This was the perfect cruise for my 89 year old mother. Flying to San Juan had become just too much, so I was excited last year when I found this cruise. It exceeded our expectations and we had a fantastic time.
There were folks with canes, walkers, scooters, crutches, and wheelchairs - a wide variety of mobility issues. Normally, my mother only uses her scooter for really long distances in her retirement community. She walks everywhere else and even drives locally. However, for this trip the walker with a seat and a wheelchair were essential for certain parts of the trip.
EMBARKATION: We were traveling with a portable oxygen concentrator, 8 tanks of oxygen, and a portable walker. We arrived at Bayonne about 11 am after a quick trip up the NJ turnpike from central NJ. A young man with a wheelchair helped my mother and the stuff through security while I parked the car in a handicapped zone just steps from the embarkation tent. We were routed to priority boarding and were on one of the first buses to the ship.
The wheelchair went right onto the front of bus along with our other stuff. It was wheeled right off the other end onto the ship and into the elevator up to the Windjammer Cafe. By 12:15 we were having lunch and watching all the others come aboard. At 1 pm we were able to get in our cabin. My mother couldn't believe it was all so easy! Our room steward Aaron helped us get our electric cords squared away - he was wonderful to us for the whole trip. The coffee table was a hazard for Mom, so we put it on the balcony and gave ourselves a lot more uncluttered space in the room.
My mom can walk, but she can't walk long distances without oxygen, so cabin location was really important. We had a port balcony cabin (6612) by the aft elevators on deck 6. This gave us good access to the dining room and the cafe as well as the Promenade, guest services, skating rink, deck 14 (Dizzy's, card room, and rock wall). Only the solarium, the theater, the Chamber, and the Conference area were forward in the ship.
The departure from New York harbor was spectacular. When we went under the Verazanno Bridge, it seemed as if the ship's antenna would touch the bridge.
GETTING AROUND: The ship was busy with 3400 guests. We planned our activities carefully and allowed extra time to get to them. We just slowed down and were patient. Some areas such as the cafe could be chaotic, so we avoided them as much as possible at peak times. People were not rude - they were just inattentive. That's where Mom's portable walker with a seat was essential. It protected her from the folks not paying attention.
Knowing the layout of the ship was crucial. For example, you cannot walk through decks 2 and 3, so you must plan to use the correct bank of elevators to get to the Chamber and the conference rooms. The solarium is across the busy pool deck - not an optimal choice at most times. However, we could get there easily by walking forward on our deck and taking the elevators to deck 11.
Arriving early for any activity guaranteed a seat. For the ice shows, we arrived 45 minutes ahead with the walker seat. The handicapped folks were admitted first a half hour before the show, and we were always there for that. Afterwards, we let everyone crowd out before we left. No problem at all.
Elevators at dinner time were always packed. We frequently rode up first and then down.
On Sunday Mom went to the church service in the Sky Chapel on Deck 15. There was no elevator service; however, there was a chair lift which we finally got working with the assistance of a maintenance person. The service was packed. It's a lovely chapel, but it would have been better to schedule the service in a larger space with elevator access.
DINING: We were at a table for 8 in the Magellan Dining Room (340) for the first seating. Our tablemates were charming - folks from Maine and England who had sailed together before. Our waiters Imdat and Zimboy gave us wonderful service all week and the Maitre D' stopped by every night. Our table was close to the entrance, so Mom had no problem getting to it.
We loved the food, but I think you have to be realistic about what you like to eat and pick carefully. Mom didn't read the menu closely the first night - she saw shrimp and ordered it, but it was shrimp ravioli - not what she expected. You can try extra things and ask for other sides. The waiters were anxious for everyone to have a wonderful meal each night.
We ate breakfast and lunch in the dining room as much as possible. This was much more civilized than trying to navigate the Windjammer. I was really my mom's legs on the ship. Every morning I would go and get coffee from the Promenade cafe (before 6:30 am) or the Windjammer. Several times I took out lunch from the cafe. If we were planning to go somewhere, I would go and check it out quickly before we set off.
ACTIVITIES: We did limited activities - we really went to relax. We've been to most of these ports before, so we knew what to expect. We were up early and went to bed early. We went early to the solarium and got deck chairs in the sun under the overhang. In the afternoon I got off the ship while Mom enjoyed the balcony.. I went to the beach in Antigua, on a bus tour in Barbados, to Megan's Bay in St. Thomas, tubing in Dominica, and just shopping/exploring in St. Martin, St. Kitts, and San Juan. Mom got off in Barbados and St. Thomas to do some shopping in the port area. These were the two easiest ports for this. Barbados has buses to the terminal and St. Thomas has a tram to the shopping center. Dominica and Antigua were rough. St. Kitts and St. Martin had long piers with sparse shopping. San Juan was OK, but nothing much at the pier.
I really enjoyed the hot tub in the spa area. The ship was rolling and the hot tub water rolled with it. The locker room had a sauna and steam room as well as shower stalls. This was a wonderful alternative to the small room shower!
For the arrival at St. Martin, we went up to the Windjammer at 2 pm to watch the ship back into the dock. That was amazing! We also watched many of the early morning dockings at the other ports.
There were lots of things we didn't do - evening shows, art auctions, bingo, movies - but it was nice to know that they were there. We did enjoy "Radio Days" and Mom got a spa consultation.
CLIENTELE: There were folks of all ages on this cruise, including a reasonable number of children. There were lots of people from Canada and the UK plus other countries in Europe. Most of the Americans came from within a 10 hour drive of NY. Not having to fly was super important to most people.
WEATHER: The weather and seas were wonderful. We expected the worst for the first and last days, but were pleasantly surprised. The first full day you could be outside in a sweater. The last day people were sunning at the pool until late afternoon. We did get some tropical rain here and there, but it came and went quickly.
DEBARKATION: The ship passed under the Verazanno Bridge at 5:50 am. It was beautiful - just the beginning of sunrise. Arrival was much better than expected, but I could have been more on top of it. The staging area on deck 3 for folks needing assistance was overrun, but I was able to snag a seat for Mom in the Aquarium bar on Deck 4. We knew we would have to hang out for a while, so we were prepared for that, but we should have staked out seats earlier. The theater was not an option because it was too far a walk. Our color was the third group, so when that was next we moved to deck 3. We got a wheelchair and off we went to the bus and the terminal. The wheelchair assistant and Mom stayed to one side while I searched for our luggage (a real free for all). We got a porter and off we went to the car - yes directly to the car parked in the handicapped parking. This service was well worth tipping for and the parking was well worth paying for as well. Total elapsed time from the ship to the car - ½ hour. The car was beyond the pick up line, so we zipped out of the port and were home in an hour.
We loved this cruise and we're going again next year at the beginning of February. I heard that you can rent scooters from RC, so I'm going to look into that. I'll take fewer clothes and more books. It would be nice if RC would upgrade their TV's so you could plug in a portable DVD player; however, I'm not holding my breath on that one. The TV shows were repetitive and the volume on the ship channels was twice as loud as the cable channels.