I really enjoy reading others reviews and found them very helpful in planning our cruise. This was DH (23) and my (25) first ever cruise and my first trip out of the good ol' US of A. I'm so glad I found Cruise Critic before I booked so I thought I'd return the helpfulness. Upon our return I wrote a journal for family and friends so I will share it here as well... (Warning: It's long and thorough!)
Day 1: Saturday, May 3, 2008
LEAVING HOME: We left our house around 10AM with our 2 carry on size suitcases and 2 backpacks only so we wouldn't have to check anything. A friend of ours took us to the airport so we could leave our car at their house and save on parking fees. Our flight took about 1 hour 38 minutes.
ARRIVAL IN MIAMI: When we got off the plane I got my first introduction to MIA. Hmm wow lots of people and it didn't feel all that organized. Oh and I felt like I was in a Spanish speaking country, I maybe would've thought I was if the signs hadn't been primarily in English. Caused me to think I needed to brush up on my 2 years of high school Spanish that I'd mostly forgotten!! I compare most airports to ATL which I've through to a number of times and it always seemed pretty organized to me...MIA was not.
We followed signs to ground transportation to find the free shuttle to our hotel, La Quinta Inn Miami Airport East. We were apparently on the bottom level of the airport and after walking around only saw taxis and no hotel shuttles. Back into the airport we went so we could hear to call the hotel but we found courtesy phones to use instead of our cell. DH called and found out they run every 20-30 minutes and we would find them on level 2. Off we went to look for stairs or an elevator...again there were so many people and not really any important people around to help direct things at least that I could see. But, I was quite excited that we had made it to Miami so I didn't mind too much.
The 2nd level was even more disorganized than the first as people departing were unloading their cars...even in the regular traffic lanes. It was just a bad design with no officials around to manage it better. We saw a booth that said hotel shuttles, so we went and sat their but nobody else was there...kinda strange I thought but we did see hotel shuttles going by now, even if they weren't stopping. We finally saw one for La Quinta Inn but it was full and not the one we were staying at (there are 3 in the MIA area). We decided maybe we should walk down closer to the beginning of the entrances.
We walked quite a while and weren't really seeing any other hotel shuttle stops when we saw one for our hotel. We flagged him down just like a taxi and he stopped helped us load up and off we went. He was friendly, helpful and it was actually pretty easy. The van shuttle was almost full but another group flagged him down with 6 people for 3 seats left. We managed to fit them all in since 3 were kids so here were 13 people in a 10 seat van with no air conditioning. I was amused but the woman in the passenger seat up front was not, as she'd been waiting for a while I guess and had many suggestions for the driver. Oh well, I was in no rush and just happy to be in Miami.
LA QUINTA INN MIAMI AIRPORT EAST & BENNIGAN'S: Once we started moving, having the windows down helped circulate air and it was fine. A very short ride to the hotel, 5-10 minutes at the most I would guess. We were able to check in and got signed up for the shuttle to the port (you have to do this at check in) which left around 10AM the next morning. Hotel was nice, slightly older but seemed pretty clean to me, an average place to stay, and no complaints especially with free breakfast, free internet, free airport shuttle and free port of Miami shuttle!! So can't complain.
We just relaxed and watched TV until we were hungry for dinner. There is a Bennigan's restaurant within walking distance so we went there for dinner. DH was quite hungry so he got ribs and steak, I got ribs as well. I thought the food was really good. We headed back to the hotel and watched more TV before heading to bed. The hotel is near the end of the runway where all the planes take off so you definitely hear them but it wasn't really a bother in the evening. They stopped around 10pm I think. I was really excited so I just lay in bed for quite a while and didn't fall asleep until after 1AM.
Day 2: Sunday, May 4, 2008
GOOD MORNING MIAMI: I woke up around 5:45am, still very excited. This is very early for me! I just laid there but couldn't seem to go back to sleep, I noticed airplanes started taking off I think around 6:15am which kept me awake too. If you want to sleep in a little and you're a light sleeper this hotel may not be the best idea. I noticed from about 7:30am-8:30am it seemed like a plane was taking off every few minutes. I finally just got up at 8am even though the alarm wasn't set to go off until 8:30am. Headed out of our room and made it to the elevator before I realized I'd already left something behind...my sunglasses. Ran back down the hall to collect them then we continued on our merry way. DH turned in our room key while I grabbed some yogurt for breakfast then he went and grabbed a bagel.
SHUTTLE TO PORT OF MIAMI: We noticed a large tour bus pull up out front and several people standing outside boarded it. I didn't think much of it since it was still 10-15 minutes until 10. But, DH thought it might be our shuttle and that we should head out. When we got out there, sure enough it was our shuttle and we were amongst the last to board. The driver loaded our luggage under the bus for us according to what ship we would be on. They also asked if we would like to purchase tickets for $10 a person to shuttle us from Port of Miami to MiamiInternationalAirport when we got back. I thought that was a nice deal but we decided to decline it so we wouldn't have to wait around for a bus to fill up and a taxi would be only $4 more. On the way to the port our bus driver gave us a mini tour of Miami. We drove right through downtown Miami, it wasn't too different from any other downtown I have seen...typical bums sitting around, some dirty parts but also saw a police station, fire department and I think the Courthouse.
