Sunday, we dropped the car off at Budget and waited unit about 10:50 before they started running the shuttles. Once at the port, the process went smoothly and very, very quickly. I don't think it was more than 15 minutes from the time we hit the door until we were in the Windjammer.
We got right into our room at 1:00 pm. At 12:45 we went up to the Deck 7 library to wait. We actually asked for the same cabin we had last year because we loved it. #7308 was still in pretty good shape when we arrived, but after all, it had been "lived in" by lots of travelers since 4/12. The only things we really noticed wear-and-tear wise were a chunk out of the bathroom sink about the sizes of a nickel and that the table legs were super scuffed up. Other than that, the cabin was wonderful. It's a midship balcony cabin.
Our steward was Erlinda and she did a wonderful job. Our room was perfect when we arrived, with all the paperwork for the Meet and Mingle, shore excursions and Gold benefits waiting for us. Ben had ordered champagne for sail away and it was there in a bucket of ice with his "I love you" message beside it. My idea of a good steward is someone who comes in, does their job and helps you get what you need.
The muster drill went pretty well. The only hitch was a couple behind us from Ireland who did not want to give up their drinks because the bartender told them they could take them out and they wanted to argue about it. I admire the bravery of the staff who had to tell two Irish people to give up their booze. (Full disclosure, I am of very strong Irish background!)
We decided when we first started sailing that our tradition would be to do sail away from our balcony if we had one and that's what we did. Very nice sail away, drinking champagne, toasting a new cruise and waving to the people at Fishlips, Grills and Rusty's!
Dinner the first night was Mojo. I had the shrimp cocktail and the steak and spinach salad, both of which were excellent. Ben had the prime rib and the Roman vignole salad and he was pleased with those as well. When we went on our first cruise, I was prepared for the food to be at about the level of Chili's from what people had told me. I was pleasantly surprised then and the quality continued to be good to excellent. There was never anything I felt I needed to send back and frankly, had I been being piggish, I could have eaten much more of some of those dishes! We both had the lemon meringue pie for dessert. Yum!
We had a couples massage at the spa and I cannot say enough good things about it. It was relaxing and a great start to the cruise. I was prepared for a hard sell on the products and once we said, "No" or "We'll think about it," the ladies did not press.
After that, we went to Vintages and used one of our coupons for a BOGO 50% off glass of wine. If you're a fan of reds, I recommend the Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. It was excellent. Ben had a Shiraz that he liked as well. (NOT the Weighbridge which we had last time and thought really stunk.)
Then we turned in for the night because we were looking forward to getting up early for Coco Cay.
Day 2 -- Coco Cay
We got up early and had the room service breakfast. They called before they brought it and then called afterwards to see if it was satisfactory. The bacon, pastries, fruit and coffee were good.
Off to Coco Cay. We stayed away from the "tender areas" until we were told we could be there. Richard and Katie were making all sorts of goofy comments about "tender areas" on The Space Station. I am really beginning to understand how a good cruise director can make your cruise better. We had Graham Seymour previously and while he was incredibly funny and talented, Richard and Katie seemed much more accessible and friendly.
I always wanted to lay in a hammock and read so we did that for a while. It was very comfy, but pretty far from the beach, so after about 1.5 we went over to the beach area, found some chairs and snorkeled. Despite what they told us, that the best snorkeling was straight out by that huge buoy, we went over by the rocks and saw tons of fish. Ben had a bag for his Nikon D5100 so he could take pics while snorkeling. It was way cheaper than a "professional" bag and worked perfectly -- no leaks, thank goodness. The water at Coco Cay gets deep really fast and shallow really fast, so be prepared. Great day at the beach!
We came back and just hung out for a while. Sometimes it may not seem like we did a lot, but we just enjoy hanging out on the balcony and reading or taking pictures. We love the ship!
