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Wednesday, December 15, 2021

[Day 1] Disney Wonder TEST CRUISE from San Diego!

Something that you may already know about me is that I work for The Walt Disney Company. It's been a dream since I was a little kid, and still some days I feel like I need to pinch myself. I work in a group at Disneyland Resort called Architecture & Facilities Engineering. I do not work with the Cruise Line (though I'd welcome the opportunity!), and am not speaking on behalf of the Company.

Now let me take you back to the end of August. Rachel and Judy were aboard the Freedom of the Seas, and it really made me want to cruise. Why didn't I join them? Well, I was at home, hunkered down, studying for the California Supplemental Exam - the last exam I needed to pass to become a licensed Architect in California. So in between study sessions, I'd watch Rachel's stories on the Victoria on Vacation Instagram takeover and peruse the cruise websites.

On September 2nd, which was the last day of Rachel and Judy's cruise, I got an email from Cast Activities inviting salaried and executive Anaheim-based employees to register to *Express Interest* in participating in a Test Cruise on the Disney Wonder, sailing out of San Diego.

Disney Wonder Test Cruise

If selected, we could choose between the 2-night sailing to Ensenada September 20-22 or the 4-night sailing to Cabo San Lucas September 23-27. While we would not be charged for the cruise fare, we would need to pay for taxes and gratuities. COUNT ME IN! Registration opened at 2:00 PM, and I logged on 5 minutes in advance and kept refreshing the page until I was allowed to register. Of course, registration didn't mean that I was guaranteed a spot on the Test Cruise - it just meant that I had expressed interest.

I immediately texted Rachel and told her the good news - possibly, maybe, I would get the invitation to participate in the test cruise. If chosen, I'd be allowed to book up to 2 staterooms and bring up to 7 guests. Rachel, to no surprise, happily volunteered to be my guest. When I asked Aaron, my boyfriend, if he would like to join, he said yes he wanted to... but he didn't know if he could get off work. Then I asked Rachel if her boyfriend, Landon, would like to come as well, and she said yes, but he'd probably have to work remotely from the ship. With very tentative plans and no cruise booked, Rachel decided to go ahead and book a flight to LA because Southwest still has a kind cancellation policy, and it was $130 round-trip.

On September 5, I received an email from Cast Activities which said to keep an eye on my inbox - further information will come directly from Disney Cruise Line. So I carried my work phone with me at all times and checked my email constantly.

Then on September 7 at 9:30 PM, DCL sent out the email that I was eligible to book the Test Cruise. I did not see this email until around midnight when I was very sleepy and headed to bed..... at which point I immediately perked up, logged onto my computer, and booked 2 staterooms for the 4-night Disney Wonder sailing to Cabo San Lucas. And because it was midnight, I was celebrating the successful cruise booking alone - everyone else would find out the next morning.

Test Cruise Offer 
So what's a Test Cruise? If you're familiar with Disney Parks, it's similar to a "Cast Preview" or "Soft Opening." Before the announced opening (the Disney Wonder was announced to resume sailing out of San Diego on October 1), the Test Cruise would give the Crew members an opportunity to practice working with guests in an environment that isn't as high-stakes as Opening Day. Our goals were to test new experience designed for return to service, help acclimate Crew Members to new processes, make certain everything in our stateroom was in working order, and to test the technology being used to promote physical distancing and other health and safety measures. Essentially, our job was to be a guest and be patient with the Crew as they got back into the groove of their role.

The health and safety measures for cruising continue to change and evolve, so be sure to check up-to-date information provided by the cruise line. Currently, as required by the CDC, all guests ages 12 and older must be fully vaccinated to board any US-based cruise ship. On Disney Cruise Line, guests who are 11 years of age and younger are not required to be vaccinated, but must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test result by a rapid PCR test or lab-based PCR test (rapid antigen test not accepted), taken between 3 days and 24 hours before your sail date.

Disney Cruise Line is using Safe Passage by Inspire Diagnostics to verify vaccination status and test guests at the port. Prior to sailing, each adult needed to create an individual account on Safe Passage and upload proof of vaccination (guests 11 and under will upload a negative PCR test result).

Safe Passage

The online check-in process has changed to minimize the amount of time spent checking in at the port. We each needed to upload a photo of our passports, as well as a photo to use for security/identification. The photos would be approved by an individual (not a computer), so it took a long time for approval of our documents. However, if the photo is accepted by the computer, as long as it is correct and accurate, it should be approved - the computer automatically rejects bad photos. Rachel and I completed our online check-in as soon as we could, and I'm glad we did - we were able to get the earliest port check-in time, 11:15-11:30 AM, Boarding Group 5.

