This morning we are in Key West. It’s 8:25 am. I could have kept sleeping but Mary can never sleep on a cruise ship – she’s too excited – so I end up awake also. Unfortunately, it’s raining, which bums me out a little bit. I was hoping we would be leaving the rain for a week, but it’s been raining on and off ever since we stepped off the plane on Thursday.

Our plane flew into Ft. Lauderdale and the ship sailed out of Miami. We could have gotten a Super Shuttle from our hotel in Ft. Lauderdale to the Cruiseport in Miami, but I thought it would be more convenient to rent a car. We wouldn’t have to be on a schedule to leave the hotel and we’d have more freedom. (Plus, we love renting cars.) In hindsight, it probably would have been better to do the Super Shuttle. There were very heavy rains as we drove between Ft. Lauderdale and Miami – at times it was hard to see. At the rental car terminal (which it was a maze, through some fairly unpleasant areas to get to) we had to wait probably 20-30 minutes, in front of a shuttle bus with its engine running and emitting serious fumes, for the shuttle to the cruise port. By the time we got to the port, it was 2:30 (we didn’t leave the hotel until 12:30) and I was starving. I think if we’d taken the Super Shuttle, we’d probably have been on the ship by 1:15 or so.

There was no line to check in and we were on the ship immediately. We were escorted to our stateroom, which is lovely, and then we went to get some food. The only place that was open was the pool grill. I ordered a grilled minute steak which came with fries and the lettuce, tomato and pickle you would normally put on a hamburger. There was also fresh fruit and salsa and chips available. I was initially disappointed that this was our only choice for lunch, but I can tell you that the minute steak was DELICIOUS. They also had hamburgers, hot dogs, veggie burgers, tuna melts – and, I believe, grilled ham and cheese. Everyone I talked to later said everything they ordered at the pool grill was fantastic.

After lunch we toured the ship. The xmas decorations all over the ship are really wonderful. There are life-sized old-world figures of Santa (one of him skiing) and snowmen all over the ship as well as xmas trees and a giant creche scene as well as one of the three wise men. There is a menorah outside the main dining room. I find it somewhat ironic that even though it is Chanukah throughout this week, the menorah is the only reference to Chanukah. The rest of the ship is Christmas. There did seem to be a lot of people at the Chanukah service last night. Anyway, the ship is gorgeous, especially the Palm Court which is where they serve tea daily. The library was also quite lovely with a great selection of books, dvds and cds.

We didn’t even have time to finish unpacking before it was time for the muster drill. It was the most thorough safety drill I’ve experienced on a cruise ship and I was impressed. As soon as the muster drill was over it was time for dinner. We have the 6:00 seating and we chose a table of eight. We sat with 5 other travel agents and mostly compared cruise ships and cruise lines throughout dinner.

One of the big factors for me in my happiness with a cruise line is how well they can handle a special diet – in my case I am lactose intolerant. I chose a coconut fried chicken breast stuffed with mango and banana, with curry sauce on the side. What I got was a broiled chicken breast with vegetables. However, the waiter was very apologetic and said in the future, they just need a day’s notice and then they can make me whatever I want. Even though it was plain, the chicken breast was very good and the vegetables were a nice assortment. After dinner was a reception for the travel agents participating in the seminar. This included free alcohol so I took a glass of champagne and drank very little of it. When the reception ended, I brought my champagne up to our room.

Sailaway was at 9 pm and we went out onto our balcony (me with my champagne) to watch the ship leave. This was definitely the most joyful part of the first day for me. It was beautiful as we left – many of the buildings and palm trees we passed were decked in xmas lights. They played Louie Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” as we left – apparently Crystal does that everytime the ship pulls away – and a few more songs and then it was quiet. It was SO, wonderfully quiet. There were people out on their balconies on either side of us and a few people down below on deck, but, other than a few excited children, people spoke quietly. We didn’t have to listen to anyone’s loud cell phone conversations. (Our neighbors almost had to listen to Mary’s with her mother, but I pointed out how annoying that would be and she agreed and went inside.) Anyway, sailaway was so peaceful and beautiful, and eventually, dark, except for the light the ship cast on the water.

There was an interesting discussion at dinner about the merits of smaller ships vs. bigger ships, and Mary and I realized that we are just not typical cruisers. One woman was talking about Holland America and how no matter how they try, they mainly have an older clientele (this wasn’t true on the one-day cruise we took from vancouver to Seattle). To her, this was a negative. I said, “Well, I guess Mary and I are both about 30 years older than we look!” To us, an older clientele isn’t a minus, but a plus. Another agent said he couldn’t imagine being on a ship smaller than 50 tons because what activities would there be for him to do? Mary and I and one other woman agreed that spending a week reading and looking out on the sea is our idea of heaven.

Mary has already had breakfast in the main dining room this morning – she said it was just okay – and now she’s going to accompany me to the lido buffet. Then I guess we’ll wander the town of Key West in the rain. Tomorrow is a sea day and we’re in classes all day.