Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas: Passenger Tips – Part One

In late May/early June, our family went on a one-week cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas.  The cruise left Port Canaveral in Florida and went to RC’s private beach in Labadee, Haiti, to Jamaica, to Grand Cayman, and to Cozumel.  There were also two days at sea.  We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and recommended the cruise to families and couples.

Spidey on Labadee, Royal Caribbean's Private Beach on Haiti

The Freedom of the Seas is one of the Freedom Class of ships from Royal Caribbean and was the largest cruise ship in operations from its launch in 2006 until the Oasis of the Seas was launched in 2009.  The Freedom of the Seas has a capacity of 3,634 passengers and 1,300 crew.  It cost $800 million to build.

Rather that do a straight review (there are 412 such reviews at Cruise Critic), I thought I would share with you, over two posts, some tips for after you decide to take a cruise on this ship.  Let’s start with food, since that is often (always?) the central point of cruises:

1. Buy Bottles of Wine Not Individual Glasses

My colleague Mike told me about this before we left, and he was right.  Glasses of wine in the dining room can be expensive – in the $15 range.  However, if you know that you want wine every night and don’t mind the same wine for two nights or more in a row, buy a bottle.  At the end of the meal, your waiter marks the cork with your table number, takes it away, and then brings it back the next night for you to finish.  Since we had only two drinkers (my wife and I), this worked better than the RC Wine Plan, where the fewest number of bottles you can buy is five.  The per bottle cost of the Wine Plan is less than we paid, but we couldn’t have possibly drunk five bottles in a week.

2. Try the Buffet for Dinner

The food in the dining room is generally very good, and the service has a nice pace to it.  However, I urge you to try the buffet for dinner at least once.  After a long day in Cozumel, we decided to hit the buffet for dinner and were pleasantly surprised.  Before even considering the food, there are four clear pluses of the buffet:  1) you can wear whatever you want (no need for long pants), 2) you can eat as fast or as slow as you want, 3) you can try a lot more things, and 4) you get a great view up on the 11th floor, compared to the 3rd, 4th, or 5th floor views from the dining rooms.  We found the food to be of great variety and very tasty.  They had everything from sushi to Indian to pasta to burgers and pizza.  I had an ice cream sundae for desert.  It was a great way to start a relaxing evening.

3. Get the Early Dining Seating for Dinner

Yes, this tip may just reflect our preference, but 8:30pm is just too late for dinner for us.  If you get the 6:00pm seating, you can go as late as 6:30 and have no problems.  Since it takes at least 15 minutes to get your food, you are really eating at 6:45.  As far as the “My Time Dining,” which gives you flexibility:  we found that there was a lot of scrambling by those families to pick a time every day.  6:00pm dining also means you see the shows after dinner, which fit our schedule.

4. Get the Fountain Soda Package

This worked for us, but we are pretty big Diet Coke/Diet Pepsi drinkers.  The cost is $6 per day for adults and $4 per day for kids.  If you don’t buy the package, each soda is $1.50 plus 15% gratuity.  On the first day of the cruise, they offered the soda package at a discount, so I would wait to buy on board.  Unfortunately, there’s no self-serve soda, although I hear that’s coming.  Instead, you have to go to one of the bars and show your room key with a sticker that identifies you as having purchased the soda package.  We bought two – one for my wife and me and one for our two kids.  You could always flash someone else’s card with the sticker to get a soda, so sharing is definitely possible.  $6 per day = 4 sodas per day or 2 sodas per person, which is well below our normal drinking rate.  We certainly exceeded that and got our money’s worth.

That’s it for food tips.

Let me add one other tip and then save the rest for next Wednesday:

5. Prepare to be Disconnected

Royal Caribbean claims to have mobile phone service for those whose phones support GPRS.  However, I found the data service on my iPhone to be very spotty and completely unavailable for the last day or so.  I could make calls, in theory, but any data service from email to  texting to Twitter just didn’t work most of the time.  In my case, work paid for the international service, but I would check your rates to see if it is even worth it.  As far as Internet, you can get access, but it is very expensive — $0.65 per minute or packages such as $150 for 500 minutes.  Those minutes go fast if you have two kids like mine that live on Facebook.  There are no newspapers on board, so the best you can do is CNN Headline News, which gets boring after a while.

Next week – tips on activities and excursions.

It’s Not Three-One-One. It’s Three-Eleven. Who Knew?

I hit an important milestone as a father last week.  It was inevitable, but I was trying to hold it off as long as I could.

As of last week, I am officially and completely out of touch with the music my son listens to, so much so, that I embarrassed myself in front of his friends.

