How long does it take to get 5,000 passengers processed and onto a cruise ship? Not as long as you might think.
Ovation of the Seas arrived early in the morning from her previous cruise and her passengers had all disembarked before 11am. Meanwhile the staff was busy preparing the ship for the new intake of passengers. Here are our impressions of the day.
When we received our “Set Sail Pass” as Royal Caribbean like to call tickets we were given a time to embark. By having staggered arrival times it means that you don’t have such long queues waiting to join the ship as you would if everyone arrived at once. Some privileged people who were Diamond Class were able to board earlier because they had loyalty points for being frequent cruisers but I think mostly they did it deck by deck. Our boarding time commenced from 1pm. We dropped our large bags off outside the terminal to be delivered to our cabin later and, as the company advised, carried on small bags containing things we might need during the day, a change of clothing, medications and of course our camera equipment.
Since our previous cruise Royal Caribbean had streamlined the procedure, eliminating much of the job of filling out forms by having staff with tablets to process the incoming passengers. We got through this fairly quickly with minimal queueing but then hit a bottleneck in the form of Immigration. There were about half a dozen staff from Border Force or whatever they call themselves now checking passports. They did work fairly quickly and were pleasant to deal with, sometimes the way those people stare at you when checking your passport can be quite unnerving. It did take a long time of standing in line but most people were good-natured about it and the line did keep moving. As we stood patiently waiting we saw a line of people in wheelchairs being taken through to be processed and boarded where there were no steps for them to deal with. Those that did not have carers with them were being wheeled by cheery looking staff members. Cruising is a great holiday for people with mobility issues as they can get around in their chairs or even gophers. There are plenty of elevators aboard ship and the inside and outside passageways are wide.
After making it through Passport Control we had one final hurdle which I had been expecting to see earlier. Passengers and their hand luggage all had to be X-Rayed before boarding the ship. Another queue, another wait but it’s necessary so although my feet were now getting numb from standing we waited our turns.
Finally we made it up the gangplank and into the arms of the ships photographers. Naomi tried to escape but there is no getting away from the first photo of the trip. We let them take the picture and vowed to avoid them for the rest of the voyage.
I think the whole process took about an hour.
Once aboard we found our way to our cabin on Deck 10. It was roughly amidships and we had decided that as we’d be aboard for two weeks with many sea days it would be nice to have a balcony of our own as a place to retreat to if we got tired of the crowds. We had not yet received our Sea Passes but when we arrived there they were outside the door. The Sea Pass is like a smart card. It unlocks your cabin and is also used to charge purchases to your account. Apart from in the Casino, Royal Caribbean ships are cashless. You can register a credit card, buy “On Board Credit” prior to sailing or pay in cash or with a card at the end of the cruise. It’s a good system as long as you keep track of your spending.
When we arrived the bed was set up as a King size but remembering that this had been no trouble to change on our previous cruise we didn’t panic. In fact I read that all the beds are set up that way when the ship is prepared for sailing and the cabin stewards change them to the passengers’ preference later. I don’t know why they do it that way as passengers can and do give their preference when they book and it ought to be easy enough to pass this on to the housekeeping staff rather than make them do the bed making twice and waste a perfectly good set of king size sheets. But that’s what they do. Anyway I called housekeeping and the cabin attendant promised to see to it after 5pm which he did.
Our cabin also had a large couch, a desk which could be pulled out to use as a table, a chair, mirror, TV, a bar fridge and a wardrobe each. Our bathroom was more or less the same as we remembered from Explorer of the Seas.
We went out onto our balcony where there were two deck chairs with footrests and a small side table. We were facing Sydney Opera House and had a great view of all the activity on the water so we sat and relaxed there for a while.
We were not due to sail for some time so as we had not had lunch we decided to get something to eat and we headed up to the Windjammer Marketplace for a late meal. As we were on Deck 15 already we decided to check out the SeaPlex on Deck 16 where they have sports activities and do a slow lap of the walking track. We’ll describe these places in more detail in another post.
At 4:45pm we had to attend the ship’s Muster. There were plenty of staff directing people to the correct muster stations and before long we found ourselves at Jamie’s Italian, a coincidence as we had booked dinner in this restaurant for later on the cruise. It was very crowded but we were lucky to find a couple of seats. After we had been counted they showed us a video about safety procedures and demonstrated what the emergency signals would sound like. We heard a short message from the captain and finally received his permission to go. We said goodbye to our lifeboat companions saying that we hoped we would not have cause to see them, at least not in those circumstances.
After leaving our muster station we had a quick look at the Casino and music venues but then decided that we would watch the ship sail out of the harbour from our own balcony.
This turned out to be a good decision as our giant ship did a 90 degree turn in the harbour and sailed out past the Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge and Fort Denison before reaching Sydney Heads. It was sunset as we sailed out and we got some lovely pictures until the light faded.
