After years of thinking about taking a cruise, I finally got to check that off my bucket list and the adventure was awesome! Booked a last minute cruise in early December and a few days later I was sailing the high seas without a care in the world.
DAY 1: Woke up at 5:30am to catch an early flight to Atlanta, then a connection to Tampa. Smooth flights, no issues. Super Shuttle dropped me off right in front of the pier. Embarkation line moved along at a steady pace. Enjoyed people watching and listening to all the different accents and languages spoken around me. Ate lunch on board, participated in the muster station safety drill, and then went to the spa for a massage which was wonderful except for the product sales pitch. I freshened up in the cabin before a scheduled late dinner in the Destiny dining room. Formal dinner was a little awkward the first night. Large table included a family from Indiana, a family from Florida and me. Conversation was strained but the food (duck appetizer, flatiron steak entrée, black forest cake and decaf for dessert) was delicious and the service was impeccable thanks to Sergio, Alexou, and an Asian woman whose name tag I couldn’t read because she moved lightning fast around the table. After dinner I explored the ship a bit but was too tired for any evening activities so I went back to the cabin to rest.
Cabin R52 was the smallest, cheapest interior mid ship cabin available when I booked my vacation. I couldn’t find any photos of it online which led me to think it was going to be the size of a postage stamp compared to the other staterooms. My low expectations were blown away when I opened the door for the first time to drop off my bags. There was a fold down bunk affixed to the wall which I didn’t need since I was traveling alone. The other bed was well placed in the corner leaving more open floor space than anticipated. The bathroom was cozy but functional. There was plenty of storage for my things since I packed light. Most importantly, the cabin was clean and comfortable. And Floyd the cabin steward was outstanding; he folded the most adorable towel animals!
DAY 2: AT SEA. Woke up around 5am, watched the sunrise on deck, ate breakfast (eggs and bacon), then spent most of the day lounging and sunning on the Serenity deck. Early birds get the best lounge chairs! Hot tub was nice in the morning but crowded and noisy later in the day. Read a book and wrote notes in my journal between naps. The sky was a mix of sun and clouds with a brief afternoon rain shower. Afterward I noticed dolphins (or porpoises perhaps) frolicking next to the ship and caught a glimpse of Cuba in the distance. Skipped lunch; hot chocolate and dessert mid-afternoon. Freshened up before another late dinner in the Destiny dining room at 8:15pm. The other families assigned to my table were late so Sergio was kind enough to seat me at a different table with a family of 3 from Florida, a couple from Tennessee, a couple from Georgia, and 2 friends from Indiana traveling together – all of them friendly, fun and welcoming. Rather than go back to the other table, I sat with the fun ones every night the rest of the cruise. Dinner: pumpkin soup, lobster, cherries jubilee (not flaming but still tasty). After dinner I went back to my cabin and watched a little TV before going to sleep.
DAY 3: GRAND CAYMAN. Woke up early again and watched another beautiful sunrise on deck as we approached the island. Eggs and bacon from the buffet for breakfast, yummy comfort food again. 7:30am went to the Normandy lounge for a pre-excursion briefing. 8am boarded a tender and saw a man wearing a jet pack hovering above the water; unexpected. 8:45am boarded a mini bus for the Land & Sea tour guided by bus driver Delroy. 9am first stop was a semi-submersible piloted by Dennis and narrated by Martin. Impressive underwater views, especially for someone like me who has no interest in scuba or snorkeling. At one point Dennis got into the water and fed the fish so our group would have even more spectacular photos. Lots of coral and a couple shipwrecks later we returned to shore and boarded the bus for an informative and enjoyable 30 minute tour of the island narrated by Delroy. 10:30am turtle farm tour featured gigantic sea turtles along with free range iguanas and chickens. 11am snack of conch fritters (meh) and a Caybrew beer. 11:15am arrived in Hell to take some pics, buy a couple souvenirs and send a few postcards -- silly tourist spot but enjoyable. Noon visit to a local rum cake factory, bought a 6 pack of small cakes to share with family and friends back home. Delroy returned our group to the pier by 12:30pm which left enough time for a quick visit to 7 Mile Beach ($5 taxi ride, one way). The conch fritters had been less than impressive so I asked taxi driver Val if she could recommend any good restaurants. She named several so I asked if she had a favorite. She explained that local working class folks eat at home because they can’t afford restaurants intended for tourists. Bummer. 7 Mile Beach was amazing though. If I ever go back to Grand Cayman, I will definitely spend more time on the beach. By 2pm I was back on the ship to enjoy a late lunch (buffet) followed by a nap. For dinner I chose a fruit appetizer, turkey dinner (Thanksgiving comfort food) and Tiramisu for dessert. Wish I could have stayed awake for evening activities but too tired so went to bed early.
