Monday, July 26, 2004

(Leaving the Destiny II)

Of course, my flight was early. Since it was international, I needed to be there more than two hours before, and the shuttle only leaves on the hour. I slept for an hour, had a ten-minute breakfast, and went to the airport. The shuttle driver was the same one that took me to get my luggage the night I left Miami last, although this time he had a different van.

Once again, after a painful trip from the shuttle to the airport door, I got another rent-a-cart. Interestingly enough, it was 30% more in Miami than in Ft. Lauderdale. I realize that it has to be in dollars for convenience, so they probably want to charge slightly more (maybe $2.33) for the one in Ft. Lauderdale but less in Miami. It would be interesting to see the math that says that they could get just enough more people by charging the dollar less in Lauderdale, or that they won't lose a third of the customers by charging the third more in Miami. I ended up being SOOOO thankful, the line for international flights was long.

Actually, that is a gross understatement. Picture going to Disney World. Now picture getting in line for Space Mountain, without a speed pass. For those who haven't been there, the line is VERY long and straight, then finally goes into an area where you go back and forth, back and forth, through a little maze of chains until you get to the ride. Now picture all of this with each and every person having at LEAST one suitcase and one carry-on. Thank GOD they were smart enough at around the 3/4 way point to check each person's ticket to look at flight times, and put me at the front of the line. I realize that they could do this at the beginning of the line, but if someone doesn't show up two hours in advance of an international flight they really deserve to miss their flight nowadays. They did recognize that the line was more than two hours long, and that it wasn't my fault that it was a particularly busy day. Of course, in Miami (or any large airport now in the U.S.) they don't just put your bag on the belt to be checked. Now you have to check in, get a boarding pass, and then take your own luggage to the security people to check. Of course, even though my bag and box both passed the x-ray and bomb scanners, the weight of the books in the bag again made them suspicious. I had to unlock it, and watch them empty it, and then try to put it back together. Thankfully they didn't do this with the box, they just asked me about the contents. The guy at the ticket counter had the nerve to tell me I needed to be at the gate at least an hour before takeoff. He's looking at my ticket, the flight is 45 minutes away, I still have to go through baggage security and personal security, and I have just been waiting in line for nearly two hours.

I finally head down toward my gate, the whole way with an eerie feeling that I am not going the right way. They are in the process of remodeling (to make it better for me, the sign says), but there are lots of signs that I am following. While the signs make me feel better, I walked for a good ten minutes down a very long, very large corridor away from an incredible massed throng of people . . . totally by myself. There wasn't a person as far in front of and behind me as I could possibly see. It is a bit disconcerting to be in a building with thousands of people and yet be by yourself for that long. I WAS going the right way, thankfully, and of course (remember the rules?) was picked for the thorough, going-through-your-bags, shoes-off-physical search party yet again.

Once again I made it to the flight without much time to spare, and got on with Rumpole Rests His Case, by John Mortimer. It is an English series of books that I have heard about, kind of a bunch of short fictional stories about a mid-fifties down-home kind of lawyer. He is kind of an English version of a Tennessee "good-'ole-boy." Cute stories, although I had gotten around 7 hours of sleep in six days, so it was a bit hard to read on this plane.

Coming into Grand Cayman, I couldn't help but notice how incredibly clear the water was. From the plane, I could see the ocean floor everywhere. I also got a shot of the Imagination, parked next to its nearly identical twin (I was VERY tired, so I don't remember the name). They are both basically the same ship, but one is newer and has a different type of rescue boat on it. Their isn't a pier here, so the ship is anchored and you have to take a boat (tender) out to the ship.

There weren't a whole lot of people getting off here, so it wasn't too bad. The rent-a-carts just like they had in the last two airports were free here, which was nice. I had to go through customs, who actually DID cut open my box and go through it thoroughly. Oddly enough, they didn't want to go through either of my bags. Apparently it is easy to put something dangerous in a cardboard box, but not in luggage . . .

I had another short, but painful walk with all of my stuff to a cab. Then a short ride to the boat, and yet another really painful walk to the small pier. I gave up my passport to security, got on the tender, and then had a VERY painful hike up stairs from the tender into the gangway. They scanned my luggage, and called the I/S manager to come get me.

Thankfully, my room wasn't far, and he carried the big bag for me. He left me there to unload, and told me that he'd collect me for dinner. This sounded good, as I missed lunch and the airplane pretzels just didn't cut it. It was nearly three, and dinner was at six. I dug out the one none-wrinkled, non-dirty uniform and set it out on the chair. I looked at the bags, and climbed into bed.

