Boarding in Galveston
This is our seventh cruise, the first from Galveston, Texas. On this trip, our daughter and my mother accompanied my wife and me. We flew out of Milwaukee and arrived in Houston, were met by an RCI representative at the baggage claim area and shown to our transportation to Galveston; they used a local limousine service to transport us. It takes a little over an hour to get to Galveston from Houston and actually it is a pleasant ride. We must admit, the limo service was a nice touch.
Our hotel in Galveston was the Hotel Galvez, a very nice hotel. We had very little idea of what was in the area. As it turned out, all of the food establishments were on the opposite side of the city from the cruise port. The hotel restaurant was very pricey and we decided to take our chances in the neighborhood - they were a Wendy's and a family diner.
The next morning I went down to talk to the doorman about getting to the ship and found four or five other families sitting around waiting also. The doorman said he could get us there about 1:00 pm, and that he was waiting for the van to return from the cruise port. No sooner did he say that than the van pulled in. He asked who was going to Royal Caribbean and who was going to Carnival. The next thing we knew he was loading OUR luggage in the van along with others. It was 12:30 and we were on our way, with others still sitting at the hotel. I asked the driver why the cruise lines don't use buses like in Florida; his reply was that it is the hotels' job to transport the people.
It was a short ride to the terminal, and once there it was very crowded. We had been lead to believe that the cruise port in Galveston had been rebuilt and was all new for the cruise lines. What it appears to be as of October 2003, is that they have torn down the old and will be constructing the new. When we were there, it was a large metal building with lots of construction debris all over the outside. We can only hope that it gets better in the future. It is passable, but it needs work. At the terminal there were two doors leading into the building, and each door had two lines leading to it. We were dropped off at the second set of doors, met by a porter who made sure our luggage was all tagged for the ship and told to get into line. Once through the doors it was four lines again being weaned down to two to march up to the metal detectors. Once through the detectors we were met by one VERY LONG line leading up to the boarding pass counter.
If I may say to those of you going on a cruise: PLEASE FILL OUT YOUR EMBARKATION PAPERS BEFORE YOU ARRIVE. We saw so many people trying to balance luggage and write at the same time. After a few minutes another cruise representative came around asking if there were any Platinum or Diamond Crown and Anchor members in line. Being Platinum members, we responded and we were escorted to a special line reserved for members and were given the next open slot. Having filled out our paperwork already, it took only minutes to receive our boarding passes and go on to the next line. Everyone must have his or her picture taken by a digital camera while their card is inserted into the camera. Your boarding pass now becomes your boarding pass, ID card, ship charge card, and room key. One piece of plastic for your needs all week.
Once on board we easily found our cabins. We had requested connecting rooms, outside staterooms on the Third Deck. We believe that rooms only play a small part of the cruise and opt to stay on the lower decks with an outside view. We quickly had the connecting door opened, met our room steward, Dorothy, and then proceeded to eat lunch in the Windjammer Café.
As per Royal Caribbean standards the food was great, plentiful, and well maintained. We never felt rushed while eating and relaxing, even though there was a large crowd entering and leaving the room. After lunch we took my mother on a short tour of the ship, so that she could become familiar with her surroundings. We learned that the mandatory life boat drill would be held at 4:15 pm. We have learned in the past that it is by far better to return to your cabin, get your life jackets and make your way to your station a few minutes early. That way you can check in with the attendant before the drill to make sure they get your room number. We were pleasantly surprised to find the bulk of our luggage at our doors when we went back to our rooms. In this case we had our clothse put away and able to be on deck to see our departure from the pier. Although it's always nice to know that your cruise vacation has officially begun, it would be better if the sights were a little better. There were a few people on piers waving good bye and a few pleasure craft to see you off; the other sights are rather bland.
The first night in the dining room is always eventful as you get to meet your waiter and assistant waiter for the week. As always they are the best. Our waiter was Mark and assistant waiter was Patric. They both got to know us by name and by our preferences. We were never at a want for anything.
The first night buffet was the CHOCOLATE BUFFET at midnight. Even though we really did not need to eat again we all agreed to attend, and of course we had to eat. Just what a body needs before going to bed, lots of sugar! The food was very tasty, and we all ate too much, but enjoyed every minute of it.
The next morning a perfectly calm ocean greeted us, just as it would be for 6 out of 7 days. We took advantage of the day at sea to relax and enjoy the ship. Take in shopping talks, play in the casino, meet with other cruisers, and just enjoy the day.
