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Adventure Travel Cities Island

10 Bucket List Cruises for 2020

When it comes to cruises, travelers have a dizzying array of options, from small expedition ships visiting remote islands to big vessels with all the trimmings. Whichever type of ship fits your travel style, there’s a bucket-list cruise out there for you. The list below offers the best cruises for 2020, spanning itineraries around the globe at a variety of price points.

Note that all listed cruises had available cabins at the time of publication, but sailings may sell out at any time. Book early to avoid disappointment.

Go Island Hopping in Indonesia

Satonda Island in Sumbawa, Indonesia

Pink sand beaches, Komodo dragons, and hidden waterfalls you can swim in are just a few of the unforgettable sights you’ll see on an eight-night Indonesian island cruise with Intrepid Travel. You’ll board a 48-passenger motor-yacht in Bali, then set off for some of the archipelago’s less-traveled gems—including Satonda Island, where you’ll swim in a volcanic crater lake; and Banta Island, where deserted beaches are the norm. You’ll also learn about traditional weaving techniques and have lunch in local villages. This trip departs on select dates between May and September.

Discover the Peruvian Amazon

View of a small village in the Amazon rain forest on the shore of the Yanayacu River in Peru

Home to rare and endangered wildlife, the Amazon is the ultimate destination for nature lovers. Explore the Peruvian part of the rainforest with this new 10-night Uniworld itinerary featuring kayaking excursions, jungle walks, tours of remote villages, and nights gazing up at the stars. During your trip you’ll see animals such as monkeys, sloths, exotic birds, and maybe even the elusive pink dolphin. The all-suite Aria Amazon has just 16 cabins, each with floor-to-ceiling glass windows to let you watch the jungle slipping by right from your bed. This bucket-list cruise departs on select dates in September, October, and November.

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Find Paradise in the South Pacific

Young couple snorkeling over reef next to resort on a tropical island with over-water villas

Tahiti. Bora Bora. Moorea. Stop daydreaming about these idyllic islands and knock them off your bucket list with a Paul Gauguin cruise in 2020. The one-ship luxury line offers a variety of South Pacific itineraries, but there’s a reason its seven-night Tahiti and the Society Islands cruise is a classic: It includes stops in Moorea, Huahine, and Taha’a, and caps things off with an overnight stay in Bora Bora, giving you plenty of time to snorkel in the lagoon, swim with reef sharks, take an outrigger canoe ride, or simply relax on stunning Matira Beach. The ship holds just 332 passengers and has three dining venues, a spa, and a watersports marina. This itinerary sails on select dates throughout 2020.

Experience the Caribbean’s Quieter Side

People take bath in Emerald Pool near waterfall Central Forest Reserve. Dominica island, Lesser Antilles

Some of the busiest ports in the Caribbean see millions of visitors each year. If that sounds a little busy for you, consider a cruise to the Southern Caribbean, which tends to be less visited than the busier Eastern and Western regions. Princess offers a variety of Southern Caribbean itineraries, ranging from seven nights to nearly three weeks. Ports to look out for include Dominica, with its lush waterfall hikes; Antigua, which has a beach for every day of the year; and stylish Martinique, known for cultural history and a touch of French flair. Cruises depart on select winter, spring, and fall dates.

[st_related]What to Pack for the Caribbean: 35 Essentials[/st_related]

Take an Epic Journey from England to South Africa

Aerial view of Praia city in Santiago - Capital of Cape Verde Islands

If a one- or two-week vacation just isn’t long enough, treat yourself to this 28-night Fred.Olsen cruise from Southampton, England to Cape Town, South Africa. In the beginning of the trip you’ll call at various Atlantic islands including Madeira, Tenerife, and the archipelago of Cape Verde. You’ll then have numerous days to relax at sea aboard the 881-passenger Boudicca as you approach the African mainland, where you’ll stop in two different port towns on the coast of Namibia. Excursion options there include bird watching, sandboarding down dunes, and colonial architecture tours. You’ll finish with an overnight in Cape Town. This cruise departs on November 5.

Discover the Mekong River

Angkor Wat is a temple complex in Cambodia

Colorful floating markets, quiet fishing villages, and the magnificent ruins of Angkor Wat await on a Mekong River cruise with G Adventures. Between the trip’s beginning in Ho Chi Minh City and its final stop in Siem Reap, you’ll visit temples and palaces, taste fresh fruit and honey, learn about Cambodia’s difficult history, and meet welcoming locals. This nine-night cruise has departures throughout the year. (It’s also available in reverse.)

[st_related]Exploring Southeast Asia Off the Beaten Path on a River Cruise[/st_related]

Savor Food and Wine in the Pacific Northwest

Columbia River at Astoria, Oregon

Taste your way through Oregon and Washington on a seven-night culinary journey along the Columbia River with Uncruise. An onboard sommelier assists with wine pairings on the 86-passenger Legacy, which stops in ports such as Astoria and Walla Walla. Activities include everything from culinary demonstrations and wine tastings to art museum visits and boutique shopping. This trip departs throughout fall 2020.

Get in Shape on a Fitness-Themed Cruise

WOD on the Waves fitness bootcamp

If getting more exercise is one of your 2020 resolutions, pack your sneakers and head to the Bahamas with WOD on the Waves. This four-night fitness cruise aboard Celebrity’s 2,170-passenger Infinity ship is jam-packed with workouts ranging from boot camp to yoga, as well as seminars on fitness and nutrition. You don’t need to be a hardcore athlete to join the cruise, as there are options for all fitness levels. The cruise sails round-trip from Miami on April 16 and includes stops in Nassau and Cococay, a private island in the Bahamas.

[st_related]Bahamas Update: Can You Visit After Hurricane Dorian?[/st_related]

Sample the Best of Northern Europe

People are walking on Viru street at Viru gates in Tallinn, Estonia

From colorful historic capitals to the deep, pristine waters of Norway’s fjords, there’s more to see in Northern Europe than you could ever manage on a single trip—which is why a cruise can offer such an appealing sampler. Italian cruise line MSC offers a variety of Northern Europe itineraries; enticing options include a 14-night round trip from Copenhagen with stops in Finland, Russia, Estonia, Norway, and Germany; and a seven-night voyage from Warnemunde, Germany, stopping in Sweden, Estonia, Russia, and Denmark. Trips run throughout the warmer months.

Take an Adults-Only Voyage on a Brand-New Ship

exterior of scarlet lady the new virgin voyages cruise ship

The latest venture from business mogul Richard Branson is a new adults-only cruise line called Virgin Voyages; its first ship, the 2,750-passenger Scarlet Lady, will make its maiden voyage in April 2020. The ship will spend its first year cruising the Caribbean, mostly on four- and five-night sailings calling at ports such as Cozumel, Key West, Costa Maya, and Playa del Carmen. With short itineraries, a sleek ambiance, and plenty of onboard nightlife, Virgin Voyages will likely draw a younger crowd than most traditional cruise lines. Learn more about Virgin Voyages.

What to Pack

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For more ideas, see The Top Travel Destinations for 2020.

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Adventure Travel Beach Booking Strategy Island Travel Scams Travel Trends

6 Cruise Scams You Should Never Fall For

Those slick TV ads can make a cruise look like the “dream come true” experience of a lifetime. And a cruise can, in fact, be a wonderful experience. But sometimes that experience morphs from dream to disaster. A cruise is both a means of transportation and a destination resort with its own passport requirements. As a result, it can suffer some of the problems of both—especially if you fall victim to certain cruise scams.

The “Free Cruise” Scam

Cruise scam

[st_content_ad]This ploy has been around a long time, and it dominates the online reports of cruise scams. You get a letter saying you have “won” or “been selected for” a free Bahamas cruise (often from a company with “Caribbean” in its name despite the fact that the Bahamas are not in the Caribbean).

What you actually get in this cruise scam is some combination of (1) “fees and taxes,” including those imposed by the cruise line in addition to government fees; (2) a requirement to sit through a high-pressure timeshare presentation that may go on for four or five hours; (3) a dingy cabin in an obsolete ship without air-conditioning; (4) land accommodations in a run-down resort; and (5) constant pressure to “upgrade” ship or land accommodations. The internet is full of stories from folks who took the bait of this cruise scam.

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Local Cruise Scams

Cruise scam

Among the most prevalent cruise scams are those involving locals at ports of call. Usually they involve a minor loss of time and money, but occasionally they can be worse. Typical scams include fake taxi drivers who call out “taxi,” grab your baggage, ask for a payment, then hand you over to a real taxi driver who ignores what you paid the tout and charges you the going rate. In other cases, drivers will take you 10 miles for a two-mile trip.

Of course, you can find (or be found by) pickpockets, exchange dealers who give you counterfeit currency, and merchants who cheat on your credit card bill. Be especially wary of a merchant who tries to bill your card in U.S. dollars—it sounds nice, but it puts you on the hook for an extra exchange scam. Vigilance and wariness can insulate you from most of these local cruise scams, but there’s always a chance you’ll still fall victim. And if you get caught, you have very little chance of any recovery.

[st_related]The Best and Cheapest Times to Cruise[/st_related]

Bad Sightseeing Tours

Cruise scam

This one isn’t quite an outright cruise scam, but many port visitors are really annoyed by a sightseeing tour that spends an hour at a souvenir store chosen because of the quality of its kickbacks rather than of its merchandise. A related minor cruise scam is the artwork produced by local street “artists” who are really just coloring in between the faint lines of a pre-printed scene.

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Online Cruise Scams

Cruise scam

A potentially dangerous cruise scam can compromise your identity, files, or both: an email apparently sent by a cruise line or resort asking you to hit a link for more information on your upcoming cruise. These originate with someone who has hacked the cruise line’s or operator’s data to get the names of current and prospective customers. And, obviously, either the message itself or the link contains malware. This online cruise scam is like those fake emails from FedEx or UPS going around that ask you to verify something about an upcoming shipment.

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Fake List Prices

Cruise scam

If it’s “75 percent off,” it’s bound to be a good deal—right? Not necessarily. The base price from which that 75 percent is deducted is often complete fiction. Even “brochure price” means very little. So forget about big discounts from fake list prices. You can decide whether a deal is good by comparing its price with prices for comparable cruises and by checking impartial cruise review websites such as SmarterTravel’s sister site, Cruise Critic.

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The Cruise Line Contract

Cruise scam

Although not a cruise scam in the classic sense, the worst problems you can face arise from the contract that you agree to when you buy a cruise. Those contracts are outrageously one-sided “contracts of adhesion” you would never sign if you had a chance to negotiate them yourself.

Although contracts differ a bit from company to company, almost all let the cruise line off the hook for a lot of problems and make you sign away what would normally be your rights as a consumer. Among them, the cruise line can:

  • Cancel your trip for any lawful reason without prior notice.
  • Disembark you or change your accommodations without liability for compensation or refund.
  • Require that you accept its refund fees without recourse.
  • Deviate from routes and schedules without prior notice.
  • Refuse any refund or damage claim resulting from a cancellation or change due to factors not within the cruise line’s exclusive control.
  • Make a proportionate refund if your cruise ends early or, at the cruise line’s option, give you only a future cruise credit.
  • Insulate itself from any liability for actions performed by any subcontractor, including the ship’s doctor and shore excursion operators.
  • Search your stateroom and belongings without prior notice.
  • Refuse liability for emotional distress or mental suffering under any circumstances other than those you can prove in court as resulting from personal injury or imminent risk of injury.
  • Limit your ability to litigate an issue to a single designated federal court or even a foreign country.
  • Prohibit you from entering a class-action lawsuit.
  • Value your personal property at no higher than $50 per traveler or $100 per stateroom unless you buy supplemental insurance.
  • Prevent you from drinking locally bought liquor while on board.
  • Require that disputes be resolved by compulsory arbitration.

The is just a partial list; be sure you’re aware of what you’re signing up for when you make that initial cruise purchase. Consider buying cruise insurance for a little extra protection in case things go wrong.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Booking Strategy Budget Travel

The Best and Cheapest Times to Cruise

The best time to cruise and the cheapest time to cruise are not always the same. The best time to be on the water is often when the weather is nicest or when you have time off. These sailings are often the most popular, but “best” can quickly turn to “worst” when you face high prices and large crowds. The cheapest time to cruise is often when most travelers don’t want to go. You may find less ideal weather or some seasonal closures, but the lure of cheap fares and uncrowded ports might make you change your mind about what you consider the best time to cruise.

As you plan your next cruise, you’ll want to take into consideration the best and cheapest times to cruise and see what jibes with your vacation schedule. Here’s a when-to-cruise guide for some popular destinations.

Alaska

alaska cruise ship deck.

Alaska has a very short cruising season; ships traverse its chilly waters only between late April and September. The months of June through August offer the warmest weather and are therefore the best time to cruise Alaska (and the most popular). In other months, you’ll find some closures and a bit more chill in the air, but you’ll also find the best prices. In addition, April and May are the driest months of the Alaska cruise season, so you’re less likely to be rained out of your flightseeing tour or glacier walk.

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Bermuda

bermuda beach and bay.

Bermuda cruises sail from April through mid-November, mostly during Bermuda’s high or “beach” season. Most people travel during the summer months, making those voyages pricier, but you’ll find deals on spring and fall departures (April through early June and September through November). Bermuda has temperate weather year-round, though it does see the occasional autumn hurricane. If it’s too chilly for the beach in the shoulder season, you can always try out the island’s many golf courses and spas.

Caribbean

cruise ship anchored in the caribbean.

You can sail to the region year-round, but the best time to cruise the Caribbean is when it’s coldest in the Northern Hemisphere. Not only is the warm Caribbean climate a welcome respite from bad weather, but December through April is also the driest part of the year in the islands. The cheapest times to cruise are typically in the late summer and fall because of hurricane season. (If you decide to travel then, purchasing cruise insurance is a good idea.) But you can often find other patches of bargain sailings, especially during the early weeks of December and in the spring. The timing of spring discounts isn’t always consistent, so it’s best to keep an eye out and book when you see a low rate.

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Europe

cruise ship in mediterranean.

Europe is so big that you can’t lump all its cruises together. The Mediterranean cruise season runs year-round on select cruise lines, though you’ll have the most options between April and November. Northern Europe and Baltic cruises have a shorter season running from May to early November, while the warmer Greek Islands and Canary Islands see cruise ships between March and December. Small-ship river cruises usually run from spring through fall, with a few sailings in December to see the local Christmas markets.

Most tourists come to Europe in the summer, but the late spring and early fall have more pleasant temperatures and not as many crowds. You’ll find the lowest cruise prices at the beginning and end of each season; prices rise dramatically for the summer months.

Hawaii

waimea canyon waterfall

With two Norwegian Cruise Line ships dedicated to Hawaii cruising, you can explore the islands year-round. The best time to cruise Hawaii for good weather is during the summer and early fall when the islands get the least amount of rain. Summer tends to be the most popular because of school vacation and honeymoon season. Hawaii cruises are often cheapest from November through February, with the exception of holiday cruises.

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Mexico

los cabos arch.

You can cruise to Mexico year-round, either as part of a western Caribbean itinerary or as a dedicated Mexican Riviera voyage. The best time to visit Mexico is during its dry season, November through May. However, it’s a popular destination even during the rainier summer months. You’ll find the best deals in the fall, during hurricane season.

New England and Canada

acadia national park autumn.

New England and Canada sailings depart from May through October. You’ve got a better chance for warm weather if you travel from late June through early September. However, if you’re interested in foliage viewing, you’ll need to go in early to mid-October. May and late October sailings will offer the lowest rates, but don’t expect to be using the onboard swimming pool much.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2008. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Booking Strategy

The Best Cruise Ships for Every Taste and Budget

Looking for the perfect cruise ship? There’s a source of solid advice for that: the 2108 Cruisers’ Choice Awards, from Cruise Critic.

[st_content_ad]Based on reviews posted to the Cruise Critic site during the past year, the awards recognize the best ships in multiple categories: best cabins, best for dining, best for entertainment, best for fitness, best for value, best for families, and so on.

Whatever your idea of the perfect cruise ship entails, Cruise Critic has you covered.

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Here are some examples of the best large ships in several categories. If large ships aren’t to your taste, there are also ratings of mid-sized, small-mid, and small ships for each category, making it easy to home in on ships that meet your criteria.

Top 5 Large Ships Overall

  1. Celebrity Equinox
  2. Harmony of the Seas
  3. Celebrity Reflection
  4. Celebrity Silhouette
  5. Allure of the Seas

Top 5 Large Ships for Value

  1. Celebrity Silhouette
  2. Celebrity Equinox
  3. Harmony of the Seas
  4. Celebrity Reflection
  5. Allure of the Seas

Best Large Ships for Entertainment

  1. Allure of the Seas
  2. Harmony of the Seas
  3. Disney Dream
  4. Oasis of the Seas
  5. Freedom of the Seas

Best Large Ships for Dining

  1. Celebrity Equinox
  2. Celebrity Silhouette
  3. Celebrity Reflection
  4. Allure of the Seas
  5. Oasis of the Seas

As an admitted non-cruiser, I find these recommendations very helpful; without them, I’d be clueless. If I were in the market for a cruise on a large ship, my clear choice, as someone who cares most about dining and value, would be either the Celebrity Silhouette or the Celebrity Equinox. Both are top-rated in the relevant categories, as well as in the Best Overall category.

Reader Reality Check

What are you looking for in a cruise ship? Comment below.

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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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Holiday Travel

How I Spent Thanksgiving Week on NCL’s Jewel

Author: Louise Strong
Date of Trip: November 2006
PROLOGUE:

NCL treated me like a goddess and a family member all throughout the week on the Norwegian Jewel. They must have known I needed some R and R, some TLC, excellent dining, great activities, good dance music, fabulous ports-of-call, the opportunity to make new friends, and most of all, to laugh. This cruise will go down in the books as the best yet.

GETTING TO THE NORWEGIAN JEWEL:

I originally booked the lowest level category balcony and was upgraded to the highest level balcony for the same price. About one month prior to 11/19/06 I received the phone call for an upsell to a penthouse suite. Once I saw the suite was in front of the ship I immediately said yes. I flew into FLL on 11/18/06 and knew the week was going to be great when my luggage was the third and fourth suitcases to come through the belt! For 18 dollars I shared a van with seven others going to various places. One lady was my superhero. She goes on cruises for free while giving lectures on board all cruise lines. I want to be just like her some day.

My travelmate, The NewYorker, is a friend who I met on the NCL Sun two years ago Thanksgiving week. We called this our anniversary cruise. My hubby did not mind that I was leaving because he knew if I stayed home, then my large family was probably coming over for the holiday!

