Part One: The ‘LAND’ Reunion [9/24-9/28] Orlando, Florida
If you missed this reunion – then you missed another GREAT reunion! There were 160 shipmates/guests who attended at least one day of this ‘LAND’ reunion.
TUESDAY - As usual, the reunion began with the registration at 1630 on Tuesday, the first day. This was followed by the usual MIDRATS between 1830 and 2300. More than 100 persons enjoyed the tuna salad & cold cut sandwiches, nachos chips & chili con queso with jalapenos, cup-o-soup, chili dogs with all the fixings and several dry snacks -- to then be washed-down with the unlimited soft drinks and ‘adult’ beverages available in the Grant Hospitality Room (GHR).
The GHR was open daily between 0800-2300 andALL refreshments in the room were provided by the attendees’ registration fee. The GHR was almost continuously occupied by some of the shipmates while they continued to share their ‘stories’ -- after being primed with liquid ‘refreshment’. Random drawings were conducted in the GHR during each day of the reunion for more than forty door prizes and the names drawn did not have to be present to win.
WEDNESDAY – The day began with the excellent hotel-provided daily Breakfast Buffet. Then, at 0900, two charter busses were boarded and departed the hotel for the 40-minute drive to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC). This was the only Grant group activity scheduled for the day. The +6 hours of time at the KSC passed quickly as the attendees visited the many exhibits and took the KSC bus tours around the ‘Cape’ to the missile preparation and launch areas. The attendees returned to the hotel at about 1645. As always, the USS Grant Association (‘Association’) provided the tip to the bus drivers. About an hour and a half later, at 1830, everyone went across the street from the hotel to have a BBQ dinner. The hotel ran a shuttle to/from the dinner for those who didn’t walk to the restaurant. The dinner was arranged with Sonny’s BBQ by the Association. The shipmates/guests had all they could eat from the buffet of BBQ pork ribs, slow-cooked beef brisket, smoked pulled pork, BBQ chicken, baked beans, cole slaw, fries and bread/cornbread. The soft drinks were also included with the meal, which was finished with a very large chocolate chip cookie for dessert. The Association subsidized the actual cost to bring it down to $10 per person and also paid the tip for the service. After dinner, most of the attendees returned to the GHR to continue their ‘story-telling’ amongst the shipmates until the GHR was closed at 2300, as per the POD.
THURSDAY - After the hotel’s breakfast buffet, many of the attendees boarded a 0900 charter bus for the only Grant group activity scheduled for the day --- a visit to SeaWorld. Other attendees ventured out on their own to visit other Orlando-area attractions. The charter bus returned to the hotel about 1630. At 1830, a full-house of shipmates/guests gathered in the GHR for the ‘Remembrance Ceremony’, which recognizes our shipmates who have departed on eternal patrol. The president of the Association led the ceremony, which included a prayer, a few shipmate poems, recognizing the departed shipmates, tolling of the USS Grant Remembrance bell, the sounding of ‘Taps’ by a bugler and sounding the diving alarm to send the departed shipmates on their eternal patrol. At the conclusion of the ceremony, ALL veterans were asked to stand and they were recognized with a veteran’s coin presented by either an Association board member or a Reunion Committee member. Several guests and spouses also received the coin, including Nancy Pacl, the spouse of our current Webmaster, who served some time in uniform. All attendees were then invited to attend the Association-sponsored USS Grant Pizza Party. Several of the Grant ladies had previously prepared and set-up the salad and dessert, which would accompany the pizza. Everyone then went across the passageway to get their pizza. Low-carbohydrate, vegetarian and gluten-free pizzas were also available for those with dietary restrictions. After everyone had eaten their fill, there were several of the original sixty pizzas remaining, which were either given to the hotel staff or kept in the GHR to be eaten as snacks later, after being warmed in the microwave. The USS Grant Pizza Party was provided by the attendees’ registration fee. Most attendees continued to commune in the GHR until it was closed at 2300, as per the POD.
