Friday, April 10, 2015

Trip Report: Christmas Cruise on Independence of the Seas [Day 8] At Sea

Something that I like to do on cruises is stay up late or rise early and spend some time photographing the ship while less people are out and about.  I learned on my Disney Fantasy Cruise that I should not save this for the last night because there's a chance that I could end up battling high winds and rough seas (well, there's always a chance for that, but I have an opportunity to try again if I do it sooner than later).  So I opted to stay up late the night before the last night of the cruise (which isn't much better than the very last night, but hey, I'm improving).

I started in the Royal Promenade which is the primary means of bow to aft circulation inside of the ship.  They have the ability to control the lighting in this space, and in the evenings it's darker and more festive, so I was disappointed to learn that shooting during 'cleaning hour' left me with bright, sterile, florescent hospital lighting.

Royal Promenade

When I was a kid, I thought the Royal Promenade was so cool, but now I think I prefer a grand atrium as a central gathering space. While the long hallway can accommodate a lot of people, the focus isn't as central, and it's easy to miss the action happening in the center if you are on the edge. And unless you have a room overlooking the promenade, there isn't really a great view of it from above, as the vertical circulation and lookouts on either end don't provide much of a view down the promenade.



Royal Promenade

The interior rooms overlooking the promenade provide a better view than the typical interior stateroom, but you also have to be very careful about keeping the curtains closed...

The Cupcake Cupboard

The Royal Promenade is part shopping mall, part gathering space. Lately, the cruise industry as a whole has been working to incorporate more outside brands. I think it's a good idea because I am far more likely to buy a Michael Kors purse than a kitschy souvenir tote.

Michael Kors Store

And the "good thing" about outside brands is that Royal Caribbean can charge you extra for them. That Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream is not free (unless you happen to be staying in the Ben & Jerry's "suite" located directly above, in which case you get free ice cream all week to make up for the fact that a cow's rear end is blocking your view of the promenade). The cupcakes are not free, either, and in case purchasing a cupcake is not enough, you can spend just a bit more for a cupcake decorating class (I admit, that sounds pretty cool, and I would probably 'splurge' on that).

Ben and Jerry's

Don't touch the car.

Royal Promenade

In addition to stores, there are several different themed bars along promenade, Dog & Badger being the Irish Pub with a name too silly to say aloud.

The Dog and Badger

Ahh - this is the kind of gathering space I like.

Royal Promenade

Royal Promenade

Royal Promenade

Royal Promenade

Outside of the Pyramid Lounge -

Pyramid Lounge

Pyramid Lounge

Royal Promenade

Royal Promenade

Now, I was headed upstairs to photograph the Solarium, but as soon as I exited the elevator, I was surrounded by a mob of party people. I tried to make a quick and quiet exit, but not without seeing a familiar face of a fellow passenger I like to refer to as "D-Bag" (because, honestly, I don't even remember the guy's real name).

D-Bag: "Heyyy! What are you up to?"
Me: "I was just photographing the ship, but I didn't realize the party was still going on."
D-Bag: (looking at my tripod and camera) "Oh, so you're like a photographer?"
Me: "Yeah, I take photos for my travel blog."
D-Bag: "And you have to carry that around?" (pointing at tripod)
Me: "For night photos, yeah."
D-Bag: "Ooh, well that's embarrassing."
Me: "Uh, sure."

I wanted to tell him that it couldn't be more embarrassing than being a 26-year-old man hanging out with 13-year-old girls, but I try to wait until after I'm behind the safety of my computer screen to voice my rude opinions.

Pool Deck

Realizing that our cruise was coming to an end and our tans needed major work, Rachel and I spent most of our final sea day lounging on the pool deck.

Pool Deck

Pool Deck

Pool Deck

Flow Rider

We also watched the champions of the Flow Rider one last time.

