Captain Kent’s Last Cruise (and Our First)

Up until 2005 we had long thought a cruise would be a terrific vacation but we were under the impression that cruising was for rich people and we were hardly rich. And so we didn’t really consider it seriously.

Our friends Chris and Sheila had been on a couple of cruises and they excitedly told us about one coming up, a repositioning cruise from San Diego to Vancouver. You only had to pay one way fares to get to San Diego instead of round-trip. And repositioning cruises are bargain priced. So we said yes, we would join them on this adventure.

Our friends Chris and Sheila invited us to join them for what would be our very first cruise.
Our friends Chris and Sheila invited us to join them for what would be our very first cruise.

A repositioning cruise, in case you don’t know, is a cruise that does exactly as it it says. It is a one-time cruise that moves a ship from one route to another. The ship we would be taking, the Radiance of the Seas, had just finished up its winter gig plying the waters from Los Angeles to Puerto Vallarta. Now it was heading to Vancouver to start the summer season sailing the Alaska run.

Not only was this our first cruise, it was also one of the most memorable of the six we have taken so far. It is the only cruise for which we actually remember the name of one of the people serving our table. And it is the only cruise for which we remember the name of the captain.

Leaving San Diego
Leaving San Diego

We flew to San Diego and boarded the ship. Sailing out of the port, we passed a large aircraft carrier. Everything about cruising was new to us – the daily evening entertainment in the large theatre, the fabulous food, all included in the price, the entertainment at the various bars and clubs aboard the ship, the sheer size of the ship itself.

We pass an airraft carrier as we leave San Diego. The Coronado Bridge is in the background.
We pass an aircraft carrier as we leave San Diego. The Coronado Bridge is in the background.

Each ship has its own complement of singers, dancers and musicians to entertain. And the ship brings in special guest entertainers for most of the shows. Each ship’s entertainment is managed and hosted by a Cruise Director. Ours was a lively fellow named Gordon.

Royal Caribbean singers and dancers entertain during one of the nightly shows.
Royal Caribbean singers and dancers entertain during one of the nightly shows.

We had opted for fixed dinner seating with the same fellow passengers each night and so we got to know  few people from around the world – mostly American actually. But the crew on a cruise ship is made up of a cosmopolitan blend of people from all over the world. Our Assistant Waiter was a gal from Chile. Her name was Lily. That’s right – Lily from Chile! And she was an absolute delight. Super friendly, superior service, just an all around beautiful person. While the service is always excellent, Lily is the only person we remember by name. She just resonated with us in a special way.

Janis with Lily from Chile.
Janis with Lily from Chile.

One of the regular features on a Royal Caribbean cruise is an art auction. We attended and actually bought a couple of small pieces including a limited edition print of Charlie Brown and Snoopy signed by Charles Schulz.

Attending the art auction.
Attending the art auction.

Our first port-of-call was San Francisco and, as is typical of all cruises, we had the option of taking a packaged tour or of just leaving the ship and exploring on our own. Since the ship docked near Fisherman’s Wharf, we decided we would just wander around on our own. I went over our visit in some detail in a previous post.

Janis and I hop aboard a cable car in San Francisco
Janis and I hop aboard a cable car in San Francisco

At one of the bars one evening, we were entertained by the captain himself. Seems our captain, Kent Ringborn, a veteran mariner, came from a family of sailors, following in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps. He joined the Swedish Merchant Marine Academy at fifteen. He received his mariners license at twenty-two. And after a stint with the Swedish Navy, he served on cargo vessels for a few years, becoming a captain before the age of thirty.

During his long career, he even captained an ice breaker for the Swedish National Maritime Administration. And in 1991 he started a career with the cruise ship industry, joining Royal Caribbean in 1995. He oversaw the building of the Radiance of the Seas and became her captain when she was launched in April 2001.

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Captain Kent Ringborn oversaw the construction of the Radiance of the Seas.

