Cruise 2.0. We made it through with some gray skies and a little bit of poor weather. By the time we boarded ship, M and I were nearly vacationed out, so I suppose it come to no surprise that between the weather and our dragging energy, I reverted to my championship napping habits. I napped at least once a day, and it was pretty glorious. We did manage to be awake to participate in the Disco Inferno Dance Party, The Quest: An Adult Scavenger Hunt, The Love & Marriage Game Show, Battle of the Sexes, and other ship classics. I’d been looking forward to getting back to the ship and to the food, which was so lovelyin May. Truth be told, our Gluten-free Dining was a little rockier than expected. In the end, it all work out, but it was not as seamless as I had dreamed.
On Royal Caribbean’s website, it requests that patrons inform the company of all dietary needs at least 60 days prior to cruising. M and I had our gluten-free diet noted almost six months before our May cruise. Our three days in May were blissful, in terms of eating safely. When we rebooked for Cruise 2.0, most of the booking went through my mother, as she had the credit on her account. Coupled with our holiday schedules, M and I forgot to call and check that our dietary needs were noted until 3 weeks before the cruise. The representative assured us that it would not be a problem onboard.
Overall, the ship certainly had the alternatives and practices needed to feed us safely. Our waiter, though we loved her, seemed significantly less informed about gluten-free eating than our waiter in May. One of the head waiters in the dining room checked in on us every night–which seemed, again, to be that our waiter was less experience–but was so appreciated. He quickly and efficiently showed us how much the company cared about our experience. After a few disappointing tests, M and I stuck to the main dining room for our meals. We had more personal service than in the Windjammer, which was all buffet style, and significantly more options than the Windjammer or the Park Cafe (the “healthy”/”snack” option). Park Cafe focused too much on sandwiches and pasta salads to have much that we could eat.
- Lunch (Windjammer): Mashed potatoes, beef, green beans.
- Dinner (Dining Room): Appetizer: Shrimp Cocktail. Entree: Prime Rib with root vegetables and jus, baked potato. Dessert: “BBB Creme Brûlée”
On the first day, we boarded at midday in the frigid, freshly snow-blanketed Baltimore air. All of us dumped our bags in our rooms and hurried up to the Windjammer Cafe with our coats and winter accouterments. We knew the Windjammer would be the only place to eat, and that our Muster Drill (ever so important, as we can attest) would be in a little less than an hour on deck. None of us were going to be freezing for the 20+ minutes that we would wait on deck. Thankfully, my mother and J managed to get us a table. M and I quickly grabbed what we could–we did notice that the name cards for each dish were denoted when gluten-free. Amongst the crowds, we found mashed potatoes, green beans, and the beef roast. It was certainly enough to last us to dinner. At dinner, I was happy to see at least 3 appetizers and 4 entrees were labeled gluten-free. The prime rib was nice, though I would have appreciated a bit more sear on the outside. Dessert, of course, was RC’s signature BBB Creme Brûlée, which has Bailey’s and bananas until that sugar crust. I suppose the third “B” must be for “brûlée”?
Day 2–At Sea
- Breakfast (Dining Room): Scrambled eggs, bacon, tomato, fruit, GF toast
- Lunch (Dining Room): Steak sirloin sandwich with GF toast, salad
- Dinner (Dining Room): Appetizer: Banana-Run Soup. Entree: Ordered Sliders with fries (labeled GF). Instead: Steak with herb butter, baked potato, vegetables. Dessert: Sugar-free Pot de Creme with Raspberry Sorbet
On day two, M and I were happy to see gluten-free labels at breakfast. We were in for a more rude awakening at lunch time, when there were no gluten-free labels on the menu. After some inquiring, I was told I could order a salad, or the steak sirloin sandwich without bread. I could not convince them to actually place the steak and chimichurri sauce on the gluten-free bread that I had received at breakfast that morning and dinner the night before, so I had to insist (somewhat forcibly) to have a plate of bread brought to us. We requested the gluten-free toast when they brought the bread basket for the rest of the table, and had not received it by the time our main dishes came to the table. Eventually, I did get my toast, and put the steak on top. That was perfectly tasty. M ordered a burger on a GF bun.
