Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Trip - All Aboard the Cruise Ship

We met at FD's house (see my Sarasota post for definition of the names) bright and early in the morning. The cruise ship says each person can bring 200 lbs. of luggage on board, but we didn't approach our limits. Just the same, we had too much luggage to be able to fit everyone AND our luggage in FD's minivan, so my mom and I took ourselves and our bags in my car and followed my friend's family down the road to Miami.

On the way, our route took us along a stretch of the interstate that's known as "Alligator Alley," pictured here.

If you look closely, you can see a chain-link fence where the grass meets the trees. On top of the fence is some barbed wire angled away from the road, not toward it. The barbed wire is there to keep the alligators off the highway. Apparently alligators can climb fences, although we didn't see any giving it a try as we drove past.

In Miami we dropped off all the luggage and everyone but the drivers at the cruise ship terminal. Then FS and I drove around and around the parking garage trying to find a couple of open spaces, but everyone who's anyone on our cruise had already arrived and taken all the decent parking spots. We finally found some on the way up to yet another level, then made our way down to the terminal, only to discover that our respective families were not where we had left them.

Inside was a line--fairly short--with a sign that announced we needed to present both our passport and boarding documents before we could proceed. We both had our own passports, but my mom had my boarding pass, and FS's wife had his. We showed our passports to the lady in the uniform and explained the situation, and she pointed over to a desk where two uniformed men waited and told us to talk to them. Great.

The men at the desk had a list of all the unfortunate souls who had been separated from their travel documents by parking duties. They checked our passports, found our names on their list, and waved us on to the next line, where we waited to run our bags and selves through the security machines.

Once we got past Security, we were reunited with our families, who explained why they were so unkind as to not wait for us. They had reached Security when one of them asked if there was a restroom on the line side of the machines. The person asking must have looked desperate enough that the security screener sent them through with minimal checking and told them, "Don't come back." So they didn't.

We hadn't even begun to wait in line yet. After Security came the endless line where we waited to be issued our Sea Pass, a plastic card the size of a thick credit card, which would be our room key, our entry and exit "document" for the ship, and our money on board (they tie it in to the credit card you give them). This is just part of the line. Our goal is the counter in front of the windows along the back wall. We were all about as happy as the guy in the red shirt.

We inched our way through the line and to the counter, gave them a credit card, and they gave it back with our Sea Pass and directed us to the gangway, where we had to show them our Sea Pass to get on board.

Once on the ship, the Freedom of the Seas, we were greeted by Hawaiian-shirted men with trays of Bahama Mama drinks for sale. After all those lines people had waited in, they had plenty of takers for the drinks. I just took pictures.

We found our rooms down an almost endless hallway (the ship is 1,112 ft. long) then a right and a quick left turn. Two adjoining rooms for my friend and her family, and our room right next door. We dumped our stuff, grabbed the essentials (purse, camera, Sea Pass), and took off in search of lunch, which we found at the Windjammer, a buffet-style dining room. Here are lots of people we don't know eating lunch against the Miami skyline.

We walked off our lunch by getting familiar with the ship, starting with the upper decks. There were close to a billion cruise ships in port, each one loading thousands of people (ours had 3,900 or so passengers on a ship that could hold 4,300). I'm not sure if there were enough people left to run the rest of the country, once all the ships set sail. This is the ship docked right in front of ours.

Before too long, it was time for the safety drill, where we had to dig our life jackets out of the closet in our room, put them on, and report to our battle station, which was printed on our Sea Pass. Once we got there, they squished us into a controlled mob behind our lifeboat. I was at the rear of one line, so I leaned back against the wall (and found out later that I got grease on the back of my shirt), rested my cheek on the life jacket, and took a little nap. They woke me up when they started explaining about safety.

After the safety drill was dinner (casual dress) and wandering around the ship. I'll tell more about the ship tomorrow.

No folded-towel animals on our beds tonight. Just chocolate.

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