17 June 2016
The beauty of this cruise is that the vast majority of the sailing is done overnight, so you wake up (almost) every morning in a new port in a new country. Today was the turn of Rostock, Germany.
Organised excursions for the day varied from a day trip to Berlin, a tour of beachtown Warnemunde and a tour of university-town Rostock. None appealed to us since Berlin was a 3 hour us trip each way, it wasn’t the weather for the beach (barely 20 degrees and gloomy) and we felt a group tour might frustrating, constantly being herded and hindered (especially since we’re a good 20+ years below the average age on this cruise!)
We made arrangements to catch a shuttle into town to make our own way around Rostock and headed for the gangway (which was conveniently on our deck!). The disembarkation process was simple enough, just requiring a flash of the sea pass to log our departure, so within minutes we were in Germany. Of course, I can’t say “on dry land” because, as dumb luck would have it, it started to rain the moment we disembarked the ship.
It was only a very light drizzle, but it brought out the crazy in everyone, apparently! A short walk down the pier and we were at the bus stop. The only thing that demarcated this was an actual bus stopped there.
We arrived to mayhem. A beanpole of a young German chap in cruise uniform was in the doorway of the bus, taking a heated verbal lambasting from some fiery Mexicans at the foot of the bus’s steps who were clearly displeased at not being able to fit on the current bus, which already had its full complement of passengers – and was clearly subject to the “only want to hear one click” German flexibility when it came to allowing additional, which the troupe of Mexicans were animatedly asserting was the solution. It escalated to the point that the little cluster tried to storm the Bastille and push their way onto the bus and had it not been for the fact that the German chap was a quarter of their age and twice their average height, they might very well have succeeded! Despite a little old lady trying to squeeze her way past him (squealing in the process), his superior wingspan outed and he scooped the lot of them out of the bus, yelling for the bus driver to close the door quickly behind him.
Poor fella then found himself on the ground with all sorts of yelling and hand waving in his face. He did his best to get everyone to form a line, but there was to be none of that – nobody was prepared to concede even a single position in case they didn’t get their seat on the next bus. Giving up, the German retreated to his box of supplies, swearing audibly to himself and pretending to look busy counting tickets. I walked up to him to ask for a tourist map and he gave me a death stare… calming only (marginally) when he realised I wasn’t there to complain.
It couldn’t have been more than a minute or two later that the next business arrived. The German had given up; he didn’t even try to get the orderly queueing system line in place. Good thing too as there was physical violence in the doorway of the new bus as an American almost leapfrogged over the Mexicans to get on the bus. It was almost comical as the American pushed them aside with his best “talk to the hand” palm, shouting justification that he’d already missed 3 busses and wasn’t missing this one, as 2 tiny old Mexican ladies grabbed at his shirt and one of their husbands threw punches. The American landed on the top step, swiveled around and was squashed flat against the driver as he tried to get in position for his old school thumb-in fist slow rotation circular undercut punching. His wife had been left behind in this skirmish and was now looking bewildered at him through the bus window as he took his seat in the front row, dishevelled but smug.
We had no such trouble. We asserted ourselves into the throng and rode the wave onto the bus. It was like very noisy body-surfing. Most of the people who missed that bus did so because they were so busy faffing with their brollies, which made us almost glad that we’d (already!) misplaced our Copenhagen one.
It was about 20 minutes into Rostock and we were deposited on Long Street, aptly named for being the longest street in the historical centre, reconstructed into a parade street of monumental buildings in the GDR era.
We were grateful for the buildings to get out of the rain – and fortuitously found ourselves in the Galleria where we got new brollies, down from 49 Euros to a bargain 5 Euros (the Germans do know how to have a decent sale!) so we got 2.
The brollies made it more comfortable to walk to the tourist office, where we sought refuge for the 15 mins of hard rain while collecting tourist maps and plotting our course.
Rostock is a perfect day trip stop as everything is within walking distance in a convenient circuit with no double-backing required. A quick review of the map and its accompanying legend determined that our day would be a university-church-market-hall-wall-gate-church-church-harbour-church-church tour. Somewhere in the middle there would also be a leisurely visit to the craft brewery.
The tour started with a single step. Literally. The University of Rostock’s main building is adjacent to the tourist office, so taking a step outside revealed the first sight on the map. The university is one of the oldest in the world, founded in 1419, and is in a beautiful terracotta Renaissance style building so we felt we’d already achieved something.
A walk down the main shopping street, Kropeliner, got us to the New Market (well, relatively as new can be being almost a thousand years old) and town hall (“Rathaus”, built in 1270). The square is surrounded with a facade of pastel gabled houses and is a bit like Warsaw’s square, but filled with fruit and vegetables stalls instead of cafés and restaurants.
We ticked off the gates and the city wall, built in 1350 and large sections of which are still preserved today. We skipped most of the churches in favour of a walk along the harbour’s popular promenade, the end of which housed the microbrewery we’d been recommended.
