As I write these words, we are in day #5 of a 7-day genealogy theme cruise sponsored by RootsMagic. The cruise is taking place on one of the largest and most modern of today's cruise ships, the Royal Caribbean's "Mariner of the Seas." We have already stopped at all the ports of call and are now headed back to Port Canaveral, Florida.
The genealogy group on board is a bit smaller than some of the other genealogy cruises this year but also has been one of the most enthusiastic. We have been holding seminars at sea about a wide variety of genealogy-related topics. In fact, most of the days spent at sea have seen three simultaneous genealogy presentations being made from 8:30 AM until 5:00 PM except for a lunch break. Soon after the last presentation of the day, all of the RootsMagic attendees usually dine together in the same area of the dining room. After dinner, I see the genealogists often gathering together in the lounges and elsewhere. Camaraderie seems to be high on this genealogy cruise, and everyone seems to be smiling.
The weather has been nearly perfect most every day. On the first full day of the cruise, we stopped at CoCo Cay, a small island in the Bahamas owned by Royal Caribbean cruise lines. The primary activity on this island seems to be lying in the sun. Indeed, that is what I did. A few hardy souls went on a hike around the tiny island and even discovered a tiny cemetery with a few weathered headstones. The rest of us spent a much more leisurely day soaking up rays.
The second day was spent at sea with genealogy presentations made from 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM. The presentations were all made in the ship's Business Center, which has a number of high-tech meeting rooms, equipped with overhead computer projectors, interactive television (which we did not use) and a variety of other high-tech gear. The venue is first class.
The third day found the ship in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. It was a bit crowded there as five or six other cruise ships were in the port at the same time! I am told that the downtown shopping area was as crowded as the shopping malls back home on Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving).
Not being much of a shopper, I elected to jump on a small boat and travel a few miles to St. Johns, another island in the Virgin Islands chain. St. Johns does not have an airport nor a harbor big enough to handle cruise ships. That island seemed nearly deserted in comparison. While there, I joined a few other hardy souls and participated in an ecology learning experience: a walk through the Virgin Islands National Park, ending at the exclusive Caneel Bay resort. While walking in the rain forest, we saw a lot of tropical plants and birds. We also saw a number of tarantulas' nests but no actual tarantulas.
Other genealogists from the cruise reportedly went shopping and snorkeling and took various sightseeing tours. With everyone back on board, the "Mariner of the Seas" steamed out of the crowded harbor about eight PM.
The following day we woke to find ourselves in the Dutch side of St. Maarten. The small island is split in two with the other side belonging to France and properly called Saint Martin. I took a Jeep tour. A bunch of us drove Jeeps through the Dutch side, through winding switchback roads, over a very high ridge that offered magnificent views of then island, and down the other side into French Saint Martin. After a brief shopping stop in the city where the merchants only accepted Euros or plastic credit cards, we went off to spend the afternoon at Orient Beach. Voted one of the three best beaches in the world, this two-mile beach has sand made of ground coral, not ground rock like most beaches. The difference is obvious when you walk through it: ground coral is much softer than normal beach sand. The scenery was great, and the sun was shining brightly. With some reluctance, we drove the Jeeps back to the cruise ship terminal late in the afternoon.
Other members of the genealogy cruise went shopping (which was much less crowded than St. Thomas), took sightseeing bus tours, went snorkeling, rode Segway scooters on the town's boardwalk, or visited the Butterfly Ranch. Everyone got back on board, and all I heard was glowing reports of the day's activities.
The trip back to our starting point requires two more days at sea. As I write these words, we are in the first of those two days, and genealogy presentations are in full swing. The presenters include: Leland Meitzler, Deborah Abbott, Jana Broglin, Bruce Buzbee, Michael Leclerc, Rhonda McClure, Diana Smith, Gary Smith, and myself.
I must say that the Royal Caribbean "Mariner of the Seas" is the nicest cruise ship that I have seen, out of 8 cruises that I have enjoyed. This ship would appear to have everything: an ice skating rink (how many ships have one of those?), a rock climbing wall, a 9-hole miniature golf course, a well-equipped business center, full video production capabilities, a Ben and Jerry's ice cream bar, a Johnny Rockets hamburger restaurant, a Mardi Gras parade, a cell phone "tower" so that everyone has constant cell phone connections available anyplace on the ship as well as all the other comforts one expects to find on modern cruise ships. Indeed, this is a great place to hold genealogy seminars!
As soon as I send this article, I am off to watch the "mini ice capades" being held this evening at the ice skating rink.
Of course, I am always interested in Internet connectivity on board cruise ships.The "Mariner of the Seas" has three parallel, and apparently separate, Internet services. The oldest system provides hard-wired Internet access in each cabin. The speed of this old system is quite slow, apparently less than 56 kbaud dial-up speeds. However, it is a bargain at $15 a day for unlimited connectivity. I have never seen unlimited Internet access at any price on any of my earlier cruises.
The second and more modern Internet option uses "Wi-Fi" wireless hotspots in several locations around the ship. Wi-Fi access is not guaranteed to work in your room although some genealogists report that it works well from their balconies. While faster, the more modern service is also more expensive. You can purchase blocks of time in advance to lower the price to twenty-five cents per minute of online time.
The third method of Internet access works through cellular phones. If you already have Internet access on your cell phone, you can continue to use that while on board the cruise ship. All the other cell phone features also work as expected, such as text messaging. However, you are charged international roaming rates while at sea. I don't know exactly how much that is but I bet it isn't cheap.
All in all, the RootsMagic cruise has been a great event. The cruise isn't finished yet, but I think I can safely say that everyone who attended will go home and report to friends and family that they had a great time. I expect that many of them, perhaps most, will be back on next year's RootsMagic cruise. Kudos go to Bruce and Laurie Buzbee, ably assisted by Gary and Diana Smith and the other presenters.
Speaking of next year's cruise, Bruce Buzbee has already announced that there will be a 2008 RootsMagic Genealogy Cruise. Next year's cruise will be along the west coast of Mexico, the so-called "Mexican Riviera." The cruise will probably include stops in Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas.
You can find more information about this year's RootsMagic Genealogy Cruise at: http://rootsmagiccruise.com.
If you are interested in attending next year's RootsMagic cruise, keep an eye on the same Web site: http://rootsmagiccruise.com. I would expect that information about next year's cruise will appear there within a few months.