The Band 311

My wife and I bought tickets for our son and friends to attend a concert for his birthday.  Last week, I was driving my son and his friends somewhere (probably to the mall).  Trying to make conversation and trying to show I was cool, I said, “So, you guys are going to see Offspring and Three-One-One next week, right?”

The next thing I know is there is snickering in the back seat, and my son turns to me from the passenger seat and says calmly, “Dad, it’s Three-Eleven.”

How was I supposed to know that the band 311 isn’t Three-One-One, but Three-Eleven?  Couldn’t it have been Three-Hundred-Eleven just as easily?

This had never happened before.  There are no such pronunciation issues with Offspring or Avenged Sevenfold or System of a Down or Gogol Bordello.  There are spelling issues with bands such as Gorillaz, but I never really write these band names down.  There are also odd moments, such as when I asked my son if he knows who Nikolai Gogol was.  No idea of course.

This scene of “dad-trying-to-be-cool-embarrassment” repeats itself generation after generation.  The other night Jay Leno explained how his dad always talked about “The Rolling Beatles.”  Parents of my generation often referred to “Earth, Fire and Wind” or “REO Stationwagon” and were thoroughly confused by the Who, the Guess Who, and Yes.

The closest thing to my gaffe that I recall was when a parent pronounced R.E.M. as one word that rhymes with hem and gem and them.

Led Zeppelin IV

Within days of this happening, however, my son helped me forget my naming mistake and made me very proud.  He came bounding up from our newly renovated basement and said, “Dad, I just played Led Zeppelin through the new speakers on one of your records.  Stairway to Heaven is beast mode.”

That’s right – beast mode.  That’s a very positive comment.  Trust me.  I almost cried.

Losing It with “Lose It”

In last week’s Diet and Exercise Monday post, I wrote about my theory that making good decisions in what amounts to a cumulative 15 minutes per day is the foundation of any diet.  Of course, this assumes that you’ve got the right food nearby to help you make that decision.  Choosing between a Snickers and a Three Musketeers isn’t going to cut it.

This week and next,  I want to introduce you to two tools that I use or have used during diets and explain why they work for me, and you can see if they work for you.  As I diet or try to stay in shape, simplicity and ease of use/understanding is important to me, and I’ve found tools that help me get there.

The first tool is an application for my iPhone called “Lose It.”  It is a free application made by a company called FitNow and has a solid 4-star rating across over 10,000 raters and over 9,000 reviews.  Lose It is a basic application that tracks your weight, exercise, calorie intake all towards a goal weight and goal date.  I won’t repeat the screen shots here, but their Web site has a good representation.

Lose It works for me because of the following features:

  1. Clear indication of your recommended daily calorie intake, based on your current weight, age, goal weight, and length of time you wish to get there.
  2. Easy entry of any weight entry and a graph showing your progress that automatically adjusts its scale as time goes on.
  3. Extensive database of grocery store and restaurant foods.
  4. Easy entry of any food from a nutritional label.
  5. Easy entry of exercise, either from its database or from a custom creation.
  6. Shows how many more calories you can eat per day based on what you’ve eaten and how much you’ve exercised.
  7. Shows the nutritional value each day in summary, including % of calories from fat, carbs and protein, which are important to those that follow the Zone Diet.
  8. It’s free.

Since I first downloaded it, Lose It has expanded to include an online community, where some of your goals and achievements are shared with others.  The web site also provides more data and more reports from what you’ve put in your iPhone.  I don’t use the site, but it does seem like a logical expansion point.

I know this sounds like an advertisement (and I wish they were paying me!).  I’m highlighting Lose It because of its simplicity.  Weight loss and exercise are challenging to begin with.  Weight loss sites and tools can be so complex.  This application isn’t complex.  It’s also mobile, meaning you don’t have to keep a written log to enter later when you don’t have access to an internet-connected computer.

The simpler weight loss and exercise can be, the more likelier it is that we’ll do it.  Lose It helps with the simplicity.

Next Monday, I’ll introduce you to a tool that helps with the psychology of weight loss by creating some interesting incentives.  See you then.

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This week was better than last week.  I hit my target and lost 1 pound.  I’m now 1.6 pounds down after two weeks, 0.4 pounds behind pace.  Perhaps if I hadn’t eated that scrambled eggs, bacon, hash browns and french toast IHOP combo last week, I would have made it.  Boy, did that taste good.

Four Lasting Memories of Team USA in the 2010 World Cup

Yes – I know the 2010 World Cup is not over, but with the USA knocked out, it’s time for me, at least, to wrap things up.

