Eastern Caribbean New Year Ballroom Dance Cruise
Since my introduction earlier this year to the delights of cruise ship ballroom dancing with great dance hosts and delightful fellow dance enthusiasts (West Coast Ballroom Dancing and Wine Tasting Cruise) I have traveled to New York for theatre and fine dining (New York, New York), dance-cruised from New York to New Brunswick (Labour Weekend Getaway), from Honolulu to Tahiti (South Pacific Ballroom Dance Cruise) and most recently from Beijing to Bangkok (South-East Asia Ballroom Dance Cruise).
Now as I write, I am sitting in the Conte di Savoia 1932 lounge of the Costa Fortuna cruise ship, presently at port in St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. The Costa ships are modelled on the Italian steam ships that once plied the Atlantic Ocean between Italy and the Americas. The derivation of the names for the lounges and bars on the Fortuna is a homage to these older liners. So the Savoia lounge is named for the steamship Conte di Savoia that was built in Trieste and made her maiden voyage to new York in November 1932.
The Fortuna was built in 2003 and has a passenger capacity of around 3470. The ship is 890 feet long and cruises at 20 knots with maximum speed of 22 knots. Most importantly, she has beautiful wood dance floors of which the Savoia floor is the best.
Looking out the windows, at green hills shrouded in the mist of a fine but steady rain, I feel right at home. It was pouring in Vancouver the day I left to fly to Toronto. There I spent two nights with my daughter before flying down to Fort Lauderdale to embark on a 7 night cruise in the Eastern Caribbean with the Dancers at Sea group.
For the last few years I have spent New Year's Eve quietly, with a small group of friends or family, enjoying food, wine and conversation. But this year, in my new incarnation as an "at-sea dancer" I am closing out the year and the decade, at sea with a New Year's Eve dance party on board ship. So as well as my daughter and my older son who are accompanying me on this trip, I will be partying with about 40 old and new friends.
I heard that Costa Fortuna has a great dance floor, and is a real party ship, so I plan to dance myself out of my comfort zone and party the year away. Here is how my plan is going so far.
As before I will highlight each link in the travelblogue as the section is posted
PART II: Dancing at Sea from Fort Lauderdale to St. Thomas
PART III: St. Thomas and San Juan, and New Year's Eve afloat
A Collage of Pictures from New Year's Eve, 2009
PART IV: Dancing our way back via Nassau to Fort Lauderdale
PART I: Getting there - Vancouver - Toronto - Fort Lauderdale
Saturday, December 26th, 2009 Toronto to Fort Lauderdale
Since the Air Canada flight from Vancouver to Fort Lauderdale that I booked goes via Toronto, I had decided to go a couple of days earlier and spend two nights in Toronto with Amanda before we flew from Pearson to Fort Lauderdale.
In the interest of ensuring that her fridge was empty and clean before we left, rather than buy groceries, we decided to check out a couple of restaurants in Toronto on the two evenings I was there. It was of course Christmas Eve and Christmas night so most independent restaurants were closed but we figured that hotel restaurants would be open. We found two interesting sounding restaurants in the Hilton (the Tundra Restaurant) and Marriott (Trios Bistro) hotels respectively.
Unusually for this time of year, Toronto was cold and windy but was raining rather than snowing. This was a relief because at least we knew we would not be delayed flying out as we were on previous occasions.
Our flight out of Toronto to Fort Lauderdale was scheduled for 9:50 and we decided that we would get to the airport in really good time - I have brainwashed all my children about that - so we arranged for a cab to pick us up early. This was one time when it did not help at all.
As everyone knows by now but we only learned on arrival at the airport, the previous day a murderous Nigerian terrorist had picked up some explosive stuff from an Al-Quaeda cell in the Yemen - and manged to get it on board on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. Just before landing time, he apparently went into the washroom and attmpted to ignite the device which was taped to his leg - and was overpowered by a passenger before he could complete his plan. The fire was extinguised but he got third degree burns. Frankly I think they they should have let him burn in hell - except that he was seated in the area of the plane above the fuel tanks so it would not have been a smart idea form the point of view of everyone else.
Imagine, thousands of harmless ordinary passangers, including ancient grannies and grandpas in wheelchairs, go through all the security check inconveniences every day in airports all over the world just so that these vile morons can't smuggle weapons and explosives onto a plane, and the security check misses the one evil creature who is actually a real threat.
The net result of his actions was a major increase in the level of security checks throughout Canada and the US, on the following day - the day we were flying. So we were told not to take more than one piece of carry on luggage. The hand screening of bags through the first security check was more intense. Then we were told that every boarding passenger would be individually patted down and every piece of hand luggage taken on board would be searched again. And that is exactly what happened.
