Embarkation Day!

Today starts daylight saving time in Rome so we got an extra hour of sleep.  Clayton woke me up around  7:30.  We had the continental breakfast at the buffet again and then checked out of the hotel.  I was a little worried about getting pick-pocketed; from everything I have read, the Italian train stations are full of pickpockets.  Because we have to pay for most of our excursions in cash (USD), I was carrying a fairly significant amount of money which made me nervous.  I had purchased a running belt to use as a money belt, so transferred all of the money to that.  I travel with a Kipling purse which is pretty secure (they are made for travel), but you just never know.  Clayton carried the passports buttoned into the pocket on his cargo pants.  So, if either his wallet or my purse were taken, we would still be OK.

We checked with one of the station employees to make sure which train to catch.  He said we had about a half hour to wait which means we just missed the train (they run every 30 minutes).  He suggested we have a cappuccino while we waited.  We sat for about 15 minutes and decided to go ahead and get in line for the train.  We scanned our tickets and entered the platform area.  We noticed that there was another scanner by the platform. I went ahead and ran our tickets through it.  Turns out that it was a machine that validated the tickets.  If we had not validated them and were asked to produce them on the train, we would have been levied a hefty fine (thanks for the tip, Rick Steves!).  We would ride the train to Trastevere and then switch trains to the line that would take us to the port.  Everything went smoothly.  Right before our last stop, our tickets were indeed checked, and we were awfully glad that we had validated them!  We exited the train in Trastevere; apparently we were about 5 minutes behind schedule which caused us to miss the connecting train to Civitavecchia.  It was a bit of a challenge to figure out how to get to the correct track.  We found a sign that said take the subway to track 2.  Turns out that must means a tunnel!  Once we found the correct “subway” we had about a half-hour wait for the train. This train ride was about 45 minutes or so.

I had read that to get to the ship from the train station, there were several choices:  hire a taxi, take a shuttle bus, or walk.  According to a couple of sources I had read, one needed only to exit the train station and walk along the promenade along the waterfront until you saw your cruise ship.  No problem.  We exited the station and, having learned yesterday that it’s easier to ask than wander lost, stopped in a shop to ask for directions.  The man told us we could either wait 15 minutes for the shuttle bus or walk for about 15 minutes (exiting the station to the right).  We decided that since it was a gorgeous day (about 75 degrees and sunny) that we would walk.  If we had been hauling a large suitcase or two, I am sure we would have either taken a taxi or the shuttle, but we only had our small carry-on and a backpack, and we love to walk.  We walked for a bit and eventually saw a ship!  Not our ship, darn it! Clayton asked some fishermen that were near the walkway how to get to the ship.  Unlike everyone we asked for help the day before, none of these men spoke a word of English.  They figured out what we wanted to know and answered us in Italian.  No help there!

We continued walking past the MSC cruise ship and saw a couple more ships.  Neither was ours.  Where was our ship?  How far would we walk until we found it?  We had definitely walked at least 15 minutes, and our cruise ship was nowhere to be found.

We eventually ran out of walkway.  Clayton found a couple of armed guards and asked them where we were supposed to go.  They pointed to a sign that said “Cruise Ship Shuttle”.  Perfect!  We were tired of walking by then.  We saw a couple of those nice, big, air conditioned busses and attempted to flag them down; they drove right past us.  We decided to walk around the corner from where the sign was; there was a whole area set up there for the shuttle busses.  We had been waiting in the wrong place.  A bus had just pulled up; the sign in the window said “NCL Star”.  Yes!  We jumped on board and the bus quickly filled with those that had taken the shuttle from the train station, which had just pulled up.

The bus dropped us at the port entrance where the ship was docked.  I had a teeny-tiny hope that since I had volunteered to organize the Meet & Greet that we would be granted VIP status.  I had read on Cruise Critic that this is a common occurrence.  Unfortunately, it was not to be.  Oh well!  We were at Platinum status for this cruise anyhow, so would have some nice amenities that we had not received before:  two dinners with a bottle of wine at one of the ship’s upscale restaurants, priority tendering (only two tender ports; both in Thailand, but after the debacle with tender tickets on our last cruise, one that we are looking forward to using), free laundry service, a box of Godiva chocolates, a tray of chocolate covered strawberries, and a bottle of sparkling wine.  We also will be invited to a couple of parties.

Check-in went smoothly; our passports were taken and we were given a schedule of when we have immigration-related tasks (pick up passport, turn in passport, meet with authorities, etc.).  Our cabin was not ready yet when we got on board (around noon) so we decided to head to the main dining room for lunch.  The cruise staff tries their best to direct everyone to the buffet upon embarkation but we really like having a quiet lunch.  As a matter of fact there were only ten couples max in the entire dining room!  The lunch menu was nothing special (I had a chicken salad sandwich and greek salad; Clayton had fried chicken and a tossed green salad) but dessert was awfully good!  I had a big slice of mango cheesecake.  I am a huge cheesecake fan and this one was quite delicious.