Unfortunately, dinner was equally disappointing. The menu has certain standby dishes available every night for appetizers, entrees, and desserts, and then has a rotating menu of dishes in each category. The only dish labeled gluten-free on rotating portion of the menu was fish, which I wasn’t in the mood for on that night. Instead, I looked to the standby and was happy to see that the cheeseburger and tomato aioli sliders were labeled gluten-free. When I ordered, I was told “no”. Simply that they were not gluten-free. Given their labeling, I insisted that the waiter check with the chef. (I did a lot of insisting on this day). I was told that I could preorder the sliders for the next night (perhaps they had to clean off a griddle to ensure against cross contamination? I’d like to assume the best answer). I did pre-order, and then went with the steak, another of the “standby” dishes. The steak was fine, nothing special.
Day 3–Port Canaveral
- Breakfast (Windjammer): NO LABELS: Yogurt, fruit, bacon
- Lunch (Park Cafe): Salad, potato chips, sliced beef
- Dinner (Dining Room): Appetizer: Blueberry Yogurt Soup, Entree(s): Pre-ordered Sliders with fries. Ordered: Pappardelle with peas, proscuitto, cream sauce (labeled GF). Received: spaghetti pomodoro. Dessert: Pistachio ice cream.
By the end of the previous night, I was feeling rather cantankerous. With this is mind, it probably wasn’t the best choice for M and I plan to check out the Windjammer for breakfast. We were very disappointed to realize that nothing in the Windjammer was labeled gluten-free. For once, we were thankful that neither of us react too terribly to cross-contamination and stuck to what seemed more trustworthy: fruit, yogurt, eggs, and bacon. Given that the dining room was closed, we had no other option.
This day, we were in Port Canaveral. We all had an excursion to go kayaking in Manatee Bay. It was too cold to see any manatees, but we stopped at a little island to wade and found all sorts of crabs, jelly fish, conch, and other sea life. It was my first time kayaking, and M and I excelled at the double kayak. Given that our guide told us that the kayaks were nicknamed “Divorce Boats”, I would say we are allowed to be proud of ourselves. The excursion was wonderful. We even stopped by a local orange store to sample freshly squeezed orange juice and fresh fruit. I can assure you, I have never tasted sweeter grapefruit. All of it was incredible. The owner told us that our citrus was stale by the time it reached stores up here and I absolutely believe her.
We got back onboard mid-afternoon, in the time when both the dining room and the Windjammer Cafe are closed to transition from lunch to dinner. We called to order room service and were told that nothing on the menu was gluten-free. More disappointment. We head upstairs to the Park Cafe. Amidst the multitude of gluten-filled dishes, I managed to get some sliced beef roast, potato chips, and a salad that we could eat.
At dinner, I continued my trend of fruit soups for appetizers. They are so good, and there is one almost every night. For my entree, I had already pre-ordered the sliders. But I also saw that the Pappardelle pasta with Pea, Proscuitto, and Cream Sauce was labeled gluten-free, and I was also interested in that. And, because you can, I ordered two entrees. My waiter remembered the sliders, but, yet again, balked at my pappardelle order. She said that the gluten-free pasta would take thirty minutes. M, who had ordered the same, and I said we wouldn’t mind waiting, and that we would split my sliders in the meantime. After a days wait, the sliders were extremely lackluster. They were served on a chopped up Udi’s hotdog bun (by now, we realized that while it seemed like the GF bread was baked on ship, all other GF items were Udi’s), without any sauce. We were given ketchup on request, but it was a poor substitute to the aioli, which we were not informed was taken off the dish when made gluten-free. Our waiter returned several times as we waited for the pappardelle. First, to say that they only had gluten-free spaghetti noodles. Okay, to be expected. Shaped doesn’t matter that much–we assured her that was fine. Finally, she came out with the two bowls of spaghetti noodles…topped with red sauce. Pomodoro. Overall, my biggest issue with gluten-free dining on Royal Caribbean was not that there were substitutions or adaptations, it was that the patron was not informed of what those changes would be before receiving a dish. M and I then noticed that the Spaghetti Pomodoro, one of the “standby” dishes on the menu was not labeled gluten-free. With the clear evidence of a gluten-free spaghetti pomodoro sitting on the plate in front of us, we reached our limit with the rampant mislabeling. Sustitutions, ultimately, can be tolerated. Wrong labels send most gluten-free eaters racing far away. The moment we question the safety of our food is the moment we lose our trust and become suspicious. Dessert did not have gluten-free options beyond ice cream. Thankfully, the pistachio ice cream was delicious!
