Grandeur of the Seas

With my cruise to Cuba 🇨🇺 behind me it is now time to add one more country to my list of visited countries, and possibly it will be the last addition for a while, Bermuda 🇧🇲. It’s a short cruise, only 5 nights, but I’m doing back to back this time round, with 9 nights to New England and Canada 🇨🇦 (where I’m hoping to get some relief from the relentless tropical 🌴 Caribbean sun). 

The sailaway from Baltimore was a long one, but with a sunset at around 20:30, it meant we could enjoy the views around the Chesapeake Bay for quite some time. 

It was near sunset when I was sitting in the Centrum, watching the cruise director staff and guests participate in games, I glanced over at the windows to see many guests gathering to enjoy the final solar performance for the day. And what a spectacular sunset 🌅 it was. 

 Can’t do this on  Quantum  or  Oasis  class

Can’t do this on Quantum or Oasis class

The Grandeur of the Seas may be old, but like the other Vision class and Radiance class ships 🛳 you can really take in the views from many places from within the ship. You know you are at sea. 

Another benefit of these smaller ships, within the first few hours of the cruise, I had found 4 staff whom I had met from different ships on previous cruises. And for me that is a true highlight. 

I was on the Harmony for 3 weeks when I finally ran into one of my favourite bar lasses from my time on the Explorer. I had no idea she was onboard, and I didn’t see here again.  

The more I cruise, i increasingly find myself attracted to the smaller ships. And it concerns me that Royal Caribbean haven’t  announced anything to replace Vision or Radiance class vessels. 

(My Majesty of the Seas post is written, I just need to proof read it some more and make those final touches before I can get it posted). 

Bigger and better? Or Practical and Soulless?

My friend sent this article from Bloomberg to me, highlighting the changes in the cruise industry in its efforts to modernise and attract a younger market.

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Gone are the days when entertainment at sea consisted of a lounge act near the mini casino and shuffleboard on the lido deck. As Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd., Carnival Corp. and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. build ever larger vessels and try to lure younger guests, they’re unleashing an arms race to deliver ever more-elaborate onboard activities.

BLOOMBERG - BILLION-DOLLAR CRUISE SHIP BRINGS GO-KARTS AND LASER TAG TO THE HIGH SEAS

In addition we see cruise lines moving away from all inclusive packages, and start charging for various activities and dining. Royal Caribbean has a few specialty restaurants requiring payment (and I can't help but feel that Harmony of the Seas has been designed to really push guests to specialty dining, the Windjammer buffet is one of the most limited I have encountered).  They are also charging guests on some cruises to use features like the North Star

As one of the officers confessed to me the other day, one of the problems with the larger ships is "throughput". How can RCI give all guests a chance to experience all the features onboard.  Norwegian has addressed this by introducing fees.

“What they’re trying to do is minimize the crowds,” said Stewart Chiron, who runs the online travel site cruiseguy.com. The cost “is not going to dissuade you from going. It may dissuade you from doing it 20 times.”
— Bloomberg - Billion-Dollar Cruise Ship Brings Go-Karts and Laser Tag to the High Seas
 The  North Star  viewing platform over Auckland Harbour. On some cruises it costs money.

The North Star viewing platform over Auckland Harbour. On some cruises it costs money.

To long time cruisers this feels like (to borrow the American phrase) "nickel and diming". But how else do you provide everyone a chance to use the facilities? One option could be coupons; Royal Caribbean's Seapass already comes pre-loaded with the "coupons" for food and drink available to that guest, there is no reason it couldn't be extended to the activities and shows on board. But of course coupons don't increase revenue, and at heart every cruise line is a business with shareholders, revenue is what they do this for. 

My concern is that in search of the "wow" Royal Caribbean (and the other cruise lines) are losing the romance. Go-Karts and Laser Tag, how often do you want to do that? How often can you go down the same water slide? How many times can you ride the Flow Rider before you are asked to get off to allow other guests a chance? How many times can you escape the same Escape Room? Not only is throughput limited, the law of diminishing returns  begins to apply. Then ships with the "Wow" become ships with the "been there! done that!" And the arms race of developing attractions and excitement just gets taken to the next level. All at the cost of what was at the core of cruising, personal relationships.

