Back-to-Back on Different Ships

People often take two cruises in a row, though it is usually on the same ship. After disembarking Royal Caribbean Wonder of the Seas at Port Canaveral we set sail for our next cruise on MSV Meraviglia the same day. Although it was from the same port, our boarding experience from one to the other couldn’t have been more different. Ports these days usually line people up according to their boarding times, which are assigned without option on MSC and chosen when completing the online registration on Royal Caribbean.  The first available time shown at 5am on the first day of registration was 12 noon, but when we got there some people had times starting as early as 10am. Whether those times were reserved for people of higher loyalty status or with more expensive cabins or just had all already been taken by people in earlier time zones and removed from the offerings before I saw them I can’t say.

Wonder of the Seas in Saint Martin

Our booking on Wonder of the Seas happened to be on its first cruise out of the USA after a season in Europe and a transatlantic crossing. The first sailing from a USA port after a return from Europe requires a Coast Guard inspection, some of which takes place after all passengers disembark and before the next group is allowed to board. Since boarding usually starts as soon as the ship clears everyone off from the previous cruise this delays the boarding process. It also can delay the sailing as happened to us on a cruise some years ago on Holland America Westerdam when a back-up generator didn’t pass inspection so the ship had to sit in port until a portable one could be loaded the next day. That portable generator sat unused on the deck throughout the entire sailing while they fixed the actual back-up generator. It was never needed, but still required to be there.

Royal sent out notices not to arrive at the port before noon as boarding would not start before then due to the inspection, but of course people got there sooner. Being as this was Port Canaveral, where the closest airport is in Orlando, it’s already an inconvenient port for most people as that’s a fair bit to go from the airport to the port in a taxi or uber. With a cross-country flight for us to get there we booked a hotel & transport package that included a bus to Port Canaveral from the hotel. This of course meant that our arrival time was when the bus got there – no other option regardless of what the cruise line advised. Even people staying in hotels closer by would generally have to check out by 11am and probably arrive before noon. Our bus got there about 9:30. Empty lines were already set up and roped off into separate boarding times, but the port people would not let anyone into those lines. Instead they made us all line up in a different area, which was in the way of disembarking passengers and porters with luggage carts.

By the time they finally let us over to those lines they were already full of people from later arriving busses who were allowed to go straight into line so we all got stuck behind people who arrived long after us. We did at least get to go to the lines while there was still some space in them. The door still wasn’t open yet so the next arrivals lined up behind until the lines eventually ran out of room. Once the door finally opened port staff did not close off the 10:30 or 11:00 lines when all of the people who were actually in them had passed through. Hundreds of people just arriving kept going right on in through those lines ahead of people who had already been waiting for hours in all the other lines that the port staff neglected to open.

gangway to board Wonder of the Seas

The empty lines quickly and continuously filled with new arrivals to the port who were let in without so much as a glance at what their actual scheduled boarding time was while the people who had already been waiting several hours waited longer still. Finally the one old guy controlling lines blocked off one line and let a few people through from the long wait lines, but new arrivals kept trying to cut in. We made it to the end of the section where we’d started, but not into the next section that led to the lines where people actually got let into the port. He closed our line on the people just ahead of us and let more new arrivals from the line that had been for earlier boarding times on through, again without checking whether they actually had earlier scheduled boarding times or not. Meanwhile other new arrivals kept trying to cut right into the direct line into the building, but at least someone stopped them there, though still not when they came through the line that had been intended for passengers with the earliest assigned boarding times. Finally he closed that line off and let a few more from our line through into the line that went into the port building. We made it inside pretty fast from there. Once in the door there was another line for security scanning, then lines for final check-in, but those all moved quickly. We passed through an enormous room full of empty seating between the last line and the ship. The over 4-hour wait would have been so much more comfortable if they’d let people through to that point to wait to board the ship from there, not to mention getting through the boarding process a whole lot quicker since they could have started it a lot sooner without actually letting anyone onto the ship – and people would have gotten through the lines more fairly too.

Our muster station on Wonder of the Seas was at the Bionic Bar, which has robot bartenders

Once we were onboard things went much smoother. The usual process for the muster drill post-covid is to watch safety videos on your own on the cabin TV, or with some lines like Royal Caribbean you can also do that on their app. The app or TV knows if you have watched them. Following that you just go to your assigned muster station to have your card scanned at your convenience while the ship is still boarding or shortly after the boarding process finishes if you happen to board near the end. So much easier than the old muster drills where everyone had to go to the muster station at once, and no crowds.

Central Park view cabin on Wonder of the Seas

Our cabin on the Wonder was pretty spacious with lots of storage. It was an inside cabin with a balcony over the Central Park area of the ship, so no sea view, but we could see the sky and had a nice view of the garden.

balcony on the Wonder

It seems like walking from one ship to the next while they are in the same port would be an option, but by road it’s nearly 3 miles between terminal 1 where the Wonder docked and terminal 10 for our next cruise on the MSC Meraviglia. There’s also a car bridge between them that has nowhere for pedestrians to walk so we took an uber from one terminal to the other. The bridge is a drawbridge, which just happened to open for boat traffic as we got to it. Apparently the bridge wait time was too long for the uber app because it checked in with the driver to make sure he was OK and not getting mugged or something since the car didn’t move for awhile while it was supposed to be in transit.