I rested for an hour and a half, and got dressed and cleaned up for dinner. Thankfully, this room is MUCH cooler than the last, and MUCH quieter. It is twice as big, and I have it to myself (which was a surprise). There isn't an IATV guy on this ship anymore (as there isn't interactive TV anymore), and they just never assigned anyone else here. Here is my desk, my shelf, and my bathroom (the shower is on the right behind the door). The toilet is so close to the sink that my leg is under the sink when sitting, but at least I have it to myself. I have a video walk-around here for those with high bandwidth, you'll want to right-click it and save it to your hard drive. I took out the sound and two-thirds of the frames to get the size down, but I will still probably not keep it up for too long as I need to conserve space.

I went to dinner and got to know James better. He's a really nice guy, even though he's from Canada (just kidding, James). :) He was a school teacher (7th grade and high school), and just decided that he wanted a career change. He is doing this to build experience, both work and otherwise.

You would think that after dinner I would have gone straight to bed, but that would make too much sense. It turns out that the once-a-month crew party was later, which seemed like a good chance to meet people. They were having it in the center top deck area, and closing it off to guests. They were going to have the pools, hot tubs, and waterslide open. It looked fun, although I didn't have much choice in clothing. Luckily, I bought some board shorts two days before leaving the Destiny, as all of my clothes were at the laundry. I had been about to do laundry when I found out about leaving, and sometimes the laundry takes three days. I was worried that I'd get off the Destiny without any clothing, so I brought all of my dirty laundry and dropped it off that day.

I met James and we went to the party. It was pretty dismal. Very few people showed up, and it is a HUGE area (which made it look even more sparse). As it turns out, no one on the ship does anything social. Every night, everyone hangs out in their rooms until bed. No one goes to the crew bar, no one is playing the games, it is just a ghost ship (more on this later). The most fun person at the party, ironically enough, was the captain. On the Destiny, both captains would come stand and hand out the monthly awards as the crew training people did announcements and called people up. This captain got up there, announced people, got everyone to yell and cheer, and wave his arm over his head (Arsenio Hall style) and got everyone yelling "Whoop Whoop." It sounds funny with an Italian accent. He then proceeded to grab girls, one at a time, and take them up to the slide with him. He was getting chains of people going down the slide, and every time he came down, he'd get a picture with the (wet) girl, then go grab another girl. He only chose women without swimsuits, and ended up bringing down 10 or 12 of them. It was pretty entertaining. One was wearing black latex pants, so they slid down VERY slowly. I finally got to bed around 3, and slept like a log until 7.

The next day I unpacked a bit, and finally got up to work around 11. James was running around like a chicken with its head cut off, the pager going off like crazy, and projects lined up to do that were all late. I jumped in and started knocking things out as he took on emergencies, then we traded as I got to know my way around the ship. With two people, it suddenly became ten times easier to get caught up, he must have thanked me and God about a hundred times that day that they sent me here. It became clear why they had sent me here. He was not only behind, but this whole ship is STILL on Windows 95. Now, the Destiny is a year newer, and had been upgraded twice. This week they are upgrading it again, in two weeks every computer there will be new. I'm not sure why they skipped this one, but it is going into dry dock next month, so it will finally get new computers then. I don't know yet whether I will be transferred again while in dry dock, or if I will be working on it during dry dock. I'd kind of like to be here for it, but it isn't up to me (obviously). For the people who are on the ship for their whole contract, they can either work during dry dock (a limited number), or they can take a 3-week vacation. The bummer is that if they aren't U.S., but want to vacation in the U.S., they can't actually get off in Miami. For reasons that I don't understand at all, immigration laws make them ride the ship over to the Bahamas, disembark, and then they have to buy their own plane tickets BACK to the U.S. and back to the ship afterwards. Very odd, and extremely inefficient for them.

O.K., some more about this ship. So far, except for the great room I have, the ship sucks. I am actually glad that I am not the senior I/S manager here. His room is technically better, a bit bigger, has a bigger bed and actually has a window. However, it has NO A/C at all. I can't even stand to sit in his room, let alone sleep. This ship isn't laid out very logically, and is much harder to get around in. It is much smaller, and feels smaller (narrow halls, few staircases and elevators, very small disco and main auditorium, etc.). The structural thing that I dislike most is the deck designs. On the Destiny, my office was right next to the third open deck up on the front of the ship, and I went out there several times a day to look around and see what the weather was like. The railings are waist-high, and you can go to the side and look right down at the water. On the crew deck (the one closest to the water), you had to stand a ways back from the edge because it curved out, but the view was very good. On this crew deck, however, the view is horrible. Instead of waist-high sides, the sides are around 9 feet high. There is a platform in the center if you want to climb up, and there are little platforms to stand on around the outside so that you can look through little "windows" in the hull, but there just isn't any panoramic views. The next two decks up aren't quite as bad, but the sides come up to my neck, so it still is crummy. There aren't any crew hot tubs, just a ten-foot wading pool. There is only one crew bar instead of two, and it is small. The funny thing is that there aren't proportionately less guests. There are 950 employees rather than 1050, which isn't a LOT less.