We enjoyed the Beacon Hotel in South Beach, Miami for our precruise stay. We walked to Lincoln Mall for dinner and shopped our way back to the Beacon. We bought expensive dresses for formal night that we did not really need for freestyle cruising. You can wear whatever you want on NCL freestyle cruises. We decided to dress every night of the cruise and most of my outfits had a black and white theme. I found a great black and white BCBG dress. We finished the evening drinking and dancing at the Clevelander Bar. The next morning we walked South Beach, dipped our pedicured toes in the ocean and chatted it up a bit with the homeless men who spent the night on the shoreline.

The cab ride from South Beach to the ship was about 20 dollars. I had so many thoughts and questions going through my head as we approached the Jewel. First, I liked her hull artwork. I wondered if there would be a tango-guy to teach me to ballroom dance. Would I never leave my penthouse? Can the bridge officers see down onto my forward balcony? What ports are we going to again and when? Who will show up to our planned Cruise Critic (a website for cruisers) party? Will I finally win the bottle of champagne at the latitudes repeat passenger party? Lastly, since I left my big family behind, would there be a family to take me under their wings during this holiday week…A family to adopt us?

Embarkation was a breeze and once on board we went to the buffet lunch. A lot of yummy food was present! Stations were set up all over with different categories of food. For example, there was a pasta station, a soup station, a sandwich station, a hot selection station, a meat carving station, a dessert station and so on! For breakfast and dinner, the buffet area was also filled with great selections. This ship also had dining rooms and specialty restaurants for extra extra fine dining.

The NYer suggested we check out our suite #10000 and see if our luggage arrived. We loved the couch and chairs, the huge closet with doors on both sides (one from the entry hallway, the other from the vanity hallway), the huge bathroom, the fabulous balcony, the living area, the dining area and the bedding. We concluded if we were thieves, we would have stolen the linens, the duvet, the pillows, and the bathrobes.

Our steward stopped in to say hello and he asked us to close our curtains at night. He said closing them would avoid glare on the bridge directly above us. Once he left we exclaimed, “Yeah, right! If we were young and beautiful, maybe the request from the bridge would be to keep the curtains OPEN at night!”

The craziness began after we noticed fresh flowers on the table, a bottle of champagne in a bucket and fresh fruit in a basket. A note attached said it was compliments of NCL. The doorbell rang and in comes another bottle of champagne with a note attached, “hope you have a wonderful cruise” from Colin Veitch, the President of NCL. Papers started arriving too with special things written on it. Our repeat passenger benefits included 20 dollars off body and facial treatment, 30 free minutes in the internet cafe, a party invitation and a free meal in a specialty restaurant. There was also a 75 dollar credit on our account (37.50 each) which probably had to do with our booking.

The doorbell rang again and in comes someone else delivering a basket of fruit and a nice bottle of cabernet sauvignon…the little note attached is from NCL again. I wrote to NCL regarding their new commercials and the message thanked me for my suggestions. Their new campaign is about being able to eat WHENEVER you want and to wear WHATEVER you want.

Our phone rang next. Our Concierge called to tell us he had already scheduled a free meal (another one) in a specialty restaurant for us. He asked if the date and time were okay. I reminded him we were on vacation and we could eat at WHATEVER time and where ever place!

The doorbell rang again and we thought it was our luggage arriving. We open the door and in comes another delivery…a bottle of wine and fruit basket! No note was attached and we did not press the issue in case it was a mistake delivery. We were darned happy as we re-organized the fruit, champagne bottles and wine bottles. We were going to crack open a bottle but had to go to the muster drill, a required and necessary safety drill before the ship’s sailing.

After the safety drill we returned our life vests to our suite. We decided to check out the sailaway party as the ship starting moving. Always remember to close the balcony door before you open your stateroom door…if not, then papers fly all over the place. But that can be a good thing too. I looked at what I picked off the floor and I found a letter from the Jewel’s Hotel Director stating we had a free meal in any alternative restaurant!

As we left for our Thanksgiving Week Sailaway we concluded it was more like Christmas week!

THE CRUISE BEGINS:

Everyone seemed to be at the pool deck for the sailaway party. This was a great opportunity to see the overall mood of the passengers and of the cruise staff who entertain all week long. Overall, it was going to be a fun and happy week. We returned to our suite and found our luggage was arriving. We scored a dinner reservation for Teppanyaki, a specialty restaurant.

Teppanyaki is “a style of Japanese cuisine that uses an iron griddle to cook food.” The chef cooks in front of you while “displaying slicing/dicing/juggling” techniques. Their tools make a beat as they perform. Our chef was a lot of fun! We laughed, we cheered, we hollered “yeah” when he caught pieces of food in his hat and we hollered “ohhhhh” when he did not. An anniversary cake was brought out in the end and we all sang happy anniversary to a couple celebrating their 45th.

One of the anniversary couple’s daughters was one of the very first winners of the happy birthday NCL free cruise on the new Norwegian Pearl. I thought this could be the family I was looking for because we shared our parts of our meals with each other. Most of us selected the Land and Sea and a few selected the Seafood Diablo. I had the Land and Sea and it was absolutely fantastic! The family later invited us to sit with them that evening at the 70’s dance party.

The other table had a well dressed family and I could not help but watch the two children stare up in awe at their chef. The kids were so cute. The son had his chopsticks tied together by the waitress in a particular manner so he could eat his food easier. I wanted mine tied the same way but they brought me a fork instead. Something new I noticed was that a black napkin was brought out for me but everyone else got a white one. I asked why and they responded so the white napkin would not leave stuff on my black satin pants or black satin shirt. I responded “oh” and thought to myself that I really should go out to eat more…!

During dinner we missed over 40 singles mingle (for the New Yorker), the ballroom dancing and the family karaoke. The Jewel also had a traveling alone social and dinner where one could meet other solo travelers and go to dinner with them. We thought how nice! Two years ago the NYer and I had to find each other on our own…now NCL helps set up solo travelers. Smart move.

After dinner we went down one deck to check out three bars with unique themes and designs as advertised on NCL. Since I was wearing black, I looked great in all three color schemes. I ordered a cosmopolitan at Magnum’s martini and champagne bar and then we headed up to the Spinnaker Lounge on Deck 13 forward for the 70’s Night dancing. The place was mobbed and they did their signature John Travolta/Gloria Gaynor/YMCA contest. The Cruise Director did a great job with this.

At the end of the night we talked about what we liked so far about the ship. Our suite and balcony was a given. We also loved the open railings with horizontal rungs all over the ship. They were great for viewing through our balcony, the decks, and the pool area. Some ships have that awful Plexiglass that gets fogged up from sea salt. The Jewel is wonderful for viewing the ocean. The furnishings in the lounges were also plush. Our feet even sunk into the ship’s carpets.

MONDAY…A PERFECT RAINY DAY AT SEA:

I got up at 6:30am and headed up to the buffet breakfast in my high-water black yoga pants, white flip-flops, an old skanky white t-shirt and black head-band. I made sure to put some mascara to not scare anyone in case others were awake at that time. It was cloudy and I noticed some of the pool chairs already claimed. Tempted to throw the towels/books/single shoes into one of the four hot-tubs I just chuckled knowing my option was the awesome forward balcony attached to my suite if the weather got nicer. Besides, I had A Cruise Critic party planned at 11am and a latitudes repeat customer party at 1pm.

At the Garden Cafe I had a beautiful selection of freshly prepared food. How wonderful to be an early bird. I asked an older gentleman (the only other passenger up at that time too) at the table nearby what his tag was for around his neck. He replied that over 300 Norwegian dancers were on board. A large group from Norway booked the cruise and they were all learning to dance. He invited me to watch as they were going to practice in Spinnaker’s Lounge at 8am and on the basketball court at 10am. So this is what goes on early morning! Who knew?

After breakfast I could have gone to early morning exercises, the casino, trivia, handwriting analysis seminar, golf seminar or arts and crafts all before 11am if I wanted to. I opted to head back to bed and watch the waves break the bow of ship. As I exited the cafe, I turned a corner and ran into five guys in white. Startled, I bid them all a good morning. I was asked what I was doing up so early on vacation. I replied I wanted to be the first in line for the omelette man and the first in line for the waffle man. I was next asked if I was enjoying the cruise so far. “Yes, it is great” I answered. I then added, “Who are you?”

The rest of the conversation was a blur. Not only were these guys in white, but they were the guys in white with stripes. I remember hearing Something-Director, Something-Director, Head-So-and-So, Big-Wig from Miami office and Assistant to the Something-Director. I could have run away. Here I was in my skanky clothes that I slept in with no make-up on. I thanked God to myself that I had put a bra on and applied mascara prior to leaving the suite. I held my ground and commented on NCL’s new menus. I thanked one of the Directors for dinner the prior evening. I then had to explain what I meant by that and they laughed. I then told them I had to go do a Norwegian dance group. When they laughed I realized I had to explain what I meant by that too. I ended their entertainment by wishing them a good day. I did not need my cabin key to get into the suite. I just crawled under the door…

I later checked out the Jewel’s spa. I began first with with the free area that women can use. You can use a hot-tub, a steam room, a sauna room, or sit on a few chairs overlooking the bow of ship. The spa is directly above the bridge and it has a fabulous view. I assume the guys on the other side had the same thing. They had regular bathrooms and regular showers along with two special showers that give an ice blast (which you are supposed to cold rinse after getting out of hottub or sauna/steam room to close your pores). I ventured down a hallway past the acupuncture room, the teeth whitening room, the massage rooms and the body tanning room into the therapy room which was unisex.

A juice/coffee/tea bar/water was set up as mellow music played lightly in the background. If I had my bathing suit on I would have checked out the therapy pool that seemed built for two with little rollers that one floats on. Instead, I sat on one of ten stone beds ergonomically designed for the body. The stones were heated. I sat there alone for about 20 minutes and de-stressed from my guy-in-white rendezvous. I almost fell back to sleep while looking out at the vast ocean ahead. I concluded that had I not had a penthouse suite to relax in, or if I was traveling with family members and wanted to get away, then this room is definitely where I would hang out!

I was so relaxed after my therapy room experience I returned to cabin to wake up the NYer and get ready for parties. I donned a black skirt, black sketcher sandals and a black/white/pink dress tank top (resort casual?) outfit. I was not sure of the decor in the Star Bar and I did not want to clash.

I brought our champagne to the Cruise Critic party and NCL set up glasses and orange juice to mix mimosas for those Cruise Critics in attendance. I also brought maple sugar treats from my home state of Vermont. NCL provided coffee and cookie treats. The best treat of all was getting to meet the Captain, the Food and Beverage Director, the Hotel Director, the Cruise Director and the group services coordinator. When some introduced themselves to me I reminded them I met him earlier that morning! I then shared the wonders of make-up.

Altogether, the officers were very nice and very personable. I noticed they took time with each of the Cruise Critics in a casual atmosphere. Their conversations were not boring and they were not stuffy at all. As a matter of fact, I began to think they were real people just like us! Overall, this was a great opportunity to ask questions of them if you wanted to. Lastly, it was great to put faces to people I communicated with online. After the gathering ended, we finished off the remaining mimosas.

Our next party was the repeat customer latitudes party at one o’clock. It was fun to go through the entry line and to not be afraid to talk to the guys in white with stripes. NCL served free champagne, wine, mimosas, rum drinks along with nice hors d’oeuvres. We stayed with mimosas. I dislike champagne but I had a nice mimosa buzz and my ultimate goal is to win the champagne bottle in the raffle. The party was well attended…it filled up the Spinnaker’s Lounge and the Captain talked to everyone and introduced the officers.

Prizes drawn included items from the gift shop, a pedicure and facial from the sap, NCL t-shirts and NCL hats. Prizes vary on each ship depending on who sets up the party. Once again, I did not win the bottle of champagne. I know if I ever win I am going to pull a Price Is Right move and run down and make a fool of myself. After all my suite treats, I was not too disappointed…

After the latitudes we were more buzzed and decided we better eat because more champagne was coming at the VIP party early evening. We selected the Blue Lagoon that serves chicken wings, potato skins, hamburgers, hotdogs, noodle soup, shepard’s pie, and some other stuff. This is one of the restaurants open all the time.

Afterwards, The NYer went up to the pool deck and it was time for my nap and solitude on the suite balcony. Upon my arrival, another surprise bottle was in the cabin and I have no idea where it came from. As my head hit the pillow on the lounger in bewilderment, I thought ‘Whatever!’ As I slept, I had no idea what the evening would bring…VIP party, another alternative restaurant, a dress malfunction, suite treats, and New Years Eve Bash…

During my nap I missed the afternoon activities that included champagne art auction, sexy legs competition by the pool, casino blackjack tournament, mega jackpot bingo, Texas Hold ‘Em tournament, spinning, martini clinic and margarita clinic. I wished I stayed up for the beauty seminars because I really could have used the seminar titled “Drop a Dress Size” or the one titled “Fab Abs” with the fitness instructors.

Monday evening and the V.I.P. party was billed optional formal night and we opted to dress up. While in South Beach I purchased a great strapless silk (ish) black and white cocktail dress. Each vertical black stripe and each vertical white stripe overlapped the other from top to bottom. I decided the dress was more important than going on shore excursions and getting my hair cut in the ship’s salon. Since black and white was my fashion theme for the week and it fit perfectly, I bought it.

When the time came to put the dress on, I wondered what happened. How could the dress have shrunk? How come I could not zip up the back? I forgot Caribbean humidity makes me swell. I forgot champagne makes me bloat. I forgot something else that I should have remembered. Since trying on the dress originally, I think I was ten pounds heavier. How was I going to chow down on lobster in a few hours?

We were almost late for the VIP party as the NYer (who is the size of a peanut soaking wet), had to help shove me into the dress. We laughed and laughed at the little flaps flipping up in certain spots whenever I walked or stood up after sitting down. Strange how it did not do that when I was dancing in the South Beach dressing room! I told the NYer I was going to wear the dress and just not move all night long. We could walk slowly; she would let me know if anything was showing, she could sit at the bar and I could stand up against it. When I had to sit down, I would remove my black sheer shawl (a burka head covering from Saudi Arabia I use as a shawl) and wrap it around my waist in a giant bow. Perfect. We were ready to go.

Before leaving, our suite treats arrived. We had treats arrive every night. This night had TWO platters of chocolate covered strawberries. We stuck them in the refrigerator in order to save room in our bellies for lobster. Lobster was being served in every restaurant that evening. We headed off very carefully to the Fyzz Lounge…

The Captain’s VIP party was very well attended. The Fyzz Lounge was very colorful and I did not clash with it in my dress. The Fyzz Lounge is used for karaoke and for other venues such as country line dance lessons. At the party, I did not move from the bar. We met a very nice woman who offered to show us her Garden Villa, an amazing 5500 square foot cabin with private courtyard. One of the officers introduced himself and I had to remind him I met twice already that very same day. This time I got to laugh and what him squirm. I explained to him the wonders of hairstyling and a little extra eye shadow. I thought to myself he probably did not recognize me because I gained weight since I saw him last.

Another officer asked which dining room we were eating in that evening and we had not really thought about it. He picked up his phone and made a reservation in a specialty restaurant. I wondered if we would ever see the freestyle dining rooms, the dining rooms that you go into anytime from 5pm-10pm.

Lastly, I noticed all the officers made sure they spoke to everyone who attended. I concluded this was a great group of officers. I secretly hoped they had fun at these events because they have to do it every week. The best part was that they were all very personable, cordial and funny.

During our fabulous lobster dinner in Mama’s Italian Restaurant, another bottle of wine was sent to our table. The lobster and wine helped stretch my dress appropriately. We had missed the opening main event show by Jean Ann Ryan Company which other people reported as being fabulous. So after dinner, we checked out the ship store instead of arriving late to it. I found the store pleasant. Cigarettes and liquor were definitely a bargain compared to where I come from. You could buy a carton of cigs for 23 dollars or 2 cartons for 40 dollars. If you purchase liquor from the store, you pick it up the night before the cruise ends. Just remind yourself you can not “carry on” the plane. You will have to pack it in your luggage. The regulations might change by the time you cruise, but keep this in mind.

We returned to our suite and found towel animals and chocolate on our pillows. I had been awake a long time and NCL contributed to an appropriate “good feeling.” I do not think I had a bar bill yet but was feeling great. We next headed up to the New Year’s Eve bash in Spinnaker’s Lounge. We arrived to a packed house and everyone was having a good time! The crowd ranged from 18 to 80 years old. I immediately got my glow sticks, my streamers and began to work out on the dance floor. I noticed the older Norwegian dancer from early morning standing by himself. I grabbed him and took him out on the floor. This guy could boogie! I found out later that he was in the same profession as me.

This was the only night I kept track of how long I stayed out at night. The NYer and I returned to suite at 3:30am. I had been awake partying for almost 24 hours. It was a perfect rainy day at sea.

TUESDAY…SAN JUAN:

I awoke early and headed up to the breakfast buffet instead of one of two main dining rooms. It was a new experience for me to see just who was out and about early morning! I sat with a lovely Hawaiian couple from San Francisco. Their plan for the day was to find a long lost friend from year’s ago. I told them I would say a prayer to St. Anthony that they would find her. I never saw them again that week but I hope they made someone’s day!

We did not arrive in San Juan until noon so I caught some early morning sun on the penthouse balcony. The ship was moving slowly and I think I had the best view…even better than the Garden Villa passengers. We had special early debarkation tickets but we were not in any hurry to go anywhere. We were on vacation. We had no plans. We let everyone else get off the ship first. We walked around town and bought souvenirs. I concluded that you must wear comfy shoes in Old San Juan’s cobblestone streets. We walked along the pier boardwalk and throughout the streets. I was so tired that I asked in one store if I would get back American dollars. The shopkeeper announced that I was in the United States and I would get back American dollars because that is all he had. I replied that a certain percentage of Puerto Ricans did not want to belong to the United States…he happily responded, “What do I care? I am Mexican!” We ended our shopping day drinking giant margaritas in a Senor Frogs bar.

My general rule is to be back on ship at least one hour before the recommended time. If you do not go with a ship tour, then there are no guarantees on the ship waiting if a traffic accident ties up the main road back, or if a privately scheduled tour is running late. On the ship I ate yummy pizza, chicken, pork ribs and potato salad. The NYer and I returned to our suite for a nap but it was interrupted by a suite shrimp platter delivery. We concluded no sleeping today and that we must begin to crack open all the wine we had sitting on our counter-top.

We sat out on our balcony eating shrimp and drinking Colin’s Cabernet Sauvignon while watching everyone return to ship. We watched the sun set. We opened the second bottle of Cabernet and heard a report from our suite neighbors out on their balcony about the San Juan tour. We finally met the honeymooning couple out on the balcony of the Diamond Suite (saw their suite at debarkation and it was beautiful…great decor…will book that one next time) and they were having a great cruise. Good thing because I would have felt bad if they were not having any fun!