Although not formally trained in music, Captain Kent loved to sing and sometimes joined the Royal Caribbean singers and dancers performing a solo. He became known as the singing captain and over the years guests had asked for a souvenir of his performances. So he eventually recorded a CD with eighteen songs that included such classics as Sailing, Some Enchanted Evening, Edelweiss, Old Man River and Hallelujah. He changed the lyrics slightly on Welcome to My World to Welcome to Our World – the world of cruising.

We learned that this was Captain Kent’s last cruise as captain. He was retiring at the end of this voyage.

Captain Kent in the limelight.
Captain Kent in the limelight.

We continued on our cruise with a stop at Astoria, Oregon. The port there cannot accommodate cruise ships, so we anchored in the bay and reached shore by tender. There is not a lot to do in Astoria but we had seen the Astoria Column, its most striking landmark, on a previous road trip through Astoria and none of the other excursions interested us so we just wandered around the town for the day. Many nice little shops and restaurants. A pleasant town to visit.

Astoria is a sleepy little ton at the mouth of the Columbia River. We had to reach shore by tender.
Astoria is a sleepy little ton at the mouth of the Columbia River. We had to reach shore by tender.

Then on our way again to our next port-of-call, Victoria, B.C.. Our wives had secretly booked high tea at the Empress Hotel, a Victoria landmark and we had a great time.

High Tea at the Empress in Victoria
High Tea at the Empress in Victoria

Then on to Vancouver and home. As we went to our cabins for the last time, we found that Captain Kent had left a parting gift for every passenger, a copy of his CD as a souvenir. Below are the highlights of our trip put to the captain’s rendition of Welcome to Our World.  It was our first cruise and a most memorable one. And it had us hooked on cruising which is, dollar for dollar, one of the best vacations you can enjoy.

Check out my previous post, The Joy of Cruising, for a bit more on the cruising experience as well as a complete rundown on all the cruises we have taken to date.

Southeast Asia Cruise – January 2016

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On January 22, 2016, my wife and I went on our sixth cruise – a cruise promoted as a taste of Southeast Asia. We had never been in Southeast Asia before, except for a brief stopover at the Kuala Lumpur airport on our way to Perth, Australia. But it has always been a popular destination for Canadians with many visiting Thailand, Viet Nam, Singapore and Malaysia among others. So it was another part of the world that needed exploring.

I’ve already posted about all our ports of call as well as about our stay in Singapore. So this post is about the cruise itself. Cruises are a destination in themselves, even if you never get off the ship. In 2009 we took a fourteen day trans-Atlantic cruise and were at sea for seven straight days, as long as this entire cruise. There is always something to do and to keep you entertained.

The Mariner of the Seas at Anchor in Patong bay.
The Mariner of the Seas at Anchor in Patong bay.

This cruise was with Royal Caribbean aboard the Mariner of the Seas, a huge ship, one of five Voyager class ships. We have cruised on its sister ship, the Navigator of the Seas twice before. But each has its own distinctive style with unique art work for each.

Sculpted fruit and ice are traditional on first days to welcome guests aboard.
Sculpted fruit and ice are traditional on first days to welcome guests aboard.

We had pre-boarded online so everything went smoothly when we arrived to board. Right away we went for a meal and everything was decked out to welcome people, and to hail the upcoming Chinese New Year.

The gymnasium on the Mariner of the Seas.
The gymnasium on the Mariner of the Seas.

The time between boarding and setting sail is a great time to explore the ship and find out where everything is. It’s also a great time to check out the many facilities which are all open for inspection. We checked out the health and beauty salons where you can get your hair done or have a massage or work out in the extensive gym. We entered a draw to win a spa treatment. At the draw my wife won a $100 coupon towards a treatment and she used it later to get a stone massage.

You can get a stone massage on the ship.
You can get a stone massage on the ship.

We also confirmed our dinner reservations and at 5:30 went for dinner where we met our dining companions for the trip, a couple from Melbourne and their 13 year old son. We also met our wait staff.

Our dinner companions, Ned, Annie and Josh, were always fun to talk to and we spent an evening together at the karaoke bar as well.

