Friday, April 15, 2016

Panama Canal Cruise – Miami to Los Angeles – Azamara Journey – February 7-29, 2016

February 6, 2016 – Travel Day

We are taking a late Saturday night flight to Miami to rendezvous with the Azamara Journey tomorrow.  We are booked on a double cruise.  The first leg will take us from Miami to Caldera, Costa Rica.  We will gain some passengers there (and lose some, I guess) and then begin our second leg up the Western Coast of Mexico ending up in Los Angeles.  We did this cruise last (in reverse) in 2014 and it was terrific.  This one should be just a good.  The Journey has just come out of dry dock after a major refit of just about the entire ship.  It should be interesting to see what they have done.

Our taxi arrived right at the pickup time of 5:45 PM but he somehow got us to Terminal 3 at 6:05 PM (Warp 3).  The airport was pretty deserted (maybe only a half dozen cars parked in front of Terminal 1 and 3).  There was no one in TSA PreChek so we zipped right through and our gate, K6, is just a short walk from Security.

AA1106 is scheduled to depart at 7:50 PM and arrive in Miami at 11:54 PM.  We are going to be a bit tired tomorrow but that was our only option outside of spending the better part of the weekend in Miami.  

Our plane – a B737-800 - is here


AA1106 – B737-800 – At Gate K6

and our boarding is scheduled for 7:20 PM – about 30 minutes from now.  We are doing carry-on today so we can get our bags faster in Miami.  This involved some logistics changes in packing our clothes and other gear but we figured it all out.  Now the only issue is whether we will be able to lift and secure our bags in the overhead compartment. 

Boarding took place on time – I had not trouble putting the bags in the overhead compartments (and they fit perfectly).  We are across the aisle from each other in 14C/14D.  Soon all the passengers were on board and we were the only ones in our exit row.  That means stretching out and moving around to take pictures.


AA1106 Ready to Go (Maybe)

The captain came on – very articulate and understandable – and indicated that we would be starting engines at the gate.  That doesn’t happen that often (perhaps all of the trucks that do that once we are in the taxiway were busy).  I heard the engines spool up.

Several minutes passed by and we did not push – the captain came on again and said that the panel that covers the high speed air intake used to start the engines would not close.  Maintenance was called and it would be about a half hour before we would be able to leave.  Our new arrival time in Miami was now 12:30 AM.


Mechanic Working on the Plane

A half hour later, we were told by the captain that maintenance had replaced the panel and we were good to go.

We were number 2 to go…


Takeoff Roll

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Chicago Climb Out

The climb was choppy on our way to 37,000 feet so the light stayed on a bit longer than usual.  Also, it was great to have the row all to myself.


The flight was relatively smooth until we were about 100 miles from the airport.  The pilot came on and said that chop was expected on the descent and asked the flight attendants to clear and ready the cabin for landing early (a first for us).

He was right – there was a lot of chop on the way down as the plane went in and out of clouds and through shifting winds.

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Final Approach to MIA

The plane was rolling a bit right before touchdown so when the wings were level, the pilot dropped the aircraft on the runway (I could tell that the plan did not land in the center of the runway).

We dragged our bags to Level 1 at MIA and after some wrong turns, found a taxi.  Our trip to the Holiday Inn Miami West took about 30 minutes and cost $36 (including the tip). 

Sunday, February 7, 2016 – Travel Day (Continued) and Embarkation Day


The Holiday Inn was a Howard Johnson until January 2016.  It was pretty much totally renovated.  The desk honored our HoJo reservation price and we made our way to Room 719.  The room was beautiful – King Size bed with fancy linens – Euro style bathroom – huge flat screen TV. 



Room 719


View from Room 719

We had negotiated late checkout (1 PM) so we didn’t need to get up real early. We finally turned out the lights at 2:00 AM.

The hotel was quiet during the night but early in the morning all of the guests seemed to be the hall at once and chatting – the walls were not thick enough to keep the noise down.

We had two chits for breakfast (6:30 – 10:30AM) and went down around 9:30 AM to eat.  The breakfast was the full variety – pancakes, waffles, omelets to order, cereals, fruit, etc.  I had a waffle and a little bit of a tomato/onion omelet (both were very good).

The hotel did have a pay to go Shuttle Service to the port but all shuttles were booked.  We had the concierge order us a taxi at a negotiated price of $45 (regular fare without traffic is about $53).  The cab was right on time at 11:30 AM.

The ride to the port took us back toward the airport so that hotel was not the best logistically.  The ride to the Port of Miami took about 30-40 minutes.  When we got there, we did not see the Azamara Journey at the main set of terminals.  We wound up asking a security person and he looked up the Journey, which was docked at Terminal J.  Even though the taxi took us all around the port, the price was still the same – he got a good tip.

Check in was very fast and we boarded the ship and were greeted with a glass of champagne.  We went up the Windows Café for lunch.  I had pretty much what I had last time on this ship – Vegetarian Pad Thai and grilled Asian Salmon along with a salad.  Again, very good.

The Journey looked much brighter following its makeover and the look continued in the staterooms.  We are in Stateroom 4009 – our first time on the starboard side of the ship.  Our stateroom was very nice with new colors, wallpaper, huge plasma TV, bathroom tiles, and other little touches.

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Stateroom 4009

We spent the afternoon on the couches on Deck 9.




There are five other ships here today, including the NCL Pearl, NCL Getaway, Carnival Breeze, Carnival Splendor, and a Celebrity Ship.


Busy Day Port of Miami


Across Deck 10


Plane Landing at MIA

I got a note in the cabin indicating I would be doing all five lectures.  A phone message told me to meet Matt Belsey, the Activities Manager, in the Guest Relations area for an interview. 

We got there a little early and were able to catch tomorrow’s morning show, “Who Cares”, with Matt and Eric.  The two of them were a hoot, even though Matt has just come aboard today. The “Who Cares” segment at the end was hilarious.

Then it was my turn and my interview with Matt came off OK – I always get anxious about the interviews but this time, I was more relaxed.


Interview With Matt

Super Bowl 50 was supposed to be broadcast on Deck  9 but due to the chilliness, the show was brought inside to the Cabaret Lounge and Casino Lounge.  Food included hot dogs, burgers, and fries.


The Super Bowl

We had dinner in the Windows Café (because my interview with Matt kept us from being able to go to the Dining Room).  I had veggie pasta freshly made and a bit of the grouper.  All good.

The sail away was late but I still tried to get a picture of the ship leaving.


Sail Away Miami

The Welcome Aboard Show was moved to the “Living Room” (formerly the Looking Glass Lounge).  Eric announced what was going to happen during the cruise and mentioned the speakers but we were never asked to come up and say a few words.  OK by me.

We listed to a group called “Virtuoso” (piano and clarinet), who played some classical music.  We stayed for the whole thing not knowing if Eric might still introduce the speakers.

Back to the room – a really long day.

Seas are smooth…

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