Day 2 greets us with another perfect weather day, although the captain informs us that there will be a chance of showers in the afternoon while in Key West. We are able to tie up to the pier right at the edge of town which allows us to just walk into town and take in the sights. And of course while in town there just happens to be a short rain shower that lasts for less than an hour. It never seemed to bother anyone as we saw tours going on despite the rain, and of course the shopping never stops. If anything it seems that people spend more time and money in the stores during the rain. We complete our walk around the town and mandatory shopping, return to the ship for dinner. This is the only night in which there is open seating for dinner. In this case we are supposed to go to our assigned table, but if it is being used by the other people assigned to your table you will be given another table. In our case we were not able to use our table as it was already in use. We were assigned another with different waiters. It appeared to us the assigned table and waiters really didn't want to bother with us. They took our orders, delivered the food, cleaned up, but never talked to us about our day or bothered to check on us during the meal.
Day three was at sea again. Another perfect day to take in the ships activities and get a view of the Cuban coast. That evening the ships cruise director announced that the sunset would be perfect tonight and everyone should be on deck to see it. Unfortunately, sunset occurred during our dinner, and I was forced to take pictures through the windows and over people's heads that were standing on deck, but some how I managed to actually get a few good photos.
Day four was again perfect weather for our day in the Cayman Islands. We had purchased the Island Tour and Turtle farm visit. We were to meet in the theater to wait for assigned tour to be called. Grand Cayman is a port where you are shuttled into town using the ship's lifeboats. It wasn't long before we were in town and ushered to an area for loading. Unfortunately either the cruise line or the tour agency did not get the proper number of busses required for the number of people on tour. There were eight of us left without a bus, so the agency called a taxicab to give us our tour. It turned out to be a nice break; the cab driver was a tour operator, as I suspect many of the cab drivers are. Being in a small group we were able to get in and out of places easier. Our only disappointment was the Turtle Farm was damaged in a storm and is in the process of rebuilding, so many of the displays were not reset. Because our group was so small our tour guide just told us to meet at the door when we were ready to leave. From there we proceeded to the town of HELL. I know it s a tourist trap, but it's just something that I told my mother about, and I had to take her to hell and back. Our final stop was to shop in town before returning to the ship. There was another slight problem: besides our ship there were 3 others in port. That makes for a very crowded port and town. We remember Georgetown as being busy, but this was REALLY busy. Stores and streets were lined with people everywhere.
The last time we were there there were only 2 ships in port; today with Rhapsody, Voyager, Carnival, and a Holland America ship all in port, it was a crowded city. Unfortunately we were only in port for about 7 hours, so our day was cut rather short, but it was impressive to see the other ships all leaving port. The sights in port are absolutely beautiful, the beaches and waters are just fascinating. That evening we were given another gorgeous sunset.
Day five finds us in Cozumel right next to the Voyager again. Being this close you really can't see the difference in the size until you go up to the top deck and realize that you are looking into their dining room. This time there is also a Princess ship in port along with us, but it doesn't even seem to be noticed. The crowds are no where near what it was in the Caymans. Again we take a cab into town to perform our daily shopping requirement. As luck would have it there were scattered showers in the area, but except for a ten minute shower while in town they all missed us.
Day six finds us at sea once again, this is the only day in which we have waves of 4 to 8 feet and a stiff wind from the north, but still a perfect day otherwise. Since it is our last day we take advantage of the time to finish our onboard shopping and to start packing for the luggage pickup.
The next morning we are once again back in Galveston. They finally seemed to have gotten the customs and debarkation under control. It was just a wait until they cleared the ship and started calling our colors to leave the ship. I don't know if we were just lucky or if the process is getting better, but we found our luggage with very little trouble, made our way to the customs agent, cleared customs, then located our bus for the trip to the airport. Once again it took a little over 1 hour to reach the airport; unfortunately our return flight was scheduled for 7:00 PM and it was only noon. We could not check in as we were too early, and the 1:00 PM flight was booked so we could not change our flight. In this case there was no one to blame but me. I requested the flight time due to past history. I was afraid if we had booked the early flight we would have been delayed and missed it.
There was one strange item that we all noticed during this cruise. The majority of the passengers were from Texas and Oklahoma, and they thought we were crazy to come from Illinois to Texas to take a cruise. As a matter of fact, in talking to them, they felt that the ship was sailing just for their pleasure. We met people that have sailed this cruise twelve times and more! Nothing against the locals, but believe it or not people other than you like to cruise. When leaving I noticed that all along the road leading to the port that parking lots have been set up all over, all offered shuttle service to the port, but prices varied from lot to lot. So if you plan on driving and parking you may want to check out these various lots.
Despite some of the minor problems we encountered we would take this cruise again. This itinerary was very close to being perfect for us. The amount of time spent in port vs. the time sailing is what we like; the ports of call are pretty much the ones we prefer. As a matter of fact, we might actually consider leaving from Galveston again. That is, now that we know some of the area, and what to expect when we arrive.
Glen Hubert can be reached at: email@example.com
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