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Our dinner companions and our wait staff. Left to right: Myself, Janis, Assistant Waiter Albert, Josh, Waiter Rodriguez, Ned, Head waiter Jamal, Annie

As with all cruises, there is entertainment every night in the theatre. The MC is usually the Cruise Director for the trip. Ours was a fellow from mainland China who went by the name of Fang. He started by introducing some interesting facts and figures about the makeup of guests and crew. There were guests from 53 different countries and crew from 43.

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Looking down at some of the swimming pools and hot tubs on the ship.

He started by saying, “There is one guest from each of the following countries…” and listed them by name – around twenty or so. Then he went on to list the countries which had two guests aboard. And then three and so on. The top five were Singapore and the United States with about 200 guests from each, Great Britain with around 500, China with about 500 and Australia with over a thousand people. Total was around 3300.

The number of guests and crew from mainland China is a good indication of how much China has changed since the rigid days of Maoism. Nobody could leave the country then. It was a veritable prison. And those caught flirting with capitalism could be shot. But here were 500 guests from China enjoying the good life.

Many cruise ships have large theatres and provide nightly shows.
Many cruise ships have large theatres and provide nightly shows.

The entertainment on this trip was below par compared to the other Royal Caribbean cruises we have been on. One of the downsides was the the usual complement of staff singers and dancers boarded the same time as us and so did not make an appearance until the last day after they had done extensive rehearsing. But the nightly talent was lack lustre as well. We enjoyed some of it, but it lacked flare.

There were light flares going out from the top of the stage that made it look like the crown worn by the Statue of Liberty.
There were light flares going out from the top of the stage that made it look like the crown worn by the Statue of Liberty.

The first night featured an Australian male trio called La Forza. They were pretty good – sort of like the Three Tenors but they did more pop than classical music. The second night featured violinist Venus Tsai who was a finalist in China’s Got Talent. We weren’t particularly interested but popped in at the back of the audience for a few minutes part way through to check her out. She was very talented, but the audio mix was terrible. She was drowned out by the ship’s orchestra. But people who went enjoyed her very much.

The third night had Australian comedy magician Duck Cameron. I’m a huge fan of magic and looked forward to the show, but we were both disappointed. The magic was ordinary, nothing we hadn’t seen before. And the comedy was lame. The fourth night featured Australian singer Tamara Guo. She had a good voice but her presentation was horrible. She said she was suffering from a sore throat and was constantly apologizing for it. And she spent more than half of the act telling her life story instead of singing. People were walking out of the show in droves.

I didn’t save the calendars for days 5 and 6, but I believe there was no show on the fifth because we were in Phuket for two days so people could seek entertainment ashore if they wanted. Day six was an Australian comedian who was so-so. And day seven featured a production extravaganza with the ship’s singers and dancer called Center Stage. The Royal Caribbean cruises always have a very talented cast of singers and dancers and this show was no exception. An enjoyable evening.

These clowns were among the entertainers in the ice show - Ice Under the Big Top.
These clowns were among the entertainers in the ice show – Ice Under the Big Top.

But I must put in a word for the very best show on the ship. The Mariner of the Seas, like her sister ships, has an ice rink. Guests could skate during designated hours, but there was also an ice show. There were several showings and we went on the afternoon of the last day. And it was fabulous. The show, called Big Top on Ice, had a circus theme. Brilliantly coloured costumes and fabulous skating.

Some excellent skating in the ice show.
Some excellent skating in the ice show.

It so happened that Australia Day happened during the cruise and with such a large contingent of Aussies aboard, the ship celebrated as well.

Fruit carved for Australia Day!
Fruit and decorations for Australia Day!

On the last day we also took advantage of an opportunity to tour the ship’s galley for a nominal charge. This tour included a complementary Royal Caribbean Recipe Book and a champagne lunch. The book alone was worth the money.  And the behind-the-scenes look at the galley was very interesting. They churn out a lot of meals with three decks of fine dining restaurant as well as an almost constantly open serve yourself buffet style restaurant, the Windjammer.

One of the chefs preparing chickens for dinner.
One of the chefs preparing chickens for dinner.

