MSC SEASIDE: THE FULL EXPERIENCE (Part Six)

The never-ending review: It’s a Grand Old Turk

Copyright 2018 Debra Littlejohn Shinder

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According to the theory of relativity, time dilation is a difference in the elapsed time measured by two observers, either due to a velocity difference relative to each other, or by being differently situated relative to a gravitational field. In other words, depending on your position and speed, time can appear to move faster or more slowly relative to others in a different part of the space-time continuum.

I’m no theoretical physicist, but I know for sure, based on extensive observation and experimentation, that time does indeed fly when I’m having fun, and cruises that ostensibly have a duration of 7 days in fact zoom past in about twenty minutes. At least, that’s how it seems, and perception is everything.

It was hard to believe the cruise was so close to being over when it had only just begun. But in a random act of kindness, the universe threw us a bone and gifted us with sixty extra minutes to enjoy on our next-to-last day. Now, of course I knew it wasn’t really a gift; like the IRS at tax refund time, the universe was merely giving us back what belonged to us that it had confiscated earlier and held hostage. But it felt as if we were gaining something when the time came to set our clocks back a hour to Miami time.

Not one to look gift horses in mouths, I gratefully accepted the illusion of a longer day to squeeze a little more fun and/or relaxation before midnight came again.

~~~

My week in a nutshell: Day Six (Thursday, Feb. 22)

Grand Turk was our last minute itinerary change and a pleasant surprise. Most of the frequent cruisers I know don’t care much for the Bahamas in general, but at least Nassau has Atlantis. Freeport has … not a lot. There are some beaches, a couple of all-inclusive resorts that sell day passes, and a few shops and bars. I’ve been there/done that and had planned to stay on the ship when we ported there.

Grand Turk, on the other hand, is a favorite of many cruisers. It’s a small island – just 6.9 square miles of land – albeit the largest of the Turks, which in turn are part of the British overseas territory called Turks and Caicos. There are thirty islands in the territory but only eight are inhabited.  Despite its size, Grand Turk has many things to do and see. SCUBA and snorkeling, whale watching, stingray encounters, all in beautiful clear water are major attractions.

But the star of the show on Grand Turk is something that nobody else has: Topher – the frisky dog with the curly blonde hair who lives at Jack’s Shack, which is a popular bar/grill that’s a fairly easy walk down the beach from the cruise center. When Grand Turk sustained damage from Hurricane Irma, the Internet lit up with inquiries from concerned travelers who had visited in the past, and they all had the same question: Is Topher okay?

We were all relieved to hear that the popular pup and his family survived the storms, and now I can report from personal experience that Topher is very much alive and well and as frisky as ever.

~~~

We weren’t scheduled to arrive in the Turks until noon, so there was plenty of time for a leisurely room service breakfast and to catch up on my email and Facebook and get a little “real work” done before we docked.  My butler arrived promptly at 9:00 a.m. (the time I had designated on the door hanger order form) with my coffee and croissants.

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Although I thought I had ordered “a” croissant, I uncovered the plate to find four. I couldn’t possibly eat all of them (well, okay, I could, and wanted to, but my desire to be able to fit into the clothes I had brought along outweighed my hunger, so I only had one and a half, along with a banana from my constantly replenished fruit bowl). I did save a couple for late night snacks.

NOTE: It bears repeating here that I continued throughout the cruise to be impressed with the service that I got from my butler and everyone else in the Yacht Club. In my opinion, they exhibit exactly the right balance of friendly familiarity and proficient professionalism. I had seen some negative reviews from disappointed Yacht Club passengers on the first few sailings, whose service didn’t stack up to what they had experienced on the Divina and other MSC ships.