As darkness fell and the ship started sailing we realized that we had not had dinner since nobody told us where we were going to eat that evening! Would we ever make it to the regular restaurants? The Nyer then remembered the double platters of chocolate-covered strawberries in our refrigerator and brought them out on balcony. We commented on the fabulous lights of El Morro shining in front of us and how great a tour that was the last time in San Juan, we laughed also at the shiny lights of the brand new parking garage directly below it.

As we left port, the gentle wind and night-lights were mesmerizing. I was bundled up in an extra blanket and the NYer could not believe that I was chilly. I said I was just comfortable. She pointed out the constellations as she had once lived on a sailboat traveling the Caribbean for two years.

Once we were full speed ahead towards Antigua, we went back inside and got ready for ’80’s night in Spinnaker’s Lounge. We missed dinner, the main show the Action Comedy Showtime Edge, the Big Band Tribute to Glen Miller, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire Audience Participation gathering and the adult karaoke. Even so, I would not have traded the NYer, the wine, the shrimp, the chocolate covered strawberries, the balcony view leaving San Juan at night for a million dollars…

WEDNESDAY…HOW I FOUND JESUS IN ANTIGUA:

The NYer and I awoke to the ship docked in Antigua. We found the room service request sheets in the cabin booklet’s back pocket the night before. Our butler was on time and he set a beautiful table setting on the balcony. While dining, we basked in the glorious sunshine and wondered whether or not we would ever make it to one of the big shows offered almost each night. We missed the comedy show but had asked a family the night before if it was funny. A middle-aged dad with his family said it was a riot and that we missed a good performance. The NYer and I concluded that it possibly could not have been funnier than the two of us hanging out together all week.

The NYer left after breakfast to get a salon appointment and I continued to work on my tan and to catch up on sleep on the balcony. The Antigua welcome band down below played. As I tried to rest, my eyes kept opening to view this awesome cathedral in hills of downtown St. John. I wondered how far a walk it was…I rested…I opened my eyes again and was drawn to the immaculate structure. It stood out among all the other buildings…I rested again…opened my eyes and felt the beckoning…”Louise…Louise…Come To Me…!”

I asked the NYer if she wanted to walk up and check out the Cathedral. She replied not only no, but “heck no!” I finally fell asleep but awoke once again. “Louise my child, you must come to me!” the church bellowed once again. We had talked about hitting the beaches in Antigua but we were content with just doing our own thing…a perfect agreement when cruising with friends or family. Falling asleep again, I was jolted with a bolt…”Louise you better get up here right now and pay homage!” I got dressed and told the NYer I was going for a walk to the church. She decided to join me.

Before heading out we checked the ship’s magazine, The Freestyle Daily, to make sure of the required return time. We noticed on each port-of-call the advisory notice: “While ashore drink only bottled water, be cautious while dining in port, wash your hands often, and discourage hand shaking.” This is one of the great things about NCL…the multitude stations of hand sanitizers everywhere you go throughout their ships. I truly believe this is the reason one hardly hears about norovirus on NCL ships.

St. John’s Cathedral was not as far a walk as I thought. Closer than it appeared from the suite, I was glad I had comfy shoes on as the sidewalks were in need of repair. The view was beautiful from the outside. The cemetery around the church was interesting. The structure inside was extremely interesting. We read through the brochure that noted the history, the organ, the wood, the stained glass, and the altar. Suddenly a local hands us a bible and a hymn book. Mass began.

We went to leave and turned around. The church was semi-filled with locals. The NYer said, “Let’s GO!” I replied, “NO!, think of the grace we can get by staying!…I will meet you back at the ship if you want!” She stayed as we moved to the back. The mass was very interesting. I remembered the words to most of the responses but followed a local when it came time to stand and to sit and stand again. I even sang…and I never sing! This was great, I thought! I could have been at the beach, on a tour, drinking at the bars while on vacation, but here I was praying in St. John’s Cathedral.

I prayed for my family, for my community, for my friends, for my colleagues, for NCL and for the locals. I thanked God, Jesus and Mary for having the life that I have. The priest’s main message was no matter how great you are (a great teacher, a great doctor, a great lawyer), what truly matters is how GOOD you are at the end of the day. Knowledge is wonderful, but how you use it to help others is what counts.

Then came the sign of peace. Back home we just say peace be with you to whoever you are standing next to. In Antigua, the ENTIRE group leave the pews, walks around and SHAKES HANDS with everyone! The NYer is freaking out and I am whispering, “Just don’t put your hands to your mouth after!” We shook hands with all the catholic Antiguans including the priest who also walked around. There were five other cruisers and we just nervously shook each others hands and gave each other a look of “Oh Jesus!”…

Thirty minutes and four songs later I forgot about the hand-shaking. It was time for the body of Christ. I wanted to go up to the altar and kneel just like I did as a little kid when the catholic masses were done in Latin. The locals were also up at the altar on the left and I was the first cruiser on the right of them. Back home, the body of Christ is now given out in your hand for sanitary reasons. In Antigua, the priest delivers the host directly to your mouth. “Oh Jesus,” I thought…”Please do not let the priest’s finger touch my tongue! Oh Jesus, please forgive me for thinking this!”

I watched as the body of Christ came my way. My turn arrives. I stiffen, shut my eyes and stick out my tongue as far as possible. Then it was over. “Thank you Jesus…no wet finger!” Of course the priest was probably thinking, “Oh Jesus, please do not let my finger touch this heathen cruiser’s tongue!” as he delivered the wafer to me. I watched in glee and in anticipation to see if his finger touched the other cruiser’s tongues. I then bowed my head and thanked God.

Nobody left the altar. I prayed some more yet wondered why we were all still kneeling up there. The priest shuffles, says some prayer and starts going down the line AGAIN. Another host? A blessing on the forehead? What was going on? I strain to see down the row and I spot the holy grail…the chalice of Christ’s blood…placed on the lips of each local in the same spot as they sipped.

“OH JESUS!” I prayed. “Oh Jesus, can’t that priest wipe off the chalice using a little more force with that napkin?” The priest was getting closer. I strained some more to see and thought, “Oh Jesus, how come he is not turning that freaking cup?!” The priest was now ten locals away from me. “Oh Jesus, will I offend these people if I get up and leave?” The priest was five locals away. I turn to the right and look at at the other tourists. They looked as if the devil himself was on his way to steal their souls.

I wish I had a camera to capture one tourist’s look at me. It was sheer horror. I returned the look, shook my head no to her, bowed my head and prayed, “Father, forgive me!” as I stood and left just as the priest arrived. I returned to my pew and prayed more for forgiveness if I offended anyone in Antigua. The NYer wanted to ask me what the heck happened…because all she saw was me get up and then five others disappear in a NY second…but I was too busy praying.

Church closed with everybody leaving the pews once again and standing in a circle holding hands singing a hymn. I think I prayed to Jesus more times in 75 minutes than I did my entire life. I felt like a good person upon leaving. I left a hefty donation to help preserve St. John’s Cathedral. Jesus is going to be with me for a solid two years after that “tour!”

After church, the NYer needed a drink. She informed me that she was not Catholic. Who knew? I then spotted a school across the street and she then had to endure my conversations with the students, the teachers and the security guards. Amazing how things are different yet still the same throughout the world.

We ended up at the “BeeHive” a bar near the ship which serves local beer for 2 dollars a pop. Good thing I was buying. We were so full of Jesus that we found something good during every beer we drank. The beer was good…The tourists were good…The rain shower felt good…The ancient Antiguan street dancer who balanced a pineapple on his head was good…Life was good!

I was so full of Jesus, goodness and Antiguan beer that I decided to buy presents for all the people who had to support my job while I was away. One stop at “Lipstick” perfume factory and I had all my thank you presents. The only perfume shop “packed” with customers, I assumed the deals were good. One Obsession, Dolce and Gabbana, Red Door, Pure White Rain, Wish, Angel, J-LO Glow, and Versace-something later, I was done. I told the lady at check-out that it took 8 people to do my job while away. The male customer behind me replied, “What are you? A Housewife?”

Stumbling back onto the ship, the security guard just did not understand why after I placed each hand under the sanitizer that I also wanted to try to drink out of it. We returned to our suite and realized we do not have a cabin in the back of ship. Always remember on the Jewel that the carpet fish swim towards the bow. I somehow managed to lose my key along the way. I think I sanitized my purse and my key under the machine and it somehow slipped out. The information desk people were very kind in replacing one. If you lose your key, go there immediately and they will void out the lost one and give you a new one. Others in the cabin will also have to have their key replaced too. So do not go to church, get drunk after, carry around 350 dollars worth of perfume, take a sanitizer shower and expect to have everything you started with.

The NYer headed off to her hot stone massage which she loved and highly recommended. I headed off to sleep in my suite lounger on the balcony. Jesus was happy with me and he finally let me get some good shut-eye since boarding on 11/19.

For dinner that evening, we ate at NCL signature French restaurant, Le Bistro. I donned a black halter top and white sailor pants. The NYer was late meeting me there. As I waited at the entrance a couple came up to me and stated their reservation. I told them they would have to wait 45 minutes to be seated but if they slipped me a 20, then I would get them in sooner. They looked at me as if I had three heads until I informed that I was a passenger and not an NCL employee. Immediately afterwards, the Maitre D arrived and seated them.

I loved my array of lobster/scallop appetizer, escargot, and seafood. The NYer loved her warm goat cheese tart, the salmon and the creme brulee. We both enjoyed the complimentary bottle of wine that came with our meal since I am a platinum member with NCL. I chuckled at how I was turning into a wino. I also concluded by the end of the meal that platinum is now my new favorite precious metal.

Unable to finish the wine at dinner, we brought it to the Fyzz Lounge to see what “Edge Unplugged” was all about. Families were enjoying themselves and a crowd of young and old were learning to juggle on the dancefloor. We met a lovely group from England and we laughed a lot with them. Could this be my cruise family? They were fun and we shared jokes. I gave them my best British, Irish and Scottish ones. Afterwards, we went searching for our photos taken by the ship’s staff. We had fun looking for and finding them but we never purchased any. For some reason we looked old in all of them.

The International Crew Show won over our interest in nightly venues. Instead of karaoke or the Latin Fiesta Dance Party, I knew the crew show would be more entertaining. It is a treat to see your servers, your stewards, your cooks sing, dance and entertain. I believe shows like this add to morale and the passengers appreciate them. The Cruise Director and his staff did a funny finale. We finished the evening dancing in the Spinnaker’s Lounge.

THURSDAY…ST. THOMAS:

I awoke early to the immigration call. Any ship that stops in St. Thomas must go through immigration because of re-entry to the United States. All passengers must show their passports or photo identification to the immigration officials who come on board. I left my cabin at 8pm and was back by 8:04pm. St. Thomas had enough officials show up and the entire process was painless.

The foreigners had to go to Spinnakers Lounge and the Americans had to go through Azura restaurant. I realized later that NCL organized approximate times for passengers depending on various things: 7:45 was for citizens booked on shore excursions, and the remaining 15 minute intervals were for citizens on deck 11 and 14, then deck 10, and downward. I was still asleep while going through the Azura main dining room and noticed it seemed a favorable place to eat.

While eating breakfast on our suite we discussed St. Thomas. Wasn’t he the one who doubted Jesus? Or, was St. Thomas named after St. Thomas Aquinas, the philosopher/theologian/teacher/traveler? We never reached an answer but agreed we had seen and done just about everything on the island in the past. This included Coki Beach, Megan’s Bay, jewelry/watch/linen shopping, island tours and turtle cove. Other possible shore excursions we discussed included snorkel tours, scuba tours, parasailing, St. John beach escape, Kon Tiki Party Raft, coral world and champagne catamaran sail/snorkel.

I have almost everything on previous cruises and by this Thursday morning, I was not interested, especially since I bought that darned dress! The only thing both of us had never done was the screamin eagle jet boat or the skyline ride directly off the ship. Somewhat disappointed in ourselves that we were having to think about making a decision, the crew drill offered some relief.

I commend NCL for their passenger safety. I already mentioned hand sanitizers but need to mention cameras all over the ship. A newer ship, I felt safe and secure knowing they were everywhere. Should a crime occur on board, I am sure that at least one if not four would show one spot. If you are bored on board…try to find the cameras…they are hidden everywhere. Phones are also all over the ship. Portable phones in each stateroom can be used to stay in contact with family members while on board.

In addition to the life-raft crew drill, the crew onboard this week had to participate in missing children simulations. The first simulation was Jill. The announcer described her and the crew had to find her. She was found within two minutes (the crew really has to search until found). The NYer said that was an easy one…she was probably in Jack’s cabin! The second simulation was missing Willey. The NYer had a field day with that one and I laughed for over an hour.

Laying in the sun on the balcony won us over until the shade arrived and we sunbathed at the pool for the very first time. We were soooooo relaxed. While many passengers were on St. Thomas, some of us had the pool to ourselves. Two Sapphire pools are located on deck 12. One for kids with a giant water slide, the other for adults with a waterfall. Swimming under the waterfall gives a wonderful back massage. Be sure to stay under the water unless you want a head pounding. The kids waterslide was uneventful for me. I had a hard time sliding down it. Maybe because it was for kids? The peanut NYer had no problem but I was slighted by getting stuck on the slide. No fast downhill motion-plunge-at-the end for this heavyweight!

I probably ticked off the little kids waiting their turn behind me, assuming their complaints to peers how the big adults were not staying in their own pool. Even so, I took my time as I gently had to push my tush one arm movement at a time all the way down. A little guy at the bottom said I was supposed to lay down to go faster. I said to him “Ohhhh!” while wanting to say “Whatever!”

We had great bar service all day and the pina coladas were great. We knew already to order them in a regular glass so we did not pay the extra cost of the fancy-smancy glasses. The pool band was very good as they played easy-listening music. Showers are located nearby the pool but we found a large shower area on deck 13. It had gigantic fake shower handles with a large overhanging shower head. You press a button and the water flows to cool you off. Do not worry if the water keeps going and going…it shuts off automatically. I am sure if the camera guys were watching, they got a good laugh at the look of panic on my face when the water would not stop for me.

The pool areas on deck 12 and deck 13 began to fill up as passengers returned from the island. I watched one use their cell phone and I remembered The Family! Oh my gosh, it is Thanksgiving! Here I was on the beautiful Norwegian Jewel, it was 3pm in gorgeous St. Thomas, and I was enjoying the warm sun combined with a cool pina colada while they were all eating warm turkey in the cold green mountains. I missed them. I called them (My verizon cell phone worked in San Juan and in St. Thomas). My immediate family is so large that I had to call five houses to wish them all a happy turkey day. My family is so large that some were surprised when told why I could not come over for pumpkin pie that afternoon…I discussed the toss-up over who spoiled me more…my older brothers and sisters or NCL! I told them NCL won out this week!

We left the pool area by sailaway time and decided to work off the pina coladas. The Fitness Center on deck 12 was large and many cardiovascular machines faced an ocean view. The NYer pointed out the corner water fountain with a very long spout. She whispered in my ear. No more Evian purchases the rest of the week. We finished the workout powerwalking the promenade deck as St. Thomas’ view drifted further away. I think 2.3 times around the promenade is one mile. A jogging track is on the upper deck but it is too short for me and it is in full sun which I do not like. You can not run on the promenade as some passengers go out there for relaxation, for shuffleboard, to watch the sunset, to read quietly, to kiss their lover, to think alone, to gather thoughts, to Whatever. Promenade decks are the best-kept secrets of any cruise ship.

I worked up a hefty appetite. An invitation to dine with officers was extended at the V.I.P. party earlier that week. We were suggested to pick a day and time. I responded that they were the ones who had the busy schedules and I thanked them. I commented to let us know what was convenient for them. After 27 cruises, 17 with NCL, I had Red Buttons fever (the comedian on the old Dean Martin roasts who never got a dinner) and always wondered how passengers get the invite. Figuring the invitation was just a nice gesture I assumed it would be forgotten. Besides, think of the stress of it all.

We were told on Le Bistro night to meet in Star Bar Thursday at 8pm with dinner at Cagney’s to follow. Oh My Gosh. How do you decline that? I still wonder as of this writing how we got the invite. I am guessing the following: 1. They know I am a Cruise Critic?, 2. I am an NCL platinum member?, 3. They liked my commercial?, 4. I was in a penthouse suite?, 5. My SouthBeach formal dress flipping up?, 6. Jesus was with me?

Thursday was Caribbean night at sea. While getting ready the NYer and I discussed what we were supposed to wear. Was it formal? Was it resort casual? Was it Caribbean? Should I wear my black and white polka-dot dress? No, Caribbean night is usually the night the passengers and officers/staff/crew wear those horrible looking multi-colored caribbean shirts and goofy pants. We concluded the Star Bar and Cagney’s Steakhouse had the least amount of color of all lounges on the ship so we would wear our brightest outfits too.

I called for help anyways to make sure. The response was this was freestyle cruising and that we could wear “whatever.” At that moment I felt like making a bed-sheet toga to show just what I thought about “whatever!” None the smarter, the NYer ended up in a casual caribbean dress and I ended up in a multi-colored floral halter top with white capris. We concluded they were definitely our worst outfits the entire week. At the very least, we would match the officer/staff/crew’s worst outfits of the week too.

The Concierge, a.k.a our limousine driver, escorted us to the Star Bar and waited with us while the others showed up. We were all going to dine in Cagney’s Steakhouse. I just about died when the officers entered. Seems NCL took my previous advice and got rid of their goofy caribbean outfits. These guys showed up in black dress pants, black dress shoes and Gorgeous silkish solid color Cuban-style shirts. Here we were in our stupid outfits and there they were looking like they just returned from a Gentleman’s Quarterly Magazine shoot. Oh my god, this was going to be the longest dinner of my life, perhaps my last supper. I immediately ordered a mount gay rum and tonic with lime.

After nervous introductions once again of everyone, we were asked how our day was. The NYer responded in an exasperated voice, “I am EXHAUSTED!…I have been looking for Willey ALL day!…Have you guys found him yet?!” Mount gay rum and tonic actually came out of my nose. I almost fell out of my chair laughing as did everyone else. The rest of the meal was fabulous. The only way to describe the dining experience was that I was dining at home with my family, especially my brothers and sisters. How surprised was I? We laughed, we told stories, we laughed, we ate a lot, we laughed more, we talked a lot and laughed some more. The NYer pointed out the ones (including me) from big families talked the most. She described it perfectly how we all grew up…we had to compete for the attention!

