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This page explains everything that happens on the first day.
Ahead of time we hired a car service for the trip to the airport and back. We didn't want to leave the car at the airport for that long, for so many reasons. We already rearranged the air travel arrangements. If planning your own cruise try to avoid using a travel agent of any kind. They work out a deal with the cruise to put you on the worse possible flight. So when they say that just for $50 a person you can upgrade to a better flight is a total lie. We live 30min away from a major hub, and it can fly right to San Juan. Instead they had us going on two flights both ways. We checked it out later with someone who worked for the cruise lines. And she told us that it is a scam, and if your travel agent says otherwise, (provided that you don't live near a large airport), don't trust them.
Anyway, that saturday morning, everything packed, all camera stuff double checked in it's own bag in case they ask questions. We wake up at 5:00am, it's a 9:00am flight. It's winter, there could have been snow, there was a few days earlier. The car service picked us up at about 5:45am. No traffic at all, no lines at the air port.
It took a little while figuring out where to go next, but it was all easily found. We entered our info in a little computer at the desk. It shows if everyone in the party has arrived or not. You need a credit card as a personal identifier. It prints up the tags you need. You give that tag to the person behind the desk along with ID. We have passports - a great idea getting those. It made everything a lot easier.
The bags were weighed one at a time. 75 pounds is the limit on Continental. We were under that, mine the highest at about 62 pounds. The bags were wrapped with red and green stripes (luggage straps). They looked tight. One at a time they were weighed, we double checked the destination, everything was stuck on. It was passed through, nothing else checked.
On to the x-ray area. In advance I took my belt buckle off. I have no change, I removed the key and key ring I have in my wallet. I checked over all my bags to make sure I have nothing with a point on it. Everything goes through the x-ray. A good tip, if you have film, and you really don't want it to be x-rayed carry one roll of film at least ISO 800. Place the film in a bag, with clear cans, as it will make it faster and the guy doesn't have to open each can. Walk through the metal detector, everything is cool. No harm done to digital gear. Oh and have your passport ready, they ask for it again here too.
It's a long way to the gate. It's always at the end. But at least now I don't have to pull the main luggage. But my carry on is heavy, and it's early in the morning. I should have a water bottle on me. I have a water bag, and it was a pain to fill and drink from. And really couldn't stick ice in it, as it was hard to pull out each time. So that was my first mistake.
We waited, and the rest of the family came. And just sat. I watched them fill the plane with food, got some shot's in. Time for boarding the plane. It's a new plane, 2 seats on the side, 3 in the center, we had the back most seats. Problem with those seats, not enough over head storage. We fit the stuff in some how. We had no windows, I really wanted shot's outside the plane. Only at 10,000ft are you allowed to take pictures. But no window, no pictures.
The flight time was about 3:30 hours, from Newark New Jersey. Each seat had a small TV in the back of the seat. Something I only seen from a distance, in first class (business class). Once at the right elevation (for power reasons I guess), the TV's turned on. Everyone is handed free junky head phones, it has a double lead, as opposed to a single stereo lead. It plugs into the arm rest. There is a remote control that tether's out. It's a phone, a joy stick, and a remote. There are a few TV channels, a movie, in my case it was Austin Powers, Gold Member, DVD - idiotic movie, but it passed the time a little. I played solitaire, one of the games they had. And there was a flight channel. It showed via GPS how high up we were (measured from the nose of the plane). the speed, location, flight path took. Local time here and there. And how long it will take to get there.
The flight was pretty smooth, it was a meal flight, and during which there was some rough parts, I had to hold the drink in place. It was a breakfast flight naturally. About 30mins in we were eating. We had an omelet, with a strange but edible flavor. Some bacon, a sausage, a muffin, some fruit, orange juice (our choice). And I think that was it.
Beware the toilet, I forgot how small that room is. But more so, the explosive sound it makes when it flushes. There is about a 2 second delay before "The Launching".
We arrived on schedule. Man it's hot and humid here. We found out Royal Caribbean representative. She represents several cruises. We asked about luggage. We wanted to get it ourselves. She said NO. We said PLEASE? She said NO. We said, come on be a pal, we want to get our own luggage, we heard we could. She said NO. Basically there isn't enough room on the bus and it has to go separately.
Rats. So we waited. We waited a long time, nearly 45min passed. You would think that they would say that they had a certain amount of people, get the bus let's go. But we waited. Finally we moved. We followed her to where the busses are. We got onto a large air conditioned tour bus. I need 3 more for this one. We got on, there is no room, door is closed, bus starts moving. There were 3 small children, it just looked like empty seats. A few people volunteered to stand for some reason. The bus was quite packed, small luggage in the front, us inside wedged.
The driver is also a tour guide. Today we learned where every single hotel and casino on the island was. We learned very few facts about the island itself except that it has a lot of casino's.
We arrive at the terminal. We show our passports to the security guy. Enter the building, take a left. Then we pass through the metal detector and x-ray again. We were early, very little line. We were the next one's up actually. Passports again, we filled whatever we could out online and ahead of time. The whole process took about 10 minutes. They give you a card, it has your name on it, table number, early or late seating, and the date of this trip. It's your card to keep, a little souvenir, this card does not have your room number on it. This card opens your door and let's you buy stuff as well, it does a few other things so read on.