Zum Alten Fritz was cosy and warm inside, with traditional German wood-intensive decor. The middle of the room was dominated by a huge wooden bar with all copper vats and pipes (presumably) delivering fresh beer to the stations piled high and wide with beer glasses of various sizes. Between the bar and the front bay windows that overlooked the (damp) beergarden were a handful of high tables, where we sat, and the rest of the space was restaurant tables and booths, with people eating enormous eisbeins and other great big pork dishes. The local brew, Stortebekker, was very satisfying so we settled in and enjoyed the view and the atmosphere.
The trip to Rostock would not have been complete without at least sampling the famous Rostock beer though so we went back into town to source some.
Ironically, the first venue with Rostock branding was right underneath the famous St Marien church, renowned for its astronomical clock (built in 1472)… and now for some pretty formidable free wifi! Fortunately the beer wasn’t as strong as the wifi, so we were soon able to mobilise to get back to the bus stop to catch our shuttle back to the ship.
The bus stop was manned by a different tour director, who had effortlessly lined the guests up in single file, had everyone waiting patiently for the next bus and managed an uneventful embarkation. It was almost disappointingly orderly after the kerfuffle in the morning!
DAY AT SEA
18 June 2016
There was no chance we were going to get cabin fever on our day at sea. While we only had one standing engagement (pun intended) in the acceptance we’d made to the by-invitation-only Honeymooners party, there was LOTS to do on board.
Each evening a printed notice of the next day’s arrangements – called The Cruise Compass – was delivered along with the turndown service. The sea day one was a bumper issue, with all sorts of activities arranged throughout the day covering everything from dance classes to rockwall climbing to bingo to pop quizzes to gambling lessons and an array of arty crafty things like napkin folding art and cutting and sticking things to other things. Something for everyone – and some hard to picture for anyone.
Equal parts exciting and daunting was the mealtime daily planner, which showed that everywhere was offering extended hours so our 3 favourite restaurants’ serving hours were overlapping and we could get a good feeding literally any time day or night! Not that we’d been starving by a long shot. We’d been very well taken care of by the Windjammer buffet dining, Reflections 3-course table-service and Park Café for the in-betweener quesadilla / roast beef slices / chocolate chip cookies to see us to mealtimes.
The breakfast buffet was so extensive that we’d had to make some tough trade-offs. I’d even bypassed bacon in favour of gammon and declared “sausage of the day” to be turkey, which was surprisingly satisfyingly porky! We also tried American ‘biscuits and gravy’; a heavy scone with delicious creamy slightly peppery white sauce, which worked well with my hashbrowns.
Fed to bursting, we made our way to the Honeymooners party, held in the Castle & Crown pub. We hadn’t been there before and it was a whole new world to venture through the casino to find yet more entertainment awaiting us, including the cinema that flighted a new film 4 times each day.
We were welcomed, ushered to a table, offered champagne and mimosa and served canapés and chocolate strawberries. We were also given a ticket for a lucky draw. There were 11 couples in total on the guestlist, so we were left to ourselves while the last few arrived.
Aysy, the cruise activities director, did a charming welcome and “live, love and laugh” speech before unveiling a magnificent giant cream cake dedicated to all of us! The cake was delicious… but it was impossible to do justice to the wedged we were served on top of what had already been a morning of straight eating!
We didn’t win the raffle (1st prize a bottle of champagne; 2nd a hamper of branded Royal Caribbean merch), but thought that maybe our ship had come in when on our way out through the casino we spotted a pokey machine with 24 credits still on it. Two spins of the wheel and we were (back to broke). A very good thing neither of us are gamblers because we’re clearly not naturally talented!
The next pressing item on the agenda was pool time. It was a bit chilly at the main pool so we settled in the Solarium, a cosy indoor pool with fountains, glass roof and loungers facing inwards toward the pool and outwards against the floor-to-ceiling windows for an unfettered ocean view.
This did nothing to work up a lunch appetite so we did the responsible thing and visited the gym. Impressively decked out, it was surprisingly busy (especially since the ship is so big that it’s easy to do 5,000 steps a day just moving between meals!). The gym also had a spa and sauna attached; this ship really has *everything*.
The work-out didn’t do much to create appetite, but fortunately we’re driven more by taste than hunger so enjoyed a lovely pasta lunch nonetheless before progressing to bingo in the Safari Club lounge. We needn’t have rushed; we found out that bingo was $50 each when we got there, which was too rich for our blood!
In between all of this excitement, Guest Services had contacted us to say that my suitcase handle was irreparable. Hardly surprising since having the exact right handle in stock was unlikely to say the least. They instead gave me a whole new suitcase, which was very nice of them.
We had decided to skip the Captain’s Dinner in the main dining room for the sake of avoiding having to get all dolled up, and the Windjammer having a Turkish themed evening entrenched our decision as sound. There was just enough time to grab a kebab and a curry and still get to the 7 o’clock movie at the cinema, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot with Tina Fey (who will play me in the movie of my life, but not in as serious a way as she portrayed this Kim Baker war journalist person in the film).
As ridiculous as it may sound, we went out for dessert after the movie. The intention was to go for a waffle since there was a full scale station set up with The Works. It was only when standing in the queue did the magnitude of this decision hit. There simply was no more room in the inn!
Well, there’s never NO room, so we made our own softserve cones and retreated to our lounge where room service delivered us a soothing coffee and green tea nightcap. Not very rock ‘n roll, but tomorrow was another day.