Either I got very lucky when butlers were assigned, or that initial feedback was taken to heart and big improveme20180305_132423nts made, because I can’t imagine how the service could have been any more attentive yet unintrusive, and I can’t offer one single suggestion on how my butler could possibly have done anything better.  Big kudos to Mohammed Rai for everything he and the rest of the staff did for me to ensure that the Yacht Club lived up to its advertised reputation.

~~~

In a departure from what had become my normal routine (i.e., spending my morning “work time” in the Top Sail lounge), I decided to stay in the cabin and hook up to the big screen TV to give a second monitor for my Surface. For a techie, this is pretty easy to do (although there were a couple of minor tricks involved). I’ll explain the procedure later in the “High tech on the high seas” section of review.

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I did wish the TV was over the “desk” part of the counter instead of over the closed cabinets and mini-fridge, but I was able to make it work, and was able to get a lot done in a couple of hours.

I did want to watch as we pulled into port, though, so I shut down the computer and moved to my balcony around 11:30. No matter how many times I see it, the crystal clear water of Grand Turk always amazes me (as does that of Grand Cayman – maybe there’s something about the grand nature of these islands).

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I was, once again, glad that I had stuck with my cabin location near the front, as I really enjoyed the sneak peeks at the officers on the bridge as they maneuvered the ship into each port. Of course, this “obstruction” didn’t get in the way at all when I looked straight out from my balcony, and I couldn’t see the bridge protrusion from inside the cabin – only when standing on the balcony and looking straight ahead (all the way to the right).

We were in Grand Turk for seven hours, with back-on-board time of 6:30 p.m., so there was no hurry to debark.  Even though you can get a butler to escort you past the lines and off the ship, I wanted to wait until the crowds thinned (the looks you get from a few of the non-YC passengers when you bypass them are a bit, umm, murderous at times). So I headed back to “my” spot in the lounge to enjoy a drink and the view of the island.

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To me, one of the most fascinating things about Grand Turk is the way the transparency of the water so clearly shows off the fall-off in depth at each level of the shelf around the island. Looking at it from my front-row seat up above, it’s an awe-inspiring sight.

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Look closely, and you can see the swimmers in the shallow part of the water (some of them appearing to be perilously close to that edge).

In fact, Grand Turk is well known for this 7000 foot drop from the shallow continental shelf, which creates the dramatic difference in water color from light aqua for a few hundred yards from shore to the sudden transition to deep blue. This creates an underwater “wall” where the beautiful coral reefs make Grand Turk a popular diving and snorkeling destination.

When I posted to Facebook that we were going to Grand Turk instead of Freeport, I got a lot of comments from people who don’t understand that although the cruise center there began as a Holland America project that was taken over by the parent company, Carnival Corp., it is also open to non-CCL cruise lines when there are berths available.

The beach is long and just steps from the cruise center complex (which houses shops Margaritaville) and there is nimageo cost to access it, although you may have to pay to rent loungers and umbrellas. The sand is white and deep – you sink into it when you walk, which makes it feel a bit as if you’re an astronaut trying to get around on some high-gravity planet. Because of this, it takes longer to make your way down to Jack’s at the end of the beach than it otherwise would.

When I went out that afternoon, I made a fatal mistake. My phone, which I had been using to take all the pictures on this cruise so as not to have to lug around one of my bulky, heavy “real” (prosumer Nikon DSLR) cameras, was charging on the desk and I forgot to put it in my small bag when I left the cabin.

Thus I have no photos of the beach, the ship from the beach, or Topher.  Of course, that last is what everybody was wanting to see. Here are a couple from a previous cruise, and if you happen to be Facebook friends with Dallas Smith, check out his excellent pictures from this cruise that do include shots of the unofficial mascot of the island of Grand Turk.

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I didn’t stay long – it was hot and although I had in fact nabbed some sunscreen in St. Thomas, after one drink I was ready to go “home” to my ship. I didn’t even do any shopping there this time. Back on board, I caught the end of lunch time up at the YC grill, where they had some really delicious sweet potatoes along with my favorite fish (mahi-mahi again) and a very good rice dish.

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Once again, there was no one in the pool and only a few in loungers. I really love the uncrowded atmosphere of that d20180222_131618eck area, especially so on a port day as lunch is about to close down. I did a walkaround of the pool deck area, and the hot tubs were empty a20180222_131857gain, too.  I also peeked into the Aurea sun deck area. A Yacht Club wristband/card will get you into the Aurea part of deck 19, but the opposite isn’t true.

It is a nice area, and also never looked crowded on the few occasions when I checked it out, but unlike the YC area, they don’t have a pool or a grill (they do have a bar and hot tubs).

Having seen some of the cabins and private area, and having experienced the Yacht Club would I ever consider booking Aurea in the future, if I was unable to get into YC?  I’ve pondered that question and the answer is “maybe.”  If I were sailing with a group of really close friends who were booked in Aurea, I could see doing that since I would want to sit with them at dinner and spend time with them on the ship.

Some of the Aurea cabins are very nice, especially the whirlpool suites and the grand suites. I don’t care about the difference between the premium and classic drink packages (and it doesn’t cost much to upgrade that anyway). You do get priority embarkation (although not nearly as high priority as YC). I would miss the lounge a lot, and the grill and restaurant a moderate amount. I would not enjoy standing in line at guest services vs. having the YC concierge take care of “issues.”

When traveling more “on my own” or with my husband, I think YC is the only way I want to go from now on. I really appreciate the “caretaking” that you get from the YC staff. I admit it – it appeals to the SBOC (spoiled brat only child) who still lives inside me. And honestly, the difference between the price of those Aurea suites and a YC interior or even deluxe just isn’t enough to convince me the “downgrade” is a good value – for me, that is. We’re all different and the amenities that are worth the extra cost to me would be meaningless to some people.

~~~

After lunch, I took another stroll around the ship, and came upon a small orchestra playing in the Seaview lounge. How cool is that? This is something you don’t see these days on a Carnival ship.

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When I cruise on a new ship, one of my cruise friend inevitably asks me, “How was the casino?”
My standard answer: “It was the loud, smoky place that I walked through to get from one end of the ship to the other.”

I’m not a casino gambler, and the only time I ever placed a bet on a ship was once when my husband was with me and he wanted us to get one of the chips to keep as a souvenir (I still have it).  I heard from the people on board with me who do gamble that Seaside’s casino is smaller than most, and some don’t like that it doesn’t have a craps table. Some folks in our group did seem to be enjoying it, and winning, though.

