The elevator “dinged,” the doors slid open and my sister and I walked into the bustling lobby of our hotel filled with cruise passengers. Lining the walls and keeping a hand on their carry-on bags, people waited for their shuttle to take them to the cruise terminal. If you go on the Singing at Sea and stay at one of the “host hotels,” you can pay $40 and ride a shuttle to the cruise port. I highly recommend it! If you fly in and don’t have a vehicle to drive, you don’t have to rent a car or wait for/wonder if you’ll be able to get a taxi. Riding the shuttle from the hotel is the most convenient way of getting to the ship.
When riding the shuttle, we set our luggage outside our room earlier that morning for the porters to collect. When we went downstairs, we found a representative of Templeton Tours at the door of a conference room where the luggage was held. She let us know what time our shuttle would leave and then we waited for the “eleven o’clock shuttle” to be called. When we heard our time announced, we returned to the conference room, identified our luggage and walked out to the bus. We were on our way!
The cruise terminal is always a hub of activity, but I always admire how they can board so many people in such a short period of time. Though the lines are long, they always move quickly! In addition, we had friends with us so our time spent standing in line went by even more quickly. Before we knew it, we were walking on the ms Paradise and navigating the ship to our staterooms. For those wondering, “How do you know where to go on a ship that large?” it really isn’t that difficult, give yourself a day to acclimate and you’ll be fine. In the center of the ship, there are maps by the elevators with “You Are Here” dots so you can identify where you need to go.
As for the staterooms, I’ll give a brief description of the interior stateroom my sister and I booked. We always try and book an inside room – our philosophy is we are only in the room to sleep, change clothes and shower, so we don’t need a large room. When you enter, there is a closet on the right to hang up clothes and the bathroom on the left. Further in, you will have a counter space with a bottle of water, glasses, a power outlet and booklet with the shore excursions listed inside. Above the counter is a mirror. Two single beds were positioned side by side and in the corner was a weighted stool. Above in the same corner was a TV attached to the wall. Yes, it’s small, but it serves its purpose well. If you have the right kind of carry on suite case, you can open the lid and slide it under the bed to keep it out of the way, yet, accessible like a drawer. (That’s “cruise hack” #1!) *wink*
After we and our friends were settled in, we made our way up to the top deck for a late lunch. It was later on in the afternoon and we didn’t want too much food before supper, but we couldn’t pass up the Mongolian Grill, could we? When we finished eating, we chatted with a few friends on deck and then found our muster stations for the Life Boat Drill. Attending the Life Boat Drill is mandatory for every passenger – there, we learn how to put on the life jacket, when the appropriate time is to put on the life jacket and the route we would take to the Life Boat…in the case of a real emergency. I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself as I listened to the lady in front of me grumble because she didn’t want to walk up the stairs. I thought, “Well, if the ship does sink, I’m sure you’re perfectly welcome to stay down here!” LOL
When the Life Boat Drill ends the ship leaves port…which means the best view is up on the top deck! We found our friends up there and enjoyed watching Tampa pass by as the ms Paradise moved out to open water. We stayed up there for a little while and then went back to our staterooms to get ready for our first night in the Dining Room. The meals in the Dining Room will be the place where you will make some of your best memories. My sister and I always go with a “host group” on this cruise and because of that, we usually are sat at a table with or near the artist who is our host. This year, we sat with Mark and LaResa Trammell, a family from Kentucky whose oldest daughter I’m friends with on Facebook (how cool is that?!) and the others at our table were from St. Louis, Missouri; we really enjoyed getting to know everyone over the week.
Before we came on the cruise I made a resolution of sorts that I would not order the same things on the menu that I had last year. No, I would try something new! So…for a starter I ordered the Spinach and Artichoke Dip – my honest opinion, it was bland and had no taste. My main dish was the Beef Brisket – now that was delicious! The beef was tender and cooked to perfection and the side veggies were good too! For dessert I ordered the Chocolate Melting Cake – a favorite and one I would have again before the week ended. So much for ordering something different, eh?
After dinner we made our way to the Normandi Lounge in the front of the ship to see our host group, The Mark Trammell Quartet. As we entered the theater, Jerry Goff was on stage sharing a few statistics from this year’s cruise with the audience. This year, there were 37 states represented on the cruise, 73 Canadians and two people from England! North Carolina came in with the most passengers, followed by Florida, Tennessee, Georgia and Ohio (in that order). When MTQ came on stage they sang these favorites: Leave Your Sorrows, God’s Been Faithful, Guide Me Oh Thou Great Jehovah, Echoes From the Burning Bush, Wedding Music, Wonderful Time Up There and The King Is Coming. Mark shared that this year, he and LaResa were on their 54th cruise in 37 years of marriage and 52 of those cruises have been with Templeton Tours. Wow! That’s quite the legacy in cruising! After we enjoyed the concert we spent the rest of the evening walking around the ship and catching up with the people we get to see a couple times a year…and we may have visited the ice cream machine in the Paris Restaurant before turning in for the night.