Overall, what a special treat for me to have been missing my family earlier that day and to have NCL find a way for me to feel right at home. My perception of officer stuffiness has changed as I realize they are people just like you and me. I come from a family of officers and I should have known better all along. Even so, I thank NCL for one of the best Thanksgiving dinners to remember.

If anything, I hope that they in return enjoyed themselves. Since this is done on a weekly basis, I somehow wonder how they view the dinners. There were a few times they almost had water coming out their noses, so I suspect it was something different for them too!

While dining, I did not have a problem missing The Second City comedy improv earlier that evening. There was enough laughter and joy at our table. After thanking the Jewel officers for Thanksgiving dinner and wishing them and NCL a happy birthday, the NYer and I went to the Caribbean deck party. After the Caribbean deck party, I went to the Spinnaker’s Lounge to dance off my jumbo shrimp, prime rib dinner with au jus and horseradish, Idaho baked potato and steamed asparagus. Since the next day was at sea, the disco is usually crowded because nobody has to get up early. Like having to get up early makes a difference to my late night dancing!

FRIDAY…DAY AT SEA:

Friday morning arrived and it was a full day at sea. All the documents and information for debarkation were delivered the night before. I suggest reading through them all to avoid confusion on debarkation day. On NCL, one debarks the ship in a variety of ways: Express walk-off (you get off first)…you must carry off all your own luggage, then passengers with flights to MIA or FLL before 3pm, then guests with shore excursions (you meet in a separate area), then guests with independent travel arrangement (arranged by deck locations), following with guests who have FLL or MIA transfers with flights after 3pm. If you do not want to read through the directions, just watch it on your stateroom television.

I suggest you fill out your customs cards, comment cards, luggage tags and check your onboard account within the last two days of cruise. This avoids the potential long line at the purser’s/information desk debarkation morning. Who wants to end their holiday stressed out?

I wrote out my thank-you letters for the Thanksgiving dinner invite and then packed a bit while watching “Pirates of the Caribbean (part 2)” on the movie channel. Oh my gosh, who knew of the selection of free movies along with the selection of other dvd games available? I never get the chance to go to the movies at home so it was a treat to see this one for free.

I decided to spend the day at sea checking out all other area’s of the ship. After the breakfast buffet I went up to sports deck and to the sun deck. A full size basketball court (also used for tennis and volleyball) with stadium seating was impressive. I found a golf swing area, a giant size chess board game, more shuffleboards, and the private area to garden villas. The sun deck was forward and I concluded this was a nice private area away from the pool. A few passengers were vegging out on the loungers and I did not want to disturb them. The ship’s chapel was small and not very decorative.

My attention was captured in the card/lifestyles room and in the library. The card/lifestyle room had a view of the ocean. Tables were set up where one could play games (bridge/cards/checkers/chess). I looked in all the cabinets and found plenty of board games including monopoly, rummikub, cribbage, sorry, just to name a few. I even found decks of cards!

The library room was the best library at sea I ever noted. A view of the ocean, comfy cubby chairs, and tables by the windows, the book selection was fantastic. I noted fiction, non-fiction, best-sellers, children’s, health, travel and other subjects. Passengers have the opportunity to check out books throughout the cruise and to return them by week’s end. I found three great travel books on Paris and spent the next two hours perusing them. My first visit to Paris was soon thereafter this cruise and I learned a lot. I guess while on the streets in Paris I am not supposed to look French men in the eyes nor respond to their greetings…unless I want to get picked up. I also learned how say, “Bonjour Monsieur! Je suis bien! Et tu?”

The Jewel Club Casino is a brightly decorated one with plenty of slots, tables and tournaments. I bought the perfume in Antigua with my gambling money so I never made a donation. I spoke with a nineteen-year old who had beginner’s luck at the crap’s table and according to him, he spoke to people who had won big at various times. I asked him on the last night if he was in the black or in the red. He had broke even yet commented he enjoyed every minute of it. At least he learned the correct way to gamble.

The internet cafe, located on deck 7 had about six computers. A staff member is nearby to assist passengers. An art gallery was nearby and art auctions took place all week. There were some pieces I liked. The Galleria shop staff was excellent in all areas. The employees were cordial and helpful. I bought t-shirts for hubby, boxes of caribbean rum balls and a great carry-on duffle-bag for 26 dollars. I could not bring the perfume liquids on the plane ride home so I had to re-arrange my packing. The store also had perfume, jewelry, gift ornaments, clothing, and toiletries. So, if you ever forget something, the Galleria store will probably have it.

I finished my self-guided tour with a buffet lunch of cold soup, pork ribs and iced tea. Yummy. Back at the cabin I told the NYer I was going to finish packing so I did not have to rush that night. She politely informed me that we still had another port of call the next day (Great Stirrup Cay) and what the heck was I thinking? Having no concept of time or date all week, I thought we were debarking the following morning. Could this cruise get any better?

I still packed a little bit and The NYer attended a towel making demonstration. Once I was done, I attended the ice cream machines. My first dessert of the week, I found two stations at both ends of the Garden Cafe. You can get chocolate, vanilla or mixed. They have sauces and sprinkles available. Cones (the good kind) are present but I don’t eat them. Instead, I gave the ice cream server my best smile when I handed him my giant soup bowl. He grinned as I whispered, “whatever, right?”

I thought of my father, now deceased, as I sat by myself amongst the crowded Sapphire pool area. Having a family of 13, our special treat was taking us for rides in the car and going to the Dairy Queen. If it was just him and I, he would always get me the super-giant size creemee as long as I could eat it all before I got home so my mother and siblings would not find out. I could never do it and he always helped me out as we pulled into the driveway. I remembered toward the end of his life taking him for rides and for creemees. He still finished what I could not. As 1/2 the ship’s passengers gathered at the Sapphire pool area, it only felt like it was just him and me as I ate the entire serving of icecream. I even licked the bowl.

Feeling like a little kid again, I watched a great show at the pool. A grand illusionist performed an underwater escape challenge. In true Houdini fashion, he had the entire crowd in awe. Passengers chained him up and threw him in the water. Amazing how long this guy could hold his breath. The real little kids were jumping and pointing in anticipation as the minutes passed. I found myself jumping and pointing and holding on to stranger’s arms as I watched. This was a great addition to NCL’s program. Totally cool.

I discovered the NYer at the Sky High Bar and we decided to pass on the bingo, casino tournaments, name that tune, exercise classes, seminars at sea, and singles socials all taking place on this sea day. Instead, we perched ourselves on the bar stools overlooking the pool below and met a lot passengers…some new and some familiar. We began with mojitos which were full of mint and yummy. I can only drink one of those though. We continued with her double-scotch and me double-mount gay cocktails. Much to our surprise, the activities came to us.

We took part in a Kid-Bingo-Coverall taking place by the pool. The prize was 400 dollars and it was one game only. NCL set it up in the cutest way. Each little kid received a beach ball. At the top of the slide, the staff had the machine balls and wrote out the number on each beach ball. The little kids slid down with their beach ball bingo number and held it up for the cruise director to announce. It was coverall and some of the little tykes were pooped towards the end. Some dropped out. I admire the ones who endured the entire game. If you want to make sure your child goes to bed early, then have them participate! They got to keep the balls too!

The sun was setting and the NYer and I were still perched at the SkyHigh bar and we met two wonderful gals having just a great time as we were. The four of us laughed a lot and we wished we met earlier in the week. Come to find out, one gal was from Cruise Critic. She did not make it to our gathering earlier that week so I told her what she missed. The four of us remained there until they had 20 minutes to get to dinner and left. The NYer and I met more passengers along their way. Who says you can’t meet interesting people at a bar? It had been dark for a while and it was getting foggy out. We noticed everyone dressed up while we were still in our shorts and bathing suits. After sitting and drinking all sea day long, we left the Sky High Bar with a Sky High bill. Returning to cabin, we realized we were indeed Sky High.

We went to dinner in Tango’s restaurant with a Tex-Mex flair. We had fun practicing on the Tango carpet during the day. The carpet has foot pictures and directions on how to do the tango. Who knew my tango guy would be a rug? We loved the ambiance of Tango’s at night with the lights dim and hearing the live music playing one deck below. Our waiter was excellent. I had the chicken soup and fajitas…the NYer had the spring rolls and quesadillas. Tex-Mex Burger: beef, shredded chipotle, avocado, Monterey jack cheese, lettuce, spicy fries

After Tangos we went to the Fyzz Lounge and watched the cruise staff teach line dancing. A few started out and others joined as they realized just how fun it is! The cruise staffmember was excellent and a very good teacher. I remember she taught me a few moves on the Norwegian Sun a few years ago.

The big main event show that evening was Cirque De Bijou. Held in the beautiful Stardust Theater forward, every seat was a great seat. There is nothing to block a view in this theater. The design was very well thought out. With exception to the peacock curtain, the colors and decor worked well.

The show was fabulous. I sat in the very back at the top and I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. Billed as “an artistic and awe inspiring aerial ballet featuring world recognized aerialists, rhythmic gymnasts, acrobats and bungee jumpers hurling from 40 feet in the air…” I totally agree this is a show NOT to miss and that it is definitely the “the best show on the seven seas.” If you sit in the first 8 rows, you have to stay the entire performance due to safety reasons. You have performers flying about above you coming within feet of your head!

Also not to miss is the after-show farewell by officers/staff/crew. NCL does the best send-off compared to my Princess, Royal Caribbean and Carnival cruises. As the farewell progressed, I realized the answer to my question all week long. As I heard the words sung “This is your home…away from home…you are part of our family…” and saw everyone up there, I reviewed the week in my head. How true those words were for me on this cruise. I opened this review with stating that NCL treated me like a goddess and like a family member at the same time. These are the words I use when anyone at home or work ask how my vacation was.

After the show we had good intentions of attending the well announced chocoholic buffet set up in the Garden Cafe and the Late Night Comedy Liars Club. Instead, The NYer went to sleep. I watched The Da Vinci Code, another movie I was pleased to see for free. I found myself having a hard time following along even though I read book two years ago. I did enjoy seeing the sites of Paris knowing I would see it for real very soon.

Not wanting to think too much about the Holy Grail once again, I ventured up to the Spinnaker’s Lounge and danced with myself. I had a good time with me! I found out that my favorite music is played late late late night. Not hearing it on other nights (although I still liked the DJ’s selections and I was only out late late the other nights), I was very pleased. My favorite music is trance/techno/club music and had I known, I would have taken longer naps during the day in order to stay up later. Even so, I am very proud of myself that I never once on this trip closed down the disco. I think I am growing up!

SATURDAY…GREAT STIRRUP CAY:

We awoke to a beautiful sunny day off Great Stirrup Cay, NCL’s private island in the Bahamas. The wind and the waves moved the stationary ship. I was thankful we could tender to shore because sometimes the island is missed due to weather/strong winds. The NYer was going to stay on board and I was going on island to seek out the lighthouse and secret beaches.

The Nyer ended up coming ashore and we left the ship at about 12:30pm. Most of the passengers were already on island. We took our time getting off although we could have have used our priority tender tickets to leave earlier. Upon arrival, I saw many people sunbathing and not too many in the water. On less windy days, the beautiful calm waters beckon swimmers, snorkelers, and water loungers. We saw the quieter beach to the right but it was closed off probably due to safety reasons. We watched the Caribbean band play as passengers danced. Many of them were the diehards in Spinnaker’s late nights. Passengers rested in hammocks, played volleyball or ping-pong located near the very clean bathrooms. Kids built sand sculptures while others buried each other.

We did not eat the buffet lunch provided on the island by the ships crew, but saw many eating at the picnic tables set up. We did not go to the straw market because I already bought my straw hat there when I was on my April 2006 NCL Spirit cruise.

We did find the lighthouse marked two miles away from the main area. Along the way we found a private rock beach (no sand…just rocks) and had a great laugh at the Great Stirrup Cay Airport. The NYer should have a wonderful photo of her there at the entrance. Where I live back home, we can go into our lighthouses. Since this lighthouse was a working one, it was closed up. I found out later from some that there is another private beach in front of lighthouse. We kept walking past the lighthouse and found a private area with beautiful calm waters. We sat in the sun on a rickety old dock and watched a few crew members and a few passengers enjoy the peaceful water. Some snorkelers arrived from around the bend and reported they saw pretty fish, lobster, a stingray, a shark and starfish. We stayed there for a few hours and ended up watching a couple of passengers catch fish. This getaway was ideal and I shall not forget the serenity I felt upon leaving.

Before boarding the last tender back to ship, we watched the operation of breaking down the island. The crew certainly works hard to bring everything ashore and then to bring it all back to ship again. All the umbrellas and loungers are stored on the island while all the food, drink, and passenger trash returns to the ship on a separate tender. Fortunately for the crew, the red-shirt bar staff versus the blue-shirt kitchen staff could play some volleyball prior to boarding the ship.

Categories
Island

Monarch of the Seas to the Bahamas

Author: VentureForth
Date of Trip: September 2009

I just got back from my very first cruise ever with my DW, celebrating my 10th anniversary aboard the Monarch of the Seas, sailing from 9/28 to 10/2. I will try to answer some of the questions that I had, and hopefully this will help any other newbies that are looking forward to sailing on the Monarch.

We drove to Port Canaveral, arriving around 1 PM. We thought we could carry our own two bags (a garment bag and a large duffel with wheels), so we did not drop off any bags where we were guided to and went straight to parking. $60 for a 4-night cruise, paid up front in cash (though ONLY MC/Visa accepted, additionally). At 1 PM, we were parked on the 5th deck – last level before being in the sun. The elevators were not designed to carry many people and their bags – shortsightedness on the part of Port Canaveral. Needless to say, we had to wait a few rounds before we got our ride down.

We then proceeded to Security where they examine your ID and confirmation information. Having it out was appreciated by the staff. At this point we were told to take our large bag all the way to the other end of the terminal building and have it checked. I then realized that we should have done that to begin with. You should only carry with you what is easily passed through a standard X-Ray machine. Note that the Port Porters are salaried, and tipping, though appreciated, is not required.

After security, we took the stairs up and went to check in. A HUGE waiting room, but none of the queue was being used at the time we were there, so we went straight to check in. This is where they take your credit card information to tie your sea pass to. After obtaining our sea pass, we show it to another lady then proceeded through the glass walkway to our first of MANY irritating and non-refusable photo ops. They take your picture in front of a backdrop of the ship and then send you on your way. Next stop is picture time so that they can match your sea pass to your mug everytime you get on and off the ship. After walking the gangway, you’re welcomed aboard and they help you find your stateroom if necessary. Not too bad for us, ‘cause we entered deck 4 and our room was on deck 5. Very easy to find our way around the ship. Nicely laid out and LOTS of maps/ship diagrams. We went to our stateroom and freshened up, hoping to get lunch in Windjammers. An announcement came out, telling us of a presentation to tell us about touring in Nassau where all participants will receive a charm bracelet. DON’T WASTE YOUR TIME unless you LOVE JEWLRY and want to spend LOTS of money in Nassau. If that’s you, then definitely go. We enjoyed it for the cheesy giveaways in the presentation and the coupons/drawings offered in Nassau. The charm bracelet was goofy and my wife won a watch from EFFY which was nice, but definitely a cheesy promo piece. Got some free rum punch, coke, and water though, so that was neato. Some may find true value in the $25 coupon book they pawn off in the show. Show was cut short for the muster drill at 3:30. Still no lunch.

Muster drill was about 20 minutes, and lifejackets were NOT required. YAY! Nice view of the Vehicle Assembly Building (where they assemble the space shuttle) off in the distance. Amazingly, many young ‘uns were already sloshed and mocking the drill. There’s one in every crowd…

Muster drill ends around 4 PM and we’re HUNGRY! Finally head up to Windjammers and EVERYTHING is closed! We finally found pizza up stairs (deck 12) and “Grab & GO” and it was very yummy and well worth the wait. At 4:30 we cast off and sailed away. We had a nice view spot on the bow end of deck 12 and stayed up there until we were in deep sea. We returned to our stateroom for a nap. Our dining time was at 8:30, so we had plenty of time to get settled. I highly recommend the later dining time, as going to bed before 12 never happened and it just seems to help open up one’s day.

We ate in Claude’s every night. Our waiter was Mehmet from Turkey and was terrific. He gave us each an “evil eye” charm. Very nice touch. Susana from Peru was our assistant waitress and did not speak much English, but nice. My water glass went empty several times – the service was just a wee bit slow but no major complaints. Steak was wonderful! My wife returned to her room and I just mulled around the ship until about 12 and then watched TV for about an hour before finally falling asleep.

On Day 2, we arrived at CocoCay. It was a very small island compared to the other ones, but it wasn’t bad. It was just the right size. We walked along the beach and collected shells (then told it was a no-no!) and enjoyed wading in 10”-deep water. There were thunderstorms all over the place and so they would not rent out snorkeling equipment. We had lunch on the island at around 11:30 and it was great – hotdogs, burgers, ribs, and chicken. Only complaint was lack of extra bbq sauce (which there may have been, but I didn’t see any). Lots of fruit, tea, water, and lemonade plus the sodas, beer, cocktails and cocolocos. Have I mentioned how irritating the photographers were? A cute older couple were sharing a cocoloco and then using the straws to make elephant sounds. FUNNY! Never did get a cocoloco, but they sure looked good! At around 12:30 we took the tender back to the Monarch around 12:30. Seas were much rougher, we were on the top deck of the tender and it was raining pretty heavily. Getting off the tender onto the ship was like walking in one of those fun houses at the local carnival. I thought it was fun! Rest of the day was filled with miscellaneous things on board – all fun, all relaxing. That night was formal night and we were back in Claude’s with our dining friends, Kelly, Paul, Mike, and Kenya.

Only being around 70 miles or so from Nassau, we cruised at around 9 knots and arrived in Nassau about 6:30 AM on Wednesday. I enjoyed watching the ship reposition on channel 36, doing its 180 turn and then docking. The Norwegian Sky came in right after us and I got to watch them do the same maneuver. We had breakfast in Windjammers and got to see one of the US Navy’s newest San Antonio-class amphibious assault vehicles depart. That was a treat. Note that this class of warship includes the USS New York which was built from steel recycled from the World Trade Center. Very neato! We disembarked at around 9 AM and hit the shops. Didn’t spend much money, but enjoyed looking around. Note: I found the same $15 Tortugas rum cake available in the ship’s store for only $5.99 at the local grocery store. Hmmm… We did the previously mentioned tour of “Authorized Jewelers & Stores” and got our little free tokens. Not hardly worth the plastic it was packaged in. But, we got to meet a couple other CCCruisers. Hit the straw market and a nice little bookstore (my wife’s a teacher) then went back to the ship for lunch. After lunch, we went back out and rode the #10 Jitney full circle for $1.25 per person, each way. A nice $5 tour for the both of us. If you don’t get off, you can take ANY Jitney and return back. Total trip time was about an hour. Coming back, we stopped at the fish fry and had some fried conch. Nice, but for $10, I wasn’t super impressed. It’s a great “locals” spot, though, and few tourists hang out here.