As disappointed as I was with the United States loss to Ghana in the round of 16, the World Cup has provided US Soccer and its fans with great memories and further expectations. 9 of the 23 rostered players will still be under 30 in Brazil in 2014, all except back-up goal tender Marcus Hahnemann will be 35 or younger. Tim Howard, the US starting goaltender and one of the best in the world, is 31 now, just entering the prime years for a goaltender.

The USA have now qualified for six straight World Cups, and have shown success in recent tournaments in CONCACAF, the governing soccer body of North America, Central America and the Caribbean. The USA reached the finals of the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup, the men’s championship, the finals of the 20U CONCACAF championship, and went 3-0 in the 17U preliminaries before swine flu canceled the knock-out round.

Grabbed from You Tube, I’ve posted four lasting memories for me of the USA in the 2010 World Cup. Not seen — any negatives. Sorry, but I don’t care to see images of the USA’s denied goal against Slovenia for the win or of the USA-Ghana game. Enjoy.

1.The “howler” by UK goaltender Robert Green, who never saw the pitch again after this game. Of all the videos posted, I liked this one the best.

2. The re-enactment of the USA-England game using legos. There’s one of USA-Ghana as well, but I’m not interested.

3. Andres Cantor’s radio call of Landon Donovan’s goal against Algeria to put the USA into the knock out round. GOOOOOOOOOOOOOL!

For perfectly synced video with this audio call, visit Deadspin.

4. This fantastic video of the reaction across the USA when Donovan scored. Yes, it’s over 5 minutes, but I think it’s worth it.

See you in 2014 in Brazil!

Is Gen Y Causing Us to Rethink Communications at Work?

Last Friday, I laid out some ground rules that covering blogging about work.  Now it’s time to see if I can write within those rules.

On Tuesday this week, I met with one of our summer interns at her request, answering questions about our company, my past career path, and her future career path.  Having just graduated from a local university, she was likely born in 1988 or 1989.  (Our HR department will be happy to know that I didn’t ask her to clarify.)

She and her peers, born late in Generation Y, bring a very different way of communicating to the workplace, one that I believe has the potential to conflict with work rhythms and schedules and traditions.  I am intrigued by the possibility that a shift in communication from telephone to social networking sites and text messaging can significantly impact the workplace.  And I think we could be headed for some challenges.

In 1988, when I came into the workplace (just as our intern was born), communication was via the telephone.  I had a telephone in my apartment.  As long as I was in my apartment, people could find me.  I did not have an email address in 1988.  When I wanted to make plans with friends I called them, left a voice mail, called them again, etc.

Now, 21-year-olds communicate with their mobile devices.  From those mobile devices they can text, tweet, update their status on Facebook, get email and, very rarely, talk live to someone.  When they want to get together with their friends, they post something on Facebook or start a chain of text messages.

In 1988, when I started at work, I got a desk, and I got a phone with my very own phone number.  I also got a laptop (an old Mac DuoDock), but no email yet and Internet access wasn’t even an option.  As long as I was at work, my girlfriend, family and friends could reach me in the office, although they had to remember a new number.

Now, when 2010 grads start work, new grads also get a desk and they get a phone with their very own phone number.  They get a computer with Internet access and their very own company email address.  They can use Facebook and email at their desks and Facebook and texting on their personal mobile devices to connect with friends.  Their friends don’t have to learn a new number.

But is it all this simple?

At many companies, Facebook, My Space and other social networking sites are blocked.  They are viewed as distractions, as are games and streaming video sites like You Tube.

At many companies, texting in meetings or texting constantly viewed as inappropriate and leaving one’s desk constantly to use your mobile device is also frowned upon at not professional.

My concern is that we are cutting of communications channels for this generation when we block these sites and frown on using mobile devices at work.  My concern is that cutting off Facebook and texting is similar to blocking all personal calls in and out of our phone lines, which would never be done.

Rather than view Facebook and other sites as a distraction, why not view them as a communication channel?  Why not measure work produced first and then allow communication with friends if the work is done on time and of high quality?  Playing Farmville is wrong, but communicating with friends about tonight’s plans?  Not so sure that is bad.

Will blocking Facebook limit your ability to hire Gen Y’s and the current generation?  Or, will allowing access to social network sites make your company more attractive.

These questions have no answers yet.  But if texting and social networking have replaced the phone and email as the primary methods of communication, perhaps it’s time that was recognized in the workplace.

In Praise of Grammar Girl

For this year’s World Cup, ESPN has hired an all-British play-by-play crew for television.  In fact, as I think about their announcers overall, most are non-Americans, which makes sense to me if you want that so-called “expert commentary” and want announcers that know about the players, most of which play in Europe.