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The smaller ships, limited by physical capacity, rely on the emotional experience to generate great memories. The physical rush of laser tag, go karts, or big water slides is so temporary. But emotional connections are longer lasting, richer and more meaningful.

The romance and character of smaller ships is getting lost in this new age. I wonder if there will be space in the future for a cruise line dedicated to some of the old experiences of cruising, with less emphasis on the superficial and more on the heart and soul. I can only hope, but I am not holding my breath. 

To Davy Jones Locker with Oasis Class
 Doesn't matter what ship you are on, sunset at sea is awesome.

Doesn't matter what ship you are on, sunset at sea is awesome.

Any reader of my blog will know that the Oasis of the Seas was the ship that inspired me to cruise with Royal Caribbean. When it was launched in 2009 I was completely taken by the sheer size of the ship. The number of guests, the gross tonnage, the activities, and the facilities were all incredibly amazing. Jump forward nine years, and five cruises on board three Oasis class ships (Oasis, Allure, and, Harmony), I can safely say that I am done with this class of ship.

Everybody is entitled to their opinion, and there are many people who love these ships, I just happen to be one that doesn't. The ships are just too big, they are impersonal, lack intimacy, character and charm. All the activities require reservations, and if you're late, too bad, so sad bye-bye, you aren't getting in. With the exceptions of Ocean view, and Ocean balcony rooms, the deck five running track, and decks 15 through to 17, you would never know you are on a ship. And one of the reasons I like to cruise, love to cruise it Is to be on a ship. 

I love sitting in the Schooner Bar watching the ocean as I have a whisky, or play trivia or both. I love getting to know the crew and my fellow passengers, I love walking up to the evenings entertainment and finding a seat, I love sitting out on the helipad with a  cup of coffee watching the stars at night. 

 Wooden shutters on the  Enchantment of the Seas , so much more charm than the grills used on  Oasis  class.

Wooden shutters on the Enchantment of the Seas, so much more charm than the grills used on Oasis class.

Sitting in the Schooner Bar on an Oasis class ship, is like being in a bar, next to a food court, in a shopping mall. With activities occurring there often interrupted by the events happening on the Promenade, and for the more popular activities seating can be very limited. The lido deck, is a mass of melanoma seeking, speedo wearing hordes. The Promenade Deck is the smallest shopping mall in the world, with all the commercialised hum, and none of the benefits. The outdoor movie theatre is for those who like watching things from an alternative angle, you sit in a seat with your body facing one direction and your head turned slightly a different direction. Who designed this mess?

The Oasis class is a ship for people who actually don't like cruising, they don't like the movement of the sea, they just want to drink, be entertained, and see some new places. It's a big floating hotel, it's an amazing feat of engineering, the logistics of feeding, and supplying the ship mind-blowing, but it's just not for me.

Personally I'd love to see them sunk and turned into  artificial reefs and wreck dives, they would be the most amazing wreck dives in the world. Currently Royal Caribbean have no plans to build smaller ships, nothing has been announced to replace Vision or Radiance class, and they are definitely two of Royal Caribbean's best sized ships. Vision Mk2 or Radiance Mk 2, that would be some exciting news. 

I have 1 more cruise on Harmony, then 2 on Oasis at the end of July, and that's the end of Oasis class for me. I will make exceptions, somebody buys me a ticket, I win a cruise, or an amazing itinerary, so never say never, but still no more future Oasis class bookings for me.

  Radiance of the Seas  one of my favourite ships, even though it's old and has shwoer 

Radiance of the Seas one of my favourite ships, even though it's old and has shwoer 

How did I end up living aboard (p2 continued)

read part 1 first

After I completed my cruise on the Allure and finished my rather fantastic eastern Canadian road trip (it’s not all about ships and the ocean). I headed back to Japan to tie up all the lose ends there. By Christmas, cruising was well behind me, with 2017 shaping up to be the year for resettling back in Australia. 