This was also the first formal night -- Saffron. Oh, I forgot to mention our waiter, Viviana. She was awesome! I think she might have been a bit new, but she did a wonderful job. Gilbert was our assistant and really gave it a good try. I believe he was new as well, because when he did not anticipate our needs, she would remind him over at the station. Plus, he had to train the guy in training to be an assistant, so he was very busy. Okay, I'm going to confess -- I had the angus sliders on formal night. Hey! it's what sounded good! The spinach dip was good as was the garden salad Ben had for an appetizer. That night he had the beef tenderloin with the mushroom sauce and whipped potatoes. No complaints about the meal.
That night we went to see Marquee. We did not see this show last time because, honestly, I was afraid it would be about the level of a college theater show and after having done theater years ago, I thought I might find it dull. I was pleasantly surprised at how incredibly professional all the players were. I was especially impressed with Charyn Cannon, whose incredible voice and *presence* just filled up the stage.
We then did some drinking and went to bed.
Day 3 --First Sea Day
Our first sea day was highlighted by the Meet and Mingle at 10 something. We had breakfast and headed up there. Oh, just a note on the coffee. The free coffee is not bad. We love Dunkin Donuts and are not big Starbucks fans, so there's your comparison. Not great, but it won't kill ya to drink it.
The Meet and Mingle was lots of fun, thanks to all the attendees, especially cruising grandma and breeezy and all the Pink Boa Cruisers. Katie the Activities Manager was there and I was surprised because I had heard they usually send someone else from the activities staff! She was nice and funny as usual. There were lots of people who then went for the slot pull at the casino. I've only been gambling once before in my life, so I had no idea what I was doing, but everyone was a big help and I ended up getting 3rd place! Beginner's luck. I think we all made a dollar back and donated the extra to Make-A-Wish. Great meeting you all!
One thing that I noticed they have really offered more of on this cruise were the wine pairing dinners. We did not do one and I think last time there was only one offered. This time, there were wine tastings and wine pairings all over the place. We did a wine tasting last time and it was excellent, but it was not a dinner, just more of an appreciation of wine kind of thing.
More hanging around the ship and hitting the hot tub.
Tonight's menu was Shiitake. I had the shrimp cocktail (sensing a pattern here?), the Chicken Caesar Salad and the Creme Brûlée. Ben had the Caesar Salad, the strip steak and the lemon yogurt cake. All was good.
We then went to the Headliner Show which was a comedienne named Etta May. I guess she is pretty popular, but I had never heard of her. She was a sort of female version of Jeff Foxworthy and very funny. I'm guessing the whole "Etta May" thing is a persona kind of like Minnie Pearl. She was quite entertaining.
After that, we went and watched the 50s and 60s rock and roll dance party and twisting contest.
Then we drank some more and went to bed.
Day 4 -- St. Thomas!
Since we didn't get to St. Thomas until noon, we just hung around the ship, had breakfast, sat on the balcony.
Our excursion could not have started in a better place -- right on the other side of the pier. The BOSS excursion was incredible. The boat took us out to Buck Island where we took these scooters underwater. We had done the Sea Trek helmet excursion previously in Cozumel and wanted to be a little more adventurous. Those things are hard to steer, but we had a blast and they fed the fish so they would come around us and took pictures for us with our cameras (they do not have a picture taking service like the Sea Treks do.) There were three groups who went out and while you were not going out, you could snorkel or just hang out. The captain and his crew had great senses of humor because they had to deal with several of us going in circles and trying to manage those machines for the first time. As the captain said, "It's all about attitude! This excursion comes highly recommended.
That night we had dinner at Portofino. Ben had the pasta with mushrooms and I had the filet. Both were good. I had tried to get a reservation for 7:30 but had to go with 7:00 because they said they were full. Odd, though, when we got there, less than half of the seats were filled. It just seemed weird that we could not get our reservation for the time we wanted when they were not that busy. All in all, a satisfying meal.
Ben was too tired to stay up late, so he went to bed and I went to the Love and Marriage Game Show. For those who are familiar with this, the answers this time were: in a electric room at a wine bar, in a moving vehicle and on the 9th hole of a golf course. Again, Richard and Katie were fantastically funny! I did not try the Love Connection drink, but it has gotten good reviews from others. I stuck to my strawberry daiquiris.