- Breakfast (Dining Room): Salmon plate w/ GF Bagel (smoked salmon, capers, onions, tomato, lemon, cream cheese)
- Lunch (Dining Room): Entree: Morrocan lamb w/ salad and tzatziki sauce. Dessert: White-chocolate orange flan.
- Dinner (Dining Room): Appetizer(s): Fruit Medley with Pistachio Yogurt (pineapple, strawberries, kiwi, mango, papaya), Smoked Duck Breast with orange-fennel salad, Entree: Roasted Chicken Breast with jus, vegetables, and baked potato. Dessert: Cherries Jubilee.
We had a word with the head waiter after breakfast about the disappointing mistakes in labeling the menu for dietary needs. Luckily, M and I were both in better moods after a delicious (and safe and properly labeled) smoked salmon plate for me and eggs benedict for M. And we were happy to see labels on the lunch menu. By the way, the Morrocan lamb was one of the best dishes I ate onboard. I could not have it in a pita, but the bread was certainly not missed. I had thought, paired with a tzatziki sauce, the lamb would be lightly spiced, but instead the lamb was slow cooked in the deepest, earthiest tomato sauce–almost a ragu–with warm, beautiful spices. This lamb was incredible. I’ll be doing some research to find a similar type of sauce, so I can try to recreate this at home.
In Nassau, M and I found our beach that we visited two years ago while the rest of our party walked through the Dig and Aquariums at Atlantis. M and I had already seen it, and, as it turns out, we would be the only ones to make it into the Caribbean ocean. Our beach day at Cococay would be cancelled for weather. Dinner was suddenly back to having five dishes, minimum, in each course, available to be made gluten-free. I started off with two lovely, light salads, followed by simple, but delicious chicken. Cherries Jubilee also followed the trend of light and fresh. It was a pretty good day to follow up to the significantly poorer day before.
CocoCay At Sea
- Breakfast (Dining Room): Fruit, yogurt
- Lunch (Dining Room): Beef Carpaccio
- Dinner (Dining Room): Appetizer: Strawberry bisque with mint, Entree: Garlic Tiger Shrimp with vegetables and rice, Dessert(s): Strawberries Romanoff, Flourless Chocolate Cake
We woke up after a rolling night to realize that weather was culprit. We were scheduled for a beach day, but the weather was gray, dark, and stormy. With the ship pitching, I did not have much appetite, and even less energy. I woke up for meals and pretty much napped the rest of the day, multiple times. Once again, all of our menus were labeled and had fairly generous choices, including the return of my beloved beef carpaccio to the lunch menu. The whole table split the flourless chocolate cake for dessert after dinner. My mother wished that we could have it every night, and we had been on the ship long enough to suspect that we would now be getting a plate of flourless chocolate cake every night.
Day 6–Key West
- Breakfast (Dining Room): Eggs Benedict (served on hamburger buns)
- Lunch: On land.
