Just got back from our big vacation this year. This year, we took part in our first ever JoCo Cruise Crazy.
The cruise was on Royal Carribean’s Freedom of the Seas. We left Orlando, went down to a private island in the Bahamas, then on to St. Thomas, St. Maarten, and finally back home. On top of that, a large portion of us were part of a small convention called JoCo Cruise Crazy. It’s small, about 1100 people (out of the 4k on the boat), and had sci/fi fantasy authors like John Scalzi and Patrick Rothfuss, musicians like Jonathan Coulton and Paul & Storm, and actors like Wil Wheaton and Paul F. Thompkins.
We flew out to Orlando on Friday, stayed overnight to head out to our ship on Saturday. We were sailing on “Freedom of the Seas”, notable for NOT being the “Anthem of the Seas”, which just seems to be having a really horrible year. That one had a January cruise canceled after a bad storm, and when we showed up for our cruise we heard they just got benched again for norovirus. Again, glad it wasn’t us.
We boarded around 11am. The process is pretty streamlined, and the border folks are friendly. Once aboard, we had a mandatory safety drill where we had to assemble in designated spots just under those big yellow lifeboats. Each boat would probably hold about 50 people, I figure. Once that was out of the way, we explored a bit.
Center of the ship, on the 5h floor, was the main promenade. Shops on either side, some food – a Starbucks, a Ben & Jerry’s – but mostly shopping. High end jewelry store, high end purses. Duty free alcohol (although you didn’t get to take it – they held on until after you depart on the final stop). We would learn that a major side to cruising is shopping for high end luxury items in duty free zones.
We had a nice room. We nabbed one of the minor-suites, with a balcony. It’s halfway between a normal balcony room, and a full suite. It was really nice having the balcony…you could open the door, enjoy the breeze and just watch the ocean roll by.
The JoCo Cruise stuff also held an intro session before we left port. In the center is Jonathan Coulton, for whom the cruise convention is named. On either side are the duo Paul & Storm. All are musicians, and can be described as geek/folk kind of music. JoCo is all over the folk/pop/rock specturm, while Paul & Storm are more comedy oriented – the sort of thing you’d hear on Dr. Demento.
Eventually, we got underway. We found a good spot on an upper deck to watch our ship sail out to sea. We discovered WHY we had found such a good spot when the ship’s horn sounded RIGHT BEHIND US. We were a bit deafened, but no one dropped anything overboard.
The first night featured a ‘Welcome’ cocktail reception (free booze was very welcome), followed later by a JoCo concert. Our first night sleeping-at-sea was uneventful. I had worried about how we’d take to it, neither of us having been on a cruise before…but no sea sickness or queasiness for us. We bunked down and slept like babies.
Our first stop was Coco Cay. A private island (technically, a Cay or Key, being that there’s no permanent residents on the isle), it was probably the most scenic stop. A traditional tropic isle, the beaches were lovely. Lots of folks ran off to do sporty things…jet skis, parasailing, snorkeling…we decided on a glass boat tour.
We got to meet some of the sealife. Some, like the starfish and lobster, could aboard briefly. Others, like the Stingray and various schools of fish, were best viewed through the glass bottom. Pictures were a bit tricky, alas.
Back to the ship, we found a towel-bunny in our room after dinner. JCCC had more concerts that night, but we were pooped! So, we crashed early. The next day was at-sea. Paul & Storm held their concert, with author Allie Brosh. We also got to see panels with Wil Wheaton discussing his Titansgrave: Ashes of Valkana web series, and John Scalzi moderating a panel on the Business of Writing.
Our next destination was St. Thomas (U.S. Virgin Islands). At first, we weren’t too impressed. As before, we didn’t go off to the sports activities like parasailing or scuba diving. Instead, we decided to go into town, and have a look around. Taxis from the dock took passengers back and forth fairly cheaply. What we found were narrow streets, tiny cramped shops selling jewelry, watches, perfumes, purses and other high-end stuff, and street hawkers doing anything to get you into THEIR shops.
We eventually fought our way back to the ship, and just before we went back aboard we saw a sign with giant butterflies painted on it. We followed, and found the Butterfly Garden, a tiny sanctuary for butterflies with species from all over the world. A worthy stop, and we’re glad we found it.
