Tuesday dawned. It was the first full day of my fifth Singing at Sea cruise and I was looking forward to the first port of call on the trip – Key West, Florida. But before we could explore the southernmost point of the U.S., my mom and I went up to the Windjammer and had breakfast. Our ship wouldn’t come into port for another hour or two, so we had plenty of time. The ship our cruise was on, Brilliance of the Seas, had an extensive spread for breakfast in the Windjammer, a.k.a the ship’s buffet restaurant. Different stations offered fruit, bread/pastries, hot breakfast foods like bacon, pancakes and hashbrowns, as well as an omelet station. We ate quickly and headed down to Guest Services on Deck 4 to ask, unbeknownst to us, a question that would lead to the highlight of the trip – how do we get to the helipad?
Brilliance of the Seas, and several additional Royal Caribbean Ships, are equipped with helipads at the bow of the vessel. This was my first time on a ship that had one, and I was pretty excited to experience the panoramic views as we came into Key West. It was still pretty early as made our way to deck five, slipped out the doors to an outer deck that led to the front of the ship and climbed the set of stairs leading to the helipad. Though the wind out there was atrocious, the view was worth it.
My mom and I stayed at the front of the ship as we came into Key West up until the time the ship docked. As the depth of the water changed, so did its color. There were about five different colors of blue in the water that made the scenery outstanding. I could have stayed out there and gazed at it all day! Yet, my favorite part of the morning was when the ship was just getting close to the island. We were out there on the same parallel with the fishing trawlers, when I looked down and saw a school of dolphins in front of the ship. Dolphins! I couldn’t believe it. I had been on five cruises, including stops in the Bahamas and Western Caribbean, and had never, ever saw dolphins. But seeing them in that setting, out in the “wild” against the aqua blue water was very, very thrilling.
At noon, the ship had docked and passengers were cleared to leave the ship. We spent the afternoon walking around the island and visiting places like the Southernmost Point, Hemingway’s House, the lighthouse and the 0 Mile road marker. To include every detail of our day here would make for a really long post, so if you’re interested in reading more about our day in Key West, visit the travel section of my blog here —> Singing at Sea | Key West
We were back on the ship by five o’clock and I was torn… Should I enjoy dinner in the dining room or catch a Key West sunset off the back deck and eat in the Windjammer? Well, the sunset won and I was very pleased with the decision. Once the sun dipped below the horizon, the sky was painted with pinks, purples and blues that made for some incredible pictures! (And the Indonesian food in the Windjammer was outstanding!)
So outstanding, that I had to hurry to the Pacifica Theater to catch the Mark Trammell Quartet at 7:45 pm! The Pacifica is the ship’s largest theater and has multi-deck seating. The evening concerts begin at 5:45 pm and run until 11:45 pm with a one hour break at 9:00 pm. The Mark Trammell Quartet came on stage with the hymn “Guide Me Oh, Thou Great Jehovah” and went right into “Meet Me Over On The Other Side.” I always love it when they sing that one on the cruise…boats, water, it fits! The next two songs featured bass singer Randy Byrd. “Thanks To Calvary” was first and the slower tune showcased Randy’s rich tone and then “Take It To The Grave” was the barn burner with the low notes that fans always love to hear from a quartet. Mark paused to introduce the group, saving their new pianist, Trevor Conkle, for last. Mark asked Trevor to play a solo for the crowd, and he took off on “The Hallelujah Chorus.” Afterwards, MTQ sang their new radio single, “Go Show John” and also featured their tenor, Blake Buffin, on “He Is Mine and I Am His.” The quartet closed their segment of the evening with “It’s Almost Over,” a stirring ballad that brought the audience to their feet.
The next group to perform in the Pacifica was Karen Peck & New River, and who could resist staying for that? Not me! Karen Peck & New River began their time on stage with their ballad, “The Reason” and went into “I’m Bound For The Promised Land.” Recently, Ricky Braddy left KPNR and their fill-in for the cruise was well-known songwriter, Lee Black. Karen introduced him and then they sang “Revival” and “Pray Now.” Karen then introduced her daughter Kari to the crowd and shared how Kari’s solo from their new CD, is becoming one of the songs they have a request for every night. Together, Kari and Lee Black sang “I’ll Keep On Praying.” Halfway through the Jazzy tune, a lady on the front row handed Karen a cell phone, which she quickly switched the flashlight on and waved it back and forth. The audience caught on and within seconds, the audiences was a swaying glow of light. Karen tried to close her set with “I Choose Christ,” but as much as the crowd embraced the sweet spirit the ballad ushered in the room, they wouldn’t have it for a closer. They wanted “Four Days Late!”…and they got it.
There was one more group I wanted to hear in the Pacifica Theater that evening, and it was the Primitive Quartet. There’s nothing like live music, and when Primitive came on with “What A Singing There Will Be,” the crowd knew it was in for a treat. The guys continued with “The Blood Of God’s Only Son” and “Who Is The Rich Man Now?” Folks in the audience hollered their approval, stood and raised their hands. These people were so caught up in the lyric’s message, they didn’t care if any one else was standing, they were going to express their worship anyway. Randy Fox took a moment and spoke to the audience and shared how the ship’s crew treats everyone like kings and queens on the cruise. He shared how one time, on their very first cruise years ago, he and his wife were walking around the ship and he asked her, “I wonder what the little people are doing?” Then added, “We are blessed…but we haven’t seen nothing yet!” Their next song was “Thank You For The Roses.” After that tune, Reagan also shared with the audience and thanked the crew for serving us. “Thank you for that,” he said, “But please go to heaven with us. It’s the best decision you’ll ever make!” They closed their time in the Pacifica with “I Can Feel The Tug” and “My Hope Is In The Blood.”
When the Primitive Quartet finished up it was around 10:40 pm, which meant it was time to head to the Windjammer, get some ice cream, fellowship a little and then call it a night. With our port in Key West and all the singing, we enjoyed a full day. Although I was tired, everything we did, I thoroughly enjoyed. From walking around the island to listening to MTQ, KPNR and the Primitive Quartet in the Pacifica, it was the beginning of a perfect Southern Gospel cruise!