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The aft-most entry to the casino on deck 7, between the two mid-ship staircases, is also the site of the infamous (in some of the Facebook groups) transparent floors. You can see through the floor to deck 6 below, and that has caused some apprehension about whether someone below could also look up and perhaps see a little more than they should of women who walk across that floor wearing dresses.

I didn’t take photos from below, nor did I stand there and stare up, but I did make it a point to glance upward when I went under that area and I wasn’t seeing anything inappropriate. I think because of the way the lights are situated on the underside of the transparent material, it allows you to see more clearly from the top than from the bottom.

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If you’re worried about it, I would suggest that you a) go walk under the transparent “bridge” on deck 6 and see for yourself what you can see, and/or b) if you’re wearing a short, full skirt, instead of going across it just take the stairs (located on each side of it) down to deck 6 where the floor is completely opaque and walk across there. Problem solved.

~~~

When the dinner hour approached, I took a look at the night’s menu and although it looked very good, I’d had lunch late, and I’d had the mahi mahi (which was what I would most likely have otherwise ordered from this menu) so I decided to go lightly, calorically speaking, and just snack a little, and indulge myself on the final night of the cruise.

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I was momentarily torn by the descriptions of a couple of the appetizers that did indeed sound appetizing – the mounta20180222_204037in cheese fritters and sweet corn soup – and if Tom had been with me, I know he would have gone for the roast octopus and/or Rockefeller oysters. But I stayed down in the lounge and noshed on the very yummy guacamole and truffle potato chips, and later on I would have a bedtime snack from the fruit bowl in my cabin.

That evening, I had to choose between going to the theater to see “Timeless” at 9:30 or catching my smooth sounds with Julio in the Seaview at 10:00. I ended up opting for the latter, mostly because I got to talking with some people in the lounge and looked up and it was 9:29.  I’ll have to catch that show next time around, too. My list of things that I missed and need to go back for is growing and growing …

I also went down to the Photo Shop to pick out the pictures I wanted to buy, since one of the ladies there had advised me earlier in the week that it would be better to do this on the next-to-last day rather than wait until the last day when it would be packed.  I really do like the kiosks, although I’d like it even better if you could pick your photos on the TV in your cabin, or the phone app, the way you can on Carnival Vista and Breeze.

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On the kiosk shown above, you swipe your wristband or card and the machine recognizes you and displays the photos that have been taken of you throughout the week (the photographer also scanned your wristband or card when you had each set of pictures taken). It’s pretty handy, and I didn’t get any strangers’ photos attached to my account as I did on Vista or have any missing that I knew had been taken; they were all mine, and all of mine were there.

I was surprised and pleased to see that for whatever reason, when I selected the photos and went to my cart to purchase them, it applied a discount so I ended up getting five prints for $27.09. I’m not sure why, but I wasn’t going to question it. LOL.

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After collecting my pictures, I stopped by the small stage that’s near the duty-free shop and Venchi, where a guitarist/singer was performing pop songs, and listened for a while.

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I worked my way back to the front of the ship and climbed the many, many stairs from deck 6 to deck 16 as I had done several times every day. It made my fitness band happy that I had gone from an average of 4-5 floors to 50+ per day that week.

I will confess that I did take the elevator a few times (something I try to never do on a cruise, but I had never cruised before on a ship that had 20 decks).  When I went down to the atrium to get photos made on formal night, wearing high heels, there was no way I was going to go back up 11 flights – although I did take the stairs going down.

~~~

As I got ready for bed that night, I could hardly believe the cruise was almost over. That relativity thing was in full swing. In one way, it seemed as if the seven days had gone by inordinately quickly. In another way, it seemed as if I had been living on the Seaside for a very long time. The Yacht Club staff all seemed like old friends, 16003 felt like “home,” and I had gotten to know my neighbors there better than some of the people on the street where I’ve lived for almost fourteen years. I’d even gotten (mostly) used to the crying baby next door.

I hated to go to sleep that night; it seemed like a waste to spend any of the rest of the time I had left on board in a state of unconsciousness. But when such a soft bed is cradling you and the sea is rocking you so gently, after a while it’s impossible to resist the call of the dream world. I just hoped I didn’t wake up to discover that the whole experience had been a beautiful dream.

There might be just one sea day left, but it promised to be a busy one. I had a lot scheduled for Friday, and of course I also would have to make time for the saddest parts – packing my bags and saying goodbye to all the wonderful people with whom I had shared this incredible space for the past week. But I intended to squeeze every last drop of fun and relaxation as I could out of my stay in the Yacht Club, and make its memories the stuff of dreams to come.

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Vivi la vita al massimo.

Live life to the fullest.

 

 

About debshinder

Technology analyst and author, specializing in enterprise security. Author of or contributor to over 25 books, including "Scene of the Cybercrime." Fourteen-year Microsoft MVP, married to Microsoft FTE Tom Shinder, and proud mom of two wonderful grown-up human children and three amazing Japanese Chin pups. In my spare time, I love to travel - especially on cruise ships - and write about my grand adventures.
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