Let me start with the things that I am absolutely sure of:
1) Always fly in at least a day early. There were so many snow delays from the northeast that almost everyone in our group was affected. 2) Pick your cruise mates carefully. There were 16 of us ranging from age 23 to 55 and cruise virgins to Platinum members. One of the reasons this cruise was so much fun is that everyone was there for the same reason - a fun vacation. We made only one rule and everyone followed it. No Whining! 3) John Heald is the best cruise director on any ocean. 4) Nothing feels better than a Hot Stone Massage. Well, almost nothing. 5) Dancing With The Stars could learn some things from assistant waiters from the Philippines. At least according to my wife. 6) Camcorders don't work very well when you take them from an air conditioned cabin to a muggy outdoors. 7) Carnival production shows have come a long way since that stupid orange couch and the stupider taxi. 8) Wash and fold service is the best Platinum perk.
We did the Eastern Caribbean from February 23rd to March 1st. and of the 14+ cruises we have been on this was hands down the best. I credit that to a combination of great company, perfect weather, great staff and a wonderful ship. Let's start with the ship.
The two most beautiful public rooms lie on opposite ends of the ship. The dEcor of the Victoriana Lounge at the forward and the Posh dining room at the aft are inspired. They are Joe Farcus at his best with seamless blends of drama and whimsy. Everything in between is hit or miss. The hits would be the Babylon Casino and the Swingtime Lounge. The misses would be Scott's Piano Bar (cartoonish) and the Sports Bar (plain vanilla).
The Habana Bar, a tribute to pre-Castro Cuba, is also a must see. The barstools and table legs are replicas of half smoked stogies, and the wall art replicates famous cigar box art. It is here that you will find the most comfortable chairs on the ship. And if you're lucky enough to be there when the jazz band is playing ... aye carumba!
Ports: San Juan - Our Cultural Stop. Because we were here for a only a few hours we made arrangements to do the Night Tales Of Old San Juan tour with Debbie Ramos. She puts on a great tour and is very passionate about both her city and it's culture. After the tour she joined us for tapas at a Spanish restaurant and, after a glass or two of sangria, shared more intimate information about the city.
St Thomas - Our Beach Stop. Took the Dollar Bus to Red Hook and ferry to St John. At Cruise Bay in St John we took a taxi to Trunk Bay for a day of snorkeling. This was a bit of a disappointment as the reef at Trunk Bay is seriously overexposed. Very little living coral, and not much in the way of fish. Trunk Bay remains a beautiful beach, but the snorkeling has decayed to the point of not worth it.
St Maarten - Our Adventure Stop. We signed on with the America's Cup Regatta. This was a highpoint of the cruise. Mind you, none of us had any sailing experience. We were divided into teams and assigned a 12 metre yacht that had actually raced in an Americas Cup. Our group was assigned to Dennis Connor's Stars and Stripes and we raced against True North from Canada. You choose whether you want a strenuous job (primary grinder) a semi strenuous job (winch wench or back stay grinder) or easy job (timekeeper or bartender). Unless you really enjoy losing the use of your arms from the shoulders down, I would suggest choosing a semi strenuous job. I'd like to say that we came in first in the Regatta, but we were beaten at the last minute by the underhanded cheating Canadians.
Okay. They won fair and square.
But there are free rum punches afterwards to help the healing process.
The Cabin: My wife and I were in cabin 1111. It is considered a "Family Cabin" on Spa Deck. (Deck 11). This is the best cabin we have ever had. The entire starboard wall was a floor to ceiling window, and it had more living space then a balcony. The convenience of being close to the Spa, Lido and Panorama decks were a big plus.
Debarkation: We have learned that it makes sense to book a later flight so as not to get caught up in the craziness of trying to get off early. This worked for us as US Customs slowed down the debarkation process to a crawl. Usually the ship is cleared by 9:45. On this cruise there were still people on the ship and waiting to get off at 10:30.
Poor John Heald was in the uncomfortable position of constantly apologizing for all the delays and not being able to do anything about it..
Final thoughts: Even though I prefer the Spirit Class to the Conquest, I'd do this cruise again in a heartbeat.. Especially if I could have the same cabin, the same and the same cruise mates, the same steward and staff...