Thursday, 17 August 2006:
I was rudely awakened to the noise of the cruise director's voice over the intercom, telling us that we had docked at Key West, FL, and would have to go through US Customs, and that the top deck (deck 10) should start on their way for that now. Great, but for those of us on deck 2, that was not a pleasant way to have to wake up.
So I got up and going, waited, read a little, and finally went through "customs", which, apparently, since this isn't our final port of call, simply meant: "go through the line, show them your passport, and let them punch your SeaPass card with a little anchor". Seriously, that's all it was. What a waste of time. But without that little punch, they wouldn't let us off the ship.
I met Allen and Rob, and later Matthew, Debbie, and David, up in the WindJammer café for breakfast, and afterward we all (except Matthew) headed into town (Matthew stayed behind to catch a quick nap before his para-sailing adventure an hour later).
The shopping in the stores near the port was okay, but nothing all that special, and we came back after not too long a time. I went out again soon after with Debbie to meet up with Matthew and David after their para-sailing. We met up with Chad and CJ not too long after, and found a Hard Rock Café to sit down, cool off, and get a drink (the others got food, too, but I, as usual, was full from breakfast, and saving myself for the free food back onboard the ship).
We trickled out of the restaurant one by one, some back to the ship, and me to a nearby Internet Café we'd spotted earlier (I had brought my laptop along this time). After being unable to connect to their wireless, I finally wired myself into one of their waiting ethernet cords and checked my email for the first time since Monday afternoon. Oh my goodness, that was chaotic. Well over a hundred real messages, some of which could be lumped together and filed, but a number of others with some level of "I really want / need to respond to this"-ness about them. The most frustrating part of checking, though, came in discovering that several rather important messages that I had sent from the hotel on Monday never got delivered. They didn't bounce right away, they were just delayed, and then finally returned with fatal errors. So, instead of reading the replies to them that I was hoping for, I had to resend the originals. Argh. Thus is life with technology.
Some of the others found me in the café, and then we walked a few blocks to see the Earnest Hemmingway house. We saw the outside of it just fine, but none of us realised it actually cost money to go inside to tour, so we turned around and came back to the ship via the shopping street.
Not too many hours later, we pulled away from dock, which, for as exciting as one would think it *should* be, is actually a rather uneventful process. I suppose it's because we have this strange notion of procedures and safety, rather than speed and excitement. Funny that. The ropes are untied from the dock one by one, rolled back into the ship, and finally, after the last is released, we start to drift out. Then the side engines kick in on low gear, moving the boat away from dock and rotating it to face toward the open sea. About 20 minutes later, all the engines stop, there's a brief delay, and the rear engines turn on, thrusting us slowly out toward sea as the captain and crew skillfully pilot the ship through an obstacle course of red and green buoys. A total of about an hour from when they first started untying the ship and we are finally out on open sea. For as slow going as it is, though, watching the whole process unfold is very relaxing, soothing away any stresses the day might have had, and giving one opportunity for quiet introspection.
Before dinner, about half the group made our way to the theatre to watch the singing and dancing goodbye performance, similar to the Boogie Wonderland two days ago, except this time with a Latin pop music theme. I suppose I liked it better than the other, illustrated by the fact that I wasn't eagerly anticipating the end as I had on Tuesday. In any case, it was fun.
Then time for dinner - we actually got there early for once, only to discover the doors weren't open yet. There was live music playing in the Centrum, and an elderly couple enjoying the time by dancing, so we watched them - seeing "old love" like that, still so alive and active, was really heart warming for me; it reminded me a lot of my Grandma and Grandpa.
Dinner was, as always, wonderful, and at the end of tonight, being the last night, all the waiters gathered around the dining room to sing to us (they had also done this yesterday, but that was more of an audience involvement singing led by the head waiter in his fancy red suit). Afterward we each took our turn to shake our waiters' hands, thanking them for their truly magnificent service, and also to pass along our gratuity envelopes for them. Of course, this was a special dinner for me, too, as it was the first one all week that I managed to dirty all the 10 pieces of silverware at my spot (through methods like the clever use of a spoon and a fork and a knife in the clam chowder).
Following dinner Matthew and I headed to the Centrum area shops, just to look around. I didn't really see anything particularly great for buying - I'm not a huge shopper for trifles and souvenirs - but Matthew picked up an expandable tote bag to help carry all his purchased drink glasses back; he's been collecting shot glasses, margarita glasses, etc, all week to take back to furnish his new bar in his basement.
Then it was time for Bingo! I'd never gone before, but it was the last night, so I went to cheer on Chad, CJ, Rob, and Matthew. None of them won, but it was still fun. And I learned that there can be some level of formal rules to the game, such as standing when you have only one number remaining to Bingo, and a whole procedure for calling back numbers once someone has actually called Bingo. Cool to watch.
But by the time that was over, my bed was calling me. Except I had to finish packing first - Royal Caribbean required that we deposit our suitcases in the hallways the night before departure, so, even though I had done most of my suit-case packing earlier in the day, it still took another 15 minutes or so to figure out how to reduce my carry-on load for tomorrow, and then just get all those minor details of packing taken care of.
This, followed by some writing, followed by sleepy-bye.