Champagne Reefs and Suite Dreams: Noordam Cruise Review by slabeaume
Overall Member Rating
Champagne Reefs and Suite Dreams
Destination: Southern Caribbean
Embarkation: Fort Lauderdale (Port Everglades)
Cruise day finally came ( Monday, Nov. 5th, 2012). I chose this cruise mainly because it went to St. Lucia. Not many cruises seem to go there and I've always been intrigued with the pictures I've seen of the Pitons. The cruise also included stops in St. Maarten, Barbados, Dominica, Martinique, St. Thomas, and Half Moon Cay. It was very port intensive, which I loved---6 port days in a row, another port later. Hubby is more of a sea day fan, but he held up pretty well.
The first 3 days (Nov. 5-7) were sea days. We settled into our SS 8060 superior suite. It was on the port side and enjoyed the sunrises and port views the first 6 days, then sunsets the last 5. Not quite as big and didn't have the added benefits of the deluxe suite we had last year, but still pretty nice. Loved that the verandah even had a table and 2 More chairs as well as 2 other chairs with ottomans. We were mid ship and on the 8th floor. Made it easy to just take the steps up to the Lido buffet for the many meals we ate there.
We took advantage of these sea days to check out the ship and some of the programs offered ---such as the digital workshop; the culinary demonstration; even a flower arranging presentation. Enjoyed a sunset from the 10th level observation deck. Also enjoyed views of the ocean from our verandah. Had dinner one night at the now $10 upcharge italian Canelletto restaurant. Last year it was free. Service was great, although Ken wasn't as impressed with the food this time.
On our 3rd full day, we were in St. Maarten. I had been here once before and had done the island tour then. Although it was an interesting tour, I was ready to hit the water. We're not ones to book many excursions through the ship, so I researched and came upon Dawn beach as the best place to snorkel here. I'd read snorkeling isn't the greatest on St. Maarten, so wasn't expecting much more then a beatiful beach and warm water. I wasn't disappointed! We walked off the ship and to the well organized taxi area of the port to the sign that said Dawn beach. There we paid $7@, but I don't remember if that was rt or each way. Regardless, it was much better then the ship excursion prices. To get back, all we had to do was tell him when to come back. There was also a dispatcher there that called him when we were ready to come back a little earlier then we originally planned. There were people there offering to rent chairs and umbrellas for a few dollars, but we knew we'd be in the water most of the time and declined. One vender came by when we were getting ready to leave, but he was pleasant even though we didn't buy anything. The water was a bit cloudy near the shore, but cleared up out past the water break. Snorkeling wasn't great but still entertaining. We went to the darker area to the right of the above picture and saw a few interesting critters. Back at the port, there's a pretty nice little area of shops and restaurants.
Next day we woke up in the port of Castries, St. Lucia. The view from our verandah of the port was beautiful. We headed off the ship to the taxi area again and were directed to one going to Pigeon Island (no longer an island, it was artificially joined to the mainland in 1972). Again we made arrangements for the driver to come back and get us. Our $20@ fare included the $6@ entrance fee into Pigeon Island National Landmark. The island is a historic site with numerous forts such as an 18th century British fort and Fort Rodney both used by the British to spy on French Ships from neighboring Martinique.It had a nice secluded beach here. We had it basically to ourselves for a couple hours before the tours started to arrive (except for the nice lady offering beach chairs for a small fee). Snorkeling here was pretty good. I even swam out to the far point where the Atlantic ocean meets the Caribbean. It was rougher by the ocean, but the Caribbean bay was really smooth. We spent a couple hours snorkeling here. I also spent some time wandering around the ruins of the old fort here. All too soon it was time to go back to the ship. I would have liked to have taken a land tour, but being in port only 6 or 7 hours just doesn't leave enough time to do more then one thing. Our cruise ship did do a scenic narrated tour of the coastline to Soufriere where the Pitons are. The ship stopped here to pick up passengers who did a couple of the excursions that ended here. I enjoyed watching the sunset and seeing the clouds changing colors over the Pitons.
