Warning: Picture intense post coming up!
I work for a software company that has mostly remote employees working for it. I don’t work in an office and I don’t work 9-5 (both of which would make it hard for me to be a nomad). This also means that I don’t get to see my co-workers on a regular basis, so once a year we get together for a conference to shoot the shit, get to know each other, and attempt to get a little (usually very little) work done.
Our 2014 get together was on a cruise ship out of Fort Lauderdale to Haiti and Jamaica. Apparently someone like it so much that 2015’s grand adventure was another cruise out of Fort Lauderdale, but this time to a couple of more desirable locations – Belize and Cozumel.
Let me just put this out there – I don’t like cruises. The thought of going on a cruise never appealed to me and I had never been on one until last year’s company get together. That means that this years cruise was the second one I have been on. And I doubt I will be going on another one unless someone is footing the bill.
So mid-January I flew from Austin non-stop to Fort Lauderdale, met a group that flew down from Toronto (where the company is based) and we all caught a shuttle to the hotel we would be staying the night. Most of us arrived the day before and stayed an extra day after the cruise. I find that this is a lot easier than trying to rush around arriving at the last minute and departing immediately after the cruise. This also meant a couple of extra days with my co-workers, who I actually enjoy spending time with. At least once a year. 🙂
As people filtered into the hotel we all gathered and greeted one another in the dining facility, where some people also managed to get some work done. That evening we gathered outside at the pool area and talked, drank beer (which I had the pleasure in introducing some of my Canadian to an American liquor store to purchase said beverages) and ate pizza late into the night.
The next morning we all gathered in the hotel lobby to board a bus to take us over to Port Everglades, where the cruise ship was departing from. Then the game of hurry up and wait started. The line this year to get through the boarding terminal was MUCH longer than last year. It took forever, which meant we had plenty of opportunity to stand in the Florida humidity and catch up.
Once finally aboard we put our stuff in our respective cabins (fortunately we didn’t have to share unless there was a significant other in tow) and met on the top deck for the departure.
Each time (a whole two!) I have been on a cruise I have enjoyed the whole departure process. I enjoy watching the smallish Coast Guard boat chase down pleasure craft that get to close to the cruise ships. I enjoy watching the stream of cruise ships depart as apparently they all leave at the same time (makes sense). I enjoy observing the people who live in the condos that line the departure canal as they wave, fly flags, scream, and blow horns as each ship passes (doesn’t this ever get old for them?). And I enjoy watching the land slip away as we head out to sea.
I have always enjoyed setting sail. I have incredibly fond memories of my seven weeks at sea when I was working as a helicopter mechanic on a StarKist fishing boat, many a lifetimes ago in 1997 (someday I will put the words that I wrote during that incredible voyage into a series of blog posts).
The 5-night cruise wasn’t all fun and games as we attempted to work a bit each day. Think about this – we were in the middle of the ocean and all needed Internet access in order to do our jobs. How is this even possible? Well, last year it didn’t work out so well, but apparently Royal Caribbean made some upgrades in the interim as we were all able to have 2-device Internet plans that worked pretty much throughout the ship. Last year we barely got Internet in just a few locations aboard.
We would usually meet in the morning for a few hours high atop the ship in a lounge that was open for business during the night. Basically we would take the place over as there were like 40-something employees (unfortunately not everyone was able to attend) so we just spread out and made ourselves at home in the lounge. With a killer view of the ship and the passing ocean. Not a bad place to work from!
All work and no fun makes Marshall (and everyone else) grumpy, so we certainly had our share of fun! We would meet up in small groups for breakfast pre-work (or pre-shore excursions) and again for dinner (mandatory “family” dinner every night) with everyone in attendance. We would hang out pool side during the day, or take part in whatever activities were available aboard the ship.
Nighttime would find a group taking over one of the hot tubs that perches over the side of the ship. Later on most people would head back up to the same lounge area where we worked in the morning to play whichever board game suited their fancy, or to just sit around, have a drink, and talk.
I even caught a show this time around (no shows last year) when a few of us saw the ice skating extravaganza. Or whatever it was called. Interesting to watch an ice skating show in the middle of the ocean in the tropics.
Royal Caribbean Liberty of the Seas
Out of some stroke of luck (??) we were on the same ship this year as last, so while I have been on two cruises, I have only experienced one cruise ship – the Royal Caribbean Liberty of the Seas. For those of you not “fortunate” enough to ever have been on a cruise, think Vegas at sea. In case you didn’t catch the tone of that last statement, I am not the biggest Las Vegas fan. And being aboard an 1,100 foot ship with up to 4,600 passengers and 1,300 crew with no where to get away from people except your room, isn’t my idea of fun. But, hey, if someone wants to pay me to go on a cruise, a cruise I will go on.