Next is the face grab. Look down at the bird, insert the card. The card is assigned a number, and a really bad picture of you is taken. This is your ID. This is the other function of the card. Whenever you get ON or OFF the boat, this card is checked. Insert card beep, go through. The boat knows if you are on or off the boat (provided you didn't fall off the boat). This is how they know. This is something that happens when you leave.
Inside the terminal you'll see a booth for rum tasting. It's free, and as I understand some are quite good. I don't drink so I wouldn't know. There is a table with sandwiches, cookies, and some banana bread. Lemon-aid, Water, and Iced Tea. It's free, help yourself. The sandwiches are really bad. The cookies are good, and the banana bread isn't that bad. Done with your snack you go upstairs. You can get a shpritz of perfume if you want. Follow the path, get onto the boat. Your card get's checked. To the left they offer drinks. As far as I know these are free. I don't know what type of liquid they are, but it's served in a plastic champaign glass, so I'll assume it was that. We ignored it, as we had a schedule to keep.
We get to our room. We pre-packed everything needed. Put on shorts, Sun Screen, camera and so forth. Got some water, and went. We were more or less on schedule. Since we had an early flight we were able to see some of San Juan. We went right back out again, keyed the card, it chimed, we we're in the terminal building. Grabbed a few more cookies, and out the door.
Down the block on the left is a yellow building, this is were you can get the map. The lady there is rather verbose, and we didn't have time so we never got the map. The people there are friendly, and it was quite evident. As there was a guy there, who tried picking me up, as I was a guy as well, I didn't really know what to say other then no. I was a little flattered that someone thought I was attractive, but I didn't want to go there, and even if I wanted to, which I did not, there was no time to do that. So that's my little memory of San Juan and it's people.
We went onward, and saw the horse rides the bus driver told us about. Handsome cabs basically. But what was cute was the pony that pulled a smaller cart for children. We saw some buildings, took pictures. It was real late in the day, and didn't have a lot of sunlight left. Shadows were elongated, it made for interesting pictures.
We could only go so far, we knew where to go, because we pre-printed maps of the area out. We found a little park not too far away from the boat, all the way at the end of that block is a park called Parque de las palomas, Pigeon park. A place where kids can be kids, and pigeons can be pigeons. Hundereds of these flying rats live here. They have private areas in the walls, and little fort areas. Parts of the fortification that protected San Juan, now protects these birds. They sell corn feed so you can feed them. They will jump on you if you have food. It makes a great place to take pictures of kids and birds. A side point, the roads are all cobblestone. Some of it is fake cobblestone, but it's lumpy none the less.
It was getting late and the sun was low in the sky so we headed back. I took some shot's of the setting sun against the boat. They look really nice in my opinion.
Standing next to the boat, it really doesn't look that big. Water has no scale, and even standing near it, it doesn't look that big. It hit's you all at once how big it is, I still can't place my finger on it, when you realize this.
Back to the teriminal, back through the x-ray, grab a few more cookies, back to the room. Download, rest, dinner is next. Most of the rest is described in the food sections. I think it was sometime after dinner, our luggage came and was placed in our room. The only damaged piece was my mothers. Her green band slipped off, but stayed on, because we weaved that one through the handle of the bag. Her zipper pull was ripped right off, leaving only the metal parts behind. Other then that the bags still look like new.
At 10:00pm we had the muster drill. This drill is mandatory, and a part of regulations. The jackets are on your bed. Open it, place it over your head, close the Velcro. There is a long strap, about 7ft long, that goes around you, and is tucked in. The jacket is equipped with a salt water activated light, and a whistle. DO NOT BLOW THE WHISTLE. It is not clean or sanitized. When announced, there was at least 5 people who put it in their mouths. My father did it in the room. I know what whistles sound like, it's not needed for me to hear it.
The captain get's on, you can hear the instructions in the room. He says there will be 7 beeps and 1 long one. It's loud, and annoying. While wearing the thing, you have to walk down the stairs. A real challenge, since you can't see down. You get to he muster station. The jackets are labeled where to go, unless you on deck somewhere else, in which case I don't know what you do. You line up, about a hundred people in a space of about 20ft. Kid's wear a bracelet, it tells the people on the boat where you should be. There is a roll call. Everyone in your group is announced and you yell your room number, not present. It takes a long time, we were standing with these hot things on, I had my camera's on, because I wasn't going to leave them in the room. It was hot and humid outside. I think the whole thing took 20-30mins, if anything it felt like a long time as they instructed us to go here in an emergency, how to put on the life jacket and so forth. It ended we went back to the room.
We were slowly moving now, we got up on deck, it was of course dark, and watched the scenery pass by.
Time for bed - guess what - I was violently ill. I was very sea sick. I had a bad feeling I was going to be sea sick. As I am sensitive near water, in cars at times, going down an elevator. It was terrible. I could tell you when we moved, when we turned, when a wave just hit the boat, when we just ran over a Dolphin. Plus whatever I had for desert didn't agree with me. I was so sick I couldn't sleep. I had no sleep actually. In the morning it was hard to get out. About a week before I think I picked up the flu. My immune system was really down, and I got the flu on the trip.
I saw the doctor in the morning. He's only open at certain times. 9:00 am is the open time. He closes really fast and opens again at 5:00pm. He gave me Bonine. Told me to take one now, and another before the boat leaves again. I had to take it with jelly the first day, as I can't swallow pills. Later on I used honey. If you go, bring your own medication, just in case.
Once on dry land I was ok again. The difference was between night and day. It took about 20mins on dry land, and I was back to get my appetite back and be normal again.