There are three floors of balcony rooms on the Destiny, and another two floors of window room. There is only one floor that has center-hallway rooms, and only about 20 total. On this ship, however, there are very few balcony rooms, and only on one floor. It is two floors shorter than the Destiny, and has a lot of tiny rooms, MOST of which are center-hallway rooms. It does have one thing that the Destiny doesn't, which is a floor of penthouse suites. I haven't gotten to see them yet, but the location is spectacular. They are one-way mirrored, black glass enclosed rooms (there are two suites). They are kind of suspended in the air right over the center of the ship. They overlook the pool deck on one side and they look straight down at the same view as the glass elevators, but on the opposite side. Few people even realize that they are there, as they blend right into the ship decor and don't look like rooms from the outside. They each have a very private balcony that cannot be accessed from any part of the ship, and can only be seen from one really odd angle and location.

The food isn't as good here, and the officer's mess is half the size. Interestingly enough, because the ship is narrower, it rocks MUCH less than the Destiny. There are very few times I can even tell that we are moving. They have volleyball and basketball courts on the top deck, I am surprised that they don't lose more balls. They have more ping-pong tables for the guests, and the running track is nicer. The don't have the nifty open-air restaurant with the retractable roof at the back, but the restaurant IS much cooler here (it is impossible to have A/C on the Destiny's). The disco is half the size, but I believe that it has twice the lights. My bedroom is carpeted and has plastic trash cans, both a fire no-no on the Destiny. The engine room is very different here. I haven't seen it on either ship, but the Destiny has two gigantic engines, each driving a prop (one engine keeps going out, I heard that it was out again a couple of days ago which makes it go very slowly). Here, there are 16 smaller (Semi-truck-sized) engines, each hooked to a generator. It has twin electric engines that turn the screws, which always turn at the same RPM. They have adjustable blades, which controls the speed. It then has a few more engines that generate the electricity for the rest of the ship.

Don't get me wrong, I am not complaining about these things, they are just my observations. I was lucky to have been on a really good ship the first time, so any comparison looks negative. The only thing that I don't like here is the complete lack of any social life whatsoever. I have been to the crew bar on four occasions, and there are two things that I don't like. One is that it is nearly empty. The second is that the guy/girl ratio is around 9/1, although they had a special dance there one night which raised that up to 5/1. I was so bored that I counted each night. There were 49 men and 9 women. Now, we did have our crew disco (also once a month) the other night, and it was mobbed. They hold it in the actual guest disco (they close it to guests for the night), which is impressive. It is both good and bad, though. It is good because the smaller area doesn't make it look empty, and of course the sound and lighting is much better. However, it is also very loud, and there is no way whatsoever to talk to people (when it is held on Lido deck, as it is on most ships, half is for sitting and talking and half is a dance floor). I sat with a group of 5 other people, and after having each repeat their names three times, I gave up trying to hear them. If you are going there to dance it's great, it just isn't a good place to meet anyone.

We go to some nice places (Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Cozumel, Key West, and Miami). However (I realize that Miami isn't exotic, but it is the home port), there are a lot of disadvantages. Number one, we are only in each place a VERY short time. We have to be back on the boat by 3:30 each day, which really makes the schedule of exploring very tight. The second thing is that we only go to two ports on each cruise, with two sea days. We have three short cruises every two weeks. We have two five-day cruises that go to Grand Cayman and Jamaica, and one 4-day cruise that goes to Cozumel and Key West. This, however, is a disadvantage now, as the pier in Key West is closed to all ships until the end of October. Instead of substituting a port, they just give us longer in Cozumel ('till ten). So an awful lot of guests who signed up months ago now only get to go to one place. If anyone happens to be in Miami and wants to have lunch, I am in Miami on Saturday every other week, and on two weekdays every other week.

A couple of  last pictures before I go, and one thing that I didn't shoot on the Destiny. Here are the winches that they use to pull the ship tight when docking. I wish that I could have had someone take the picture with me in it, as there isn't any scale, but these are as tall as I am (you can see how far they are from the ceiling, which is NOT a low ceiling). The rope is nearly as large in diameter as I am. While this is big, it proportionately isn't nearly as big as the ropes used to tie up small boats. They just us a LOT more of them (16), and they pull the ship tight against the pier. A small boat has slack so that it moves back and forth, a ship this big doesn't move at all. So really, it would take a hurricane just to move the ship at all, so they don't need quite as much strength. I also FINALLY got pictures of me in my normal uniform, and got the photographers to give them to me (I still haven't gotten the pictures from the Destiny, and he ignores my e-mails).