We got back to Bay street and everything closed at 6 PM. Went to a little internet café near the Harley store that was open until 7 and called home for 10-cents a minute. WAY better than the $2.49 on the cell phone and $7.99 onboard the ship! Kids were fine, so we were fine.

Since the $3 water taxis and the jitneys stopped running between 6 and 7, we had no cheap way to get to Atlantis and back, so we didn’t go. We could have walked up and down the island a bit more but we were getting tired so we returned to the ship. Had dinner at Claude’s and then enjoyed The Quest game show. We left port at 11:30 after a call went out to two cruisers who apparently hadn’t gotten back on board yet. Don’t know if they ever made it.

After The Quest, we went back to our stateroom watched another 30 minutes of the same movie we watched 30 minutes of the night before, but unfortunately, it was the same 30 minutes.

We set out of Nassau cruising at nearly 11 knots (13 MPH) back towards Port Canaveral. The next day we just enjoyed the ship, tried our luck at bingo twice and played the scavenger hunt. We bought Champaign for our table to celebrate our 10th and then called it a day. OH YEAH – about Bingo. For most games, you can pay $32 for 4 games of 6 cards each or $45 for an electronic gizmo that gives you 4 games of 30 cards each – and keeps track of all the dots. We noted that in all the games we watched EVERY winner was on an electronic system. Paper players got 1-away a couple of times, but never won any of the games we watched. On the last game of the last day – a $2000 jackpot – we were one of two teams that were one away…and the other guy won. Drat! Whatta bummer!

Enjoyed the Can’t Stop the Beat farewell show [before dinner] and later had a good night’s sleep after having our checked bag outside our room by midnight.

Day 5 was nice. Again woke around 6 and got to watch the approach back into Port Canaveral and the 180 turn. We were probably docked by 7:30. I totally was wrong in the whole gratuity thing. Even though it’s prepaid, it’s NOT AUTOMATIC. You get vouchers and envelopes in your room on the last day, and then YOU put the vouchers in the right envelopes and pass them out yourself to those who served you. It left me scrambling on Monday. And that was interesting. By 8 AM, armed border cops were all over Deck 4 corralling folks towards the gangway. If you don’t watch it, you could end up off the boat before you’re ready! After getting the gratuity envelopes taken care of, we went to Windjammers for breakfast and not being in any sort of hurry waited until around 9 to disembark. Getting off the ship was very easy – a couple of Sea Pass checks and immigration and that was that. I advice folks who are parked in the lot not to buck the system and to stand across the street with their bags and allow a 2nd person to get the car. It’s makes it much easier to ride the elevators, and pick up is a piece of cake.

All in all, it was a terrific experience. Our expenses were as follows: Tickets and taxes – $375 Parking – $60 Onboard Expenses (Casino, Bingo, drinks, gratuity, etc) – $250 Shore Expenses (Nassau shopping, snacking, and jitneys) – $250 Total – $935

Could have been done for as little as $500 with discipline.

Categories
Miscellany

By Land & Sea – San Francisco – Dawn Princess

Author: donnaw
Date of Trip: May 2006

What do you do when you are down to the last of your vacation days, spent or committed the vacation budget and need to get away?

A Little Background
Almost mid 50’s couple (I have been told that the almost is quite important) who have spent a good deal of the last five years vacations on cruises. April comes along and we realize that we need a break. Personnel changes at work have increased the number of hours that I am working each week and I am burning out rapidly. Next scheduled cruise is March of 2007, and we are looking at one in May of 2007 so realize that whatever we do cannot wipe out the budget moving forward. Last cruise was in January and DH loudly announced that he really needed a land vacation yet again! This has been the refrain after the last couple of cruises, so I am beginning to think that he really is serious!

Sitting at my desk one evening in April and taking a break from the work I brought home, I started looking to see if there were any cruise deals out there. No matter his insistence on a land vacation, I know that if I find a good enough deal, he will buy off on it. As I wander through the Internet travel sites, Dawn Princess jumps out at me. We have been on this ship several times and it is DH is all time favorite. She is moving from the Mexican Riviera in May to Alaska and has a three-day repositioning from San Francisco to Vancouver then a one-day to Seattle where she will start the Alaska season. Now bells really start ringing! The only time we have been in San Francisco was a layover to Hawaii and we never made it out of the airport due to a late arriving flight. We have always meant to go back but have never found the time. Add that we have always wanted to go to Seattle and there is a potential vacation plan here. This can work so time to hand it over to DH and see what he can do with it. I have planned the last six vacations so it had already been determined that it is his turn to plan.

Let’s Get the Snags Out of the Way
First snag that we hit was the fact that the Jones Act/PSA would not allow us to take the three-day cruise followed by the one-day cruise even if we disembarked and then re-embarked to a different cabin. We thought that it only affected us as U.S. citizens but later found that the Princess computer would not allow the Canadians to do it either. We had already spent four days in Vancouver after an Alaskan cruise on Dawn so we were really committed to spending time in Seattle this time so decided on taking a shuttle from the port to SEATAC on disembarkation.

Air
The proverbial second snag was the airlines yet again. Hundreds of thousands of Frequent Flyer miles on multiple airlines did no good for the dates that we were looking for. Hours of playing with itineraries failed to make it look any better. The cruise was in the middle of the whole trip so any moves in the start, end date affected how long we spent in either of our destinations, and we were unwilling to give up time in either San Francisco to Seattle. We live mid-way between O’Hare and Milwaukee airports but could not find a reasonable direct flight out of either. It was time to pull out our Southwest reward ticket. Midway (Southwest territory) is 80 miles each way and is definitely our third choice but it was worth a try. We hit paydirt. Southwest had great times for direct flights to OAK and from SEA at $99 each way. If flying out of MKE, we stay at a park and fly hotel the night before, if flying out of ORD, we do an inexpensive one-way car rental each way, if flying out of MDW, we need a new game plan. When we fly MDW in the winter, it is limo all the way. However, that is a very expensive option and not necessary on a Saturday afternoon in the summer. Internet research came up with the solution. We booked Midway “Park, Ride, Fly” for $8.50 a day online and took our older and more gas efficient vehicle. This company has concessions at many airports throughout the country. Parking is in a fenced lot, and shuttle to the airport is included in the cost. They pick you up at your car (in their lot) and drop you off right behind your car. The service was fantastic with the shuttle bus being there before we were ready for them both times.

Southwest Airlines

This is the “budget” airline. As times have changed with the “premium” lines, we find that Southwest is actually a little better than most of our “premium” flights of late. Trick: Southwest is open seating using A – B – C codes for who gets to board first. The first 45 who check in are “A.” We checked in online the night before each flight and were “A” on both flights. This open seating arrangement does mean that passengers line up early to board the plane to get the best seats. We were at the back of the A line on both flights and still got great seats and managed to get a row of three for the two of us on both flights. With the extra legroom on Southwest planes and the quite comfortable leather seats, we were quite happy with our choice. The snack provided was a cute little box with a pack of Ritz cheese and crackers, a pack of Oreo 100’s, a pack of dried fruit and a pack of peanuts. Definitely not premium but better than what we received on our last three flights on other airlines. Eat first if you are going on a long flight or bring food onboard with you!

SAN FRANCISCO

To San Francisco
There are many transportation choices from either SFO or OAK to the San Francisco downtown area. We arranged a town car pick up prior to leaving and were quite happy with the results. Our driver, John, was at the airport waiting for us and was full of helpful information even though part of the conversation was sidetracked to Boston (his original hometown). He was even nice enough to drop DH off at Powell and Market to pick up our three-day transportation pass and circle to pick him before dropping us at our hotel.

San Francisco Hotel
As stated in the beginning, this was a budget trip. We have had good luck using Priceline in the past and decided to use it for both hotels on this trip. An important part of using Priceline is doing your research and knowing what you are bidding for. We used both biddingfortravel.com and betterbidding.com to determine what zone we would bid and what price. We decided to bid the three-star in the financial district of SFO since we felt the three-star in Union Square had a property that we would not like. We got the Courtyard by Marriott in the Financial District and were more than happy with the results (more later).

Before we got to San Francisco, we both had concerns that this property might be too far out of the mainstream. Those concerns were put to rest as soon as we got there. A short three-block walk put us on Market and in the mainstream. The #15 bus brought us back to the hotel and stopped at the opposite corner on Folsom and 2nd Street. To take the #15 down to the pier area was a one block walk to Folsom and 3rd Street. A Starbucks with limited hours was located in the lobby and the rooms were very nice with the most comfortable (pillow top) bed to date. The only negatives were the lack of a room safe (we took our documentation down to the desk and used a safety deposit box there. Note: there is a $250 charge if the box key is lost.) and the limited Starbuck’s hours but they appeared to be every other block so easily made up for.

Seeing San Francisco
One of the first things we realized was that the core of this city is much tighter than it appears on maps. This is a walking/public transportation city. It would totally be a walking city except for the hills (think mountains at times). Our three-day passport ($18) gave us access to unlimited use of above ground transportation for the time we were there. For us this meant numerous trips on cable cars (main station at Powell and Market), trolleys and buses. A one-way trip on the cable car is $5; a one-day pass for the cable cars is $10. The three-day pass quickly becomes a deal since we traveled extensively around the city.

Weather

Overall, beautiful! The rainy season appears to have ended before we arrived. First night found us having dinner at Pier 39. We had made advance reservations at Swiss Louis, where we had an excellent dinner and wonderful views. Recommended by friends, this was our splurge dinner in SFO and it lived up to expectations. However, now for the weather part, I was wearing a light jacket and DH was in a long sleeve shirt. We walked out of the restaurant just as it was getting dark and it was cold. We walked into a shop a couple of doors down and bought SFO jackets for less than $20 each. This was the best deal of the trip. They are reversible with one side furry and the other waterproof. They also got a lot of use until we reached Seattle. Someone said that SFO has six microclimates and I have to believe them. Depending on where we were, we want from hot to cold in a matter of seconds. During our stay, we went back to the hotel so I could change jackets several times.

Must Do’s

Cable Car Museum — We took the Powell/Hyde line up Nob Hill then walked down to the Ferry Building at the port. First stop on our walk was the Cable Car Museum. Yes, this is a museum with a lot of the history of the cable cars in San Francisco posted in very nice displays; however, this is also the heart of the current cable car system with full view of the working system that provides power and keeps the cars moving. This is free and fascinating even for those of us who are not mechanically inclined. Also has a nice little gift shop with very helpful employees.

Chinatown — Continuing our wandering down to port and we were in Chinatown. This is a working Chinatown. Yes, there are many tourist shops but there are also markets and stores that support the local Chinese population and they are there en-mass. This is the second largest Chinatown outside of Asia and is a definite must see.

Fisherman’s Wharf — we somehow managed to wind up at this definitely touristy location at least once a day. This is not a surprise since we both love being on or near the water and automatically gravitate towards it. The wharf area is filled with restaurants, shops and small stands selling food including whole Dungeness crabs cooked when you order it. Must see at this location is Boudin’s Bakery and Café (reputed by a good friend to have the best clam chowder in SFO but take the bowl with the roll on the side since you get more soup). We went in after stopping at Ghirardelli’s for chocolate sundaes and just the smell made us hungry again.

Pier 39 is a short walk from Fisherman’s Wharf. Stop and see the sea lions who have taken over a good portion of the boat docking area. They put on a show continuously. San Francisco was not too happy when they decided to make the slippage their home, but have resigned themselves to live with it and have posted the history of this group and pertinent information about them. Live entertainment, restaurants, shops and bars are the order of the day here. Great spot for people watch with lots of locals enjoying the sights along with the tourists on weekends.

Alcatraz
— “The Rock” is in view of the port area but deserves a trip. Blue and Gold holds the concession to the prison tours until the end of May, 2006 so by the time this is read; it may be handled by another vendor. We ordered our tickets for the Sunday evening tour prior to our trip and went to one of the computer stations at their dock to print our tickets early on the day of the tour. All that the computer needed was the charge card that we used to place the order and it printed the tickets without having to wait in any lines. The ferry ride over is rather chilly so dress accordingly. The climb up to Alcatraz once on the island is somewhat steep but it appears that they do have transportation for handicapped. An audio presentation allows you to take the tour inside Alcatraz at your own pace. The only disappointment was that we hoped to return as the lights of the city were going on for some great pictures but it was still too light out for that to work.

Golden Gate — This is an absolute must though we did bypass the land portion since we would be sailing under it. It has been reported by a reliable source, that the best hot chocolate in San Francisco can be found at a little stand at the entrance to the bridge.

Cable Car
— All routes but especially from the port area to Powell and Market. We took it in this direction on the last evening and got a whole new perspective of the HILLS of San Francisco as we looked down at the city center (think almost straight down). The view equaled any roller coaster ride.

Only One Day in Port
For those who have only one day, this is a tough city to see but a lot can be done by taking the one day transportation pass which can be purchased online before you go or at specific locations when you arrive. Additional info and choices for transportation can be found at sfmuni.com If you have not done it before, the cable cars are an absolute must and utilizing them will allow you to see more of San Francisco. Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf are a natural with several small gourmet groceries for anything that you might want to pick up before returning to the ship. Food

San Francisco is a city and has city restaurant prices so budget accordingly. We did not find any $3.99 Grand Slam breakfast deals! Food costs were in line with what we pay in the Chicago Metro area and many of the choices were the same. We did, find coupons on the internet that we used at several locations including Lori’s diner. Local specialties that are must try are crab and sourdough breads.

Budget tricks:

Coupons from the internet and on the local tourist maps were a fun way to save a bit.

Walgreens (found all over the city) saved a considerable amount on water and other quick snack items).

Municipal passports kept transportation costs down.

Summary
Three days was not enough to see San Francisco and we will have to go back for more. It was a fun filled hectic three days and we were a bit disappointed when it was time to pack up for the cab ride to pier 27 but it was time.

San Francisco Cruise Ship Facilities
Pier 35 is the primary cruise ship facility in San Francisco. It would be natural to assume that since we were boarding a cruise ship, we would be going to Pier 35. I am a member of several cruise line forums and was alerted the day before we left that Dawn Princess would be at Pier 27 (which is an overflow pier) and would start at 1 p.m. This was actually closer to our hotel and lowered the cost of the cab ride considerably since most of the cab cost in this area is due to congestion and the slow movement of traffic. We exited the cab in front of the terminal with a bill of $8 plus tip at 12:20. What we did not realize was that the cab could have pulled right into the dock area about a half block down and dropped us off. However, that half block was very slow moving so we did save a couple of dollars and had a short walk. We handed over our checked bags to dock personnel and entered the terminal where we needed to show ID and our cruise tickets. We had filled out immigration on-line so only needed to fill out a statement that said that we were not sick (caused by the re-occurring incidences of Noro viruses on cruise ships). We then proceeded to the registration area to be faced be huge lines winding through the queue.

However, we are Platinum on Princess so we continued to walk and bypass the queue to the Platinum and Elite registration queue and no line. We stood for 30 seconds before we proceeded up to register and were onboard in less than 10 minutes. The entire process from cab drop off to walking on the ship took less than 25 minutes and we were dropping our carry on luggage in our cabin at 12:45. When we booked, the only thing available was a category j inside cabin and we were assigned cabin D735, an aft inside cabin directly down the hall from the casino and La Scala (the Italian Restaurant). I have a standing request on the Princess website for the beds put together and robes in the cabin. Other than those requests not being met, the cabin was in perfect shape including the requested fruit on the desk. A quick call to our cabin steward (Maria) identified that the laundry was in process and she would fix the bed and provide robes as soon as she received them. The only other cabin issue was a trick remote. It was universal and Maria needed to fix it for us twice when DH managed to un-program it.

THE CRUISE

Dawn Princess
Built — 1997 Class — Sun Class Gross Tonnage — 77,441 Tonnes Passenger Capacity — 2,050 Crew — 870

It had been three and a half years since we had been on Dawn Princess. I was amazed at what wonderful condition she is in. Our normal first stop when boarding Dawn is La Scala but it was closed during this boarding so we headed up to Horizon Court (buffet) for lunch. Hand sanitizers were very evident as well as crew politely requesting that they be used if someone attempted to walk past. Food is still self-service which some of the other lines have taken away. There are no trays but the oblong plates are large and rather easy to fit a beverage on to keep things under control. Food was excellent as usual and seating was plentiful. We had beautiful weather and while a bit cool it was still beautiful when we boarded so the next order of business was wandering the outside decks then finding a place to sit in the sun until muster. We returned to our cabin shortly before muster was scheduled and had enough time to unpack our luggage before the drill, which was quick and painless. We returned the life jackets to the cabin and then headed up for sail away and our trip under the Golden Gate Bridge. I grabbed my San Francisco jacket but DH decided his golf shirt was just fine. We headed up to the front of the ship above Horizon Court and DH along with many others froze as we sailed under the bridge. Most toughed it out for the photo opportunity and an experience that is unforgettable. More wandering then pc dining and a show completed our first day on board. We found out at dinner that the cruise was offered up as a special deal to airline personnel and there were many onboard who had taken it. These short repositioning cruises can be somewhat difficult to sell because it is not cost effective to travel to the port of embarkation and back from the port of disembarkation for such a short vacation. Many of the Canadians on the prior Mexican Riviera cruise stayed on and quite a few passengers that only needed one-way air were on board. This still left a rather large ship to fill and it appears that airline personnel filled quite a bit of it. We met UPS, Southwest, Delta and Skyway personnel who said they had met others from virtually every airline.

The seas
I had been warned that, (by many before) what we were embarking on was generally one of the roughest stretches of water to sail. The Pacific between San Francisco and Seattle is notorious for providing a wild ride and it did not fail this time. Dh believes the wilder the better and I rarely get seasick but I have been known to so came prepared. I put the patch on prior to sail away and am very grateful that I did. Wednesday was a sea day and we were in rough seas with gale force winds. Temperature made it all the way up to 52 with an overcast sky.

