Sunday, February 16, 2014

2013 Royal Princess Christmas Cruise - Day 1 - Embarkation

This post is a chapter of my 2013 Royal Princess Christmas Cruise Photo Review.

This cruise review was originally published on Cruise Critic beginning January 3, 2014.  You can read the original review here.

December 22, 2013 - Embarkation Day

Since we were so close to Port Everglades, we got to sleep in!

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You wouldn't know by her beautiful smile, but Rachel gets annoyed by my constant photography and tells me often that I'm embarrassing her. Inducing embarrassment a sister's rightful job.

Our lovely view from the Fairfield - 


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We didn't get to the port until around 1:00 which is a little late and unusual for us, but we had no worries. We were at Terminal 2 - made sure to make note of this after we left from Terminal 2 and returned to Terminal 19 without knowing we were at a different terminal last year on the Island Princess (it took us a long time to find our car.....).

There were some crazies walking in port, dripping sweat on this hot day.  I'd like to note that Port Everglades is not pedestrian-friendly.  There is a shortage of sidewalks, and you will be off-roading for several blocks and might find it better to carry your rolling suitcase.

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Embarkation wasn't too terribly bad. Security was a breeze. I was actually told not to take my laptop out of my bag... she freaked out when I started too, as if that was an unusual thing to do. It was rather unorganized at the check-in desks, though. Instead of having one large line and pointing you to a desk when it became open, it was a free for all to choose to line up at whatever desk you wanted. Which was a jumbled mess because then it was difficult for people to leave the desk after they were ready to board because so many people were bunched up behind them.

I was issued a gold card, and everyone else had blue cards. My dad of course asked why. "It's because she's taken one Princess cruise." Well, we all had. I didn't tell my dad that a few weeks ago, I had realized that my Captain's Circle account number wasn't synced with the cruise, and I had called Princess and asked them to link the two. I didn't have Rachel's Captain's Circle number and had meant to find out so I could link hers too, but forgot with other things like final projects and grad school applications taking over my life. My dad wanted the guy to reprint them new ones right there. "How many cruises does it say I have taken, then?" The crowds made me snappy, "We all know that everyone in the family has taken one Princess cruise, so let's just settle this at the Loyalty desk onboard!"

We took awkward close-up photos before boarding the ship. I wasn't sure if it was weirder to smile or not to smile... so I just kind of opened my mouth in a dumbfounded expression. Thank goodness I never had to see that photo!


Embarkation Photo

We headed straight to our staterooms on a packed elevator. Rachel and I were in D731, and Mom and Dad were in D729. This is the Dolphin deck, also known as deck 9.

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Our beds were in the twin configuration. There isn't much of a difference between queen and twin in the layout except where they put the nightstand... one doesn't give you more usable floor space as it did in our oceanview stateroom last Christmas.

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I complained about the small size of the shower on the Island Princess. There is much improvement in the Royal Princess showers. There is plenty of room inside - it really isn't tiny at all. And there is a little shelf to put your bottles and prop your leg on for shaving. LOVED IT!

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And finally.... the balcony!

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I highly recommend getting an aft balcony on the Dolphin deck. Sure, there is a little more vibration and ship noise in the rear of the ship, and you feel a lot more movement, but the balcony itself is spectacular, especially in comparison to what they consider a "deluxe" balcony on the Royal Princess (aka just enough room to squeeze in two chairs, and ottoman, and a table). Ours was partially covered and partially uncovered. We could look onto the balcony below us (deck 8/Emerald - completely uncovered and half the size of our balcony) and the balcony above us was setback and looked down on us (deck 10, also smaller than the deck 9 balcony).

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After checking out our staterooms, I left the camera behind while we went to Horizon Court for lunch. While there, I bought the soda package for myself because I'm a Diet Coke addict. We sent Dad on the beginning of the goose chase to change our Anytime Dining to the 8:15 late seating.

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I was the only one to get a welcome back letter, but my Dad did go immediately to the Loyalty desk, and they reprinted everyone else's card in gold.

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We also each got this odd credit amount from the online travel company that my dad booked through. A lot of agencies (as well as Princess) offer online credit incentives, so be sure to check all of your options before booking!

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We then got mostly unpacked before the muster drill began. We mustered in the Vista Lounge.

Time to sail away! Rachel and I headed to the top deck for the party.

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My dad decided to bring along his Canon Rebel so that we could "have a competition."

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Goodbye, Fort Lauderdale!

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Let's get this party started! We bought a bottle of champagne, and my dad became obsessed with filling up these little cards with punches that entered him into a competition to have his bar tab paid for. You got six punches for a bottle of wine or champagne.

We sat down on the pool deck (well, not literally on the deck... in chairs on the deck with the pool) to enjoy our champagne and watch perhaps the most epically entertaining competition to be held all week. After the band had finished playing and the entertainment crew stopped dancing, a little girl (and by little, I mean she was anywhere between 8 and 10 and not really at all little for her age) got on the fountain stage and started entertaining us with her elaborate dance moves, becoming more and more exuberant with the cheers of her large fan club. Some little boys decided to join her and dance which ticked her off because she was the star. The boys flipped around the stage but she'd always make sure to put herself in front of them. A man walked by and heard our shrieks of the crazy dancing, "She's Beyonce and those are her back-up dancers."