Meraviglia in Cozumel

There were just a few people in line outside the door when we got there, and it opened about 20 minutes later around 10am. Although we were given assigned boarding times, there was just one line with no separation by times as has been the case at every other boarding we’ve done post covid. People there were checked in first come first served. The ship was still disembarking so people were given boarding group numbers in the order of arrival and then allowed to sit in the chairs in the port building to wait, as was the norm pre-covid, but something we hadn’t seen done since. Unlike Royal which had a variety of different priority groups let in before everybody else, MSC just had one priority group called ahead of the first general boarding group number, which was our group. Some ships have the ship key cards waiting at the room now, as Royal did, but MSC still handed them out at the desk in the port.

our muster station on Meraviglia was at one end of the promenade area, which they call the galleria

While the boarding process was much smoother on MSC, the muster drills were the opposite. There Royal did what every other cruise we have been on since covid does, with people watching the safety video and having their card scanned at the muster station on their own. MSC on the other hand made an announcement where everyone had to go to their cabin to watch it on the TV at the same time, after which they’d be given a code to dial to prove they had done so. After the video finished the TV showed the code to dial and shortly thereafter they announced what it was, which wasn’t so smart on their part since people could have just dialed the code after that announcement without watching the video at all. Then they called several decks at a time to go down to their muster stations to scan the card, no elevators allowed. Which of course made a giant pile-up on the stairway – especially since they did not open up the crew stairways as would be done in a real emergency and used to be done in the pre-covid days when group muster drills were done at the muster stations. With crowds of people trying to go both up and down a jam-packed stairway all at once of course nobody could actually get to their muster station in a timely manner. The stairs were totally blocked by a nearly unmoving sea of people, but they kept snippily announcing that it was mandatory to go the muster stations as if they thought people just weren’t bothering to do so. Not to mention that putting everyone so crowded together in such close quarters on the stairway totally defeats the whole purpose of not doing group muster drills to keep from spreading germs. 

balcony cabin on Meraviglia

Between the boarding process and the muster drill each cruise had one aspect of boarding day that went smoothly and easily and one that could have been done a whole lot better.

Meraviglia balcony with a view of the port building in Port Canaveral

We had a regular outside balcony cabin with ocean view on the Meraviglia. Both the interior of the cabin and the balcony were smaller than what we’d had on Wonder of the Seas, and the cabin on Meraviglia had far less storage options. The soundproofing had also been better on the Wonder as we could hear wind howling through the balcony door even when it was shut and locked on the Meraviglia, yet on the Wonder there could be music blaring on the nearby pool deck which we couldn’t hear at all with the balcony door shut. I had to ask for bathrobes on both ships, but at least the Wonder provided washcloths without having to ask for them. Wonder had all-in-one shampoo and bath gel in the shower with no conditioner in sight while Meraviglia had separate shampoo and bath gel, but still no conditioner. Apparently that’s one more thing cruise ships are cutting back on because most used to provide all three, as well as hand lotion which was also non-existent this trip.

gluten and lactose free fried chicken dinner on Wonder of the Seas

Food was somewhat of a disappointment on both ships. Wonder lacked the gluten-free section in the buffet that all other Royal Caribbean ships we’ve sailed on always had. They did offer pre-ordering for special diets in the dining room and would make special gluten and lactose free meals there, but when it came to dessert they said it was impossible to make the sort of things their sister ship Symphony of the Seas served us daily last year.

gluten and lactose free roast chicken on Meraviglia

Meraviglia was even worse when it came to special diets. It was not even possible to get a piece of gluten-free toast at breakfast. Their idea of gluten/lactose free dinners was to limit the menu to a meat and vegetable selection that already was free of those things and then serve it with no sauce or gravy and a baked potato with nothing to put on it. They did not take pre-orders or make any adjustments other than removing things to turn any of the menu options gluten or lactose free. Dessert was even more lacking. Even the sorbet the menu listed as an option wasn’t real sorbet as they said it contained dairy, which actual sorbet does not. They had a frozen gluten-free cake they could cut off a piece to thaw, but it was covered in whipped cream so not an option for lactose free. They made nothing gluten-free in house at all.

Our cruise on the Meraviglia was booked as an 11-day cruise, but was actually a 7-day followed by a 4-day. With that one the back-to-back procedure in Port Canaveral was the same as on all previous back-to-back cruises we have done that home-ported in the USA. We were asked to meet with all the other back-to-back people without plans to leave the ship that day and walked through customs as a group and then back onto the ship. The wait from the meeting time to the time we actually went to customs was about half an hour and it didn’t take long at all to go through. Nobody asked to see passports or anything. They just took a quick face scan and that was it. Same for our final disembarkation day. Luckily they did not make back-to-back guests go through the muster drill again.

Central Park view balconies on Wonder of the Seas

Back to Back is definitely easier when done on the same ship, especially if you don’t change cabins between the two cruises, but moving to another ship in the same port is not difficult either. It’s a bit more hassle since you have to pack, disembark, and go through the boarding process again, but it’s also nice to get a chance to see a different ship and pretty convenient when they are at the same port on the same day. Definitely more convenient than the time we did a back-to-back from different ports, though since one was Miami and the other Fort Lauderdale even that wasn’t bad as those two ports are close.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2023

About LBcruiseshipblogger

MyCruiseStories blog tells stories about adventures in cruising on ships big and small. Things to do onboard and in port. Anything connected to cruising. Also food, travel, recipes, towel animals, and the occasional random blog.
This entry was posted in Caribbean, Meraviglia, MSC, Royal Caribbean, USA, Wonder of the Seas and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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