As we got closer to our sail date, I started frequenting the DISboards, looking for any recent cruising information I could find. It was there that I came across a post from someone saying that their friend got a positive test result at the port after getting a negative PCR test result a week prior, and later getting another negative PCR test result. Cue the FREAKOUT! I immediately booked two PCR tests that day to better my odds of getting test results prior to the cruise (it was Monday.... the cruise was leaving Thursday). I did one at CVS and another at Rite Aid within 30 minutes of each other. For what it's worth, I got my CVS results back on Wednesday (Negative!), but didn't get my Rite Aid results (also Negative!) back until Saturday.

Rachel and Landon were flying in Tuesday evening, so Aaron went after work to pick them up from the airport, and I ordered 2 large pizzas from Delicious Pizza for dinner.

Around 7 PM, I got a call from Rachel, "Umm.... so we fly in Wednesday." WHAT?!?! This entire time, I thought they were flying in Tuesday and working from home on Wednesday. I had set up a desk in the guest room. I had ordered 2 large pizzas!!!!! So while Rachel and Landon were laughing at me for this big misunderstanding, Aaron was circling the arrivals level of LAX. I called Aaron to break the news: "So..... you're going to hate me..... Rachel and Landon don't arrive tonight. They arrive tomorrow. But on the bright side, we're having pizza for dinner!" Aaron surprisingly was not too upset. I think the pizza helped.

It actually worked out better for Rachel and Landon to arrive on Wednesday because I had an early morning job walk at the parks - which meant that I was able to buy Disney face masks and adorable mermaid Minnie Ears that would go perfectly with the shirts that Rachel had ordered for us to wear on boarding day.

Boarding Shirts


Finally, that brings us to......

Embarkation in San Diego

We live in Los Angeles, which is about a 2.5 hour drive from San Diego, so we decided to drive down to the port the morning of the cruise. It's a pretty scenic coastal drive along the 405/5 between LA and SD, especially south-bound. We stopped in San Diego for gas and beer. Disney's alcohol policy allows 2 bottles of wine or 6 beers per adult, so we decided to carry on 4 bottles of wine and 12 beers between the four of us.

I purchased parking at the Wyndham San Diego Bayside through Airport Reservations for $60 for the length of the cruise. We parked here the last time we sailed on the Wonder, so I was familiar with where to go. Directions will take you to the Wyndham, but you'll need to enter the parking garage behind the Wyndham. To do this, take West Ash Street heading inland, then turn south on Pacific Highway. The parking garage entrance is on W A Street. Here's a map to better illustrate:

Parking Map


From the parking garage, we just rolled our suitcases right across the street to the cruise ship terminal.

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It was a bit chaotic at the entrance.... lots of people queuing up. Our designated boarding time was 11:15 to 11:30, and we arrived the the port exactly at 11:15. Luckily, I heard people saying that the long line was for 11:30 boarding, so we rolled through the mob of people all the way to the port entrance. We presented our 11:15 boarding time and were allowed through to drop off our luggage and enter the terminal.

Immediately upon entering the terminal, there is pipe and drape set up dividing the room for Covid testing. Every passenger must take a Covid test at the port (paid for by Disney) and receive a negative result prior to boarding. They asked if we were all on the same reservation, or had different reservations. Since we were in two separate staterooms, we had two different reservations, and they split us up for the Covid testing. Aaron and I were sent to Tent 1, and not soon after we arrived, the party in front of us came back out of the tent. It turns out that there were 8 of them in two different reservations, so they couldn't all be tested at the same time. Which meant that we now had to wait on two different groups of four ahead of us to get tested. In the meantime, Rachel and Landon were in and out, and people who arrived behind us were getting tested sooner. Finally, someone called us down to go into a different tent.

Covid Testing Tents

The Covid test is the nose swab version. It was self-perform, meaning that you yourself stick the swab in your nose for 15 seconds. Most people are probably familiar with this test. Easy peasy, takes just a few minutes.

Something I'll note right here - I had printed out our boarding ticket. But I forgot to bring them. So we had to do the QR scan on my phone whenever they needed to scan the reservation. This was annoying because the QR code was not available on the app - I had to zoom in on the boarding ticket PDF that was emailed to me every time. I highly recommend printing out your boarding pass and bringing it with you!!