Well, a little blonde girl had been watching the competition break out on the side and decided to settle it once and for all. She hopped up beside Beyonce and started popping her back and twerking like a dancer in a Miley Cyrus (post-Hannah Montana) video. This girl obviously had at least some training... probably the star of her hometown dance studio... and she was cute and she knew it. Her mom was quick to race up and put a t-shirt on her bikini-wearing daughter because as everyone knows from the "I Need Fabulous" pool scene in High School Musical 2, if you're going to dance provocatively, it can't be considered sexual as long as you're dressed modestly. The little dancing monsters were all kicked off the stage by a crew member preparing for the fountain show, so we'll never know who the last one standing would be. But I think what everyone watching learned from this entertainment is that children these days watch way too much MTV!!!

After sail away, we went to the Allegro Dining Room in hopes of changing our Anytime Dining to the 8:15 PM sitting.

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Like I said earlier, I didn't do much research or preparation for this cruise. I was just too darn busy. So if I had, I might've learned that the Royal Princess dedicates two of its dining rooms to Anytime Dining and only the Allegro dining room to traditional seatings. One of the reasons we chose Royal Princess over the Norwegian Epic is because we wanted a "traditional" cruise for Christmas with assigned dining, as opposed to freestyle cruising.. However, I think with the Royal Princess, Princess is trying to make a transition to Anytime Dining and a more "freestyle" approach. While I did enjoy our freestyle cruise, I also like having the same wait staff each night and getting to really make a connection with them, especially at Christmas time.

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Princess does post the dining dress code at the front door, but as we learned from the group of people beside us, they don't really enforce it. To our shock, we were seeing lots of ball caps and shorts at dinner.

Our request for 8:15 PM dining was successful, and we went back to our rooms to get ready for dinner.

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They put a sticker with our new dining information on Dad's card, but not on anyone else's.

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We were seated in a smaller room in the Allegro dining room containing two booths for four on each side (could be configured into four tables for two) and one large round table for 8 in the center). Of these tables, the large round and two of the booths were occupied by a large party which consisted of several families. They communicated with one another in Spanish, though most of the adults all spoke a little bit of English to communicate with the waiter. They were also Jewish and were eating Kosher. I have been seated by a family eating Kosher before on a Christmas cruise, so I've observed that scenario before. I mention those two things only because they are important in later situations. The problem.... was their children! They ranged in ages from toddler to teenager, and they were the loudest, rowdiest bunch, and they would climb on top of the table and chairs and chase one another around the large round table like they were running laps in a gym. While it was annoying that we struggled to hear our waitress because of their volume (she apologized to us over and over about the noise), safety was my top concern. It's not safe for a toddler to run around a dining room because not only could he fall and hurt himself, but waiters are carrying big trays of hot food above their head, so their vision is limited. If they tripped over a toddler, they could spill the food and not only make a mess, but possibly burn the child, themselves, or other guests. And the teenage boy annoyed me because he wore the rattiest baseball cap to dinner every night. Eww.

I've never really photographed food before, but I gave it an ambitious start on this sailing. I forgot a lot of courses and brought heavy doses of embarrassment to Rachel (Who was she trying to impress - ratty ballcap boy?). Also, note that I am very inexperienced with the exterior flash. This was a learning experience!

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Egg rolls as an appetizer

And I guess I was too hungry and devoured my entree before photographing it... or maybe I was just frazzled by the lady at the table next to me (not related to the large party of obnoxious people) who looked at me photographing my appetizer and said, "Oh, that's a girl thing. Girls always photograph their food." No, it's not! It's a nerdy travel blogger thing! Am I really more normal than I think??

So here's dessert!

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If you can't win, fight back! Rachel found it hilarious to take a bite of the food I was photographing - whether it was hers or mine.

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Rachel had worried earlier, remembering that she didn't pack a tote bag for the beach... then she remembered that Princess gives you totes to use! And they came through! My parents only got one tote bag... I guess because they're married? But Rachel and I got two (on both Princess cruises).

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Later in the evening, Princess had an 18-20 meet and greet scheduled. Though no longer 20, we decided to swing by to maybe meet some other college students. It was held in the Princess Live Lounge outside of the theater, so we figured that we could just scope out the crowd while walking by and decide if we should go back or not. Well, before we reached the group, we spotted a cast member with a clipboard (usually these activities are just suggestions and not really organized) and decided that this was not something we wanted to do. "Walk, walk!" We quickly walked and were passing the group when a hand reached out. "Oh my GOSH! You probably don't remember us, but we were on the cruise with you last year!" We did remember them, and they were on the Island Princess with us last year. This isn't the first time that we've randomly run into someone who was on our Christmas Cruise before (last time it was the girl who paraded herself around the ship as "Miss Florida," wearing a crown and sash everywhere she went on the Grandeur of the Seas in 2009 and then the Carnival Dream in 2010). These cruises are many family's traditions, and there are only so many each year, so it make sense that you would run into people again. These girls were from a family of four sisters ranging in age from 14 to 23, and we always referred to them as the South Carolina girls because one of them went to the University of South Carolina last year, but she since transferred. They actually live in Georgia.

Club 6 might be the lamest club I've ever visited on a ship... and this includes the Grandma of the Seas. The lights were on which is a big club no - no one wants to actually see the person they're dancing with. And the dance floor was in an awkward location between a wall and a bar facing the dance floor. They need to redesign.

NEXT: Day 2 - Princess Cays