The next day we were in Barbados. I had thought we would take the mass transit bus to Folkstone to a marine preserve there, but was told the reserve was pretty far off shore. So I actually did a ship excursion here. As a photographer, the "in-focus" tour sounded good. I figured a photographer would know where the best views of the island were. I was right---this tour was fantastic and possibly worth the $80 I had to pay for it. Ken elected to stay at the port and wander around there. I really fell for this lush little island! Sugar cane was a big producer for them. In recent years, though, sale of sugar has fallen off, but there are still many beautiful plantation houses around the island. We also saw the historic Chattel houses. These houses were built without nails and could be quickly and easily disassembled and moved. Now they own their land and many additions can be seen on the remaining Chattel houses. We spent most of the tour in the Scotland District--a half bowl containing the hilly highlands of Barbados, with a dense, in parts jungle-like vegetation, quite unlike the rest of the island, which is rather flat, deforested, and commonly used for agriculture. Another area we spent a bit of time in was Bethesda. The picturesque coastline reminds me somewhat of the Oregon coastline with palm trees.
The next day we were at the port of Martinique. It was much more commecialized then the other islands we went to. They aren't dependant on tourism and it shows. This port was more difficult to do a self excursion on. We had hoped to take a taxi to a beach about 30 minutes away and do some snorkeling. Unfortunately, the taxi drivers here wanted 60 euro/hour and wouldn't just leave and come back. They wanted to be paid for the whole time we snorkeled. We had talked about doing just an hour long taxi ride, then be dropped off at a ferry port to ride over the bay and walk to a beach on the other side since. But the driver then said we had to book him for at least 2 hours. At that point, we took off on foot to the ferry. Along the way, we passed this fort that we saw from our verandah-Fort St. Louis. It is a fortress on a peninsula at Fort-de-France. Today the fort is both an active naval base and a listed historic site of France. We came upon a ferry port and waited in line only to find out that port was for ferries to other islands. The ferry we wanted was another 1/2 mile or so down the road. Another person walking near us had a pedometer on and said the walk was 1.4 miles. We waited about 30 minutes of the ferry which was suppose to run every hour. While waiting, I thought it would be nice to grab a drink from McDonald's across the street. I was surprised to find it closed, along with everything else in the area because it was Sunday. After our 15 minute of so ferry ride which we paid $10/person rt for, we had another walk to the beach. I figure that walk was about another mile. Finally reach the beach. It was pretty. No venders, but lots of little restaurants along the beach. I knew the snorkeling wouldn't be any good, but I was surprised to see there were some critters there. The water was probably about 82 degrees and very calm. We spent a couple hours here. On the way back to the ferry dock, we tried to shop a couple of the shops there that happened to be open. Found out a lot of people there don't speak English or take the US dollar. We did find an ice cream shop that did and I got a Light (not diet) Coke and a soft serve pistachio and mango cone for $7. Don't know what happened with the return ferry, but we waited over an hour for it. Back on the other side, we were walking back when a taxi drove up and said he take us back to the cruise ship for $2. Once we got in, along with a few other people, he made that 2 Euro@.
Next day we were in the port of Dominica. We had absolutely no idea what we were doing that day. I had heard of Champagne Reef, but thought it was mainly an area where bubbles were in the water and wasn't sure it would live up to all the hype. The port wasn't much to look at. The info I had said it was the nature island so I figured we'd head off the ship and see if we could find a tour. We headed to the info booth and asked about tours. As an afterthought, I asked about Champagne Reef. She said it was a quick taxi ride and accessible from the beach and was an excellent place to snorkel. So back to the ship we went to change into swimsuits and grab our snorkel gear and head to the taxis. Fortunately there was another couple there waiting, too, so we got to share the taxi cost---which was then $30@ rt. At the destination, we paid a $2@ admittance fee and were led down a boardwalk to the "beach"--made up of rounded rocks. At first I was little concerned, all I saw was a rocky shoreline. Then a tiny sandy opening appeared. Just to the left of the entrance starts the large area where lots of bubbles come up from the bottom of the ocean giving the area it's name. We noticed a tour group was there pretty far out. So we ventured out there, too. That's where we found a fabulous reef! We snorkeled for well over 2 hours. I could have stayed there much longer, but the other 3 were getting anxious to leave. After tipping the taxi driver another $10 and tipping the young man at the entrance to the reef who actually swam out there with us, we ended up spending about $45@, much better then the $80@ fee the ship excursion was and we got to spend more time there. For a day that started out shakey (couldn't find my ship card and went to get another one; I also mistook contac cleaning solution for soaking solution and my eyes didn't like that much) , this turned out to be a fantastic day!