I went up to bed after that. Another excursion tomorrow!
Day 5 -- St. Maarten
We were up early for our excursion, which began at 9:00 am. Room service was as good as the time before.
This is the first time I am going to have to pan something. The excursion we went on was the Tiki Hut Snorkel Park. They told us when we were leaving at 9 that the boat would come back by every hour "Caribbean time," meaning that it could be 45 minutes or an hour 15. So we got out there about 9:20 and got right in with the snorkeling. We snorkeled for about an hour or so. The snorkels were much shorter than they were at Coco Cay and I got a lot of water in my mouth. There were not very many fish to see, either. I saw a couple of fish and a couple of urchins and that was about it. There was another boat that came and parked right outside the area we were in and came over to where we were and so there were too many people in one place to snorkel.
We ended up sitting down and just relaxing with a $2.00 bottle of Kirkland water. This tour, I felt like the people putting it on were just going through the motions. The physical plant of the place was not great, either. It could have used a real overhaul, like a new paint job and fixing the places where the plastic wood they had used was starting to give out. Now I am not a small woman, but there were other, bigger people out there and it freaked me out when I stepped on the "plank" and it gave way a bit!
Ben snorkeled some more and I enjoyed the sun and shade. By 11:30, we still had not seen the boat return once, so we asked when it was coming back and they told us about 15-20 minutes. When he came back, the water was getting a bit rough and the captain of the boat seemed to be in a hurry as we were bouncing along the waves. It bounced so hard one time, it knocked me and three children off the seats and into the seats facing us. I was not injured, but one of the children was about 4 and was crying. I don't know if he was injured or just scared, but I thought it was ridiculous that the captain was not taking more care on a boat that had no arm rests, rails (except along the top) or seat belts. I would not recommend this tour and would encourage you to go elsewhere to snorkel. The snorkeling was better at Coco Cay, if that tells you anything.
More hanging around the boat and getting ready for dinner.
This night we went to Chops. OMG! It was fantastic. I had the petite filet with the shrimp cocktail and the sampler for dessert. We had the baked potatoes and for the table we had onion rings and green beans. The green beans were delicious as well. The steak was like butter. Ben had the Chops signature salad, the larger filet and the Creme Brûlée. I cannot tell you how wonderful this was. The atmosphere seemed more relaxed than Portofino and the waiter was fantastic. She suggested a wine for us as they were out of the Mondavi we wanted and she did not steer us wrong. It was another Cab from Rutherford, California and was delicious.
We went to the hot tub a bit later, and then back to the room for the evening.
Day 6 -- At Sea
We went to breakfast and then took the All Access Tour, which was a lot of fun. Kat from NY was our guide and showed us all around the ship. My favorite places were the Bridge and the Kitchen. Before we left on the tour, they took our orders for lunch in the main dining room. The tour really brought to light all the things that are going on just a wall or two away from us!
This is also where we got the info that people had been kicked off the ship. I guess it happens frequently, but I have never even seen the security guards outside of someone's door, so I think they handle it well. The people who were in trouble included a case of domestic violence, participants in a fight that injured an RCI bartender and some brainiac who decided to disable his smoke detector so he could smoke pot in his room. Now when we went on the tour and saw the area where the chief engineer was (very nice man, Baard Westlund, if I have his name right?) they showed us that they have tens of thousands of sensors all over the ship, so I think they could see right away when the idiot disabled his smoke detector.
I loved seeing the theatre setup and got to meet Charyn Cannon. I told her how amazing she was on stage. I was surprised because she is small and has such a huge persona on stage. So talented!
The tour lasted from about 10:30 to after two, so we headed down to the only Bingo we go to -- the Win a Cruise Bingo. We did not win, but it was fun. Had a couple of drinks and went to get ready for the final formal night.
Tonight's menu was Jasmine. I had the Fisherman's Plate and it was my first time for lobster, which I liked. We both had the Roasted Poblano Pepper and Corn soup, which we both enjoyed. Ben and the linguini pomodoro and the Grand Marnier soufflé for dessert. I had the Baked Alaska. Yum.