- Dinner (Dining Room): Appetizer: Berry & Yogurt “Frappe” (more fruit soup), Entree: BLT Salad with mustard-herb vinaigrette. Dessert: Orange Mousse with mango puree & raspberry sauce
Since we skipped the stop at CocoCay, we got a few extra hours at Key West. This was wonderful–Key West was, by far, my favorite port. We took the trolley all around, stopping at a spice merchant, a hot sauce shop, a butterfly conservatory, and Ernest Hemingway’s house. M had purchased catnip to bring back for his mum’s cat, Hoolie, and none of us thought twice until we found nearly a dozen Hemingway cats following him through the grounds. We also found the Key Lime Pie shop that offers gluten-free pie. That was a fantastic surprise. I even got a peek at Guy Fieri! He was filming Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives across the street.
The Eggs Benedict for breakfast was so-so, but received bonus points for being able to be made gluten-free. Dinner was light, and fine, but not very noteworthy. But after such a wonderful day around the town, it wasn’t so bad.
Day 7–At Sea
- Breakfast (Dining Room): Eggs, bacon, GF toast, Chocolate-Cherry Trifle
- Lunch (Dining Room): Beef Carpaccio, salad
- Dinner (Dining Room): Appetizer: Roasted Peach Soup, Entree: “Fisherman’s Plate” (lobster, shrimp, vegetables, rice), Dessert: Baked Alaska
It was “Chocolate Lovers” Breakfast in the Dining Room this morning. While that meant mostly waffles and pancakes, M and I inquired with the chef regarding the Chocolate Cherry Trifle. It was actually gluten-free, being more of a pudding, rather than a true trifle. We couldn’t manage more than a few bites of the rich chocolate and cream-topped cherries, but it was a sweet surprise. I had beef carpaccio once again. The aged beef with sundried tomatoes, lemony olive oil, and fresh, crunchy salad is such a perfect blend of flavors and textures. Dinner was as much of a star as breakfast and lunch. My roasted peach soup was served cold, like all of the other fruit soups, but the roasting brought beautiful depth to the peaches. My Fisherman’s plate was really wonderful as well. I always say yes to lobster, and this didn’t disappoint. In fact, it was good enough that the tiger shrimp I had loved just two nights before completely paled in comparison.
Day 8-At Sea
- Breakfast (Dining Room): Eggs Benedict
- Lunch (Izumi): Seafood Hot Rock (plain meat: salmon, lobster, scallops, shrimp, and plain vegetables), Rice, Champagne Lobster Roll, Vegetable Roll
- Dinner (Dining Room): Appetizer(s): Tapas Plate (Prosciutto–no chorizo, manchego cheese, cheese-stuffed peppers, Salad), Coconut and Lychee Soup, Entree: Lamb Shank with jus, mashed potatoes, vegetables, Dessert: Pear and Chocolate Tart
Our final day was another that we savored. We went to Izumi, the sushi restaurant onboard, for lunch. Though it is a restaurant that charges (a la carte), it was probably the best thing we ate onboard and, without a doubt, the best sushi I have ever had. M, E, A, and I went and shared here and there. The servers were just as knowledgeable about serving gluten-free, and made sure everything that we ordered could be made gluten-free, including all of the sauces. We had the hot plate–an exciting presentation that allowed us to sear fish, seafood, and vegetables on a blistering hot slab. I ordered the vegetable roll, made with avocado, cucumber, carrot, and asparagus and–the true star of the show–the champagne lobster roll. Sweet, tender lobster is wrapped with daikon sprouts and avocado in a cushion of rice with a yuzo fruit wrap, topped with a champagne vinegar aioli-type sauce. M ordered the spicy tuna roll and a combo with plenty of nigiri and some cucumber rolls. This meal was spectacular. E had “Surf and Turf” Tataki: a shrimp tempura roll topped with rare-cooked steak and chimichurri sauce. That, I will definitely have to recreate.
Dinner was nice and warm, though we were still a little full from our sushi lunch. The lamb shank was served with rich gravy, and the first mashed potatoes I had since Day 1. I was getting pretty tired of baked potatoes, so this was the highlight of my entree plate. My tapas appetizer was also really lovely, especially the stuffed peppers. It was a good end to the trip.
