Our hotel had a perfect location. It was close to some shops (which we wouldn’t visit until after the cruise), it was only about three minutes to the port by cab, and – great for time-killing purposes – it was right beside a park. After a quick breakfast, we went down and let the kids play, and probably two-thirds of the families we met there were also just burning daylight while waiting for a cruise to start. After a few hours, we went back to the hotel to check-out and grab our stuff, then we took cabs over to the ship to embark. I’ve probably mentioned this in another cruise-related entry, but my vacation officially starts once I’ve handed over all the luggage to the porter. That I-don’t-have-to-drag-all-my-crap-along-for-at-least-a-week feeling is a truly great one. Once we’re through with the baggage, we discovered that three minutes in a cab was apparently enough to render Susannah unconscious, so I carried her for a bit. But then she needed to have her picture taken for her seapass (and she was booked in my parents’ cabin, so they’d need to take her with them to register). I stood her on her feet and walked her back and forth like I was sobering up drunk, and she eventually came around.
Boarding the ship was a bit like coming home. There are five Solstice class ships in the Celebrity fleet which are all fundamentally the exact same, and this was the fourth one we’d cruised one, so it’s comforting to know exactly where everything is even before you step on board. We'd intended to give my parents a formal tour, but I don’t think that ever happened because there was always just something else to do next (they ended up seeing everything naturally over the next day or so.) We grabbed lunch and drinks at the buffet, and then our rooms were ready almost immediately. Rather than the shared atrium we’d had with Sarah’s parents in the past, these rooms had the kind of adjoining door you’d see in a hotel – which worked just as well. Teddy learned there were shops on board, and he was chomping at the bit to throw his money at the first person who’d take it. “Maybe they sell hot wheels cars! And tracks! And water cannons!” We assured him they’d have none of these things (and he had to wait a day to find out the truth anyway.) The rest of the day disappeared after that. We enrolled the kids at the Fun Factory, but they couldn’t visit until after dinner. So then we all went up on deck to see the sail away and watch the house band. In every cruise we’ve done with kids, there’s been a Filipino house band that our kids had some kind of rapport with. Many a lead singer has scooped up one of our babies and brought them on stage with them. This time around, the band (eXtasea?) was from the Caribbean, and while they enjoyed seeing the kids dance, there were no Courtney Cox Dancing In The Dark kind of moments. I went out on the floor with the kids for a few songs. Teddy’s technique involves punching the air a lot. I like to frantically whip the baby around so no one actually watches me. And Veronica is actually pretty good. Some random older lady cut in to dance with her, and they were BFFs for at least three songs. Afterward, Veronica noticed we were pulling away from shore and she burst into tears. Mystified, we asked what was wrong. “I miss Miami!” she bawled. Those six waking hours she’d spent there were pretty impactful, it turns out.
We went to dinner and met our wait staff. The head waiter was Filroy, from Jamaica, the assistant was Melinda, from the Philippines, and the sommelier was Paul from... Sommelierland? (As the only non-drinker, I didn’t really have a lot of heart-to-hearts with Paul.) Most of the waiter/assistant combos we’ve seen have been good teams and equal partners, but only the former was true here. I feel like Filroy left the heavy lifting (figurative and literal) to Melinda. He was still great though – a bit proper and reserved at first, but Dad brought out his real personality after a day or so. He turned out to be very funny and got along great with the whole table. Melinda was a doll – she loved Veronica and Veronica loved her back. Paul? I dunno. He may have formed more an impression had he thrown a couple of virgin strawberry daiquiris my way.
After dinner, we took the kids up to the Fun Factory where they hung out for an hour or so. When we picked them up they seemed vaguely happy, but it was unclear whether they had a good time or not which stressed me out a bit. I didn’t want them to feel like they had to go if they didn’t like it. (But as early as noon of the next day, it was clear that they loved it and wanted to go back as often as possible.) Later that night, we went to the casino where I quickly won $100 on slots. I was immediately reminded of the three truths of cruise ship casino gambling. 1) slots are never looser than they are your first day on the ship, 2) if you win on the first day, you’ll go back every single day thinking that gambling is now a viable career for you, and 3) you’ll lose everything you’ve earned and then a bunch more before cruise end, and you’ll hate yourself for not walking away after day one. Despite knowing these rules, I went back to the casino just about every day. (Tune in later to see how it all turned out.)