Of course, there were a lot of amenities we did not take advantage of – basketball courts, miniature golf, rock climbing and so on. But we did use the swimming pools a lot.

Miniature golf was one of many amenities on the Mariner of the Seas.
Miniature golf was one of many amenities on the Mariner of the Seas.

One of the great pleasure of each Royal Caribbean cruise is the singing waiters and chefs. Once and sometimes twice on a cruise, the wait staff will march around the room waving white towels as they congregate on the staircase. Then the head of the dining department gives a little speech praising their work and they then sing for their guests. We had our wait staff entertain us twice this cruise and it was great fun.

I’ve written about our ports of call already but here are links to my blog posts on each in case you missed them. Note that some have links at the end of the articles to additional photo galleries.

All in all, this was a interesting and exciting cruise. Not the best cruise we have been on, but memorable all the same.

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Photo Gallery: Southeast Asia Cruise

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Additional photos from our Southeast Asia cruise.

It was rainy when we eleft Singapore, the first time we had rain on the first day of a cruise.
It was rainy when we left Singapore, the first time we had rain on the first day of a cruise.
The ship was decked out for Chinese New Year which was coming up soon.
The ship was decked out for Chinese New Year which was coming up soon.
The Mariner of the Seas has a full service hair salon as well as many other amenities.
The Mariner of the Seas has a full service hair salon as well as many other amenities.
Many of the bars on the ship featured live entertainment.
Many of the bars on the ship featured live entertainment.
Every day we would find a new towel animal on the bed.
Every day we would find a new towel animal on the bed.
The Promenade Cafe along the promenade.
The Cafe Promenade along the promenade.
Our dining table - left to right:
Our dining table – left to right: Josh, Annie, Janis, myself and Ned.
A carved melon for Australia Day.
A carved melon for Australia Day.
The ship's galley prepares several thousand meals daily.
The ship’s galley prepares several thousand meals daily.
A chef explains what he does.
A chef explains what he does. Bowls of salads being prepared and a lot of shrimp!

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The galley is huge.
The galley is huge.
Almost everyone aboard has more than one job. Our waiter also helpe out in the kitchen.
Almost everyone aboard has more than one job. Our waiter also helped out in the kitchen.
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The dining room covers three floors.
Ice Under the Big Top - a fabulous show. The best one of the cruise.
Ice Under the Big Top – a fabulous show. The best one of the cruise.
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The ice show had a circus theme.
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A ferociuos lion…
Kept at bay by the lion tamer!
Kept at bay by the lion tamer!
Colorful costumes
Colourful costumes
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Colourful ice dancer
Some kids from the audience were given a ride in a choo choo train.
Some kids from the audience were given a ride in a choo choo train.
Twirling a skater on a rope.
Twirling a skater on a rope.
Nice acrobatics
Nice acrobatics.
All in all, a lively and vibrant show.
All in all, a lively and vibrant show.

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The Joy of Cruising

“They called her the Ship of Dreams. And she was. She really was.” You may remember those words spoken by old Rose in the movie Titanic. The Titanic was spectacular as the movie shows, with gilded dining rooms, gorgeous wooden staircases, luxury suites and more.

Replica of the staircase of the Titanic at the Titanic Exhibit at the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre until March 20, 2016.
Replica of the staircase of the Titanic at the Titanic Exhibit at the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre until March 20, 2016.

Of course, not all passengers travelled in such style. They also had a steerage section with bunk beds and much poorer amenities. And much of the more luxurious parts of the ship were off limits to steerage passengers.

Third class passenger facilities on the Titanic as shown at the Titanic Exhibit in Perth.Third class passenger facilities on the Titanic as shown at the Titanic Exhibit in Perth.

But the Titanic was doomed! She hit an iceberg and did not have enough lifeboats to save everyone. Nor did the crew have training in how to get people to the lifeboats they did have and many of them went out only partially filled. The sinking of the Titanic was one of the most tragic maritime disasters ever.

Today things are significantly better. Not only are many modern cruise ships much larger (the 60 largest cruise ships in the world are all larger than the Titanic), they are as luxurious, probably even more so. And while the price of suites varies, the poorest suites are still very comfortable and everyone has access to the fine dining rooms, the swimming pools and all the other facilities of the ship.