DAY 4: COZUMEL. Woke up later than usual (around 6:30am) and watched sunrise from the TV monitor in my room instead of going out on deck right away. Felt a little sluggish on this overcast day. 8am breakfast in the Elation dining room with people I hadn’t met before; bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon – yum! 11am docked in Cozumel and walked off the ship onto a pier and through a huge duty free shop followed by a gauntlet of shops and vendor kiosks hawking tourist trinkets. Drizzly rain turned into a heavy rain shower so I bought a rain poncho in the Ron-Jon store and then ducked into 3 Amigos for a margarita and nachos while waiting for the rain to stop. The 3 Amigos movie was playing on a screen and there was a small gift shop in the corner; wonder if Chevy Chase, Steve Martin and Martin Short are getting a cut of the profits. Except for stopping in a couple jewelry stores to exchange cruise ship coupons for complimentary charms, I was determined to save my money for souvenirs made by locals rather than tourist trinkets sold here. 1pm met a family from Tennessee while waiting in line for the Ancient Culture Mayan Ruins & Island Sightseeing excursion. Tour guide David led our group to a large, comfortable charter bus driven by William. David’s English was pretty good and he shared a lot of great information with us, though he seemed somewhat disappointed that none of us had researched Cozumel to learn about the area before visiting. The Mayan ruins were truly interesting but smaller and more “ruined” than I had envisioned. Bought a few souvenirs from small shops outside the ruins. Back on the bus we continued our tour. Next stop, south side of island, walked onto beach and purchased more souvenirs from locals. 5:30pm back on the ship. Dinner: lobster bisque, Chateau Briand medium-rare, Grand Marnier soufflé. Determined to stay awake for evening activities with some of my dinner companions... 9:30pm bingo, 10pm talent show (surprisingly good), 10:30pm spent $20 in the casino (not really my scene), 11pm karaoke was a mix of really good and really bad singers. Midnight back to my cabin for much needed sleep. It’s been a full day and I’m exhausted.
DAY 5: AT SEA. Repeat of day 2 with eggs and bacon for breakfast followed by sunning and napping on the Serenity deck. Mid-day art auction was mostly contemporary art, not my taste so I opted for buffet lunch of pot roast and lemon fish at 1:30pm, followed by quiet time in the library and charming afternoon tea at 3pm. Started packing my bags at 4pm so I wouldn’t be rushed later. 7pm family friendly comedy act with a rum punch, meh. Last supper was bittersweet with final goodbyes to crew and dining friends. Salad, fried chicken, and warm molten chocolate cake were comforting. Wish I could stay awake for the adult comedy show but opted to put my luggage out for pick up and get some sleep.
DAY 6: Woke up around 7am, slowly preparing to go home. Breakfast in the Elation dining room, another yummy salmon bagel. Hung out in the library reading a book while waiting for my turn to disembark with group 25, the last group. After passing through customs, waited outside for a pre-scheduled Super Shuttle to take me back to the airport. Didn’t realize the pick-up location was a block away, that was a little confusing. Otherwise it was a pleasant and uneventful trip home.
Overall I had a fabulous first cruise experience with just a few lessons learned…
I was going to use my cell phone as a clock but it didn’t keep correct time on the ship and I didn’t want to pay roaming charges so I turned it off and stowed it in the cabin safe. The iPad I brought along did keep ship time and was great for taking photos and videos but charging it was an intermittent challenge. Next time I’ll pack a watch or travel alarm to keep time.
I pre-ordered a case of water for my cabin which was kind of expensive for just water. Next cruise I will bring a case of bottled water with me onboard. Didn’t realize that was an option until I saw other people bring their own water as we boarded the ship.
Eating dinner at 8:15pm is late for me so next cruise I will book early so I can request an early dinner time, or choose a ship with more flexible dining options. I realize I could have eaten dinner buffet earlier but I really liked the Destiny dining room and menu.
Back home I'm not a big shopper but I anticipated some people on and off the ship would come on strong trying to sell souvenirs so I budgeted for a few items and tried to purchase mostly locally made. I prepared myself for sales pitches and conducted business with a smile and respect. I didn't buy anything I didn't want but I did thank people for their time and their craftsmanship. I did not negotiate for lower prices, not my style. The people I encountered seemed like genuinely good-hearted, well meaning, honest, hard working folks so I wanted to help support their economy. I don't want to pay a fortune for bottled water but I don't mind paying reasonable prices to local artisans.
Now that I’ve discovered Cruise Critic and other cruise related websites for pre-cruise research, I’m going to sign up for roll call and buy some Cruise Critic swag. And I’ll definitely take the time to learn more about the places I’m visiting before I travel again.