Updated: Apr 14, 2020
Packing had started Friday afternoon, using a checklist I’d developed in February and augmented in March. The large blue hard-sided roller bag was not quite filled with all I’d need for a 2½ week cruise followed by a 9½ weeks in Europe. My backpack had my cameras, journal, tickets, passport and cash, as well as a clean change of clothes in case the bag got misplaced for a day.
Arising before dawn, I began shutting down my house – hot water heater off first, ice maker next with the ice taken out and dumped on the potted plants. A shower followed, and then after dressing in a polo shirt, slacks and the heaviest of my footwear, I went around and ensured that the windows were all locked and blinds closed. Stumbling around the lanai furniture in the living room (precaution against an early hurricane), I began unplugging anything electrical, except the ceiling fans, all of which were set to low. AC was set to a fixed 80°F and all inside doors were left open to preclude any mold. My frig was nearly empty, just bottles of water to ease the equipment’s task.
My neighbor Joan came at a quarter past 7, just as the sun was attempting to peek through the eastern clouds. Locking the front door and shutting off the water to the house, I put my roller into her SUV and placed my backpack at my feet as we set off. Fifteen minutes later, we were at the McDonalds on Jacaranda, just off the I75 exit, awaiting the #FloridaRedBusLine van, due at 8. I went in and got a large
decaf iced coffee and an Egg McMuffin, and Donovan arrived with a 10-passenger van just as I returned outside. Sending Joan off, I boarded the van with 2 other travelers already on board. We stopped in Ft Myers for a trio of women, and then again in Naples for two couples.
Full, we crossed on Alligator Alley, getting to Ft Lauderdale port (no one wanted to go to the airport) to drop the trio, and then we headed to Miami port. Although due to arrive at 11:45, it was 11:20 when our driver dropped the 7 of us at the various docks. I had a 200-yard walk to join the Dock F queue for the #Meraviglia boarding, and turned my roller over to the dockside
porters who would deliver it to the baggage handling folks for the ship for screening. Similar to Venice on the western side of Florida, Miami was partially cloudy, humid at 82°F but breezy. In 15 minutes I was “under air”. As with my 2018 cruise experiences, the queues moved smartly, albeit we all went from one station to a queue for the next, but by noon I was boarding the ship onto Deck 4 in the forward Embarkation Area.
First stop, per what I’d read, was to get an electronic wristband for $5. Since electricity in the
rooms (lights, TV and the two AC outlets) were controlled by the ID card, a wristband alleviated me from bringing it anywhere (except off the ship). Plus whichever electronics needed “juice” would be charged. Climbing a set of stairs, I arrived at Customer Service in the reception area. In addition, I
checked on my dinner seating and changed it to the later seating and a large mixed table. Only 15 minutes in queue for that, and I headed up the stairs to the Marketplace Buffet on the 15th level to grab some lunch. Slipping past the crowd at the entrance, I headed towards the stern where the crowd was much smaller and grabbed a small slice of sausage pizza and a large chopped salad. Spotting the Marketplace Buffet Bar, I used my wristband for the first time, and picked up a Yuengling on tap. I’d prepurchased the highest level beverage package, so I’d need to find every bar to survey what was top shelf.
The muster drill was set for 5pm, and luggage wasn’t due to the cabins until 3, so I hauled
my backpack around as I began exploring the ship. The Meraviglia is a huge ship, one of the largest passenger cruise ships in the world. With a normal capacity of 4500, it can handle 5200. Leaving Miami, we’d only be just about 2700, but we’d be boarding more in 4 days once we docked in Manhattan. Top level is 19, so I started up there and began noting where the bars, pool, gym, shops, restaurants and dining rooms were. In January I’d been successful in upgrading to Ocean View from my inside cabin, and I would now be on the lowest level with passenger access, the fifth. My cabin was along the hall from the lower level of the Broadway Theater’s seating area and the lifts. I expected I’d have to use earplugs those early nights when I would be leaving at the crack of dawn for a shore excursion.