Day 9–Make Port
- Breakfast (Dining Room): Eggs, Toast, Bacon, Fruit
On port day, you can only manage a speedy breakfast, before its time to gather up your bags and walk down to the real world once again.
Overall, I am happy that RC is clearly making strides to serve its gluten-free customers. There was never a time when I necessarily felt unsafe eating the food, because the staff certainly refuted and/or pointed out when there was something that I could not eat. In most cases, they tried to substitute what was appropriate for my diet. However, the inconsistency with labeling dishes, and then not being informed of what substitutions were being made, was irritating. Given the huge amount of attention that the cruise staff are already giving to dietary needs, the lack of labeling seemed almost lazy. I expected more in that regard, because the bar was set high by RC. I had seen that dinner menus could have nearly a half dozen, clearly-denoted options, each, for the appetizer, entree, and dessert course. Therefore, I expected a comparable experience each night. I will readily admit that I am calmer about my food, mostly because I have the ‘luxury’ (in a sense) of having a gluten sensitivity, rather than celiac disease. A little bit of cross contamination will not bother me, unless it ‘builds up’ by my consuming it every day. Without having to worry if separate utensils were used, or new gloves were put on, I know that I traveled with significantly less stress. For those of you who are more sensitive than I am, I would recommend Royal Caribbean. The level of knowledge amongst the staff regarding dietary needs is significantly higher than most restaurants, and, as a whole, the company works so hard to meet your needs and requests. Do you research, of course, but I would say Royal Caribbean is on its way to leading the pack in the race to cater to special diets.
Adventure on the High Seas (First-hand account of the fire on the Grandeur of the Seas, May 27, 2013)Posted: May 29, 2013
*This is my personal account of the events occurring on the Grandeur of the Seas on Monday, May 27, 2013. My words cannot be quoted or used in any other reports without prior contact and consent from me, as well as linking directly back to this blog. Please feel free to comment or contact me for further information.*
I wanted to be writing to you sometime next week, after 7 days filled with crystal-blue ocean and Caribbean sunshine. I wanted to be nursing a sunburn. I wanted to tell you about this beef carpaccio:
this sour cream panacotta:
and about the deliciously soft, springy gluten-free bread, and the roasted duck with a port wine and current sauce, and the prime rib, and the Roman salad, and the Bailey’s-caramel-banana creme brulee that were so good, I forgot to stop to take pictures. I will tell you about all of this food, very soon. But first, I am going to talk about the reason that I am home and writing this post on Wednesday, two days before we were due to return to port.
For anyone who has not yet heard, a fire broke out aboard Royal Caribbean International’s cruise ship: the Grandeur of the Seas. M and I, my mother and her friend J, and E and A were on that ship. The fire broke out on the mooring deck of the ship between 2:30-3:00am. Investigation of the cause are ongoing. The ship was carrying over 2,200 passengers and close to 800 crew members and was en route from the first port in Port Canaveral, Florida to the second port at CocoCay, Bahamas.
We woke up to the captain’s over the loudspeaker. Our inner cabin on the aft (back) of the second deck is pitch black, and all that I can make out through his calm, but thick Norwegian accent was “muster”. Muster Stations–our assigned positions for boarding life boats in case of an emergency evacuation. We had run a muster drill first thing upon boarding the ship– lining up at Muster Station 10 (the aft-most station on the port (left) side) on deck. We stood in lines of six on the fifth deck, 250 passengers at a station, memorizing the faces of our muster team: an auburn-haired woman, A, we would soon learn was part of the cruise director staff, and a petite Australian, J, whom M quickly pegged (correctly) as part of the performing cast.
That was a first-day drill–a precaution. I never expected to be recalling the drill procedure at 3:00 in the morning on day 3. M and I stumbled to pull on sweatshirts and shoes. We both had the forethought to quickly use the bathroom in our suite (the best decision of the night). The captain’s voice was still calling guests to move to their assigned muster stations. I opened the door to find J, our room attendant, in his life jacket, knocking on doors and urging passengers out. That is when things started to sink in. We grabbed our life jackets and SeaPass cards, M had the good sense to grab our passports. We entered the slow flood of people dutifully climbing to the fifth deck.
