It wasn't exactly the cruise we planned, but Celebrity Cruises, the Port of Baltimore, and the crew of the Zenith all worked hard to make it a memorable one.
Our documents indicated a 4 pm sailing from New York City, the world's most spectacular port to begin an ocean voyage. Unless you've been hiding in a cave you know that terrorists crashed two jumbo jets into the World Trade Center on September 11th and the New York City piers were pressed into service for the ensuing emergency rescue and clean-up operations.
Instead of a flight to New York and the gala Bon Voyage soirée in an elegant Manhattan eatery planned by our friends, Mel and I set out on a road trip to Baltimore. We aren't afraid to fly; it was just less stressful to pack up the car and go. Ten hours on I-20 and I-95 were broken up with side trips and an overnight stop in historic Williamsburg, Virginia.
This was to be a very special cruise for us for a number of reasons and one was awaiting our arrival Glen Burnie, Maryland. It was a delight to be greeted in a strange city by familiar faces--there's no feeling quite like it. We quickly located our small cruise group from across the country. It wasn't chic New York, but we were overwhelmed by the hospitality of Marylaners.
On Our Way: After consulting the directions provided by the Dundalk Passenger Terminal, the nexy morning our group of nine cruising friends (Judi and Michael, Bob and Sheryl, Harry and Leona, John, and Mel and Linda) piled into three vehicles and our mini-caravan headed for the pier. Documents were required to enter the dock area and we were directed to "Shed 5" where the luggage was unloaded in orderly fashion. Bags were hefted by porters onto a conveyor to be x-rayed and our proffered tips were waved off with a smile and, "Not necessary, this is our job!" Wow! What a welcome!! Checked items immediately went into bins and we stepped aside with our carry-ons to await the arrival of our drivers. Secure parking was provided at a reasonable $5 per day (payable in advance) and a complimentary shuttle brought Mel, Michael, and Harry back to the security check point.
It was an efficient process and one that demonstrated careful planning. Crowding was kept at a minimum as porters directed arriving passengers to remain in their vehicles until their turn to unload. Inside the check-in area, the lines were short and we breezed through the procedure at the Captain's Club counter in record time.
On Board: Veterans of a Zenith cruise in 1999, we had no trouble finding cabin 1062, a Category 3 on Deck 10. Although staterooms were reportedly not "ready," we dropped off our carry-ons and gathered in Judi and Michael's suite for champagne and many toasts as their charming butler, Andrew, popped in and out. As luggage began arriving, everyone wandered off to unpack before meeting again--this time in the Fleet Bar for 6 PM sailaway festivities.
Although the port area is primarily commercial, we watched the lights of Baltimore fade into the distance. Zenith made her way through the Chesapeake Bay, finally reaching the open sea about 4 AM. I admit, I missed that milestone.
A cooperative Atlantic presented us with smooth seas and an enjoyable crossing to Bermuda. Due to our late departure on Saturday and the time it took to reach the open Atlantic, we didn't arrive in Bermuda until late afternoon on Monday. No matter! There was plenty to do on board, with a myriad of activities for those who wished to participate. We took advantage of the time to catch up with our friends and work toward our goal of total relaxation.
While exploring the Zenith, we noted numerous improvements since our earlier cruise. The addition of Michael's Club was a big hit with cigar aficionado Mel and the other smokers in our group. Cova Cafe quickly became a favorite spot to sip specialty coffees and treat ourselves to morning pastries and decadent afternoon chocolate treats. The art-deco Martini Bar was always crowded before dinner, but it was no problem being served their specialties from comfortable seats in the adjacent Rendez-vous Lounge. The Fleet Bar remains our lounge of choice and we met there for port departures and arrivals to take advantage of the panoramic views and forward-facing open deck. All ships should be designed with such an agreeable space.
Bermuda: Land ho! Our afternoon arrival meant not a lot available to do ashore, but we took advantage of the time to purchase our bus/ferry passes. The balcony of Flanagan's Pub was an agreeable spot to catch the activities on Hamilton's waterfront and sample a pint of local ale. Zenith is disadvantaged in that it has no balcony staterooms, but the second floor pubs overlooking Front Street are a pleasant alternative.
On a bus ride, my husband remarked about crazy tourists and a delightful young schoolgirl responded, "Oh no, we enjoy your company." Judi remarked later, "That comment by the Whitney Institute Netball player really hit me. That attitude, which is displayed by most all Bermudans, is the reason that I love Bermuda and would gladly go back time and again!" I couldn't agree more.
Zenith repositioned to St. George's on Wednesday and the beautiful day called for a late al fresco lunch at the waterfront Carriage House. My traditional Bermuda-style fish chowder was excellent--spicy and full of seafood. Our waiter described the scene when Norwegian Majesty snapped her mooring lines during a recent storm and headed right for the restaurants fronting Water Street. Scary!
Departure on Thursday was advanced several hours than earlier scheduled due to our Baltimore destination. Squeaking through the channel, local residents and St. George's Town Crier waved to us from the rocky shore and called out, "See you next year!" It was the end of Zenith's last Bermuda cruise of the season.
Despite our shortened time in Bermuda, we had lovely weather and a pleasurable stay. I am partial to revisiting favorite vacation spots and ports of call because I am comfortable in familiar surroundings. I always feel at home in Bermuda and I have the same feeling about the Zenith. Her mid-size (47,255 tons) and passenger capacity (1,375 double occupancy) contribute much to the cozy ambiance of an exclusive club.