As I watch the matches and listen to the commentary by the British play-by-play announcers, I am repeatedly struck by what seems like wrong noun-verb agreement when the talk about the teams.  It is all in the plural.  Thus, they use phrases like:

  • England drive towards the goal.
  • Ghana look tired as the 1st half comes to a close.
  • Italy dive any time an opposing player comes near them. (So true!).

Sorry, but these sentences sound a bit off to me.  I have a desire to say “England drives” and “Ghana looks” and “Italy dives” (All the time!!).

It’s as if the Brits are assuming a collective name exists after the country, but it isn’t said.  If a Brit were announcing ice hockey, for example, we might hear “The Washington Capitals are the best offensive team in the league” as often as we’d hear “Washington are the best offensive team in the league.”  The latter still sounds wrong to me.

To find out the right answer, I visited one of my favorite sites:  Grammar Girl.  Grammar Girl is run by Mignon Fogarty, who has also written an entire book on grammar called The Grammar Devotional.  I became enamored with Grammar Girl through her weekly podcast, on which she resolves age-old mysteries such as:

I’m still not sure when to use “lay” and when to use “lie,” but I do remember Grammar Girl pointing out that Bob Dylan’s song “Lay Lady Lay” should be “Lie Lady Lie” and Eric Clapton’s song “Lay Down Sally” should be “Lie Down Sally.”

Do you think Dylan and Clapton care?  No, probably not.

In case you are wondering — a) “alternatives” are different choice than your current choice, while “options” is used to describe all choices, including your current choice and b) yes, it is OK to split an infinitive in some contexts  (Shocking! I know.)

A good place to start with Grammar Girl is her Top 10 Grammar Myths.  I won’t give any away, but suffice it to say that a preposition is a word you can end a sentence with.

So what does Grammar Girl say about team names?  In her podcast and article from September 2, 2008, she writes:

Adding to the complexity of this issue is that Americans and Britons handle it differently.

Americans tend to treat collective nouns as single units, so it’s more common to use the singular verb unless you’re definitely talking about individuals. So in America you would be more likely to hear “The faculty is meeting today” than “The faculty are meeting today.”

In British usage, however, it’s the opposite; it’s more common to use the plural verb. In fact, some sentences that are perfectly correct in Britain would be considered incorrect in America. Take “Cambridge are winning the boat race.” Although I spent my elementary-school years in London, I have been fully Americanized, so this sentence doesn’t sound right to me. As an American, I would say, “Cambridge is winning.”

In short — the British announcers say it correctly for them.

And, if I want to say “Italy dives any time an opposing player comes near them” (It’s so annoying!), then I’m free to do so and will still be grammatically correct.

Pining for the Airbus 380

I’ve been very fortunate in my life to travel quite a bit internationally, and I have to admit that I’ve become a bit of a snob when it comes to class of travel on international flights.  I can no longer sit in coach.  I have to sit in business class, which my company allows me to do when I fly overseas.

My six overseas trips in the past year have been on the Boeing 777 aircraft.  Here’s some quick data about Continental Airlines’ 777 seats (considered average when compared to other airlines)  to explain why I’ve become a snob over business class:

  • Coach class — seats are 18.3″ wide, recline back 5″ and the distance between seats is 31″
  • Business class — seats are 22″ wide, recline to fully flat and the distance between seats is 60″

Add to this data the improved food and the lack of a middle seat, and I think it is clear why once you’ve had business class on a 777 you don’t go back to coach.

As nice as the 777 is, I would really like to fly on the new Airbus 380, which seems far more luxurious than 777 cabins, especially in first class.  As I write, only five airlines operate A380’s:  Air France, Emirates, Lufthansa, Singapore and Qantas.  There are a total of 31 flying now, but another 200 or so have been ordered.  These are full double-decker planes holding about 555 passengers in a three-class configuration, which is 33% more than a 747.  The A380 can hold as many as 840 passengers in an all-coach configuration.

Even with the increased space of an A380, the airlines still cram folks in coach with a 3-4-3 across seat configuration.  Business class is still 2-2-2.  I ask you, where do you want to sit?

The Double Bed in First Class on a Singapore A380

For me, however, the real attraction to the A380 is the luxury in first class, which most of us will never get to experience.  On many planes, first class now includes private cabins, with the ability to push two “cabins” together to create a full-size bed in air.  Some airlines have showers on board, bars, and certainly extravagant video systems and food.

The LA Times travel section recently posted a photo gallery comparing the various airlines’ seats and luxuries of their Airbus 380.  I find it fascinating – even the improved seats and services in coach.

So – you and the significant other want to take advantage of the A380’s double bed as you fly, say, from Singapore to London this summer?

Singapore Airlines will only charge you $29, 245 per person round trip.

To answer the question I’m sure you are asking – yes, they take American Express, Visa or Cash.