 My home in Sapporo.

My home in Sapporo.

The first priority in Japan was to pack up my home of eight years. I had a Japanese moving firm come over to provide some assistance with packing and shipping all my earthly possessions back to Australia; that is after selling, giving, and throwing away as much as I could, my life was now reduced to just 8 boxes 📦 . With the boxes now on the way to my brother’s place in Sydney, I left my home in Sapporo for the final time and headed to Niseko. One more season of snow and ice, cooking a daily breakfast for a dozen or so guests, sipping whisky late into the night by the fire with many of the same guests, and shuttling them around the resort. One more season, and I would be back in Australia.  

At some point towards the end of the season, my friend in Switzerland invited me to his wedding, which, inconveniently, was to be in Switzerland in July. How could I possibly get myself settled, start a new job  back in Australia in May or June, and immediately ask for leave to go to Switzerland? If I was to do this, it would hamper establishing myself back in Australia.  I put this trip on the back-burner.

In April, after many sad farewells, I headed to Sydney to start my new life back in Australia. However as Robert Burns wrote “The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft a-gley” and that’s exactly how my plans went; awry!!

These boxes, these 8 most important boxes, were not at my brothers house, after an email exchange with the moving company enquiring as to the whereabouts of my boxes, They assured me  they were at the Sydney warehouse, relieved I called the warehouse, but with Burn’s words still haunting my arrival back in Australia, the boxes were not there.

So another email exchange with the company I informed them that the boxes were not in Australia. They said that they would  look into it and would contact me as soon as they had news. About two days later they called me with some “bad news“ the boxes were still in Japan, they’re in a warehouse in Tokyo.

I was actually quite relieved with this news. I had just scored 5½ months of free storage 😀 , and I hadn’t had to bother my brother or anyone else in the family with storage or  looking after the boxes. But then the other shoe dropped, the moving company informed me that the boxes were going to take three to four weeks before they arrived in Sydney.

What was I going to do for three to four weeks? I had no idea. I wasn’t prepared to go searching for a home yet; quite frankly my life was on pause. What was I going to do while I waited? Go on a cruise? No that’s a silly idea! But I logged in to the Royal Caribbean website just to see what was available, the Explorer of the Seas was leaving in a week on a trans-Pacific repositioning to Seattle, and it was going to take just over three weeks. A three week cruise, three to four weeks before the boxes arrived. Just like Romeo and Juliet, it was a star crossed event, it couldn’t have been more perfect (I am just hoping the whole thing doesn’t finish the same way).

Excited about this I went ahead and booked it. The interesting thing about the Royal Caribbean website, it defaults to double occupancy when you try to book anything. I flew past the number of guests page, and saw the total price was just over $4,500AUD. Then I noticed that it was for 2 passengers, so I went back and modified the booking to a single passenger. It was now over $9,500 🤯.

  Explorer of the Seas  about to unleash 2 years of insanity.

Explorer of the Seas about to unleash 2 years of insanity.

I couldn’t believe it, two people was less that half the price of a single person. I called Royal Caribbean to confirm that this was the price and yes it was correct. Single was closer to $10k but for two people it was just over $4,500. I asked if I could book for two people, and was told no you can’t you are travelling alone so you must book a single. This made no sense to me, so after I hung up, I went back online booked it for two, and paid half. I then went around my circle of friends to see if anybody was interested in a 3 week cruise leaving in a few days. But when you are in your 40’s there aren’t many people who can up and leave on such short notice (which I think is a terrible thing). The following weekend I was at Circular Quay and boarded the Explorer of the Seas. I honestly had no idea what this cruise would begin.

