Monday, 21 September 2015

We're on a boat!

This is the continuation of my previous post about my writing retreat/cruise – what happened the rest of Sunday Sep 20.


I arrived at Port Everglades around noon. The Independence of the Seas was the only ship in port. Checking baggage seemed pretty informal compared to airports. My one suitcase had a tag I printed off the internet with my name and stateroom number; I gave it to a baggage handler, and that was that. Of course it was eight hours later before it showed up in my stateroom, but I'd been warned about that and had made sure the stuff I really needed was in the backpack I kept with me.

I then lined up for getting myself onto the ship. Lines divided up by what deck your stateroom was on. The line was long – the ship has room for something like 5000 guests – but it went fairly quickly. I just had to present my passport, some paperwork I'd filled out beforehand that was available on the Internet, and my credit card. They issued me a small plastic “boarding pass” with my name, my dining room assignment, and my mustering station. It served as the room key for my stateroom, and had a sticker showing I'd paid for unlimited soft drinks and premium coffee.

There was a multi-storey gangway ramp up from the 2nd floor of the building. It seemed a little steep to me, and I had that confirmed later by a family member of someone who needed a wheelchair. Entry was onto deck 4; I just had to find the stairs down one level to deck 3. I had to wait a few minutes until they opened the doors at 1pm to the corridors with the rooms. Mine wasn't quite ready yet, so I left it to the stewards and explored the ship a bit, trying to find my way forward to the conference room. However, most floors don't give you a clear way from one end to the other. I passed through a casino and found a large theatre before going back, finding a staircase, and walked along the outside deck on level 4. The conference room was down two levels, on level 2.

I went back to my stateroom to lie down for a bit before the “muster” – a drill to practice for abandoning ship, required by international law. There were three announcements it was about to happen, at 2:45, 3:00, and 3:15; immediately after the last one the ship's whistle blew and we all had to make it to our mustering stations and line up in tight-packed rows and get shown how to don a life jacket. We had been told we didn't need to bring ours. I had taken some of the time before the drill to find mine in my stateroom closet and figure out how to get it on, but I did watch the demonstrator carefully to make sure I'd got the details right.

The ship “sailed” moments after 4pm, and I spent about 20 minutes on deck watching the process. The ship starts off with its starboard (right) side up against the buffers at the edge of the dock, with its bow not far from another barrier. It pushes off with a set of directional thrusters underwater that push it sideways and backwards away from the dock. It proceeds very slowly; the ship is gigantic and so packs a huge amount of momentum, and you don't want it going fast in confined spaces. I spotted a small boat racing up and down beside the ship; it took a while before several of us could make out the “U.S. Coast Guard” writing on the side, and the 50-caliber machine gun on the front. We couldn't quite decide on what they were doing – maybe keeping small boats away from the ship? I watched until the bow cleared the breakwater and we were actually out in the Atlantic, which took me close to the 4:30 starting time for the conference introduction.

Most of the introduction would probably be of interest only to conference-goers. At the end we broke into smaller groups to get a tour of the ship. It is a big ship! Primarily we went to places where we would meet at various points in the schedule, but also to a few good places to write. A lot of the bars are empty in the morning, for example.

In the evening we had a session of small writing exercises, which I hope to blog about under the Writing collection sometime tomorrow.