Wednesday — Sea Day
For us, this was laundry day then finding a protected spot on Riviera deck to listen to the band and watch the sea go by. Laundry rooms are located on each deck. The last time we were on Dawn, the machines were free but you paid for soap and fabric softener. Those machines have been changed and it is now $.75 ea to wash and dry. Met and talked to others who were doing laundry and using the iron and ironing board provided in the laundry room. All were having a great time! Finished the laundry and made it out to deck. A few diehards were dancing to the band while wrapped in red/black wool blankets provided by Princess in place of pool towels. The afternoon Bingo game was fun even though we lost. While wandering, we checked the dinner menu for the dining room and decided that we would go to La Scala for dinner since nothing held great appeal to us that evening. This was also formal night and we were going to be dressed semi-formal at best since we did not feel dragging formalwear with on this trip was worth it. La Scala proved to be an excellent choice and our waiter was so good that we gave him a cash tip. I had thought that Sterling Steakhouse (additional charge on Princess ships) had the best Caesar salad only to be proved wrong by the one in La Scala. Entrees were excellent and the Tiramisu for dessert could compete with the best of them. Some casino time and then wandering the different entertainment venues followed.

Thursday — Victoria
The rough seas and head wind that we had been fighting since we left San Francisco changed our 8 am docking to 10:30 in Victoria. We have been to Victoria before and done Bouchard Gardens and the whale watching tour so we were looking forward to a leisurely tour of the inner harbor area. Since we were walking to town, this schedule change had no impact on us but it did mess up timing for some who had scheduled local tours. We had a leisurely breakfast in the dining room while we watched the docking and I had the special of the day, which turned out to be excellent Egg’s Benedict. We finished before disembarkation so went up to Horizon Court to enjoy the coffee at leisure and wait for the disembarkation rush to end. Overcast and cool when we left the ship, we followed the map provided by the ship and the signs to downtown Victoria. This was about a half hour leisurely walk from the ship with lots of stops to snap pictures. It did start to rain about half way through but stopped by the time we made our first stop (Starbucks) on Government Street. We leisurely wandered through shops then stopped at an Irish Pub for a taste of the local beer. A little souvenir shopping and we headed back to the ship reversing our prior route and stopped at a local coffee shop along the harbor for a specialty coffee. Due to our late arrival, sail away was moved an hour to 6:00 PM so we had a leisurely lunch including an excellent burger from the pool grill and watched as others returned.

This was packing night so we headed back to the cabin after sail away and packed the bags that we were putting out in the hall. The first two bags were tagged and placed out for pick up prior to going to the dining room. The last bag was put out shortly after another excellent dinner. We changed shoes and jackets to what we would be wearing for disembarkation and headed out to wander and enjoy the entertainment throughout the ship along with a little leisurely shopping.

Duty Free Shopping note: You can shop for duty free cigarettes and alcohol at any point during the cruise but both will be held and delivered to your cabin on the last night. Princess does offer a limited list of alcohols and mixers for cabin consumption along with beer and wine packages through room service. Cigarettes can be purchased at any bar on the ship throughout the cruise for around $3.50/pack.

Casino note: We received notification in the Wednesday Patter that the casino would not be open on Thursday night after leaving Victoria. Many missed this and were disappointed after waiting for it to open.

General notes:

The art auction is alive and well.
The spa services were really being pushed.

Coke card for fountain soda was available for $13.63. This entitled the purchaser to unlimited fountain soda for the entire cruise.

The Hagen Daz concession was open for limited hours and was surprisingly popular with it as cold as it was.

Fresh Brewed coffee and specialties coffees were available through bar service.

There was a drink of the day selection each day along with a martini of the day in Crooner’s Club.

Disembarkation
We had scheduled Quick Shuttle for our transfer to SEA where we would pick up our rental car for our stay in Seattle. The time choice for pick up at Canada Place was 9:15 (express service) and 10:50. We decided on the 10:50 (even though it made multiple stops) since we did not want to be rushed to disembark. We stalled after breakfast and finally headed down to disembark at 9:30 with the thought that they probably added something to do in Canada Place since the last time we were there and that we would have to kill an hour before we boarded the shuttle. All was quiet when we left Dawn and then we turned a corner into total mayhem at customs. It took over half an hour to get through and out of customs, which cut our time pre-boarding the shuttle down and then took another 10 minutes to find our scattered luggage and 10 minutes to find the shuttle and sign in. This shuttle was crowded when we left Canada Place and was packed by the time we left downtown Vancouver. We had thought that the shuttle would take less time with the border crossing but found that was not the case. All passengers were required to bring all their belongings with them when they went through. Those passengers that did not disembark from Dawn were also required to collect their luggage and bring that through too. We decided that we would definitely reconsider this option if we were to do this again even though a one-way rental car is rather expensive.

SEATTLE

Rental Car Pickup
We did get to SEA at 3:30 and did the paperwork for our Thrifty rental car then hopped on their shuttle to pick up it up. The shuttle to the Thrifty rental car took 5 minutes and we were within site of our hotel.

Seattle Hotel
Another five minutes and we were checking in to the Doubletree SEATAC. This property has had mixed reviews over time but we got it for an excellent bid, It has been going through renovations for a rather long period of time and those renovations are still being done. Desk personnel gave us the directions to our room which was in building four that would involve winding through a lot of buildings and a rather long walk with luggage so we opted to drive over to building 4 and had no problem finding a parking space. This property consists of a tower and a number of low-rise out buildings. Our room (4112) was a short walk from the secure entryway and was our next surprise. We did not notice as we exited the car that this particular building was different but the difference was apparent as soon as we walked out on the small concrete balcony (all rooms have them including tower room. The outbuildings balconies did not have furniture but not sure about the tower rooms). Our building was built on stilts over a large pond. Spectacular view with the Marriott Airport in the distance. This was more like being at a resort than at an airport hotel. Please note that the odd number rooms, while having identical balconies, had a view of the parking lot. Buildings 4, 5 and 6 have this water view though some of the lower rooms are obstructed with greenery. I was on the balcony and turned around when I heard “Wow!”. We had another pillow top mattress that was unbelievably comfortable. The overall room was one that had gone through renovations and was very attractive. The only detraction that we could find was the lack of a safe but that was not a major issue to us. I cannot say enough good things about the staff at this property. They went out of their way to make us happy! The final and probably best example: We returned to the hotel late on Sunday evening and realized that we had completely forgotten about doing online check in with Southwest. DH grabbed the paperwork and headed down to the lobby. The computer center was closed but one of the desk staff (actually, one of the employees that was helping the desk staff as they were overrun by check ins) did the check in for us and gave him five chocolate chip cookies to take back to the room when she was done.

General Notes:

This became a non-smoking property upon renovation with a small smoking area set up outside of the main lobby and smoking allowed on balconies. This is probably not a problem in good weather but potential issue if the weather is bad.

We unpacked and then wandered around in the general direction of the lobby with our final stop at the Concierge Desk.

Cruise Passenger Note: Princess is using this property as one of their hotels and has a desk on site.

Friday evening in Seattle
It was 5:30 at this point and we decided that it was too late to head into downtown Seattle, so we asked about a local casino. It appears that there are two types, so we opted for information on the full casino. We were given directions to Muckleshoot Casino in Auburn, which was about a 25-minute drive. We have generally found (in our travels) that large casinos have excellent buffets, and this is where we were heading with a little side trip to a grocery store for a bottle of wine and a quick stop to check out a mall (ATM). Since it was Friday night, the casino was quite lively. We wandered about for a bit losing $20 in the nickel slots (also had penny’s along with a full range of slots and a full complement of table games) then wandered into the line for the Pisces Seafood Buffet which was priced at $19.50 a person (more details can be found at Muckleshootcasino.com). This buffet was well worth the money, and I hit gold with Dungeness crab and huge cocktail shrimp. DH also felt he got is money’s worth even though he does not eat seafood and went back twice for the prime rib. This is not an extremely elaborate buffet or a fancy dining room but everything we tried was excellent. We headed back to the hotel after dinner so we could get plenty of rest in preparation for a busy Saturday in Seattle.

Saturday in Seattle
Another sunny day in Seattle and a relatively late start. We drove into Seattle Downtown proper. We started off looking for Pikes Market but managed to miss it so decided to take our planned tour first. We were very fortunate to find a parking lot with a weekend special rate of $3.50/day about a half block from our ultimate destination of the start of the Underground Tour located at First and Yesler Way. We did not realize quite how lucky until we looked around at rates at other lots. Tours are $11/person and run every hour (more information at undergroundtour.com). With tickets in hand, we headed across the street for our first Starbucks in Seattle. The reviews of this tour were great and it lived up to expectations. As the tour completed, we found out that we could get on a free bus on the corner and take it to Pike’s Market. Several stops down and we were now at the entrance to the market. Blocks long, catering to tourists and locals alike, the sights and sounds were fascinating. Wine shops next to fish mongers putting on a show of throwing whole fish back and forth. Full shops and small booths intermixed. This is not a place that you run through under normal circumstances and the Saturday crowds means a very leisurely stroll. We wandered to the end and back. Made it past the donut vendor on the way in but could not manage to pass it up on the way back out. It suddenly dawned on us that we had somehow managed to skip breakfast and it was well past lunchtime so a little snack was well deserved. We shared a dozen hot mini donuts and it was the perfect snack.

Decision time and what to do next. We had gone past the Space Needle four times already but weren’t sure whether we really wanted to do that (I fully admit that I hate heights and spent the entire time at the top of Sears Tower in Chicago in the gift shop). As we are wandering about, conversations just seem to crop up with other wanderers and locals and someone has mentioned the Ferries that run to the islands in Puget Sound. This sounds like a much better option for us but we are not sure where to catch it. We do know the general direction so back on the bus and strike up a conversation with a local who is heading home from work on the Ferry so just follow him off. The person who suggested the Ferry originally mentioned that Bainbridge was a rather quaint island and a short tip along with being inexpensive, $6.50 per person roundtrip, so off we went. Added bonus on the trip over was the chance to watch Dawn Princess and a HAL ship pull out of port and an NCL ship pull in. Short ride later and we were on Bainbridge for a leisurely walk in the area around the Ferry Pier. We were late enough that shops were starting to close but wandered through the grocer (lots of gourmet foods) and the drugstore before returning to the dock to cross back to Seattle on the 6:30 ferry. A short walk to the car and off to our next destination. We talked to one of the security guards at Muckleshoot the night before and he mentioned that the Emerald Queen Casino in Tacoma was as nice as or nicer than Muckleshoot so that was our goal for dinner. It did not take long to get there but parking was a nightmare and we finally gave up and took valet parking since the place was absolutely packed. The line for the buffet was longer than the one the night before with lots of locals waiting. Nicer dining room and we hit the surf and turf buffet, which added a lot more items than the night before including King Crab Legs, which were by far the most popular item and were continually replenished. Price was just slightly higher than the Friday night buffet and well worth the difference. A bit of wandering and it was time to head back to the hotel.

Sunday in Seattle
The sun shines brightly yet again! We called prior to the trip and made reservations for the Spirit of Washington dinner train out of Renton so we will stick to the suburbs this day. We finally decide on the Museum of Flight thinking that we will be able to kill an hour or two. Bad move! We could have easily spent and entire day and were both disappointed when it was time to go back and change for dinner. A note on directions, when getting off I5 and going to this museum, it is one road past Airport Way (The airport access road). The museum is actually in three parts with one part an easy walk across the street to walk through a Concord and a retired Air Force 1. This is definitely another winning activity and if you have the least interest in planes and air travel then plan on a whole day.

Back to the hotel early to change, and we head out for the train. This was the most expensive activity on this part of the trip, and we were really looking forward to it. Unfortunately, we brought the map with that had us going for the train from Seattle so managed to get turned around and barely made it though they said they would hold it for us (make sure you bring the phone number). We boarded and it quickly decided that the sport coat was overkill. The company suggestion was to dress as if you were going out to a nice restaurant. Most of the passengers were dress quite casually. Dinner entrée was pre-ordered when making the train reservation. We paid the extra per person and opted for the super dome car (City of Renton originally built in 1952 for the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad. This also meant that we would be sharing a table for four since tables for two always book very early. Our tablemates were a nicer older couple who had moved from California to Washington a few years ago and were on their first train ride. Introductions completed and drinks ordered (my sour apple martini was quite tasty even served in a water glass), dinner was started shortly after we pulled out of the Renton station. Both the Prime Rib and the Chicken entrée were excellent. The train travels up to Woodinville along the shores of Lake Washington and over historic Wilburton Trestle (102 feet high and 975 feet long) before moving onto a spur to the Columbia Winery. This was a 45-minute stop with the choice of wine tasting, shopping or just wandering the beautiful grounds. Many shopped while we wandered and enjoyed the beautiful weather. Back on the train and back to Woodinville to return to the spur back to Renton with dessert served as we watched the scenery go by. The chocolate cake was excellent and reports were that the Apple dessert was also. We reached Renton just as it started to get dark and returned to our hotel tired but feeling like we had an excellent day.

One day in port
For those who have a limited amount of time as a port stop, Pikes Market (along with the original Starbucks) and the Underground Tour are both an easy distance from the ship and are probably good options. The Space Needle is a bit further but is on many “to do” lists. With additional time, the Museum of Flight is necessary see.

Monday — Start in Washington, End in Wisconsin
Our flight scheduled for 3:30 timed the rental car return and shuttle to the airport at about 1:30-2. We decided to head to Pikes Market since we wanted to actually go in the first Starbucks but finally gave up when we couldn’t find any reasonably close or reasonably priced parking for a brief (two hour) foray into the market. We packed and checked out before we left for downtown Seattle so we headed to Westfield Mall for lunch and a little wandering before we turned the car in and headed to the airport. This is a very nice very standard mall and impossible to tell where you are once you pull in the parking lot. Food court was large with many of the standard mall vendors found all over the country. It provided a nice lunch and a bit of a break then off to return the car and the five-minute ride to the airport. SeaTac is a very easy airport to get around with the normal assortment of shops and food offerings. We again made it to the back of the A line for the flight but again managed the coveted three seats for the two of us and enjoyed an uneventful flight back to Midway airport. The parking lot shuttle was sitting and waiting as we walked out with our luggage and took us directly to our car. The trip home was fast since we were well after rush hour and the following morning was back to work.

Summary
Did we get to do it all? Not a chance! Would we go back to do more? Definitely! With limited time in both cities, we purposely missed many things that we wanted to see and do in favors of others that we considered priorities for us. Would we do this type of trip again? Another definitely! The land portions were a tremendous amount of running to get to do as many things as we could possibly squeeze in so the cruise portion provided a relaxing break and gave us time to recharge.

Final suggestions
Do your research and plan what you would like to do in these cities but leave some time to just go off in a different direction and enjoy. Schedules are for real life and work but should be only advisory on vacation. If you have any questions, email me at donnaw7471@yahoo.com and I will attempt to help when I can.

Categories
Outdoors

Celebrity Alaskan Cruise

Author: Rich C.
Date of Trip: September 2009

Alaskan Cruise via Celebrity Millennium

Having visited New Zealand for our 25th wedding anniversary, our next milestone trip had to be as good or better. After consulting the “boss,” we decided on a cross country trip to Seattle, and then a flight up to Fairbanks where we would join up a land/sea tour of Alaska. I have been flying since 1969, when I was sent on a “vacation tour” of a small Southeast Asian country many of my comrades in arms are familiar with. Many iterations in travel have occurred and sadly, in my opnion, they have not been for the better. One key point that will dissuade me from future travel via that mode is the carpicious nature of the TSA screening. Of particular note is that no notice is given in advance of what is considered “contraband.” In this instance, a 3/4 empty tube of tooth paste was confiscated. Now, if they had taken my dirty underwear I might have thanked them.

Flight aside, our landing and subsequent check in to the Pike’s Landing Hotel was fast and very courteous. Our lodgings were comfortable and very convenient to a very nice restaurant located about 200 meters from the hotel. the restaurant, also called Pike’s Landing, was not haute cuisine but excellent. Those wanting some wild life (i.e., salmon and perhaps venison) would find their appetites satiated. The Sunday buffet was excellent with a wide range of foods on the platters and good service.

The land tour was excellent, with a stop in Denali National Park. We took the tour into the park with the tour bus and it was fascinating to see the wildlife. The best fun was watching the mother grizzly and two cubs play and browse out in the fields in front of us.

Joining the ship at Seward, our cabin aboard the ship a far cry from what I was used to on military vessels. The double bed was comfortable and while not palatial, very nice. We chose an ocean view cabin and I was glad we did as it was not warm enough to enjoy a “sit” on a balcony. To any travelers considering such travel, judge your level of comfort and the weather before booking one of the more expensive cabins with verandas. Meals were normally at the buffets and they were far and away very good. Although the ship had about 2,000 passengers, we never experienced any undue delays in food or service. The formal meals that we had (we attended to only 2 due to our walking late) were sumptious and since I can honestly attest to not used to haute cuisine, a bit overpowering but delicious.

We had several stops and each were very enjoyable. I would have to write a diary on each site we stopped at as there is so much beauty and enjoyment at each stop. I have the additional curse of a lot of curiousity so I could have spent days at each point investigating all the nooks and crannies and the history of each point. Obviously, our 49th anniversary was a great and happy event for us and maybe, just maybe, we might take another cruise, in another clime and place.

Categories
Group Travel

Ports of Call: Northern Europe and the Baltics

Author: dfreeman
Date of Trip: May 2006

Just getting back to normal after nice cruise to the Baltic and Northern Europe. Fourteen days on Celebrity Constellation can be a bit grueling at times, but the Ports of Call were very interesting. Bottom line is the US dollar is hurting and prices abroad are out of sight. Plus, the people in this part of the world gave us a nice reception wherever we went. Meeting nice people was the norm in each place and these are probably the things we will remember the most. It is just not difficult to be nice.

The Constellation crew was great and it was worth the upgrade to Conceierge level to get breakfast in bed. I give the Constellation team 5 stars! Don’t miss Ocean Liners retaurant and opt for the wine tasting menu.

Oslo, Norway

The Fjords of Norway are a sight to behold. Entering the Oslo Harbor is an unforgettable experience. Oslo welcomed us with constant rain so we did not get a chance to really enjoy the city, reported to be the most expensive city in Europe.

Stockholm, Sweden

Sweden has over 24,000 islands and Stockholm was located where it is to prevent hostile neighbors from finding the city. The islands are everywhere as you cruise into Stockholm. Everywhere you look in the city is a postcard. Enjoyed one of the best hot dogs at the Nordiska Kompaniet (NK) store located in center of the city. Why can’t we have a better dog in the USA? Hebrew National just doesn’t do it! Visited the Absolut Ice Bar in the Nordic Sea Hotel and had a couple vodka drinks at minus 5 degrees Centigrade for only $20 bucks apiece. The first glasses are made from pure clear ice from the Torne River in Northern Sweden. Now a factory makes millions of glasses each year. WARNING: Reservations (+46 8 50563124) required! The first Ice Bar was at the Icehotel located in Northern Sweden, which was first built in the autumn of 1989. Each year the Icehotel melts, and a new (bigger and better) one is constructed in the fall. Ended the day with a nice stroll through Gamla Stan (Old Town). Stockholm is a place that warrants more time.