That night, dinner, Molly Lewis in concert, and a towel monkey hanging out in our room. Then, on to St. Maarten…
St. Maarten was a much more picturesque destination than St. Thomas. Still, much the same setup – lots of stores selling the same luxury items – but the streets were wider, cleaner, and hawkers were kept on short leashes. It meant we could stroll the avenues and not feel pressured. While in St. Maarten, we stopped to visit the Yoda Guy. An effects wizard for many years, Nick Maley got his nickname working on the original Star Wars movies when he worked up the rig for a mechanical Yoda to ride on Luke’s back in the swamps of Dagobah. Nick now has a nice, little museum in St. Maarten featuring some of his own work, plus props from other artists he’s worked with. For the sci-fi geek, it’s a nice stop to see some real movie history. Somehow, I managed NOT to take any photos at his museum. Must hope my wife did…if so, I may update this bit later.
Back aboard, and there was a towel…giraffe? Waiting? For us? Eh…anyway. I also nabbed a pic of the main dining room. Cruise tip: our ship had several dining venues. The main dining room served the best meals (although you had to dress up a bit for dinner). Next down the list was a buffet restaurant…great for breakfast or lunch, but quality sometimes varied. Finally, some smaller restaurants were located around the ship. Many were “specialty”, and required reservations. We didn’t try any of those. There was also a pizza place on the promenade, that had the distinction of staying open nearly all night.
Sorentos. For when you’ve given up on life, and are merely waiting for the darkness to take you…Sorentos.
At this point, the next two full days were spent at sea taking us from St. Maarten back to Orlando. My pictures dry up here, as we were simply having too much fun with JCCC. We played games. We went to podcast tapings. We went to author readings. We went to interviews with musicians, actors and comedians. We had such a fun time, and the JoCo folks are possibly the nicest bunch of people we’ve ever ‘conned’ with in our lives. Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror conventions tend to attract cool people, at least for our definition of cool. But JoCo attracts kind people. Friendly people. People you can sit down with, and converse on any topic with…an no one will get in your face to tell you your opinion is wrong, or you’re not appreciating some fannish thing right. It was very relaxing, safe and friendly environment.
On the final night, the held one last party (more free booze!). Everyone, it seemed like, was there. Including and especially the guests. I got to meet and personally thank Paul, Storm, Jonathan Coulton, John Scalzi, and…and…
Oh, yeah…this warm, friendly guy!
Once back in Orlando, just one last stop on our way back to the airport.
NASA! JCCC arranged VIP tours of NASA for JoCo participants (not free, mind you…we love JCCC, but they’re not made of money. They’re made of us). I think JCCC filled about 6 busses all by ourselves.
In the ‘rocket garden’, they now have the original Apollo launch gantry. It’s the orange framework in the lower right corner. That’s the actual gantry Apollo astronauts walked down to board the rockets which took them to the moon. Next to that, a picture of the new Orion capsule design. After the shuttle program was retired, NASA is looking at going back to the conical capsule design like Apollo used. Orion is bigger, holding 4 astronauts where Apollo held 3. This is the design that’ll take us, someday, to Mars.
They took us out past the big hangar. That’s where they assemble all the rockets they launch. It’s tall enough to assemble a Saturn 5 rocket (the largest we make). During the shuttle years, the main doors only needed to be opened halfway to let the shuttles roll out. Or, to put it another way…see the U.S. flag there? That hand painted flag is 22 stories tall. Each star is 6-feet tall. It’s the largest one-story building (in volume) in the world. Past this, we visited a museum with the Apollo control room – they play video from the Apollo 8 launch, and the whole room lights up and displays what they would have seen during the actual launch.
They had a full size Saturn 5 rocket, in sections, to show you the size of it…it’s huge! That’s an actual Apollo moon lander hanging from the ceiling. It would have been used in Apollo 14, but budget cuts meant that mission never left. It hangs from the ceiling, because it’s designed for Lunar gravity (1/6 Earth gravity). If it was set on the ground, the legs would buckle.
Same with the Lunar Rover. Those wheels are mesh, and folded up under the rover during transit. They’re not strong enough to hold the Rover up on Earth. And we got to see (and touch) moon rocks!
New to Kennedy Space Center, the shuttle Atlantis is finally in its new home. That’s a full size replica of the boosters out front, and the actual shuttle itself inside. A full size city bus can fit in that cargo bay…Atlantis is awe-inspiring to behold.
Another feature in the Atlantis museum was a replica of Hubble. This Hubble replica was two stories tall…I couldn’t get a clear picture of the whole thing. Outside, we grabbed a pic with a wandering “Astronaut”. I hope they had a/c in that suit (hard to tell what’s real and what’s replicas around the park).
And that was our trip. After touring NASA, it was back to the airport and home.