Flow Rider

Flow Rider

Flow Rider

Flow Rider

The insulated tote you see by Rachel is a "bag of beer". We ordered a bucket of beer, but the bartender told us that he didn't know if he could find a bucket. So he told us about the bag of beer deal in which you purchase the bag (I think it's $7.95) and the beer for the buy 5/get 1 free price (~$26). You can then keep refilling the bag with the buy 5/get 1 price.

Sea Day

Sea Day

Mad Hatter's Ball Parade

So Rachel and I were in the Royal Promenade picking up an authenticity certificate for the tanzanite jewelry she had purchased the night before when we realized there was going to be a parade in a few minutes. We decided to stay and watch....

This was the biggest 'WTF?' event of the entire cruise. A huge "We're not at Disney, anymore" moment. So we're standing behind a rope (that they wanted us to hold, by the way) and loud music starts playing and lights start flashing. Then part of the parade comes out and awkwardly stops. And the actors are looking around all confused and then they turn around... and a minute or so later start the entire thing over again except with more people. Rachel and I decided that half of the parade wasn't ready when the started, so they just started again.

Mardi Gras Parade

The theme of the parade is really uncertain. They called it Mad Hatter's Ball and there were people wearing Mad Hatter-style hats, but then there was also a bunch of flower hippie 70s-themed costuming. So I think either they wanted to have a parade and said, "What's a good recognizable theme that children like that we don't have to pay character licensing for? Mad Hatter? Let's do that! Oh, and we have a bunch of leftover costumes from the 70s stage show - we can use those, too!" .... that or they were just tripping on acid when they created it.

Mardi Gras Parade

A large number of the costumed people in the parade were less than enthusiastic. And then of the ones who looked like they might actually care about being there, at least half of them were being really silly as if it was a joke to them (I can't blame them - that parade was a joke).

Mardi Gras Parade

After escaping the madness, Rachel and I went back to the room to relax on our balcony before getting ready for the evening.

Balcony

It was a beautiful sunset.

Balcony

Rachel and I had wanted to try out all of the ship's different themed bars but were running out of time to do so.  We decided to meet our parents for pre-dinner vino at Vintages, the wine bar.  It's a nice, dark and rustic atmosphere.  The guest violinist was also there playing that evening which added to the romantic vibe.  We used our buy one/get one glass of wine Crown & Anchor promo.

After our first glass, we left to bar hop to the Boleros Lounge since we hadn't had drinks there, but the area was really crowded with people waiting for dinner.  Unable to find a table, we ended up going back and sitting in the exact same table we had left.  Vintages is a much more relaxing pre-dinner venue.

Vintages

Vintages

Romeo & Juliet Dining Room

Our last meal on the ship was far from memorable.  So instead of talking about the food, I'll talk about our awesome dining team.  Our assistant waitress, Liliana from Ukraine, is perhaps the most genuinely happy crew member I've met on any cruise.  She seemed to really like my family and told us a lot of stories about her home and fiance from Thailand who she met working on the cruise ship (he worked in the dining room on the fifth floor).  In fact, she was only going to work one contract but ended up renewing her contract because she enjoyed working on the ship so much.  Every day she greeted us with an incredible smile and was excited to know what we did and how we were doing.  Her authenticity and positive attitude made our dining room experience very enjoyable.

Much more enjoyable than this spinach dip...

Spinach Dip

The Royal Shrimp Cocktail is at least a little more photogenic -

Seafood Salad

So I like steak.

steak

And Rum Cake -

Rum Cake

Tonight, it was half off all premium drinks in Labyrinth. A premium drink means that it has at least three components. So a 7-7 or a rum and coke would not be 50% off. But an Old Fashion, Long Island Iced Tea, Adios Mother... those are discounted. Ladies' night is definitely the better deal, but this one wasn't bad.

The club was pretty dead tonight. Sometimes on the last night, the club is filled with crazy people ready to make one last bad decision. This was not the case. Rachel and I sat in an almost empty club enjoying our half-off beverages, and the DJ actually came out of his booth to talk to us and show us some magic tricks (yeah... the DJ did card tricks).