After getting tested, we were directed to head through security. After baggage check and the metal detector, we were directed to sit in a very large room where everyone else was sitting and waiting for their Covid test results. We were told this would take approximately 45 minutes to an hour. They must really be banking on people testing negative because at this point, we had already been exposed to a lot of other passengers.

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It seemed that Boarding Group didn't matter - they weren't calling boarding groups at all. You got in line once you received an email with your test results. And they made us work for those results - we received an email from Safe Passage, and we had to log into the Safe Passage account to view whether or not we were safe to sail. And..... we were safe to sail!

We then proceeded to the check-in counter. At check-in they just needed to verify our passports - we had already completed everything else online (security photo and credit card for charging purposes). We were told that our Key to the World card would be waiting for us at our stateroom. The man checking us in printed out our QR code for us which was great because we would need it to board the ship.

After check-in, we headed to get our Boarding Photo!

WelcomeAboard

And then it was time to board the Disney Wonder!

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Something new with Covid precautions - when boarding, they escorted us to a dot on the floor where we waited for a pre-show. Mickey and Minnie were in the atrium and did a very cute dance to come on everybody have a good time, have a good good good good time! Then they explained to us how the Muster drill would work.

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We needed to use the Disney Cruise Line App to log into the ship's wifi. We would then begin the Safety Drill. This only needed to be completed on the app by one person per stateroom. The app told us our Muster Station, so we headed upstairs to deck 4 where we were greeted by crew members who explained that in an emergency, we would go to our staterooms and put on warm clothes and grab our life jackets, then meet at our muster station. We scanned the muster station letter, gave the crew members assigned to our station our names and numbers, and we were good to go!

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Landon was very confused by what was happening, and it was then that we realized - this is his first cruise, so he has no pre-Covid basis of cruising to compare this to!

By now it was around 1 PM and we were HUNGRY! We headed to Triton's for lunch. (Pro tip: if you want to avoid crowds and lines, head to the dining room rather than Cabana's on embarkation day!)

First thing that's different with dining - they aren't handing out menus anymore. Instead, there are QR Codes in the center of the table which you scan to access the menu. Scanning the QR Code will open up the Menu on the DCL App. This worked fine for Rachel, Landon, and myself who are all iPhone users. Aaron, however, with his Google Pixel Android phone could not get the QR code to work. So we always had to share my phone so that he could read the menu. Something that was particularly inconvenient because I thought I was super smart attaching a chain to my phone so that I could wear it as a purse when I didn't have pockets.... what I was not anticipating was Aaron using my phone while it was attached to my neck to read the menus. Obviously, we made it work, but if Disney is going to continue with the App-heavy sailing experience, they really need to work out the kinks for Android users.

The embarkation day menu is pretty dang good. I highly recommend getting the empanada as a first course:

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And the Pennette Pasta is a solid option for the main course:

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I got the Welcome Aboard Sundae for dessert.

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Rachel went ahead and got the Mickey Mouse Premium Ice Cream Bar for dessert which was a smart move.

This was Aaron's dessert, and I can't tell you what it is because it's not on the old embarkation menus, and I didn't think to screenshot the menus on the app. The app will disappear after your sailing, so if you want to save something (like your folio with detailed onboard charges), be sure to screenshot it before the end of your sailing.

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After lunch, we decided to head to our stateroom. They were ready, and our luggage was waiting outside the door! I actually think they were ready as soon as we got on the ship because we boarded around 1PM and no one told us to wait to go to our rooms. Also, the ship had returned from its first 2-day Test Cruise a day prior, so they had plenty of time to change over the rooms.

Our Key to the World Cards were inside this card, located in the Fish outside the door.

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We were in adjacent staterooms 6539 and 6537, both Category 11A. For the Test Cruise, everyone was booked in an Inside Guarantee Stateroom. No upgrade requests, and our staterooms would be assigned just a few days before boarding. I thought for sure we'll get upgraded to an Ocean View. Nope. We weren't that lucky. Other families were, though - I think parties of 3 in the same stateroom were more likely to get upgraded to Verandahs. That would have been cool, but we aren't complaining - it's a free cruise!!!

Something that differs from the online photos is that they've changed the orientation of the bed so that the headboard is against the back wall, rather than on the same wall as the sofa. I much prefer this orientation because it's easier to access the bed. This is the same orientation on the Dream and Fantasy with the Magical Porthole staterooms... only no Magical Porthole on the Wonder. You can access the live footage from the bridge on the TV, and this is something we did at night/early morning so that we knew what time it was.