Helsinki, Finland

We arrived on May 24th, Ascension Day, a holiday in Finland. The stores were closed, but the city was alive with people. We enjoyed a nice meal at Kappeli on Etelaesplandi in the city center. Had one of the best meals ever of rare, fork-tender Reindeer with potatoes and of course some Akvavit.

St. Petersburg, Russia

What a change from Scandinavia, your first impression of what used to be Leningrad is of a bleak, poor and uncolorful city with all the potential in the world but starved from a badly needed makeover and injection of funding from Moscow. Hard to believe that Putin’s birthplace is being ignored by the “Family” and oligarchs of Moscow. Spent two days touring with our very accomplished guide Katrina from Red October Tours. There is a lot to see in this historic city and she made it very interesting to us as we took in the city sights. The Hermitage was impressive but in need of structural repairs, St Isaacs Cathedral was a high point as we witnessed a special service attended by the Archbishop and other Bishops from all parts of Russia, Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood was marvelous, and Catherine’s Summer Palace was worth the trip to visit outside of the city. In spite of the magnificence of the Hermitage and the Roman Orthodox Cathedrals, St. Petersburg feels just like Dostoevsky describes it (before it became Leningrad) in “Crime and Punishment” (1917)– impoverished, dirty and crowded–it’s amazing that a novel written in 1917 seems to paint the a picture of what we felt currently–when we were not enclosed in the grandeur of the Museums, Churches or Palaces. I would think that a return trip to St. Petersburg is not in my future, however I would like to see Moscow and other parts of Russia some day. We had a very nice lunch at Mamep cafe. Insist that your tour guide takes you to this place instead of any restaurant catering to tours. This place is large and can accomodate big crowds. A special treat. We had Beef Stroganoff on mashed potatoes with warmup of hot Borsch.

Tallinn, Estonia

Spent the day in old town just walking and shopping. Tallinn is a city of music, cobblestones, artisan’s, craftsmen and courtyards. Strolling though old town feels like the Middle Ages. The people are very handsome, pretty and nice. Enjoyed a nice meal of Elk and Wild Boar at Medieval Restaurant Olde Hansa. This was an unexpected pleasure for all of us as Tallinn is a nice place to visit.

Helsingborg, Sweden

Wonderful and delightful port city with one of the oldest shopping streets in Europe. The people of this city believe that there is nothing better than to be from Helsingborg. Plus you cannot beat the freshness and taste of Swedish food. Visited the Dunker’s Cultural House on the way to the port and were totally impressed by the QUALITY of the installations here. Truly a state-of-the-art experience utilizing the best dsigners, workmanship and technology in the exhibitions.

Berlin, Germany

Nice side trip through the former East Germany to Berlin. Visited the Berlin Wall and toured the entire city. Had a great lunch at KaDeWe Department Store at the Winter Gardens on the top floor- perfect stop for lunch! Berlin is quite a city and would love to return. Curry-Wurst and other hot dogs are also a special treat in Berlin.

Copenhagen, Denmark

Visited restaurant called “Groften” in Tivoli. One of the best eating and drinking experiences we had on our trip. We had a very popular traditional Danish dish called “Skipperlabskovs”. The dish was not pretty to look at and consisted of diced potatoes mixed with veal bits and spices, served with pickled beets, butter and rye bread. It was really shockingly tasty and was all-you-can-eat for DKK 115. Ran up a $200 tab on Akvavit – as we consumed the top-of-the-line (Aalborg Extra Akvavit) and it was worth the price! Groften also gets highest marks for their WC’s. The Men’s room has a complete Golf Museum featuring European Pro Golfers and the Women’s WC has a full length wall Aquarium. Nice touch! Best to use both facilities on your visit! By far and away the Best Toilets in Europe!

London, England

Change $100 and get anywhere from 43-50 pounds! (Ugh) What have we done to our dollar! This place was expensive as well and you just had to put you head in the sand and ignore the gaffing. Highlights were certainly the shows, which we would give “Billy Elliot” the one not to miss! For nice DIM-SUM restaurant go to Royal China located at 13 Queensway. Tube stop Queensway or Bayswater.

Final Tips

This was our first cruise and aside from the down-time cruising at sea, it was a nice trip. While in port, go with what the locals eat! European food is incredibly interest and good. From hot dogs to pastry – all good stuff! I noticed that many cruisers were too cheap to eat on shore and just waited until they got back to the Boat. What a shame – to miss the good food of each country we visited. It is part of the experience!

Nothing does it like European hot dogs – first stop in port, go to the dog stand. Ask someone which hot dog stand is the best! You will be pleasantly surprised.

St. Petersburg: Use Red October Tours instead of the crusie line tours. Less people and more flexibility. No Visa required. Our guide was outstanding, insist on Katya Chystiakova (Katerina). Very knowledgeable, flexible and good looking!

In St. Petersburg go to Mamep Cafe for lunch – great place and for the young people! Katerina introduced us to this nice place! We went to the Folklore Show that evening and it was a real disappointment – try to see an Opera instead or go to Mamep Cafe for a Jazz Show and dinner!

In Copenhagen, don’t miss “Groften” at Tivoli. Order: Start with Herring and Fish Roe assortment (tell them half and half). Then main dish Skipperlabskovs and of course Aalborg Extra Akvavit. This is top-of-the-line Akvavit- nice bubbly feel on palate as you swallow! You can feel the difference.

Helsinki: Go to Kappeli for lunch in the fancy upscale sit down part of their restaurant and order Reindeer! Unexpected treat!

London: Go see “Billy Elliot”. Skip “We will Rock You”.

Oslo: Take the Cruiseline tour as it is best way to see Oslo.

In most ports they have “Stop and Ride” independent tour buses that take you around the City. Usually they are waiting outside as your depart from the boat. Also very cost effective.

Copenhagen: Just take a seat in a coffee shop on the main shopping street, enjoy coffee and watch the most beautiful and fashionable men and women walk by. Great people watching. Don’t miss the Ice Cream and a Hot Dog! Also, take a Canal Boat Cruise – don’t miss it!

For more, visit my blog http://pccollecting.blogspot.com/.

Categories
Arts & Culture

Med/Greek Isles Cruise – Carnival Freedom

Author: Carmen C.
Email: timecop5@excite.com
Date of Trip: June 2008

On 6/14/08, our SIL took us to BWI for our 2:30pm flight on Air Canada to Toronto where we had a 4 hour layover before heading to Rome. We saw our DD, who is a Behavior Detection Officer with TSA, at the airport, and she stayed and chatted with us until our flight left. We were 1/2 hour late leaving Toronto, arriving in Rome at 11:33am on 6/15/08. What has not happened in decades of travelling happened on 6/15/08. Air Canada lost one of my “essential” pieces of luggage.

After being sent to three different counters at the airport, we finally found the right one and filed a report. We headed to the Carnival bus and about 11/2 hours later we arrived at the ship.

Embarking was pretty efficient, it took about 1/2 hour to be processed through the lines and get onto the ship. There was water and different types of cake in the waiting area to help tide people over while they waited. They took all of our passports which came as a surprise as they usually just take mine because I am an EU Citizen. It was later explained that you need a visa in Turkey and since Carnival pays for this and from their experience last year, where everyone (2,974 passengers) had to stand in line to get their passports stamped, which took hours, Carnival decided to take everyone passports beforehand, have them stamped and return them to us in Katakolon, I, however, did not see a Turkish stamp in any of our passports.

We had a Cat 11 suite which was very spacious, with lots of storage space, which was great since it was 3 of us. We had the mandatory fire drill at around 7:45 pm, headed to the Lido Deck for dinner, unpacked and then headed to bed.

Regarding the interior decoration style of the ship, I wasn’t sure what was going on with the color scheme, it certainly was a hodgepodge of designs. There was a blue full size Statue of Liberty in the Freedom Restaurant on the Lido Deck and the lighting sconces were fashioned from the heads of the Statue of Liberty, and all over the ship were banks of pulsating lights that constantly change color. The ceilings and walls in both main restaurants are done in a black and deep red metallic snakeskin pattern. However this is a Carnival ship, you don’t expect subdued tones and boring decor. After 12 days on board, you never pay attention to it anymore. The Seaside Theatre had an impressive 12-foot-high by 22-foot-wide LED screen and there was always a lot of people bundled under their blankets at night watching the Gladiator, Placido Domingo, Barry Manilow, The Bees Gees, India Arie, Casino Royale, Under The Tuscan Sun and a lot of other films and concerts. The public areas were always very clean, there was always someone cleaning something. I didn’t see trash or empty containers lying around, and with over 2,974 passengers that was quite a feat.

The buffet food was excellent. Everything we tried was great – the salads, fruits and bread were fresh. They have at the beginning of each food line, a dispenser with hand sanitizer which is an excellent idea. They have a Mongolian corner which had a great variety of items to choose from. You add your meats, spices, rice, etc. and they will cook it for you, the lines there were usually very long. There was also a Meiji Sushi Bar, which we didn’t try. The Deli had great sandwiches and we ate there twice. One day at sea, they had a “Chocolate Extravaganza” buffet. A very grand display, but my sugar levels went up just looking at all that chocolate. We ate in the dining room once and were not impressed. As some of you know, we rarely eat in the dining room, but I wanted to get some formal pictures, so we got all dressed and headed that way. My DD and I had the steak, horrible, we wanted our steaks well done, and it arrived in about 3 minutes, what is wrong with that picture. We had steaks on the Lido Deck which were outstanding. My DH had the salmon and he was pleased with it.

We also ate at the Sun King restaurant for $30.00pp. The service there was amazing. Your server knew what you wanted before you knew it lol. The food was terrific and there was live music with Dana and Tony.

We went to some of the shows. Andy Leach from Britain was very funny and even had some pretty good magic tricks. The Jump, Jive & Wail show was tolerable, also the Guests Talent Show was mostly good, with a powerful rendering of “New York, New York” by one of the passengers, and she received a standing ovation. The Cruise Director, Todd Wittmer even took part, and he was not bad at all. I enjoyed Todd; he was funny and informative and really wanted everyone to have a great time. My favorite show was a “Ticket to Ride” featuring all Beatles songs, which had everyone on their feet singing and dancing. They even give us those colorful thingamajigs to wave around. It was a lot of fun.

The ship’s Internet was ridiculously slow and cost $55.00 for the first 100 minutes ($0.55 per minute), an activation fee of $3.95, $0.50 to print a page, and once your plan had expired it was $0.75 per minute.

Our Cabin Steward, Neganin, was first-rate and his tip reflected our satisfaction with him.

Ana at the information was also very helpful. When we first arrived and filed a report about our missing luggage, she was very sympathetic and gave us Carnival T-shirts and Carnival leather bags full of toiletries. She also called us every day regarding the status of our luggage, which we received a week later in Athens.

Naples – We were tired and since we visited this port 2 years ago, we just did some shopping downtown for items that were in our lost luggage.

Day at Sea – Slept in late, did nothing but relax.

Marmaris – There were only 3 excursions offered at this port. I didn’t see anything interesting, so we took a taxi to the City Center for 10 Euros. There were hundreds of shops, some on the beach, most under covered awnings, selling everything you can think of. We walked around the town a bit and opted to walk back along the marina to the ship which took about 40 minutes.

Izmir – Booked an excursion to the Archaeological Museum and Ancient Ephesus. We were supposed to leave at 9:45am, but didn’t leave until 10:15am. We go back late due to the bus getting a busted air suspension hose and we had to wait to get on another bus. It was hot, but they gave us cool bottles of water. That of course delayed the ship which was supposed to leave at 4:30pm but didn’t leave until 5:15pm. We however, had an absolutely wonderful time at Ancient Ephesus. The Hadrian Temple was impressive and is the first structure to be made totally of marble. We saw the Greek goddess Nike statue, who represents athletic strength and victory, and which the well-known shoe and sports equipment company is named after. When you see my pictures, you will see how they came up with the Swoosh logo. You have to make sure you get a landing pass before you leave the ship in lieu of a visa, if not you will have to pay 35 Euros for a visa before you are allowed back on the ship.

Istanbul – We took the Palace of the Sultans tour which took us to the Blue Mosque, the Topaki Palace and the Grand Bazaar. I expected to see more of the Blue Mosque, we just saw one big room, although the decorative walls, ceiling and windows were quite striking. Half of the room was cordoned off for prayers. In fact, it was being vacuumed in preparation for prayers while we were there. You have to take off your shoes before you enter (Carnival gave us bags to put our shoes in) and your knees and shoulders had to be covered. There was someone at the door to give you a scarf if you did not meet this criterion.

I used the restroom outside the Mosque, what an experience that was. I was charged .50 Euros to use what was basically a hole in the ground, with a tap and a bucket to flush.

The Topkapi Palace, wow, it was a walled city back in the day, housing over 4,000 people, and is a complex made up of four main courtyards and many smaller buildings. The palace contains large collections of porcelain, robes, weapons, shields, and armor. The treasury section has breathtaking collections, including the 7th largest diamond in the world. No pictures were allowed, but outside the palace, vendors were selling postcards with the very items that we were not allowed to photograph. I wonder how the vendors got their pictures. The description of the excursion said that there would be a short stop for a carpet weaving demonstration, but it was really a carpet selling pitch. The host was very cordial and not pushy at all. He gave us hot apple cider and a cookie while he showed us his carpets. They were beautiful, but I can’t see myself buying a carpet for $30,000.00. Do you know how many cruises I can go on for that kind of money? lol.

We left there and walked up the street to the Grand Bazaar. What can I say about the Grand Bazaar – overwhelming is one word. With 4,000 shops you can just imagine that you can find anything in here. The vendors are aggressive and will follow you trying to sell you their goods if you show the slightest interest. Of course, you have to haggle, they expect that, my DH is good at that, so I just selected what I wanted and let him do the rest. We bought a lot of souvenirs here and of course the famous Turkish Delight. The vendors will take any kind of currency.

Day at Sea – After 3 ports in row, we were all ready for this day at sea.

Athens – We took the Acropolis and Plaka tour. The Acropolis, the Parthenon, Temple of Athena, The Erechtheum, Odeon of Herodes Atticus (where Yanni held his “Live at the Acropolis” concert in 1993), you can just feel the glory that was ancient Greece, these are historical sites that you should not miss. We had a very knowledgeable guide and she explained everything in detail. Totally breathtaking and we got some great pictures.

It was crowded and very, very windy, after all it is one of the highest points in Athens. You felt like you have just been exfoliated when you got back down to street level. There is a lot of uphill walking on rough and sometimes smooth and slippery terrain. Two people fell, and one lady ended up with bloody knees. Plaka is a picturesque old historical neighborhood of Athens, just under the Acropolis. We did some shopping here and had some very tasty ice cream.

Katakolon – We took the Museum and Ancient Olympia excursion. The excavation of the Temple of Hera, the Hill of Kronos and the Temple of Zeus was astounding and it covered quite a big area. This was also the site of the ancient Olympic Games. The museum, which had a wonderful shaded garden, had marble statues of Zeus and a collection of ancient pieces of amour and bronze figures. We saw where they had the terrible fires last year, it was sad to see all those burnt areas. We had left Athens on the 22nd and on the 25th there was a large forest fire on the outskirts of Athens and arson is suspected.

Day at Sea – The Captain took us pass the Island of Stromboli. As we moved in further we could see the main village of about 500 people of the island sitting at the foot of the volcano. On closer examination, however, it was clear to see that the paths of lava were on the opposite side, thus the village was safe from any potential lava flow.

Florence – We were also here 2 years ago, but DD wanted to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa so we took an excursion there. The Leaning Tower was as imposing 2 years ago as it is today, as was the Cathedral, the Baptistery and the Monumental Cemetery.

Rome – We did on our own. We took the free shuttle from the ship to downtown (about 10 minutes), walked for about 15 minutes to the train station. The tickets were 9 Euros each round trip from Civitavecchia to the end of the line, the Roma Termini. You have to remember before you board to get your tickets stamped at one of the machines along the train station and the same thing when you are coming back.

We bought tickets for the Hop on, Hop off bus for 16 Euros per person which will allowed us to ride on the Yellow or Red Roma Christina Tour Bus. Our train tickets were also good for riding the Metro Bus A or B. We saw most of the major sights – The Roman Forum, The Pantheon, The Spanish Steps, which was packed with tourists, The Trevi Fountain, and The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier which was a huge and magnificent building. Across the street was a shady park with benches, when we stopped for a while to get our breath back. What can I say about the Coliseum, words can’t describe it. I can see why it is considered an architectural and engineering wonder. It was truly a jaw dropping sight. We left about 9 hours later and caught the train back to the bus which took about 1 hour, back to the ship to finish packing (we had started the day before).

Debarkation was easy. We got up around 5:45am, had breakfast, they called our number at 6:40am, got our luggage and were on board the bus at 7:15am. We arrived at the airport at 8:15am and spent 11/2 hours in line before we were checked in.

We have a superb time and I was happy to be able to share this experience with my DD as this was her first visit to Europe.

Categories
Beach

Royal Caribbean Navigator of the Seas is the best!!!

Author: marlene litwin
Date of Trip: April 2008

Hi there!

To: tripreports@independenttraveler.com Subject: navigator of the seas

hello all found this cruise online then booked it with a local agency. it was my first time cruising so I hope I do not bore you with some details

I went on line and did the internet registration it was simple and fast got my sea pass and printed out all documents that I would need for this trip. Our destination was Cozumel Mexico only one.

Day of departure went smooth from Montreal Canada we took Air Transat to Fort Lauderdale same day departure next time I will book a hotel and leave a day before because we had to leave at 2:30am in the morning in order to make the 6 am flight it was a long day….it was me and my 16 year old son going. Once we landed in Fort Lauderdale I looked for the Royal Caribbean representative I was not able to guarantee transfers because I booked it only 2 weeks in advance so we spoke to this gentleman and he instructed us to wait till 11am than take a taxi to the pier and than we could board than. So we waited for around an hour, we had our suitcases changed into light clothing and we were ready to swim in case our bags were delayed till we got them at our cabin. Once we got to the pier it was very exciting, tons of people coming from all over, we left our bags with the porters than proceeded to the gates and customs and registration it seems complicated but it is very well organized.