Modern cruise ships truly are Ships of Dreams. They really are.

Unfortunately, my wife and I got into cruising a bit late in life. We took our first cruise in 2005 when our friends Chris and Sheila invited us to join them on a repositioning cruise from San Diego to Vancouver. I was 57 then. The cruise was on board Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas. It was a terrific experience and got us hooked on cruising.

IMG_3376rThe Mariner of the Seas at anchor in Batong Bay, Thailand.

In all we’ve taken the following six cruises:

  1. May 2005 – Radiance of the Seas – six night repositioning cruise from San Diego to Vancouver with stops in San Francisco, Astoria, Oregon and Victoria, B.C.
  2. March 2006 – Vision of the Seas – seven night Mexican Riviera from Los Angeles to Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta and back to L.A.
  3. April 2009 – Navigator of the Seas – 14 night repositioning cruise from Fort Lauderdale to Barcelona, Spain with stops at the Canary Islands, Lisbon, Portugal, and Cadiz, and Malaga in Spain. We stayed an extra three days in Barcelona.
  4. Sept. 2011 – Navigator of the Seas – 7 night Eastern Mediterranean starting and ending at Civitivecchia, Italy with stops in Sicily, Athens, Kusadasi (Ephesus) in Turkey, and Crete.  This trip started with a week in Paris before flying to Rome. We spent an extra day in Rome after the cruise before flying back to Paris and then back to Vancouver.
  5. January 2015 – Ruby Princess – 7 night Eastern Caribbean cruise beginning and ending in Fort Lauderdale with stops at Eleuthra (an island that is part of the Bahamas), St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Maarten, and back to Nassau in the Bahamas.
  6. January 2016 – Mariner of the Seas – 7 night Spice of Southeast Asia cruise beginning and ending at Singapore with stops in Port Klang (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), Penang and Langkawi, both in Malaysia and two nights in Phuket, Thailand.

I’ll write about the different ports of call for each of these cruises over time in this blog. But today, just an overview of cruising in general.

When you consider that the cruise includes accommodations as well as all meals, it is certainly one of the most economical ways to travel. Many cruises can be had for just over $100 a person per day.

Repositioning cruises are usually a bargain. What’s that, you ask? Cruise companies have some of their ships do seasonal runs. For example, there is a regular Alaska run from Vancouver to Alaska during the summer months. But in the fall, the Alaska run ships are moved down to Los Angeles or elsewhere. And vice versa. Our first cruise was an end of season run from San Diego to Vancouver. The ship had finished up a Mexican Riviera season and was heading north for the Alaska run

Our third cruise was a repositioning cruise as well – from a Caribbean season to a Mediterranean season. Fort Lauderdale to Barcelona. I don’t recall the price but I believe it was under $100 a person per night.

Boarding usually takes several hours so if you board early, you get the run of the ship for a few hour before leaving port. You can dine at one of the many dining rooms, or hang out at one of the pools soaking up the sun and sipping a Margarita.

Three story dining aboard the Mariner of the Seas. You can enjoy a meal minutes after boarding.Three story dining aboard the Mariner of the Seas. You can enjoy a meal minutes after boarding.

Before the ship leaves port, however, all passengers are assembled for a muster drill. The Titanic notoriously was short on lifeboats and many people died in that tragedy. Nowadays muster drills are mandatory. All passengers are shown where their lifeboats are and how to use the life vests that are in every cabin. After the muster drill, it’s time to leave port.

IMG_2928rAssembled for the muster drill on our latest cruise. Our lifeboat was D9 above us.

All the ships we’ve been on make a big deal of leaving port with a poolside party, a live band, and special drinks at a discounted price. (While meals are included on a cruise, alcohol and some drinks are not). We always enjoy leaving port. It’s always a party atmosphere.

Band plays as we leave Fort Lauderdale aboard the Ruby Princess - January 2015.Band plays as we leave Fort Lauderdale aboard the Ruby Princess – January 2015.