Since this was the second cruise aboard this same ship, I was pretty familiar with the layout and was able to find my way around quite easily. I got very familiar with the many flights of stairs as I made my way throughout the ship, only taking the elevator maybe three times (gotta get exercise somehow, right?).
Two of my favorite things to do included going out to the fourth floor (I think) deck and watch the sea slip by, and also to go to the very front of the ship at night where there were no lights and stargaze. Either one brought me peace amongst the organized chaos that is a cruise ship.
During the 5-night cruise we made 2 ports-of-call: Belize City and Cozumel.
I was excited to visit Belize and was looking forward to snorkeling the barrier reef there (as recommended by Kathy) until someone pointed out there was an excursion that involved flying to Ambergris Caye via a Cessna Caravan. Now, for those that don’t know this, a Cessna Caravan is one of my favorite planes, yet I have never flown in one before. So I jumped at this opportunity, thinking that snorkeling could wait until Kathy brings me back to Belize.
A group of four of us decided to take this particular excursion, so as soon as the ship was anchored (yes, anchored as the harbor at Belize City is too shallow for cruise ships to come all the way in) we got in queue to grab a tender to the mainland. Once on shore we found the excursion desk and hitched our ride to the Belize City Municipal Airport, which had a very small terminal and a pretty short runway. My kind of fun!
I spotted a Cessna Caravan land and taxi up to the terminal to let out passengers and I was sure this was our plane. Imagine my disappointment when we were lead out to a Britten-Norman Islander, which is a 10-seat aircraft (including the pilot) from the mid-1960’s. My disappointment was soon replaced with incredible glee once the engines started up and we bounced down the runway.
We climbed to a mind-numbing 500 feet and flew a few minutes over to Philip S.W. Goldson International Airport in the next town to pick up another passenger, then we were on our way to Ambergris Caye. The flight was absolutely gorgeous over crystal clear water, passing by small cayes a couple of thousand feet up. I don’t think I ever stopped grinning!
We landed at the San Pedro airport and then were on our own. The excursion we had purchased only included transportation to and from Belize City Municipal Airport and the flight to and from Ambergris Caye. The rest was up to us, which was absolutely no problem at all!
The four of us walked a couple of blocks to rent a gas powered golf cart as this is the preferred means of transportation in San Pedro. I took the first turn at the wheel and quickly discovered that the cart we got went maybe 20 miles an hour. No worries! We were able to have a blast at that speed navigating the narrow streets.
First destination was a local restaurant that one of my travel companions had found via Foders. Trouble is the streets aren’t marked very well so finding the restaurant was a bit of adventure, but oh, so worth it. The food was incredible!
Off again in the golf cart, cruising the streets of San Pedro. Us and a bazillion other golf carts, with the occasional car, truck or garbage truck in the mix. What an experience that was! We headed north over a toll bridge until the road because dirt and filled with potholes. After we had enough of that we turned around and stopped at a bakery we saw. After getting our carb fix we headed south in search of a beach until we ran out of road. Turned around once again and found a piece of sand we could use to dip our toes in the water.
We spent about 3.5 hours on Ambergris Caye before having to catch our flight back to the mainland, this time in a Cessna Caravan. Happy, happy, joy, joy!
Upon arrival we made our way back to the cruise terminal via shuttle, boarded our water taxi, and headed back to the ship. A great day was had by all and I was not disappointed I had passed up snorkeling for a couple of airplane rides.
San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico
After an overnight passage, we arrived in San Miguel, Cozumel the next morning, where I had decided to actually go snorkeling. I was unaware that the Cozumel cruise terminal was on the mainland side of the island. I foolishly thought it was on the ocean side and therefore we would be snorkeling the barrier reef. Instead we ended up snorkeling just off the Cozumel shore in three locations. Eva, my co-worker, and I still managed to have a good time looking at all the little fishies.
Arrival back at the ship left a bit of time before departure, so I amused myself watching people surf the FlowRider surf simulator, climb the rock wall, and watch the sunset over the ocean. Then we were off headed back to Fort Lauderdale.
We arrived back at Fort Lauderdale just before dawn, so I got up early to watch the sunrise from the top deck and enjoy the piece and quiet that tends to overtake the ship at that time of day. Then after a quick last breakfast I got in line with a couple of fellow travelers and we started the slow march to get onto land. It is always fun to not only get to stand in line to get aboard the ship, but also to leave.
We had to go through customs and I was with some Canadians, so there line was slower than mine. Eventually they surfaced and we grabbed a car to the airport to pick up a rental car. Then we went to the Fort Lauderdale Hilton to relax for a bit. The Hilton is located on one of the many canals that make up Fort Lauderdale, and it made from some great mega yacht watching.
We eventually made our way back to the same hotel we spent the first night at to say goodbye to those not staying over the extra night. A small group of us grabbed an Uber (my first time ever!) and headed to the other side of the same canal that the Hilton is on for a great dinner overlooking the yachts. A fitting finish to a week of fun with co-workers.