Sunday, April 19, 2004

(San Juan, Embarkation/Debarkation Day)


Another great example of not-quite-understood English aboard ship. I swear (to quote Dave Barry) I am not making this up . . . this came to us in an official ship-wide email; "You cooperation is greatly appreciated, sorry for the incontinence."

This morning is raining, but sunny. The view of the island is gorgeous. There are clouds behind us, so I don't know how long the rain will last. Last night is the first time that it has rained since I have been aboard, however it only rained for about 15 minutes and I didn't see it. By the time I came back out on deck, it was perfectly clear again, and the only reason that I knew that it had rained was that everything was wet. Our cruise was delayed leaving San Juan last night by TWO HOURS because a plane flight bringing passengers was delayed. On one hand, it seems funny to delay a ship this big and 4,000 people just for another few passengers. On the other, I can't possibly imagine the disappointment of purchasing a cruise and plane tickets to San Juan (after taking a week off work), just to get to the pier and have the ship be gone. It is good that they wait; it would be a bummer to be standing on the pier without even a hotel reservation.

Of course, I wouldn't be opposed to a week in San Juan, it looks really cool. The amount of history in it is fantastic. There is a gigantic wall that weaves throughout the city from when it was a military stronghold. It is called "El Morrow," and is 140 feet tall and 20 feet thick in places. There is then a stronghold off of that, called "Castillo de San Cristóbal," which is 150 feet high and covers 27 acres. It has 5 separate modular units, each of which is completely self-sufficient and can be closed off to the rest and connected by moats and tunnels. It is pretty impressive, considering it was all built completely by hand nearly 400 years ago. San Juan is the second-oldest city in all of the Americas, and by far the oldest city under US control. Here are some rather poor pictures of the wall at night as we are leaving.

In a week or two when I am comfortable with everything going on here (San Juan is our home port, so we transfer around 6,000 people each Sunday making it by far our busiest day), I am going to take a Sunday off to do the walking tour of San Juan. I'd like to let Mihai take a few days off in the next few weeks first, as he has been here by himself for four months and hasn't been able to go anywhere on Sundays. Friday I was just going to go into town for an hour to upload this stuff to the web page, and then he and his girlfriend were going to spend some time in Aruba. He ended up working for an extra two hours before they left, which didn't give them a lot of time. It must kill his girlfriend that he hasn't had time to go anywhere for the past four months, he works too hard. My roommate (for another couple of days yet) had his mom come in this morning. He had walked over to a nice hotel across the street from the boat and paid for a room for her, since she was coming in on Saturday night. When she got there, they told her that there was no room reserved for her. Oddly enough, even though he had walked up in person and reserved a room right at the hotel, they had mistakenly made the reservation at another hotel in the chain, around 15 miles away. On one hand it ended up being really annoying, and cost a lot more in taxi rides. On the other, they felt bad about the mistake and gave her a MUCH more luxurious room for the same money, and a free breakfast (which the other hotel would have come with anyways).

It ended up being a really busy day, even for a Sunday. We have a system called Apass, which is how we track who is on and off the ships. It is also the ID for people who are in a port, instead of carrying around a passport. In fact, if you aren't a US citizen, the ship keeps your passport (guest or employee) for the time you are on board. It is also a room key, and also has the account information for buying everything onboard and getting pay-per-view movies. It is our job each Saturday night to print all of the cards, encode the bar code, send them through a correlator which matches the barcode for the Apass system to the mag strip for the door key. We then print the envelopes to put the cards in, so the whole thing takes up the better part of Saturday. On Sunday, as each guest arrives they go through security. Then they go to a check-in desk at the port, where they check in, turn over their passport, deposit money or a credit card for their folio, and are then given an envelope with cards for everyone in their room. They are also given a card that tells them which muster station to go to in an emergency (and instructions), a small diagram of the ship, and a bracelet (the equivalent of the muster card) for each child to wear while on board. They walk from there to an Apass terminal, where they stick in their card, their picture is taken, and it associates the card with the picture. All of this is done with wireless access points, which then transfer all of the info to my server room over another wireless access point on the ship. It all works pretty well, but yesterday we had some problems. Last Sunday there wasn't a single problem, this Sunday two of the Apass terminals went down (at two different times), the wireless to the Apass terminals would only work on one of the three, and all of the wireless went down at one point. I had gone down to check on it just in the beginning, before passengers started to come through. It turns out that the ship next to us (the Holland America ship) was broadcasting on the same type of system, but MUCH more powerfully than us. So, even though our terminals were right next to the broadcast unit, the two furthest ones were picking up the Holland signal. As a side note, the screened-in area that you are looking at on the HA ship is a tennis court. It looks a lot more luxurious than our ship. We own them also, but they are a lot more expensive line than us. Mihai and I ran hard wires to them instead, at which point everything went down. It turns out that the security guy who was taping the wires down inadvertently pulled the plug out. We got that back up, and one Apass system was crashed. They are six years old, are running in a pretty hot and humid area, and get moved on and off the ship three times a week all year. It amazes me how well they work for their age. I took out the hard drive and reinstalled the system, at which point it worked fine. Later another one went down on the pier side, and then one used to actually "sign in" to the ship at the ship entrance went down. It is pretty neat, as each person boards, they scan their card, which brings their picture on screen for security, and then shows them as boarded. I can go to a web page at any time and check who is on or off the ship. It is a pretty handy system. When we left Aruba the other night, there was a guy who I guess had gone out partying and never came back, we left without him. I believe that we contact our port then, and they take care of him when he finally does show up.

San Juan is the largest homeport for cruise ships in the world, there are 28 cruise ships homed here. Last night when I was on deck, I was looking at 9 of them here at a time. It was really cool (since we were delayed, we were last to leave) to watch each one back out, turn around, and go out of the channel. They are just so big, and they tower over the buildings as they go by. So you are looking across land, watching what looks like a small city cruising above the buildings. When we finally left, I stood up on the front deck and watched the proceedings to move out of the port, and then watched the surroundings as we left. It feels odd to be on something with so much mass, when the released all of the lines and brought them in, the boat didn't move at all. I figured that it would at least push away from the pier at bit since the lines were really tight, but literally we were still pressed right against the pier protection plates. The view really impressive as we went by the wall at the tip of the harbor. I was on deck five, which is 8 floors above the waterline, the equivalent (with the extra height of each floor) of being 12 stories off of the water. The wall was quite a bit higher than me, and there is a working lighthouse quite a bit above that. There are lights along the bottom of the wall that shine up; it is just a beautiful sight. The pictures (above) don't do it much justice; I would have to have a non-moving platform and a much longer exposure to really capture it. Once we rounded the point everyone went inside, and I sat out on deck for a while. It was just really peaceful, all of the stars above and only the sound of the wind and water. For the first night that I have been here, the room was a decent temperature (and I was exhausted from lack of sleep), so I fell asleep pretty quickly. I keep trying to capture sunsets, but it seems that when I have my camera, they are more elusive than when I don't. Plenty of opportunities, though, I hope to have a good one for you soon.