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This is the smallest of Inside Staterooms, and the key difference between the Category 11 and Category 10 is that the Cat11 doesn't have separated bathrooms for toilet and shower - just one bathroom with both the toilet and shower. This was not at all an issue for us, being only two people in the room. I imagine with families, it's nice to have the separated bathrooms with two sinks, but with just two people in the room, one bathroom is all we needed!

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The bathrooms are stocked with H2O products which are pretty good quality. I used the body wash and even the conditioner because I ran out of my own. I was tempted to try the shampoo because... it's green! But my hair is looking very healthy these days, so I didn't want to risk any damage.

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I also appreciate this full-size Sea Salt lotion and the makeup towel.

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We went ahead and unpacked our luggage, and we had more than enough storage. It was only a 4-day sailing, but I didn't even fill all of the drawers.

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And Aaron promptly knocked out on the bed.

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Rachel and Landon finished packing before us, so they went ahead up to the Quiet Cove Pool. I took that as an opportunity to decorate our doors.

Prior to the trip, I designed magnets to go over the porthole numbers on our stateroom doors. You may recognize the Mexican-influenced Mickey from our Wonder Cruise in 2019. I designed a Mexican-influenced Minnie to match! I wanted to have the magnets printed professionally so that they would stick better to the door. I priced out Vistaprint which I used in 2014, but their prices were pretty steep for the automotive magnets, so I turned to Best of Signs which printed high-quality magnets and delivered in just a few days! To print, I twist and turn the Mickey and Minnie clothing pieces so that I can optimize the 24x36" sheet. Then when it arrives, I cut out each element. It sounds time-consuming, but I was able to cut out everything you see on our doors in just half an hour.

Disney Magnets Cut Sheet
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Now, I'll go ahead and say, the magnets on Rachel and Landon's door did not last long. See, the Wonder is the second oldest ship in the fleet, and entered service in 1999. Over 20 years later, the door has been repainted so many times that it's hardly magnetic anymore. By the end of the week, Minnie had lost her ears, hands, and maracas. Mickey stuck on much better, but if you're sailing on the Wonder in the future, note that the doors aren't very magnetic anymore, so you'd probably need a heavy-duty magnet (not printed-on magnet) if you want your door decorations to hold up.

We headed up to Deck 9 to meet up with Rachel and Landon. The Quiet Cove was POPPIN! People were already having a great time. We could tell right then - it was going to be a wildly fun cruise!

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The DCL Beer Mugs cost around $15 and it gets you a 22 oz. pour of draft beer for the price of a regular 16 oz. pour. I did the math before we went on the Disney Wonder, and if you drink 7-8 draft beers, the mug pays for itself. Rachel, Aaron, and I brought our DCL Beer Mugs from former cruises, and Landon bought his on this sailing. The mugs are blue plastic on the pool deck and clear glass when you're inside. If you don't want to carry your mug around, they'll give you a token which is a card that is business card size and easily fits in your wallet. If you knew that you were going on another DCL cruise, you could actually take the token with you which is easier to pack than the mug itself. But if you're like me and want the mug to take home, be sure to exchange for a fresh mug at a bar inside before the end of your sailing.

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Around 4 PM, it was time for the Muster Drill. Remember we already had a safety briefing when we boarded and checked in at our Muster Station. I believe this was the drill itself - they shut down bar service and closed the pools and hot tubs. This time, they sounded the alarm - six short blasts followed by one long blast. If you were near a television, I think there was an accompanying video. However, we were in Quiet Cove, so we just listened to the announcement. It's the regular announcement they have on all sailings (usually this is done when you're at your muster station).

Notice the sign saying the Whirlpool Spa closes at 4 PM? Don't worry - it only closed for the Muster Drill. The normal operating hours were 8 AM to 10 PM.

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After that, time to party! But unfortunately, no Sail Away Party. So we just walked around the top deck and watched us sail away.

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I call this photo, "Two-fisting and third-wheeling!"

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Me: "Smile!"
Aaron:

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Rachel asked why DCL moved out of the Port of Los Angeles (closer to Disneyland) and to the Port of San Diego. I'm not sure, but I think it may be because San Diego is a more scenic port and more of a "destination" than Port of LA which is primarily a shipping port.