Once we got on the ship your photo is taken and than you are herded into an area which is huge where you wait till lunch is ready there are various lines for kids programs etc A message kept on replaying over and over with an apology about the cabins not being ready till 1pm it was ok we headed to the Windjammer cafe which is a very large buffet restaurant and sat down to eat it had many foods to choose from. All dining rooms have FREE ice tea, fruit juice apple juice and lemonade breakfast is orange or apple with free coffee or tea water on tap is ok to drink bring a water bottle if you choose so you do not have to pay $4 for a bottle of water each time. The only drinks you will pay for unless you get the drink card are the following, all soft drinks with gas like coke up etc wine beer fancy drinks fancy coffees Ben an Jerry’s ice cream ..so here are my tips buy the drink card, and if you want to save at dinner time buy a bottle of wine they have many to choose from and it is worth it it goes from 22-up to 100’s the soft drink card for kids is 20, adults is 40 so be warned.

Once we ate we were allowed to check out our rooms we had a balcony room on the sixth deck it was beautiful and very clean our cabin steward Dean was amazing and very helpful. His towel sculptures were fun.

My son joined the teen program I never saw for the 4 days it was tons of fun for him he had a great time!!!

Now to explore this giant vessel is something it is 14 floors and it is ginormous. Just to walk it is something I swear I must of walked miles. WOMEN be aware, to put something on the soles of your high heels it is slippery on all decks inside and outside there is some carpet but the marble floors are treacherous I slipped many times and I witnessed some women falling on their high heels, rubber soles are the best ones for this trip go to your shoe repair man and ask him to put something on your soles to allow you to walk without falling! There is so much to explore on this ship it is exhausting there are many pools most of the activities are on the upper decks like 11 an 12 shows are on the lower floors with the ice rink it is very well placed but it takes time to find, tons of stairs, and it will take a day to remember where everything is. Of course you can wait for an elevator it takes time. There are legends on each floor with everything mapped out.

Dinner in the dining room was where we went all times, you can wear smart casual there was only one formal night so that was a relief otherwise the food is amazing and the service was wonderful it has a Titanic staircase leading you into the lower floors our head waiters and main maître Dee were wonderful they made me feel like a princess. Each night they put away my left over bottle of wine till the next day.

All entertainment was wonderful as the game show The Quest hilarious you are going fall down laughing great time there. Ice show with the Olympic skater was great, the Broadway shows were fun as well Casino dripping with cigarette smoke and lounge lizards waiting for their win, that in itself is amusing to watch unless you have the bucks to play the slots or the big games. yes occasionally people win. Disco younger people getting drunk and dancing So each night I would go to the show and than seek out any other entertainment on board or go to the casino, it was fun and entertaining

Shopping is better on board than at duty free unless you are buying silver or something that they do not have on board it is cheaper to buy on the ship trust me. Jewelry shopping is amazing on board and the girl to go to would Dana Or Kerry they are very knowledgeable and helpful in making decisions very good prices I did well So for the most part the cruise was fantastic the ship is beautiful and team that work on it are great and very helpful. I give the ship 5 stars for their efforts at making everyone feel good.

We arrive in Cozumel Mexico I have pre arranged a tour on ship for the Atlantis submarine. We only have one land day the rest are at sea,we get off early because of this tour we are told we must be on dock for no later than 8:15am…famous last words the tour guide is late to be exact he finally shows up at 9:30am the only trip left is some snorkel trip which we cannot do due to health reasons. We are waiting and waiting finally the tour director says if you do not want to wait any longer we will refund your money. We decide to wait, finally someone comes to collect us and we are again waiting for everyone to go the bathroom another 20 minutes..remember we only have a few hours left we have to go by ship time not Mexican time. So we all have to now walk down the street to this office where they say ok we will pay for your taxis to the shopping area it is only $6. to go there. as a gift for being late. We are than boarded on a ferry to get to the submarine, this trip is supposed to be 2 hours in total. It takes over 20 minutes to get to the submarine, we are boarded in it and do a very small tour for less than 20 minutes underwater, we are looking at dilapidated coral reefs that are severely damaged from the last hurricane 2 years ago.We see some fish a lobster one manta ray that is all it is a very poor tour that we paid $100. each and it was late an the tour guide is not understandable at all it is a waste of my time an dollars. People were upset and we did not feel we got the value for the money on this one. So do not book this tour it is called Atlantis Submarine tour it is a waste of money and time.

We did some shopping with the discount book we bought on the ship, great deals it was fun than we went to a beach called Mr. Sanchez. This beach is very rough with a strong undertow and very murky waters the sand is that sinking sand very hard and coarse brown ugly sand. However the chairs and umbrellas are free there is a bar and kitchen it is worn out from the last hurricane. Be forewarned to pay for a taxi $15 us dollars each way from the port. I was not impressed with the beach at all, the drinks were good though. There are some small stores to buy some silver trinkets etc there. We leave Cozumel an to let you know I have been all over Mexico my favorite places to date are Ixtapa, and Cancun this Cozumel needs an extreme makeover fast.

Another day at sea till we get back in port than I book yet another tour to the Everglades it is amazing with a fantastic tour guide called Robert we get a boat ride right through them, see some gators, and other small animals the tour is fantastic! It is about 4 hours worth every single penny I paid for it and the information is great.

All in all I would go back in a New York Minute, I loved the ship the cruise the people and food. I will say get out there and just do it because when you do you will be glad you did. The best thing about this particular ship is the teamwork an that is what makes any cruise fantastic! I just submitted this on cruise critic Marlenegoesbyebye canada thanks a bunch

Categories
Island

W. Caribbean Ports — Ocho Rios, Cozumel, Caymans

Author: Jennifer Granieri
Date of Trip: August 2005

My husband and I were married aboard the Caribbean Princess in August 2005. Our families traveled from Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Wisconsin, Delaware, and Pennsylvania to attend our wedding. We honeymooned with our families so that our parents and relatives could spend a little time getting to know each other before going their separate ways. We visited Ocho Rios, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel, as well as their private island, Princess Cays.

Flights:
We flew in on US Air directly to Ft. Lauderdale. We had no issues with boarding/departing on time/baggage. Our hotel offered a free shuttle from airport, and then to the cruise port for embarkation. My future in-laws almost didn’t make it to the wedding however. They flew USA 3000 … the last flight out of Philly on Friday night, the night before the wedding (against the nervous bride’s better judgement, but you don’t argue with your in-laws before the wedding!). Of course, because it was the last flight out, something went wrong. The pilot had too many hours in, and the flight was cancelled. But they didn’t tell the passengers until 9:30. My in-laws had to take the red-eye to Orlando, and then rent a car and drive 3 ours to Ft. Lauderdale … they arrived at 6:30 am for a 10:30 boarding time (for the wedding on the ship) … they were exhausted, but made it. I have learned that when you have a deadline (e.g. a ship leaving) it is best to leave yourself PLENTY of lead time … others we have gottent to know while traveling have said that it never hurts to arrive in the port city a day early, just in case there is an issue with flights/connections…

Princess Cays:
It was a wonderful stopover if you’re a beachlover. A few hints … rent a cabana on the beach as soon as they become available for online bookings. They’re only $10/day, and they go FAST. It’s worth the $ if you’re going to be spending all day out in the sun. Also, bring watershoes … the sand is a little gritty (maybe coral?) and can be rough on your toes. We also rented a float ($5-8, I can’t remember) so that our son (3 years) could come out a little deeper with us. The island was very nice and kept well … lunch was the usual beach buffet … a decent variety, there was something for everyone!

Ocho Rios:
We booked an all day tour (horseback riding, river tubing, lunch, and hike) Our only disappointment was that the “hike” apparently never took place, not really sure why. We went river tubing on the White River, and it was beautiful … the river is lined with limestone, and the water is a very pale crystal blue. It was gorgeous! At the dropoff were a few local stands. My husband and I were able to find Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee for $15/lb. By far much cheaper than it was avaiable for the other places we found it. We were then taken to Pinapple Stables for Horseback riding through the mountains/hills. The scenery was very pretty, lots of lush vegetation. My husband and I were at the back of the pack, so we basically had the “tail end” guide all to ourselves. He took really good care of us … dismounting to run up the hill to get fresh, native fruit for us to try … he really went out of his way for us. Lunch was very good … Jamaican Jerk Chicken with beans and rice(available with or without the Jerk. It was so good, we went into their gift shop to buy the jerk sauce they had used! Luckily for us, it is available online, because we became addicted to the flavor and the spice, and cook with it at least once a week!

The only down-side to the day (and it was minor) was that our “hike” never materialized. The other thing you should keep in mind about Jamaica is thier dependance on tips/tourist dollars. The guides all mentioned their “expectation” if we had a good time, however, the young men who led us on the raft/horseback trip handled the situation with a little more tact and humor … the guys on the tour got $10 per activity, 2 activities, $20…but we got very personal service because of our “status” as newlyweds the “guide” who described the culture/area/customs while on our way to/from the destination had NO class … Kept mentioning her “tip” throughout the narrative … we gave her $5 … assuming she would share it with our dirver. We overheard them fighting as we were waiting to get back on the ship. She would not give him any money, telling him that if we wanted him to have any, we would have given it to him directly. We assumed that they were splitting everything … had I known she was going to be so selfish, I would have given it to him instead … he did all the driving! OF all the ports we visited, we really enjoyed our time spent in Jamaica. The people are very laid back for the most part…we enjoyed Jamaica so much that we have planned to spend our first anniversary in Negril. Don’t believe what you hear about Jamaica being dangerous…everywhere is dangerous … you have to take some precautions to avoid being victimized ANYWHERE (USA or not). Just remember to bring your street smarts with you when you travel, and get out and experience the true culture and interact with the people as much as possible!

Cayman Islands:
We booked a Pirate Ship Cruise this day. We took my 11 year old cousin with us, who was our “program-passer-outer” for the wedding. 11 is a tough age when it comes to buying an appreciation gift for helping in the wedding, and since his parents were cruising with us, we though he would much rather enjoy being treated to an excursion! We had alot of fun … the crew of 5-6 were very entertaining … it’s a popular tour for those with kids, or those looking for free rum punch!

First, we “attacked” our cruise ship, firing the cannons of as we made a pass around the ship. We even managed to catch my husband’s parents out on their balcony! We were close enough to the ship that they were able to recognize us. The pirates gathered all of the kids together and made them swab the decks. Some of the adults were coerced into walking the plank for various offenses. We all enjoyed ourselves immensly.

After the pirate ship returned to port, my cousin returned to the ship, and my husband and I decided to do a little shopping and grab some lunch. I would have to say that the island itself was our biggest disappointment during the cruise. The exchange rate is HORRIBLE, and things seemed to cost more than they do in the states.

For exasmple, we went out to lunch … we each had a drink (alcoholic), shared a fried conch appetizer, and had two lunch entrees (my husband had the turtle steak lunch special, and I honestly can’t remembmer what I had…meaning it was nothing special.) Lunch with tip was $50 American … we were on our honeymoon and out to have a good time, so the actual money wasn’t an issue, it just suprised us a little that things were so steep there. I would definitely reccommend that you save your souvenir dollars for Mexico or Jamaica, where you can at least haggle over prices a little. We did not come across any sort of open air market … all of the shops are in mini-malls near the port….not a very rustic or cultural experience. We picked up a few t-shirts and that was it.

Cozumel:
Our last tour was an all day trip as well … we traveled by ferry to Playa Del Carmen then by bus to Tulum to visit the ruins and then to Xel-Ha (Shell-Ha), which is a natural waterpark (animals, not waterslides). We really enjoyed ourselves, although, we did spend about 3 hours out of a 7-8 hour tour in the bus driving. Tulum was BEAUTIFUL. I had taken a Latin American history course in college, and we spent a lot of time studying the ancient Mexican cultures … it was so neat to see a little of what I had learned about (almost) 10 years earlier.

Tulum is on the edge of a cliff, with probably the most beautiful view of our entire trip. Our guide was very knowledgable. One hint … if you’re travelling in the summer, make sure you bring water in your backpack. It was in the 90’s and we were in the direct sunlight … one young lady had to lie down in the shade because the heat go to her and her party had no water. (Everyone else shared with her!) They were young (late teens/early 20’s)and obviously inexperienced travelers … but don’t assume that water/drinks will be available everywhere you are taken. (there were drinks provided on the bus, just not in the ruins themselves). After the ruins, we went to the eco-park and loved it! But we only had 2 hours there. Princess does offer an all day excursion to the park, and I would highly reccommend that, unless you’re interested in visiting the ruins. We snorkeled with the biggest fish I have ever seen … It was awesome. You could also swim with the dolphins (we did not). There was a bunch to do, we just didn’t have enought time to do it all!

All in all it was a wonderful trip…..and everyone we traveled with enjoyed themselves immensly. I would highly reccommend Princess Cruises/the Caribbean Princess to ANYONE. Refer to my cruisecritic.com review of the wedding/ship itself….there was a serious glitch there, but Princess corrected the issue…in spite of our horriblely unprepared DJ at the reception, we had a wonderful time. We really enjoyed combining the idea of a traditional wedding with the sights of a destination wedding, without being limited to one destination! I think our biggest time saver was booking all of our excursions on Princess’s website as soon as they open up the bookings (I think 90-120 days before the ship sails) This is especially helpful as some of the more popular excursions sell out before the ship departs.

Categories
Group Travel

Cruising? Shore excursions or do it yourself

Author: Barry S
Date of Trip: June 2009

It amazes me how people love to experience different cultures yet herd together when they arrive in another country.

There are advantages in travelling in a group and having an expert guide escort you through churches, ruins, and other places of interest.

Yet surely you can do this on your own with someone who knows the area you are visiting?

What beats me are the numbers of people who take the organized shore excursions on European cruises. I can appreciate that you would want to be escorted in your own language in a totally strange environment, but to do so in a civilized country where people speak English has always baffled me.

Recently we took a Holland America cruise on board the Oosterdam which included a number of Greek ports.

We docked in Piraeus which is simply the gateway to Athens. The ship’s itinerary boasted ‘Transfer to Athens. From the ship to the Plaka for six and a half hours of free time on your own’. They were charging $79 per person for this Athens shuttle.

We walked from the port to the Piraeus train station with a few other passengers and took the excellent local train into the heart of Athens. We alighted at the station by the Parliament building. From there we walked to see the Changing of the Guard at the Presidents Palace. This is only three hundred meters from the 1896 Olympic Stadium.

I had already visited Athens and the Acropolis so we took a cab to the Temple of Zeus and, from there, to the Plaka where I humored my wife with a couple of hours of shopping before catching the train back to the ship. Our return train journey cost us both 20 Euros.

If it wasn’t for ancient Olympia nobody would get off the boat to visit Katakolon. It’s a small, one street, hick town that fails to cater to cruise passengers’ needs, except for a couple of car hire firms.

The advertised shore excursion on Oosterdam for Olympia was $68 per person. We hired a car with another couple for 40 Euro which equates to $56. That worked out $14 each as opposed to $68. We saw everything there was to see at Olympia and strolled through the local town. To be fair, I should add the 8 Euro for gas. Still a huge saving than taking the organized bus.

Finally for this cruise was the shore excursion that lots of people took from SANTORINI to OIA. I don’t know if you have been there. It is really beautiful and is a must to visit. The cruise line bused passengers between these two small towns at a cost of $74 a person.

We walked to the local bus station. The return bus ride was five Euro a person. That’s $7 against $74!

The ride is a pleasant twenty minutes but the cruise price was a rip off.

It amazes me that so many intelligent people seem unable to use initiative when travelling abroad. I don’t know if it is a sense of insecurity, or if they leave their brain at home.

It is possible to get off cruise ships, as we have done in Naples, Lisbon, the Caribbean, and other destinations, find a local English speaking cab driver, tested him on his local knowledge, negotiated his time, and had wonderful experiences.

It’s not that I save money on these cruise vacations. My wife gets it in the end and blows it away in the stores and shops…

Categories
Beach

Excursions in the Caribbean

Author: likecruising1
Date of Trip: September 2008

On Aug. 5/09, we departed New York Harbour, on Explorer of the Seas. Bermuda, St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and San Juan were the Ports of Call.

For my wife and I, it was our second cruise. Our two teenage daughters came on this one with us – aged 14 and 19.

Once planned, booked, and paid for, we received a package from Royal Caribbean outlining the available cruise-organized land excursions, at each port of call. It became painfully clear, that unless we were prepared another $1,000+ in adult priced excursions, we had to do some planning.

Each ship-based excursion is well planned and offers enough. What is not explained, is that with some thought, creativity, and planning individuals can accomplish the same, at a fraction of the price.

Transportation on local islands is plentiful. Once ashore, there are plenty of cabs, buses, and scooters. It’s simply a matter of doing your research in advance. Not to mention, doing things on your own without constraints of an organized tour, is much more satisfying. Once off the ship, don’t be afraid to wander off the pier, and look for these. In many cases, you won’t have to look more than a few feet.

Shopping is shopping. Beaches are beaches. Sites are sites. Historical monuments are historical monuments. Simply pluck the information from that supplied by the cruiseline, and figure out the best way to get there.

Also, don’t be afraid to walk off the beaten path. Not necessarily into less desirable parts, but not always the main st.

Of the four ports of call we enjoyed, each and every island offered friendly and welcoming locals who were more than willing to help you. Keep in mind, these islands live off tourism. It’s in their best interests to make sure you enjoy your visit, and want to return.

Categories
Island

Eastern Caribbean on Carnival Liberty

Author: brneyes
Date of Trip: April 2008

This was my first 8 day cruise (2 days at sea)on the Carnival Liberty. The Liberty is a large ship, beautiful in design color, some people may say it is too much. It has some nice lounges/bars/discos that are designed like batteries/cameras/pianos/hands & feet, which are really neat to see. The beds/bedding are very nice, feeling like a baby. Rooms are nice in size, compared to other ships, with small refrigerator and vault inside for valuables. Also nice bath robes to wear. Two dining rooms with food good most of the time. Pizza place was great. Miniature golf and large outdoor screen to see movie at night time with popcorn being served.

For a large ship, I could see where they had cut down on the midnight buffet in decorating it, compared to other ships not this size. Actually it was embarrassing to see, after seeing much larger buffets on smaller ships.

We stopped in San Juan first, and I was able to see it from afternoon till late evening, walking from 6 – 8 miles. Seeing an old fort high up, then walking all the way down to the beach. The streets are narrow, and building are painted pastel colors.

St. Thomas is beautiful with Megan’s Bay Beach, plus if you want to purchase good jewelry, without paying tax, this is the place to visit.

Antigua, it pour down rain.

Tortola, BVI is a small island that hasn’t been known too long. It has beautiful mountains and valleys., with a nice straw market close by to purchase T-shirts, etc. cheap. Also a Queens staircase of 65 steps, with a beautiful waterfall on the side.

Nassau – Bahamas Beautiful area, drove by and seen where Anna Nicole Smith is buried and where Howard Stern lives. Atlantis is a must see, at least a block or more long. Inside you will find very large pillars, and downstairs is a large aquarium.