When we reached the deck, we turned to the left to reach our muster station–the final station on the port side–and hit a wall of crew members. We could not go to our muster station, we needed to go to the front of the ship, then to the interior to the casino. The fire was in the aft of the ship, two floors below our muster station. So there was the culprit: a fire. We quickly found our way to the casino, some part of my mind marveling at how quickly the other passengers at the muster stations moved aside to make a pathway through the crowds. We checked in, listening as the muster leaders tallied and rechecked their station lists until all of our group was accounted for. Over the next hour, along with regular updates from the captain over the intercom, the details began to come together. The fire started on the mooring deck at the back of deck three, where the anchor and mooring ropes are stored. The ropes caught fire and blazed–our muster leader told us she knew that the fire was serious when she looked back at the water in the ship’s wake. The whitecaps were glowing amber, reflecting the firelight.
We were in for a long night. Soon after our muster group was accounted for, the crew members encouraged passengers to find seats and began handing out glasses of water from the bar. The captain updated us at regular intervals, even if he was just broadcasting to say that there had been no change. At one point, the captain announced that they were lowering the life-boats to the boarding level, in preparation only to save time. The captain assured us that it was only a precaution, and that we were not anywhere near taking the next step of physically evacuating the ship itself. From what I had heard, many people outside at their original muster station became alarmed at this point–understandably so. I realize that we were actually incredibly lucky–because our group had been moved to a secondary muster station, we had the good fortune to be inside. We were sheltered from the elements, and allowed to sit down. We could hear the captain’s announcements clearly–between his accent and the wind, I’m sure his announcements were difficult to discern outside on deck. That was also some cause for the greater degree of worry outside on the deck. Ultimately we were at our muster stations for over four hours. It took near three hours to put out the fire completely and then another hour to inspect the ship’s public spaces before they could open the fore (front) of the ship to passengers, allowing us to find seats and get breakfast.
By 9:00am, all guests were allowed to return to their rooms. Several state rooms were without power, some suffered water damage from the fire-fighting, others had smoke damage. We were never told if the power outage was due to damaged electric lines, or if it was turned off as a precaution, given the water damage. Our room was on the second deck, one floor below where the flames broke out. About twenty feet down the hall from our door, the fire hose had been brought out to help fight the fire. The hallway smelled faintly of smoke, mostly drifting down from upstairs, but our rooms was perfectly fine. I know our ordeal was much better than most. Being moved to the casino, as I mentioned, kept us out of the elements, away from the smoke, and in more comfort than the majority of passengers kept outside on deck. Several outside became chilled and seasick. Later into our holding positions at the muster stations, the crew began to bring in older and more infirm passengers inside.
Through it all, what stood out most was the incredible care and dedication we received from the crew members. Even before the emergency, we marveled at their boundless energy and continued efforts to make sure that we were all entertained. A smile and conversation were readily available from each and every crew member. Dance breaks were common, laughter even more so. Working with entertainment professionals, myself, I was astounded by their drive and energy. This crew is available from 7:00am to past midnight, seven days a week, with the only goal to keep all of us entertained. They did a spectacular job. Now, in the middle of the night, with the smell of smoke drifting to our noses, these same crew members were here with the same amount of energy–now channeled into a calm, collected surety. Though I had a few brief moments of alarm, I was never scared. The easy smiles of yesterday became caring acts: I watched staff fetch forgotten eyeglasses, medications, diapers and formula. They held babies while their parents used the restrooms, and tirelessly made rounds through the crowd, checking with passengers every few minutes. They steadied the sick, collected every glass and bottle in the vicinity to hand out water, and–finally–sat down beside us.
