The never-ending review: The debarkation situation
Copyright 2018 Debra Littlejohn Shinder
My bags are packed,
I’m (not) ready to go …
Like most cruisers, I always dread debarkation day, for multiple reasons. There is the obvious: I don’t want the vacation to be over so quickly. But also because that final morning is usually a slightly unpleasant experience at best:
You’re rousted out of bed way too early, usually after only a few hours of sleep since you were up late packing and/or saying your goodbyes to crew and fellow cruisers
You’re kicked out of your cabin and forced to either stand in long lines of people and their luggage or wait in cramped, loud, crowded public areas of the ship until it’s your turn to exit
If you choose to do it the leisurely way and have breakfast first, the buffet is a madhouse and the dining room is full and service is generally less than optimal since the crew is rushing like crazy to get things wrapped up so they can immediately turn around get ready for the next sailing.
I had a feeling the debarkation experience for a Yacht Club guest would be a little different – just like the embarkation and everything in between. And I wasn’t disappointed in that regard.
I was up at 7:00 a.m. and we were already in port when I opened my balcony curtains for the last time. It was still dark, but not for long. The lights of Miami welcomed us back and then faded as the sun came up and took over the job. For me, sunrise has always carried with it a sense of hope and rejuvenation as it brings me the gift of a brand new day. The older I get, the more I appreciate the value of that gift and the less I take it for granted.
My time on the Seaside was almost over. I said goodbye to my last towel animal, perched on the shelf between my oh-so-comfy bed and my little “living room” where I had enjoyed my room service breakfasts and snuggled at night to read myself into sleepiness.
I made a final check of the drawers and closets to ensure that I hadn’t left anything behind. I took a last look into my beautiful marble bathroom and “stole” the unused disposable shower cap to wrap around my sandals before putting them in my carry-off bag. I checked again to make certain my passport, credit cards, and other important documents were where they were supposed to be.
And then, reluctantly, I removed my ship card from the power activation slot and went out that door for the last time. So long, 16003 – I’ll miss you. You might not have been perfect, but crying babies next door and the occasional banging sound in the wall aside, you provided me with a comfortable and beautiful place to call my own within my ship within a ship. I would happily make my nest there again.
A ogni uccello il suo nido è bello.
To every bird, its nest is beautiful.
I may have relinquished my “nest,” but I was still free to fly within the Yacht Club environment – for a little while. I made my way, with my backpack and small duffel, to the place I most hated to leave: the Top Sail lounge.
There were only a few folks waiting there when I got there. I ordered coffee and grabbed a goodbye pastry, and settled down to wait until my ride got there or they forcibly removed me from the ship, which came first.
We were “parked” next to the Carnival Glory. Coincidentally, that was the ship I had been on almost exactly a year earlier, sailing on John Heald’s Blogger Cruise 10 (which turned out to be the last one by that name, although the concept goes on). I couldn’t help thinking about how much my cruising life had changed since then.
A LENGTHY ASIDE: BC10 had been a great cruise, too – but in a very different way than Seaside. It was less about the ship and the cruise line sponsored activities and more about having my daughter along with me and the other dear friends who were on that sailing with us (speaking of the ship, my daughter’s first comment when we got to our cabin on Glory was, “Wow, this is an old ship, isn’t it?” She had only been on the Breeze and Vista – the newest ships in Carnival’s fleet – before that).
We had a Glory-ous time on that trip, getting bushwhacked at Paradise Point in St. Thomas, exploring Old Juan, visiting the Dominican Republic (first time for many of us), and trekking down the beach to play with Topher the dog at Jack’s Shack in Grand Turk.
As much as I enjoyed the time with good friends on the Glory, the seeds of dissatisfaction had been planted and soon afterward started to grow. I had started, a while before, to notice and become a little unhappy with changes Carnival was instituting in their apparent stepped-up focus on attracting what we veteran Carnival cruisers often referred to as the “new demographic” (first-timers and those who had only cruised a few times) and a seemingly increasing disregard for those at the higher loyalty status levels.
Still, at that point in time, as a Platinum “VIFP” and well on my way to the top-tier Diamond level, I had no real plans to break away and start all over on another cruise line. I had a lot invested in Carnival – emotionally as well as all the money I’d spent there over the years.
Then two things happened: my cruise on the Sunshine in May of that year, which for many reasons was a big disappointment despite being a reunion of some of my closest cruise friends, and the discovery of a new alternative: MSC and the new ship it was going to be bringing to Miami in the near future – the Seaside.
In life, timing is everything and sometimes unrelated circumstances converge to send us down a path we hadn’t even known existed. Just back from my not-so-great time on Sunshine, I heard that Ray – a Carnival Diamond I knew from previous cruises who is also a travel agent – was putting together a back-to-back on one of Seaside’s early sailings, not quite two months after her arrival in the U.S. I couldn’t be away from home for fourteen days to do both legs, but I was very interested in going one of the weeks. Specifically, the second half of the B2B, which would sail February 17th to the eastern Caribbean (although the actual itinerary would end up changing completely – but in my opinion, for the better).
I had been hearing and reading about MSC for a while and what first captured my attention was their loyalty match program. One major obstacle to switching to a different cruise line is losing your loyalty status and starting over at the bottom, but with MSC, you didn’t have to. They would honor the status you had earned on other cruise lines. That was a big plus. Carnival didn’t even do that within its own different brands (Princess, HAL, etc.). If they did, I probably would have booked on one of those lines instead of looking outside the Carnival Corporation family.