Just as it was getting too dark to see much we noticed a small boat coming up alongside very close to the ship. Looking down we realised that we were seeing the boat that was picking up the Pilot from our ship. We saw that again a couple of times more during the voyage but that was probably our best view of it.
Since Vanda wrote so much I am keeping it fairly short and I don’t have much in the way of photos to post from this part of the trip. We were kept extremely busy and photography was not allowed in the building where we checked in. Immigration imposes a $200 fine if you are caught. A very stupid woman was talking on her phone to someone about where they were and what they were doing. Most people seem to be phone addicted. Women must have painful childbirth these days as they pop their bubs out holding phones. This woman I took to calling “Phone Woman” was totally oblivious to the rules “No Phones” You were not allowed to use your phone because of security. Many people who were working there did not say a word. Neither did anyone in the crowd including her husband. Finally we passed one officer of some sort who flew over to her. She looked as if she would have a heart attack. She told the woman to turn off her phone as once and that they could give her a $200 fine. As they were just in front of me I heard what was said. Phone Woman was very kindly let off the fine and I thought she was just so lucky. It is not a good way to start your holiday paying such a big fine. She went on and on about it to her husband however for the rest of the time we were in the line. Her poor husband tried to tell her to forget about it and consider herself lucky that they didn’t have to fork out $200 bucks but she never shut up. I was pretty fed up with her myself but glad she was made to get off her stupid phone as I hate listening to other people’s phone calls.
I remember being so happy to finally make it to the ship. The immigration part gets a bit tiring as you are standing for so long and carrying stuff. I tried to keep my bag light weight but it was tiring to carry along with my hand bag. You’d finally get to the end of one bit and there was another bit hidden behind a large partition. Up and down, up and down you went through a maze David Bowie would have been proud of. I know it’s important to keep everything orderly but my legs and feet were burning by the time we got our sea passes and boarded.
The cabin was very nice after some of the awful Sydney hotel rooms we’ve been stuck with. Everything was sparkly clean and the beds very comfy. The bathroom was easy to move around in and we had plenty of clean towels and stuff. I loved the balcony and spent a lot of time out there. I found the balcony a very relaxing place to hang out especially at night when I could not sleep. I took my pillows outside with me a few times to pad out the lazy boy and just dozed or listened to the waves. Who needs a relaxation tape if you have the real thing? There is nothing like it. We stood out there while we were leaving the port of Sydney.
I forgot to mention Mrs We Just Breezed Through! Now she was some bitchy woman and she nearly got a finger. I had to restrain myself as I hate rude people who butt into someone else’s conversation. I know I sound just as rude and as bad here but I stayed cool. Everyone was tired after going through immigration and boarding the ship. We found all the elevators on the ship jam-packed with other people because we were all in the same area at the same time. We talked to some of them about our experiences and them to us. I was remarking on being glad to be out of those lines and finally on the ship. It was just a pleasantry really to someone else who had spoken to me. We were all standing there and Mrs Diamond Class breezes past us and says “Oh we just breezed through!” like the rest of us were nothing but cattle class. Throw her overboard! I still feel annoyed when I think about her.
Later on we had to go to Muster. I didn’t think we would get a seat at first as it was so crowded in our section of the ship. We found some nice seats in a corner next to some nice people who we chatted to a little before the boring safety video came on. It was ages before they showed it as we had to wait for everyone to arrive and be checked off the list. I know they have to do these things but I’m always glad to get them over. I was glad to hear the captain’s message as I wanted to get a sense for what he was like. I like to see the profiles and photos of the crew. There wasn’t one in our ships newspaper. I was a bit disappointed in the paper as it was not as good or newsy as the one on Explorer. Ovation’s was more of a program of events (When and Where). Maybe they all do it that way now. While we were meant to be watching the video and listening to messages from the crew and most people were polite and obeyed the no phone rules one man was really rude. He got on his phone twice and ducked into a dark corner to talk about what I don’t know. I hoped he would be caught and told off by a crew member but he got away with it.
Later we explored the ship a little and finally it was time to bid Sydney a fond farewell. I was disappointed that the captain did not sound the whistle. I was taking movie film of our departure and hoped to pick it up as my camera has a very good mike. I must say that Sydney is a spectacular port to depart from. The views are amazing and we had a beautiful sunset. I captured this on film along with the sights. There was the Opera House, Harbour Bridge, Luna Park, Circular Quay and the city of course. We stayed outside for quite some time enjoying all of this and wondering what the next fourteen days would bring us.
Next time we’ll show you some more pictures of Ovation of the Seas in the meantime as I know people are awestruck by the size of these ships here are some stats.
Ovation of the Seas statistics: http://www.travelweekly.com/Cruise/Royal-Caribbean-International/Ovation-of-the-Seas
If you missed it you can read Part One here.