As it is Easter Sunday, I checked to find out where and when Mass would be offered. Apparently, this service isn’t offered – there is a space on Deck 18 (Sky Lounge) which is used for passenger-driven gatherings (AA, singles, religious groups, LGBT). No priest was aboard. There was no “library” per se, just a wall with three shelves full of books, on 7. Quiet space may prove to be difficult to find?
By 4:30, most everyone was on board, and the gangway was pulled in with the stragglers and crew. I’d found my bag out in front of cabin 5061, with a porthole on the port side,
looking out to the boarding area. Grabbing my life vest and ID card, I climbed two levels and crossed the ship to my muster station. At 5 the announcements began, in 5 languages, and the crew moved through the crowds scanning cards and acting official. In 25 minutes, we were released, and many headed to “early” dining for dinner. Knowing that the customer service area would be less crowded, I headed there to review my 6 dinner reservations that I’d upgraded, wanting to confirm I had them correctly as per my itinerary. No issues – my two Butcher’s Cut and two Ocean Cay reservations were set, and I would be seated well for the evening dinners when I attended the two different Cirque de Soliel shows. And I confirmed my laundry and Internet usage packages. Plus there was no billing yet for my beer, so I knew the drinks package was correctly programmed.
Next on my agenda, after putting my phone in airplane mode, was to find a bar with a decent by-the-glass wine selection. Strolling the elaborate promenade on Decks 6 and 7 under the domed LED display and past the Swarovski crystal staircases, I was getting discouraged, as most of the wine was mundane California offerings. But outside the Panorama Restaurant, where I’d have my assigned evening seating for dinner, was L’Olivo d’oro where I was able to snag a glass of a super Tuscan (red). Heading to the stairs, I took my glass up to the pool deck on 15 where I could enjoy the evening air as the sun began to drop behind Florida to the west.
Returning to the stern of level 6 and the Panorama dining room a bit after my scheduled dining time, I queued up with about two dozen folks who were straggling in to find their tables. Pleased, I was seated at a table for 10. Two Canadian couples from Ontario, and a couple from North Carolina were seated. We figured we might fill out in 4 days when we got to New York. Our waitstaff of 4 were Thai, and the sommelier (who I asked for) was from
Macao. After scanning the menu, I picked a nice red from Provence to accompany my dinners for then and the next night. Starting with an amuse bouche of a mousse of foie de canard, I opted for the French onion soup before my lamb chops with roasted vegetables. Our conversation was mainly about discovering more about one another, and what we planned to do both in the multiple ports and when we arrived at our destinations. The Canadiens (sister and brother with spouses) planned to debark at Southampton, and spend ten days in England before flying home. The folks from Raleigh would continue to Kiel, and then were planning on genealogical hunting in northern and central Germany for a week, then on to Holland before heading home. They all marveled at my 12-week itinerary, both for its length and depth of organization. I had it with me, pasted into my journal, which I kept with me wherever I go to keep notes.
After dinner I headed up a level to the Brass Anchor Pub. This would prove to be my source of better draft beers, but for my first evening, I spotted a XO Cognac up on the top shelf, and was pleased to enjoy an Otard, which I’d visited in 2013 when I’d visited Cognac. It proved to be an excellent nightcap. Having been up after anxiously resting the night before, I headed down to my cabin.
My room stewards Ron and Lydia had prepared my room for sleep. My roller was still zipped up, so I opened it from the top and pulled out my toiletries and toothbrush, and figured I’d unpack as much as I needed to in the morning. There was still enough room to walk around to the small WC/shower, so the bag remained where it was. The queen bed was firmer than at home, but I’d noticed that most European beds are quite firm, so I’d be getting used to it. Downloading my camera to my netbook and writing this blog, I then set the batteries and phone to charging and I was off to sleep.