As we were finishing our meal it was announced that our cabins were ready.  We are in cabin 11608 which is a mid-ship mini-suite.  A mini-suite isn’t too much different from your basic cabin (the term “suite” is a misnomer) but does have a bathtub, slightly more room and a bigger balcony than the standard balcony cabin.  The first thing we noticed was that there was a leak – water was dripping from the sprinkler.  A garbage can had been placed underneath, so obviously someone was aware of the problem.  We unpacked our carry-on and backpack and the cabin steward came in to reassure us that someone would be along shortly to repair the leak.  We also received our  vouchers for our meals, directions for accessing our free laundry (we were told we would get one free bag of laundry per person per cruise; the voucher stated that we would get one bag per person per week!), certificates for on-board credit (from our travel agent, and from a lovely woman named Connie from Cruise Critic), and the dates/times for parties.  We also received a letter from the on-board events coordinator stating that the Meet & Greet had been changed to Wednesday, November 2nd from 9:30 to 10:30 in the Spinnaker Lounge.  And, it was from a person named Luis, rather than Ann-Marie who I had been corresponding with to get the party set up.  Not good.  Not a good day, not a good time.  I had already emailed to let Ann-Marie know that this was not acceptable and that we wanted to go forward with the original plan.  How on earth was I supposed to let people know that the time and place had changed, and besides, this is a port day!  People will be in port!  So, I called Luis and left a message explaining the problem and asked for him to get back to me.

We went on a ship’s tour to get the lay of the land, identifying the most important locations – where is the food? Buffet?  Main Dining Rooms?  Specialty Dining?  Secondary to that were the library and gym.  I went on a spa tour; Clayton grabbed a cup of coffee & dessert #2 and waited for me in the buffet.  I found him after the tour (big-time sales pitches on all kinds of services); he had found new friends already and was chatting away.  The couple he was talking to was from San Francisco; it didn’t take too long to find out that they were fellow Cruise Critic folk!  They mentioned that they had felt an earthquake in Rome today; they were from San Francisco and so were quite familiar with how an earthquake felt. I hope no one at home is concerned about our safety; we had no idea there had been an earthquake until we talked to these people.

We headed back to our cabin hoping that our suitcase was there and that we could unpack and relax for a bit, but it was not to be.  The suitcase was in the hallway, but we had a cabin full of workers that had taken the ceiling apart and were working on the leak.  So, no relaxing for us.  I grabbed my laptop to work on my blog for a bit, so we headed to the library.  At about 4:15 we went back to our cabin to drop off the laptop because 4:30 was Muster Drill time.  We located our station on deck 7 and waited for the stragglers to show up.  The actual drill only took about two minutes, but we didn’t get started until around 4:45 because so many people were late.

There was an informal get-together planned with the Cruise Critic folks at the Bier Garten following the drill.  We decided to unpack before going because we had not been able to access our cabin until then.  We did eventually go to the Bier Garten, but didn’t recognize anyone (looking for familiar faces for those that have their pictures on Cruise Critic and hoping that someone might recognize me from my picture!).  It was not to be.  We were both pretty tired by now and didn’t make any effort to socialize; we stayed for about ten minutes and then decided it was time for dinner.  We ate at the buffet rather than the dining room so that we could quickly eat and get to our cabin for some down time.

When we got back to the cabin there was a phone message from Luis regarding the Meet & Greet.  I called him and tried to get things straightened out regarding the date and time.  He clarified that we do not get to Katakolon, Greece until 10:30 on November 2nd so there should not be a conflict on that date.  I asked him how I was supposed to let people know about the change of date and time; he wasn’t too sure how to manage that. He suggested that he “might” be able to put a notice in the Freestyle Daily, but that it would have to be coded because they are really not supposed to advertise events that are not sponsored by the cruise line.  He had no idea how I was supposed to do that.  I tried to talk him into keeping the event at the original date and time; he was not too crazy about that idea because so many people signed up.  But, he said it might be possible as long as I was willing to stand at the door and turn people away if too many showed up.  I told him I would be happy to do so, but then he wouldn’t commit to the plan.  He said he would have to have it approved by his team, so he would get back to me tomorrow.  I will know more then.  I am hoping for inspiration on how to let people know that the date and time have changed because I don’t have much faith that he will be willing and/or able to keep things as they were originally planned.

As of now, we are unpacked, and are relaxing in our cabin.  We may or may not go out for a show tonight; we are really pretty tired, so will most likely stay in.  Tomorrow, we will be in Naples, and are not doing a tour, so can have a (relatively) relaxing day.