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Our show that night was Frozen at 6 PM in the Walt Disney Theater, and we didn't want to miss it! We walked in just a few minutes prior to showtime and were surprised when the usher escorted us all the way down to the second row. These were great seats and much appreciated because the show was fantastic! I thought this was going to be the same version of Frozen that is shown in the Hyperion Theater at Disney California Adventure, but apparently this is the Broadway version. The show starts with puppets to represent the characters as children. The rest of the gang did not like the puppets, but I didn't mind them. If you aren't a puppet fan, no worries because they ditch the puppet Anna and Elsa after "Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?" Olaf and Sven will remain puppets, but for those characters it makes sense - and the actors who were puppeteering Olaf and Sven were amazing! The actresses who play Anna and Elsa are both incredible vocalists. I was not expecting to enjoy this show because Frozen it's pretty overdone at this point, but I really appreciated this version of storytelling and the actors' performance.

Now on to dinner. Our first night was in Triton's. We were introduced to our server Pradeep and his assistant, Angelo. We were also greeted with a fun character dancing interaction with Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, and Donald. I tried my darndest to get a good photo of the characters, but given the low lighting levels and pace at which they were dancing about, this was the best I could do -
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We had ordered the 4-Night Classic Wine Package, but there was a little confusion as to what qualified for the Classic Package. Aaron was directed to the Wine List for the restaurant and selected a bottle that we later determined was not included in the Classic Package. Thankfully, they gave us a pass for the night, and we made sure to order from the correct menu moving forward.

When it was time to place our orders, Rachel asked for two of every appetizer for the table. This was a great idea, and they didn't think we were crazy - they were happy to accommodate.

Tonight, I had the brilliant thought to take notes on my phone about the food. This is the only night that I would remember to do this, so please enjoy one night's worth of detailed food review.

The Duck Confit was a little dry and could use dressing.
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The Breaded Deep Fry Brie with Cranberry Chutney was, per my notes, to die for.
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Rachel had come to the conclusion that Escargot was over for cruising. The past few cruises, the texture was just off - it was too chewy or slimy. DCL proved her wrong, though. The Escargot was so darn good that we wished we had ordered more.
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I didn't write anything about the shrimp. It was just shrimp, not much to say.

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For our entrees, Rachel and Aaron ordered the Roasted Rack of Lamb. According to Rachel, the temperature was perfection, the seasoning was good, potatoes incredible.... the brussel sprouts could have been omitted (who needs veggies?!) but other than that, it was perfection.
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Landon got the Chateaubriand-Roasted Filet Steak which was cooked to perfection. Rachel swore it was the same thing he ate at lunch, but Landon confirmed that it was indeed different.
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I ordered the Oven-Baked Alaskan Salmon Royale, and per my notes it was "OMG amazing - not basic." Idk, V - "OMG amazing" sounds like something someone basic would say. Whatever, I enjoyed it!!
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When it was time for dessert, I ordered the Grand Marnier Souffle -
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And an Expresso Martini - 

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 Then, to my complete surprise, our serving team came over with a "Congratulations" plate and Moet Champagne.
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Remember earlier when I said I was hunkered down studying for an exam? Well, I PASSED!! And Rachel had snuck off earlier to coordinate the surprise!
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I wouldn't be needing that Expresso Martini (Aaron happily took care of it for me).
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Soon, the dining room was emptying out and it was time for us to leave. Seriously, I think we got kicked out of the dining room every night. This was my complaint the last time we sailed on the Wonder - they turn the dining room over as fast as they can, so there's no lingering over a dessert coffee - it's GET OUT!

We headed to Azure which was, surprisingly, BUMPIN. In my experience, Disney Cruises have never had much nightlife, or people who wanted to participate in nightlife. This cruise, however, was an exception. Most of the passengers onboard were adults without children. Considering we only had 2.5 weeks notice prior to the cruise, I imagine most parents were hesitant to take their kids out of school, especially considering that it was the beginning of the new school year in Southern California. So while we were the Test Cruise, we were hardly representative of the typical Disney Cruise passenger demographic. Nope, the passengers on this sailing were ready to partayyyyy!!

Unfortunately, though there were a lot of adults who were down to stay up and rage, Azure closed at 12 AM. On previous Disney Cruises, they turn Azure into a dance club late at night. However, I guess dance clubs aren't great for social distancing, so instead they closed the club and kicked us out. Which meant that everyone would go to their staterooms and order room service. This would happen every night.

1 comment:

  1. I really love your trip reports, thank you for sharing. Crazy that I am the "someone" who had the friend test positive and get turned away at the port in September. So funny that I'm reading your report and then realize you are talking about me! :)

    ReplyDelete