FRIDAY – This was an ‘open’ day in the reunion which was intended to provide the shipmates/guests with a free day without any scheduled Grant group activities. At 0900, after the hotel’s breakfast buffet, a charter bus took attendees to the I-RIDE Trolley stop. The trolley went up and down the International Boulevard with stops at attractions, food and shopping. The Grant trolley riders had unlimited on/off privileges on the I-RIDE Trolley. Other attendees went out on their own to visit local sites. At 1600, the charter bus picked-up the shipmates/guests at the I-RIDE Trolley stop and returned to the hotel. At 1830, the attendees returned to the GHR for the informal ‘USS GRANT REUNION DINNER’. The dinner included meat lasagna, chicken fettuccini, vegetarian fettuccini, gluten-free/low carb fettuccini, Caesar salad and Italian vegetables. Garlic bread, coffee and ice tea were also included. A choice of tiramisu or chocolate cake was offered for dessert. After the dinner, Association business was taken care of and the president announced that Baltimore will be the site of the 2021 reunion. Finally, drawings for prizes were conducted. The ‘Plankowners Drawing’ was won by Warren Goodwin, who received an actual mounted piece of the USS Grant pressure hull and a commissioning photo. The ‘Golden Bubblehead’ drawing, for all shipmates qualified for more than 50 years, was won by the Association’s VP, Jim DeBlasio, who won an articulate set of dolphins mounted on a plaque. Two of the ‘Grand Prize’ drawing winners were Eric Wix who received a submarine wall clock and ‘Woody’ Woodrow who won a custom-made dolphin ring made from 1958 sterling silver dolphins. A raffle was conducted for six 750mL bottles of ‘adult’ beverages that were laser-etched with the USS Grant logo or dolphins. The final bottle was a 1.75L laser-etched bottle and was won by Pat Biancone. Many shipmates and guests remained in the GHR well past the scheduled POD closing time of 2300, as they were still enjoying the shipmate/guest camaraderie. The GHR closed at 0130.
SATURDAY – After the hotel’s buffet breakfast, the GHR opened between 0800 and 1100. At 1100 the 2019 USS Grant Land Reunion ended and 57 shipmates/guests boarded a charter bus to go to the cruise terminal at Port Canaveral to begin the 2019 USS Grant Cruise Reunion. These 57 were met at the Port Canaveral cruise terminal by 31 more cruise reunion attendees, who had driven to the cruise terminal.
Part Two: The "Cruise Reunion"
The 88 shipmates/guests arrived at the cruise terminal in Port Canaveral by private vehicle and charter bus. As the cruise ship departed the port, it passed by the pier the USS Grant Blue and Gold crews used during their DASO missile launches of the Polaris A3 or Poseidon C3 missiles.
Cruise reunion attendees received a $75 per stateroom credit from the Association for use during the cruise. The Association also presented a bottle of wine at each table during the last dinner of the cruise. The wine was used during the ‘Submariners’ Toast’ at that dinner.
Onboard activities, while at sea, were numerous and enjoyed by many of the attendees. Stage shows, comedy clubs, movies, several small musical groups and passenger fun and games were available throughout the ship during the cruise. Food – and more food – was available almost 24 hours a day. All 88 of the reunion attendees always met as a group for every onboard dinner.
The cruise ship stops at Amber Cove (Dominican Republic), St. Thomas and Grand Turk provided ample opportunity for the attendees to enjoy the beaches, surf and snorkel. Many also did the zip lines, parasailed, took catamaran trips, drove ATVs and/or rode horses at these three stops.
The San Juan stop was full of hundreds of years of history. Tours through ‘Old San Juan’ provided a glimpse into the centuries-old city for the attendees. With two forts, the cathedral with Ponce de Leon’s remains and the government buildings to visit, the tour was busy and informative. Other attendees took this opportunity to visit the only U.S. rainforest, El Yunque. The hike through the rainforest was worth the trip. A short ferry ride across the bay took many to the Bacardi rum distillery. After a short presentation and a tour of part of the plant, ‘samples’ of the plant’s products were available. The Puerto Rican food available throughout the city was readily sampled by our group.
The attendees’ final dinner of the cruise was interrupted between the main course and dessert by the Association president, Ed Farris. Ed proposed the ‘Submariners’ Toast’ to not only our group but to everyone in the ship’s dining room. As usual, the cruise ship dining room became quiet during the toast, which ended with everyone in the Grant group shouting “DIVE! DIVE!”.
After the final day at sea, the Grant group disembarked the cruise ship early as a group. Some of them collected their luggage and headed to their cars in the parking lots. Others boarded the charter bus for the trip back to the reunion hotel or to the airport.
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