It was then that we learned that most of the staff had been up since the previous morning, and were just wrapping up to slide into bed when the alarm began. Our muster leader had been awake for 23 hours straight when she spoke to us towards the end of our time at the muster stations. Through her, we also learn that most of the staff quarters were located in the aft of the ship on decks 3 and 4. Their rec room, convenience store, and bar, along with several cabins were almost certainly destroyed. We were in a dangerous situation, of course. We were worried and scared and enduring several hours of discomfort. But the crew was focusing on comforting us, and fighting the flames for close to three hours without a flicker of worry to betray that their homes and belongings were being threatened.
We brought some food down to our muster leader. She shared it with two other crew members as they stood to keep a boundary along the ship’s middle divide. When we saw her three hours later, we learned that the shared plate of food was all she had eaten. We were happy to learn that shortly after we saw her, she was relieved of her post and allowed to get some sleep and find some food. I cannot fully express just how dedicated the crew was, placing the guests entirely first and working through exhaustion to keep us in as much comfort as they could.
The ship’s engines were not damaged–she was completely self-sufficient after the fire. Aside from some power outages in select staterooms, and a few hours of slow toilets while the water pressure equalized, post-fire-fighting, the Grandeur was in operating condition. We continue to sail to Freeport, Bahamas, an industrial port that provides dry-docks for most cruise lines when their ships undergo repairs or renovations. It was only after we went off-ship and into port that we had a chance to see the true extent of the damage. Most of us stood in awe to see the blackened and gutted back of the ship. I had no idea that the fire had been that large. To think that the ship’s staff extinguished such a huge blaze, in the middle of the ocean, entirely on their own, is mind-blowing. Again, my respect and gratefulness towards this crew increased tenfold.
Finally, late in the evening on Monday, May 27, 2013, the captain informed us that they would have to stay in Freeport to repair the ship, and they would have to cancel the remainder of the cruise. We were refunded for all of the cruise, excluding those excursions we had already taken previously at Port Canaveral, Florida. Even gift shop purchases were refunded. We were also given comparable credit in a certificate for another cruise, completely free, meaning we received a combined refund/credit worth 2 entire cruise vacations. The crew returned to schedule, and while they coordinated refunds, flights, hotels, and transportation for over 2,200 passengers, they also returned to the schedule of meals, opening the specialty restaurants and reinstating the dining times. The performing cast put on an incredible aerial show that evening. As we watched in awe, the pieces fell into place–we recognized J as one of our muster leaders, and our cruise director confirmed it: these artists were also all of the muster leaders, who had led us through the entire emergency early that morning. A standing ovation was all we could give them, and it certainly wasn’t enough.
We stayed on the ship overnight and then through the day as staff coordinated with immigration and began to bus passengers to the airport for their flights. Things quickly backed-up. Though the Freeport Airport was generous enough to stay open after hours, it was clear that they did not usually encounter passengers in such force. Much of the paperwork was handwritten, we were responsible for bringing our check bags to several different places in the airport. Procedures, inevitably, slowed down the return process, and weather created some delays as well. We finally took off from the Bahamas at 11pm on Tuesday night, landing in Baltimore after 1:30am. Royal Caribbean representatives were waiting, directing us to a desk for hotel rooms, or to charter buses waiting to take us to our cars at the port parking lot. M had to shuttle E and A home before returning to take the rest of us back home. We finally arrived home at 4:45am. It was all over.
We turned on our phones to find voice messages and texts and facebook inquiries asking for interviews and photos from news sources all over the country. All of our bosses had been contacted, also M and A’s parents, by reporters looking for stories. This is a mind-boggling experience, and I am sure that I will continue to process this experience over the next few weeks. I cannot stress enough how impressed I was with Royal Caribbean. Though I had many reasons to prefer them before now, their spectacular handling of the entire situation has ensured my loyalty from here on out. We are already looking for times when we can return to the Grandeur for another cruise.
As mentioned, I do have more say about our time on board before the fire, but that will have to wait for another time. Right now, I am happy to be home and enjoying a few quiet, slow days with family and friends before returning to work.