Our flight was scheduled to leave at 9:50. We did not begin boarding the plane till almost twelve and then it took close to three hours to physically check and search every person including babies and little old ladies, prior to boarding. Unbelievable. We finally arrived into Fort Lauderdale six hours late.
I was so glad I did not try to connect directly to the cruise ship. There were several people on our flght who must have missed their connections to various cruises. I basically always will fly in at least the day before. I mean who needs the stress of wondering if you will make it on board before the ship sails?
The taxi to the Marriott Springhill Suites was about a 15 minute trip and cost under 20 dollars with tip, and by 6 pm Amanda and I were hugging Michael who had arrived a day earlier.
He had checked out the local restaurant scene and made a reservation for supper at the 3030 Ocean Restaurant at the Fort Lauderdale Marriott.
With such close proximity to both the airport and the cruise ship terminal there is a very good shuttle system operating so Mike arranged for the the three of us to get a shuttle out to the restaurant. As Mike lives in new York, Amanda in Toronto and I live in Vancouver, although we had got together in various combinations, the last time the three of us had been together this year was in March for the birth of Isaac, my grandson and their nephew, and for CJ's birthday. So we toasted our family, present and absent with an excellent bottle of Oyster Bay Sauvingnon Blanc from new Zealand. The meal was excellent, one of the best lobster entrees I have ever had.
Sunday, December 27th, 2009 Embarkation day
There was some chaos in the Springhill Suites hotel lobby as many families were checking out to either go to the airport or a cruise ship. We had a bit of a problem as we received a bill charged to Mike's credit card. The room had actually been prepaid but they claimed to have no record of the authorization. After a lot of confusion, ending up with a call to the emergency line of the travel agent through whom I had booked the room. They attempted fax through a copy of the authorization but somehow the fax did not arrive. Then the back office manager found the authorization on file. So all ended well but it was quite a frustrating experience.
In contrast, the shuttle service to the cruise terminal was efficient and painless. It cost 24 dollars a person for a return ticket and they dropped us off right at the Costa baggage handling area. The check in procedure was different to previous experiences. We first had to fill out the usual health questionnaire, and then register but were not given cruise cards. Then we were allowed up onto the ship getting an identity picture snapped enroute. We met Wendy at the Customer relations desk to sort out a couple of things. Our Costa cards were in the cabins which were left open for access. Costa has self service registration kiosks where you can register your credit card linked to your cabin card. Very nice. You have 48 hours to register your card and it was quick and easy to do.
Our cabin was really nice, quite spacious with a balcony. The bathroom has a jacuzzi bath with a shower, and a double sink set in a marble countertop. There is a separate dressing area with another vanity with hairdryer and lots of countertop space.
We knew our luggage would take a while so we went to explore the ship starting at the spa on the 11th floor where Mike and Amanda booked massages. I decided not to bother although in the interests of travel writing I suppose I should check out the services. I am spoiled by having the best massage therapist I know located a ten minute walk from my home in Vancouver so I have given up the idea of paying for expensive and less effective deep tissue massages when I travel. We walked through the spa to the gym area. They have a nice big gym - which they need with a potential 3000 passengers on board.
Then we checked out the various lounges with dance floors. The floors are all beautifully made of wood but the only one of reasonable size is the Savoia which is a nice round-oval floor. That is where we will do most of our dancing.
We also checked out the Conte Verde 1923 ballroom - where the dance workshops will be held. It is small but a more private room.
The third ballroom is the Leonardo da Vinci 1960 lounge.
We walked through the Internet cafe but could not find anyone to talk to about internet access. Later we learned that there is some wireless access but not in the cabins.
The Princess ships were great for having wireless in the cabin - although expensive it was very convenient.
By the time we returned to our cabin our luggage was there and we were able to unpack and get out dance shoes and clothes for the welcome cocktail party and dance at 6 :30.
I knew a few of the women from previous trips. I met Carol, Sandi and Suzanne on the Labour Weekend cruise, and Carol was my great room-mate for the South East Asia cruise.
We "dancing gals" have a group of men who are really great to dance with, including the 8 Dancers at Sea Hosts, Bill, Bob, Brian, Dale and George, who I have met on the previous cruises and Gordy, Robert and Steve, who I have not met before. Among the male guests Bruce and Dean who I have met on a previous cruise are really smooth dancers and good company, and Michael is a joy to dance with too. The other male guests I have not met before but I am looking forward to checking out their dance skills too.
Michael, Amanda and I were assigned table 43 where we were joined by three of the hosts, George, Gordy and Steve, and 4 other guests, Bea, Julia, Muriel and Mary.
After dinner which finished really late, we returned to the Savoia for more dancing.