On most cruises, you have the same dining companions every evening for dinner, and one or two evenings are considered formal. You get dressed up in your best bib and tucker. You’re not obligated to have the same dining companions for the entire cruise, but we have always done so. You get to know your dinner companions and can develop new and lasting friendships.

Janis and I on formal night aboard the Navigator of the Seas - April 2009Janis and I on formal night aboard the Navigator of the Seas – April 2009

Meals aboard every cruise we have been on have been superb. First class food and first class service. You have three people attending to you – your waiter, your assistant waiter and your head waiter. Like all staff aboard modern cruise ships, they come from all over the world. We have forgotten most of their names over time, but we always remember our assistant waiter from our first cruise. She was a delightful person with a delightful name – Lily. Made memorable because she was from South America and always introduced herself as Lily from Chile!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARay, one of our dinner companions on our first cruise, was from New York City. And that smiling gal beside him is Lily from Chile. Still our favourite wait person of any cruise.

Most modern cruise ships have many amenities to keep passengers entertained. Every ship has a swimming pool, usually several. Hot tubs too. Many have large theatres for live shows. And some of the fancier ships have such things as skating rinks, ziplines, waterslides, flow-riders (so you can learn to surf), rock climbing walls, video arcades for teenagers, basketball courts, miniature golf and so on. You’ll also find spas, hair salons, gyms and fitness centres.

Each cruise also has a Cruise Director who is the manager of entertainment on the cruise and acts as Master of Ceremonies for most shows and events. On our last cruise, our cruise director was a fellow named Fang from Mainland China. Back in Mao’s day he would probably have been shot for such decadent behaviour.  China’s come a long way, baby! There were, in fact, over 500 passengers from China on that cruise.

Each ship has its own orchestra and singers and dancers. On our tran-Atlantic cruise, we were seven days at sea without seeing land and the dancers offered hip hop dance lessons for free. My wife and I and our friends all took part and performed in the last evening’s show!

On three of our cruises, the ships had huge promenades with shops, pubs, and coffee shops. They were on either side of a large boulevard down the middle of the ship, as wide as a street. An overhead walkway provided the centre stage for occasional street parties.

Our stateroom overlooked the promenade on the Mariner of the Seas. Its the last one before the DJ booth, second level up.Our stateroom overlooked the promenade on the Mariner of the Seas. Its the last one before the DJ booth, second level up.

Most modern cruise ships stop along the way and there are organized excursions at each port of call. You can take an excursion or just leave the ship and wander around on your own. The excursions cost extra but sometimes are well worth it. Prices vary.

On our cruise from Fort Lauderdale to Barcelona, we took an excursion in the Canary Islands to Mount Teide, a dormant volcano and the setting for the movie One Million BC with Raquel Welch. I wrote about that in a previous blog post. But we decided to wander on our own in Lisbon, Cadiz and Malaga and enjoyed those visits immensely, discovering things on our own we would probably have missed on an excursion. I’ll write about those in upcoming posts.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the pleasures of creating your own excursion is the unexpected finds, like the feral cats of Cadiz. Now that’s a story! (Watch for future posts!)

On our last trip we took excursions at each port of call, but regretted one of them – it was remarkably dull. But it was mercifully short and we had some time to wander on our own. Other excursions were money well spent, particularly one we took in Phuket, Thailand. We also enjoyed our excursion to Kuala Lumpur which I’ve also written about earlier.

All in all, we have really enjoyed cruising. It’s a relatively economical way to see a lot of the world in a short space of time. Most of our cruises have been for a week. Our longest was for two weeks. But there are many cruises that last over a month.

We will cruise again. So far we have only been on two cruise lines – Royal Caribbean and Princess Cruises, but we would like to try other lines. In port we have seen the Norwegian Cruise Line ships and they look terrific. The Disney Cruise Lines also look good, but probably have lots of kids aboard and are not as geared to adults. My parents, because they were Dutch, always cruised with Holland-America Lines, partially because many of the crew spoke Dutch.

More on cruising and specific cruises in later posts.