May 9, 2017

∴ Enjoying Our Cruise When We Couldn't Avoid the Cruise Hoards

I wrote about how to avoid the Cruise Hoards on port-call days In my last piece about our recent cruise. The key was making the ship our destination, while most of the guests disembarked for excursions or walkabouts.

During at-sea days, however, cruising is basically locking yourself into a thousand-foot-long ship with a few thousand strangers all looking for something to do. Many spend the day lined up like sardines in the sun on the top two decks, or swimming among the crowd in the pools. Avoid. There are lounge chairs available on the bow and elsewhere, away from the crowds, and less crowded activities to enjoy the time at sea.

Our cabin steward placed a copy of Cruise Compass on our bed each evening. This is a four-page guide to the next day's things-to-do, dining room dress code, items of interest if a port-of-call is scheduled, and general ship's information. At-sea days usually have a longer list of things-to-do, while port-call days are short on these, as guests are expected to leave the ship for a few hours.

Kelly first found mention of a Martini-making class during an at-sea day on our first cruise.

The idea is to gather six or more guests at an otherwise under-used bar and, in exchange for a nominal fee, put on a class about making cocktails. On our recent cruise it was called a "mixology" class, but the content was the same. A bartender or, in this case the ship's mixologist, sets up and mixes five different cocktails, explaining each as he goes.

Groups of three guests were invited behind the bar to muddle fruit and shake each of the cocktails. The basic recipe for each was muddled fruit, vodka, and a modifier or two such as fruit syrup, liqueur, or ice cream.

Each of the drink's ingredients were explained, including particular brand and expression choices and why they work together, as the bartender was working.

Finally, each guest has set in front of them an array of five miniature Martini glasses into which each cocktail is poured, one at a time. The process is build, shake, and let the bartender pour out a sample-sized cocktail for everyone's consumption before moving to the next.

Enough ingredients to pour two full-sized glasses of each cocktail were included. At the end of the class a name was chosen at random from the Sea Pass cards collected at the start. That guest got to choose which of the full-sized cocktails they wanted, and then chose the next name at random. In that way everyone received a miniature of each cocktail and one full-sized drink. Lucky guests got their first choice, while those called out later in the drawing got what was left.

The class ran an hour and provided entertainment and a handful of good cocktail ideas for home, without being overly boozy. When offered, Royal Caribbean typically makes these a two-part affair, so there's something to do on the last at-sea day heading home. Each class features a different set of drinks.

It was a treat for me - I do a fair amount of drink-making at friends' parties, but I've never scoped out the view from the other side of a professional setup.

All the shortcomings of a home bar are resolved: ice for the shaker is in a freezer directly in front of the bartender, and the cover slides shut to form a work surface. A small sink is just off to the side for rinsing out jiggers, mixing tins and glasses. A drip strip is laid across the back edge of the bar top for draining rinsed mixing tins and glasses. All commonly used tools are stood on end in a tall container to dry. The floor is covered in a rubberized mat riven with drain holes - I was literally standing on a grid of holes. An ample trash receptacle is tucked into the bar back.

I look for this class on every cruise we take, and I've managed to learn something new about ingredients and technique in each. It never gets old.

Although the Cruise Compass doesn't mention it, guests interested in the class should stop by the bar the day before and ask if the bartender prefers sign-ups. Our first attempt attending the class failed, as Dave and I were the only participants. Somehow nine people showed up the next day for a re-try.

The other gem for avoiding the cruise hoards, and a particularly pleasant escape in the evening when the pools are closed, the sun is down and there's nowhere else to be is the Card Room. This little hideaway is usually tucked near the forward or aft elevators. On Royal's Freedom class and larger ships it resides on an upper deck, adjacent to one end of the promenade.

The room is stocked with tables and chairs, a couple dozen board games, and a glass wall and door to keep out much of the ship's noise.

We spent a few hours with friends playing games we'd brought along. Others played bridge, or other card games. One table brought a boom box playing old-school Motown music one night. It was better than a lounge for casual hanging-out.

There are other hide-aways here and there around the ship. Royal Caribbean's site includes detailed deck plans of every ship in their fleet. If you're headed out on a cruise, make an effort to look over your ship's layout. You'll find nice places away from the cruise hoards. Deal with the crowds on your own terms when necessary.

Next time I'll write about a hideaway high atop the ship, where the view is spectacular and the hoards are in short supply at the right time of the day.

#vacation #cruising #royal #caribbean #bars #passengers #escape

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