of the Seas on the left. The ship is huge – 138,000 tons supporting over 3,000 guests.

This morning we had breakfast with the entire family contingent – my parents, Julie’s mom and step dad, and Julie’s brother Dave and his wife Lisa. We are meeting at 10:30 this morning to catch a van to the port for what we hope will be an early boarding.

Blog updates=off

I’ve got a huge backlog of things to post, but my hosting ISP had my home blocked out in their firewall so the whole world has been able to see my site but not me.

We leave tomorrow on a family vacation in the Caribbean. I might have access while away, but most likely you won’t see any new material until Dec 19.

One note: I’ve been having a BLAST playing on BSW with the kids. Last week I was out east on a business trip and arranged a “play date” with the kids on BSW. We hooked up and played TransAmerica for about 45 minutes. Since then we’ve also played Power Grid, St. Petersburg, and Lost Cities. I love the BSW Power Grid implementation – probably the best I’ve seen there.

Video Tour of the Salishan House

Now for something a bit different. Using the great Microsoft Photo Story 3 tools I created a narrated slideshow / video of the Salishan home. There are low-res and high-res versions available for download and viewing.

  • [Salishan (low-res – 1.56 MB)][2]
  • [Salishan (hi-res – 6MB)][3]

_Update: _You probably need to download the latest Windows Media Player to view these. If you aren’t on Windows, well, you probably can’t see them at all. Sorry.

Fresh Fish Rises from the Ashes

Looks like I have permission from Plenary Games, publisher of the fine Fresh Fish game, to resume development work of the Windows-based implementation of the game I started last year.

Now, I’m not sure how much time I have available to work on this, but I certainly do have a to-do list of items to work on that includes:

  • Building an AI for solitaire play.
  • Including peer-to-peer or server-based network play for multiplayer.
  • Improving the interface to look more like a game and not a Windows business app.

I’ve maintained this as open source from the start, and am willing to push it out to Sourceforge or something similar if there are others out there interested in collaborating. Just let me know.