I had looked into alternatives to Carnival in the past. Even before my summer of discontent, I had considered trying something new, booking a cruise on Royal Caribbean or Norwegian or one of the other, higher-end CCL lines. I toyed seriously with the idea of doing a transatlantic on Cunard’s Queen Mary 2. But it wasn’t just the thought of going back to being a lowly first-timer that stopped me; it was more so that there probably wouldn’t be anyone I knew on those cruises. Most of my friends were pretty much “Carnival only” these days, even the ones who had sailed on other lines in the past.
So the Seaside cruise was also attractive to me because there would be people there I knew from Carnival. In fact, in the beginning when I made the commitment to book it, I thought there were going to be several of those I count within my inner circle of cruise friends coming with us. Most of them ended up not going for various reasons but I hung in there. By then, I had gotten involved in the Facebook groups for the cruise and met new people who would be on board, although I ended up having the best times with people I wasn’t well acquainted with online prior to boarding the ship. It’s funny how things turn out that way sometimes.
When I do something, I don’t do it halfway. Between the time I put down my deposit in early July and the day I left for Miami, I delved deeply into the forums, Facebook groups, news stories, press releases, and the company’s official web site to find out everything I could about MSC in general and Seaside in particular. I followed the ship’s progress as it was being built and the live reviews of its maiden voyage/TA crossing, the christening ceremonies, and its first cruises out of Miami at Christmas and New Year’s.
Molto più fanno gli anni che i libri.
Years teach more than books.
I was well aware that my knowledge was all second-hand “book learning” and thus lacking in an important way, but I believe by the time I stepped onto the ship, I knew about as much as one could know about this cruise line and ship without having experienced it in person. And I was ready, willing, and eager to correct that missing element.
By the time February rolled around, I was not only ready to take that (in some ways scary) step away from what was familiar and walk into the unknown, I was completely excited about it. Sitting in the Yacht Club lounge and looking back at all I’d seen and done on the Seaside and how it had made me feel, I was glad I’d rolled those dice.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did.
So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
— Mark Twain
Back to debarkation day. The best description would be the one I’d been using all week in regard to the whole Yacht Club experience: so civilized. My butler was in the lounge, offering a drink or to escort me off the ship whenever I was ready. Ivan (YC director) was there, as well, so I got to say goodbye again to both of them. Several of my fellow passengers I’d met throughout the week came and went.
I sat and read and breathed the last molecules of the rarified Yacht Club air, until I got a a text message from my local friend who was picking me up at the port for a day tour of Miami before taking me to the airport. That happened around 10:00 a.m. I stood up and started to gather my bags, and my butler was almost immediately at my side asking if I was ready to leave the ship.
He took my duffel from me and took my ship card, and led me out of the Yacht Club, down the elevator to the atrium, and to the front of the line of people getting off the ship. He handed my card to the person scanning them and took me to the door of the ship, where he handed me my bag and we said our last goodbyes. I was officially disembarked (or debarked, as you prefer).
If you’ve cruised before, you know what came next. The long walk down the SBB (Ship Boarding Bridge – the official name for the covered and enclosed walkway that connects the ship to the dock at its home port), then into the terminal. In Miami, you have to go down an escalator (or stairs) to get to the baggage claim area, which is huge.
On Carnival, luggage tags are numbered according to zones. On MSC, they’re color coded, which makes it a lot easier to spot and probably less likely for your luggage to get put into the wrong section. Yacht Club color is gold (could it possibly be any other way?) and that section is all the way at the end and around the corner from the long, long line of other colors. What that means is that you’ll get your bags nearest to the exit and thus not have to maneuver them as far as those whose sections are at the beginning of the rows of bags.
Since I had waited so late to leave, there were only a few bags left in the YC section and it was easy to identify mine; I grabbed it and headed for the customs lines, which were short. I saw some people being questioned for a while, but the customs officer looked at my passport, looked at me, and nodded to me to go through. Shortest customs “interview” ever.
Although we had met through Internet discussion groups over twenty years ago when we were both law enforcement officers and had been online friends all that time, this was the first time we would finally meet in person. I had worn my bright lime green “parrot” shirt to make it easy for her to identify me, and she did and waved me over.
We got my bags into her trunk and I was off with my own personal tour guide to explore parts of Miami I had never seen before in previous visits. My last view of the Seaside showed her in line at the port between a Celebrity and two Carnival ships. I might be biased, but to me she was the prettiest of the bunch.
Arrivederci – until we meet again.
These are the voyages of the good ship Seaside – or at least one voyage, my first but not my last on her. At least in the realms of design and technology, she is indeed boldly going where no cruise ship has gone before. I look forward to being back on her in the future, and I can’t wait to see explore the strange new World (class) that’s coming in 2022. But in the meantime, I’m eager to find out what her sister ships Meraviglia, Bellissima, and Grandiosa have to offer.
This is the cruise line I’ve been waiting for.
This concludes the day-by-day, blow-by-blow portion of this review. Subsequent posts will be more in the format of individual articles that address different aspects of sailing on the MSC Seaside, which I hope will answer a lot of questions for those who haven’t yet cruised on her, and help you to get the most out of your experience (whichever experience you choose to book) when you do go.