The next day we were in port at St. Thomas. Having been here before, we knew the snorkeling was good and had an idea where we wanted to go. We also had rented a car here before and did so again. Pick up was easy----just made our way to the windmill on the port and called Budget for our courtesy pick up. Rental for the day was $45, plus we paid $10 for a supplemental insurance. They do drive on the wrong side of the street there, but my driver didn't do too badly! We had planned to go to Coki beach first, but with the poor road signage, we ended up at Saphire first. I had read Saphire was the place to go for snorkeling, but because of weather had never made it anywhere but to a beach in Cowpet Bay before. Although Saphire was beautiful, we found the snorkeling to be only so-so. After less than an hour at Saphire, we headed to the place our daughter told us about last year at Cowpet Bay. Snorkeling here was excellent again. Even saw some creatures I hadn't seen before. The last beach we had time to go to was Coki Beach. It was gorgeous, but got quite crowded with the cruise ship excursions going here. Also had lots of "waitresses" and venders trying to drum up business. We brought a sandwich and drink from Subway there for a pic nic before we snorkeled and didn't have an problem. We enjoyed snorkeling there for about another hour. The snorkel area really isn't very big, but it was much better then Saphire. By then it was time to head back to the port. Traffic through town took about 30-40 minutes to get through.
After 6 port days in a row, the next day was a welcomed sea day! Even though I'm not a big fan of sea days, the day of rest was nice. Althought my plans for sleeping in didn't go so well. Somewhere in the Caribbean waters I encountered what I assume was sea lice---invisible to the eye, larvae or jellyfish or other stinging swimmers---and ended up with an extremely itchy rash. I had this happen before on a couple of our trips to Hawaii (out of about 20 trips to Hawaii), so I wasn't surprised. Apparently they don't bother everyone---like Ken---but they sure like me. Took about 5 days for the itching to subside. At least it happened near the end of our cruise.
After our sea day, we had one last port---the HAL private island, Halfmoon cay. We have been here twice before, too, so were looking forward to a restful day at the beach there. We were not disappointed. This was the only port we had to tender to, but that didn't take too much time. We threw our towels and bag on a couple chairs and donned our snorkel gear and headed into the water. There's a little snorkel area by the kids area which we'ld snorkeled before and knew it didn't have much, but we didn't care. We knew the water would feel great. Much to my surprise, the snorkeling this time was considerably better then the last 2 times we were there. We were even able to get all the way to the rock wall to the far left of the bay. Saw a couple cute Caribbean groupers, a rather large gray triggerfish, large octopus, and a school of baracuda! It was another beautiful day on Halfmoon Cay! Even the free bar b q lunch on the beach was good. There were a bunch of birds cleaning up after us, including cute little yellow bellied ones. When we weren't eating or swimming in the water, we wandered around the beach a bit.
This was Ken's 4th cruise, my 10th. Other than my first cruise, I haven't had a bad one yet (other than weather). I really enjoyed seeing the new places and revisiting the ones we've been too. we enjoyed it so much, we even did the onboard booking for the ship board credit for the next one. The $200 ship board credit for booking onboard last year and the $100 OBC for having CCL stock came in really handy this year. After gratuities of $12/day@ , the Canelleto dinner, and a couple other items we bought onboard, we only owed $56 when we debarked. Now to start dreaming about where to go next!
For basically the same review, but with lots and lots of pictures, check out my blog at: http://travelingwithsue.blogspot.com/2012/11/2012-hal-11-night-caribbean-cruise.html Less
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