We had a bunch of pictures taken tonight. We bought the 15 picture package and have not gone through it yet, but we feel it was worth the money. We do it because we travel as a couple and don't have anyone else to take pics so unless we ask a poor unsuspecting traveler, we never have pics together. This solves that. I do have to say I was disappointed with the photographers in the main dining room. Last time, we had a two top and had our pics taken both formal nights. This time we had a two top and noticed that on both formal nights, the photographer completely ignored the two tops! It wasn't worth chasing them down, but I was disappointed.
After that, we went to the Once Upon a Time show. Again, a very nice, very professional production.
We spent most of the rest of the evening in Olive or Twist, listening to the Temperature Band, who did a wonderful job of keeping us entertained.
It was a bit rocky that night on the ship. We could feel it especially up in Olive or Twist.
Day 7 -- Oh no, we have to go home tomorrow! Last Sea Day
Evidently, we rocked and rolled into the night on the ship as the door to an electrical cabinet was hanging open on our floor and one of the mannequins in the Get Out There store was on its back.
This was pretty much a lazy day for us. We had breakfast and then went to the Solarium with our kindles, where I fell asleep. Every time I am in the Solarium on those chairs, I am so relaxed, I just go right out. Which is weird because I usually can't sleep anywhere but in my bed. Sea air and sunshine does it, I guess.
After that, we went to lunch and then down to the Promenade where they were having Freedom Fest. I looked around (code name for shopping) a bit and then we had some coffee and read some more. I enjoy people watching on the Promenade.
Dinner tonight was Pomodoro. I had the shrimp cocktail, the rigatoni and the Key Lime Tart. Ben had the salad, the rigatoni and the Key Lime Tart. We also were given a dessert I did not know the name of. The head waiter brought it. It looked like two figure eights together and had chocolate in the middle if it. I was full from everything else, but tried a couple of bites and it was delicious.
We went to the "Get the heck out of here" show. No, I am kidding. I never feel that way on RCI, seriously! The farewell show was fun, with Rich Purpura, a goofy comedian and the aerialists, Duo Free Action. We then got our chance to thank all the workers and performers. Of course, Richard Spacey did the Top Ten Stupid Questions and I still like number one, to paraphrase -- "Why is the microwave in my stateroom not working?"
After that, and a few more drinks, we went to the final adult karaoke. I have to say I was so impressed with a guy there, Shane. We had gone and listened to the karaoke a night or two before and this young man, in a wheelchair and blind, could sing the heck out of country music. Unlike the rest of us, he had it all memorized. So if anyone knows Shane from Texas, a big shout out. I actually got up and sang Heart's Magic Man and the host asked me why I chose to sing that. I said, "Because I am fortified by alcohol and won't see any of you after tomorrow at 9 a.m.!" I had a good time and if I scorched any ears, my apologies.
Disembarkation Day -- Sad to be leaving
We were staying in Orlando overnight and taking a Monday flight back to Chicago, so we scheduled our disembarkation for 9:00 so as not to interfere with those needing early transfers. The only part I found objectionable throughout the whole process was that the porters were really pushy and did not want to wait like the rest of us. Once we got through customs, we walked right to the Budget shuttle and got our car. Unlike the previous car we got in Orlando (a Ford Focus that was renamed a Ford, well, I won't say it, but you can guess.The thing ran horribly and the torque converter was so touchy you hopped down the road like a kid with his first stick shift if you were trying to drive less than 20 mph, like in a parking garage.) This time we got a VW Jetta and it ran beautifully. Our hotel in Orlando was the Hampton Inn and Suites in Gateway Village. The hotel itself was very nice and the rooms were well apportioned, but the beds! Ben said he now knows what a cadaver on a slab must feel like. The beds were bricks, so if you like sleeping like Fred and Wilma Flintstone you will LOVE these.
This was an excellent cruise. Thanks for taking the time to read my review! I am already looking forward to our next time on RCI!