This was a fantastic cruise. We visited some of the South Pacific islands, (Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Fiji). I spent many sea days in the Schooner Bar, playing trivia, and chatting with other guests, and in the evenings I visited the casino. The cruise director staff were a terrific bunch of guys and gals, all working hard to keep us entertained on this cruise with around 2 weeks of sea days. 

This cruise was kind of the opposite of the Allure. It was less a party and more a journey and a bit of adventure. This was the kind of cruising I enjoyed.  This was something I wanted to do more of. I visited the Next Cruise office onboard to see if there were any other epic journeys that Royal Caribbean offered. It turns out that RCI doesn't do a lot of these types of journeys. From America they are predominantly 1 week Caribbean cruises. Europe definitely has more interesting journeys, but those long epic cruises, trans Pacific and Atlantic cruises are brackets surrounding main itineraries. But there was hope. The Mariner of the Seas was scheduled to do a massive journey Singapore to Miami via the Suez. The day it went on sale (mid cruise on the Explorer) I booked it. 

So now I had my cruise for 2018 booked. My life plan was get to Seattle, fly back to Sydney, and get myself squared away. But that curveball of a wedding in Switzerland had been pitched, and I had to decide if I was going or not. Hell you only live once, I have never been to a wedding in Switzerland, so I confirmed my attendance. Now I was going to Europe for a few weeks, I thought I may as well add a cruise to my journey. 

(You can see how things quickly began to spiral out of control). So I booked 2 weeks Mediterranean cruise on the Navigator. So that was it, fly to Europe, do the cruise, go to the wedding, and fly home. But no, there was one other curveball pitched, a day before the cruise finished, a certificate landed on my bed from the casino. I had won (earned) a free cruise. There was a rather limited list of cruises to choose from, mostly 4 nighters in the Caribbean, which didn't really appeal to me. But there was one cruise that appealed to me, 1 week on the Explorer, west coast Seattle to San Francisco. That looked like the winner, but what clinched the deal, it was the final cruise of the American season, before heading back to Australia. So I claimed my free cruise and booked the crossing back to Australia. 

Bookings  for 2017 now stood as 2 weeks in the Med, 1 week West Coast, and 3 weeks back to Australia. Then I could settle down and get my life back on track. But first I needed to leave Europe, and get to America for those cruises. A problem that I found the best solution was more cruises. Serenade of the Seas was going to do a trans-Atlantic arriving in Boston 2 weeks prior to the West Coast cruise. Perfect. Could it be better? Yes, yes it could. It was doing a Norwegian Fjord cruise prior to the crossing, just a couple of weeks after the wedding. So the bookings continued to mount up.

In the end it was just easier to fill in gaps with cruises, so I continued to add to my future bookings. 

  • 2 weeks between Serenade and Explorer - Liberty is doing a 1 week cruise out of Galveston.
  • Getting to Singapore to join the Mariner, the Ovation was doing a 2 week cruise arriving same day as Mariner was due to leave. 
  • Radiance was doing a circumnavigation of Australia‽ I have to do that! 
  • The Voyager is in Australia‽ That's a ship I haven't been on. 
  • Mariner is getting me to AmericaI need to get home, back on Explorer it is. 
  • A couple of months between Mariner and Explorer, let's go crazy, Harmony, Grandeur, Majesty, Enchantment, and Adventure all booked. (August is a bit expensive, I'll take a month off). 

and so on.. my plan for returning to Australia might have been a mess, but cruising was turning into something that I could easily find a place for, and there seemed to always be a gap and a chance to take another cruise. 

And then it dawned on me, with all this cruising I would be close to Pinnacle, the top tier of the Crown and Anchor program, so I decided to make that an objective, a nice way to finalise my journey. Let's get to Pinnacle on my final cruise back home on the Explorer. It was then that whoever was the lovely staff member in the Next Cruise office pointed out, that I wouldn't get any of the benefits of being Pinnacle for that cruise. Doh! With this in mind, I added one more cruise to all my bookings. My life was now fully scheduled until November 2018, and I was now essentially a Royal Caribbean resident.

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