EMBARKATION: Our first stop, at the port, was for Carnival Victory. About 80% of the people on the bus got off here. Then we were off to the Carnival Valor terminal. The bus driver and a porter unloaded the luggage and when we got off we were given the option of taking our luggage with us or allowing the porter to take it. Since we had carryon size luggage we originally were going to keep it with us but since anything we might need was in our backpacks we decided not too. The porter gave us new and different luggage tags from the ones that came with our documents, they were similar to the ones you get at the airline counter, according to what deck our cabin would be on. Not sure if this is so that they wouldn't fall off, or it's part of a new system or what. Then we were off to the terminal.
Since it was still quite early, before 11am, we were able to walk right in with no lines. Our passports were checked and it was pointed out we needed to sign ours, oops!! We put our bags through the x-ray machines and walked through the detectors, just like the airport except slightly less stringent (you can keep your shoes on). Up we went to check in. We were given a boarding number and directed to a check in counter. They checked our passports and cruise document that showed we had filled everything out online previously. This was a very quick process. We were handed our sign & sail cards and took a seat.
I noticed on our cards we were assigned to the Lincoln Dining Room at 8:15pm. I'd requested 6:15pm but DH said it doesn't matter so I just decided to take his laid back attitude. (Also, I later found out there really is only 2 dining times now, 6pm and 8:15pm.) Not sure how long we had to wait but it was a little while, maybe around an hour anyway before they started boarding. Special people went first, there was a wedding party we saw get on. We were in group 4 so we didn't have to wait very long at all once they started calling boarding numbers. Up the escalators we went and got in line for our embarkation photo. Woohoo, our first cruise ever has begun!
EXPLORATION: Into the ship we went and had our sign & sail swiped and picture taken, I assume for identification when they swipe your card as you leave and board the ship at ports as best as I could tell. Now the wonderment begins. We entered on deck 3 into the main lobby. I think my eyes were as big as saucers and I had a huge smile on my face. We had made it! My first impressions were something like this "wow it's so nice", "hmm the lobby is slightly smaller than I had imagined", "wow but it's like the photos I'd seen on cruise critic", "the ceilings are kinda low (not real low just lower than say a normal building but this is a ship)", "everything is so shiny", etc!! I was very, very excited. I didn't know where to turn or what to do so I figured one foot in front of the other was a good start!
I noticed to our left was the Lincoln Dining Room so I went to investigate as this would be the dining room we would be eating in. My picture taking begun! There were not table numbers up yet but that was ok. Off to explore more. We wandered back out to the lobby and saw a table setup advertising Scarlett's and since we decided we wanted to try it on the night we were in St Thomas we decided to give the bored looking girl something to do. She signed us up for 8:30pm. This was perfect since we had to be back on board by 7:30pm that evening anyway. More exploring...discovered the purser's desk (a line already!), the Ivanhoe Theater, the photo gallery, the casino, the sushi bar, the arcade, several lounges in which we encountered 2 weddings!
FISH & CHIPS: We were hungry so decided we should perhaps venture up to Lido to eat. I had my tummy set on fish & chips especially since I'd heard of their deliciousness and that they usually aren't busy on the first few days. This was true and I think we were their first customers of our cruise. Very yummy and they had a smile and were happy to serve us. I'm still quite giddy at this point, so much to take in and to see!! After lunch we walked outside and saw all of the outdoor decks until around 1:30pm.
CABIN CONFUSION: The cabins were closed off until this point. We were on the Empress Deck in cabin 7301. All the doors were open so we got to peak in some of the suites that were across from our inside cabin. We walked in, looked around, it was small but totally enough room for us I thought. Especially the bathroom, it's quite small but I was highly impressed with the functionality and use of space, it was well designed I thought. DH was renting dress shoes from the Formality Shop so he didn't have to take up precious space with them in our carry on luggage and the pickup notice was in our room.
While I was sitting there taking it all in, I had a brief moment of panic. I noticed my sail & sign said Folio: 6510. I couldn't figure out why our cabin number was not on our card so I assumed that must be it. I asked DH if his was the same and he said yes. Well while I'm panicking thinking we might be in someone else's cabin and confused why it would at the same time have a note for DH about picking up shoes I notice his sail and sign actually has a different folio number (after he told me it was the same as mine). At that point I realized it couldn't be the cabin number. (BTW: we eventually figured out it was your account number so anything you bought with your card would show up under this number which you could look up on your cabin tv - oh and you can only look up people associated with your cabin, we tried other numbers but it wouldn't show them). Our luggage hadn't shown up yet.
MUSTER (not mustard) DRILL: We went back up top to enjoy the scenery until time to debark. We called various family members to inform them we were on the ship and that they should be jealous haha! Shortly thereafter it was time for the muster drill. We went to our cabin got our VERY fluorescent orange life jackets and off we went to our station deck 4. We were some of the first to arrive so we ended up in the back against the ship. This was good and bad - bad because it got very warm with so many bodies and kinda claustrophobic but was good because we could lean against the wall which felt cool. I learned 7 short blasts followed by a long blast of the horn is bad news.
CABIN STEWARD: After the muster drill, we took our life jackets back to our cabin and there was a very large suitcase in our room that was very much not ours. As I started to take the suitcase out into the hall our room steward showed up and I explained it wasn't our suitcase and he took it out and I started to shut the door not realizing who he was haha! He came in and introduced himself as Elsworth from Belize and he explained his duties and who his assistant was and so forth. Our cabin stewards were two very nice men who did a very nice job with our cabin all week.
SAIL AWAY: We quickly made our way up to the top of the ship to watch us sail away from the Port of Miami. There's truly some beautiful views from a high vantage point like that on a cruise ship. We were joined by many other picture takers enjoying the view as we set sail for the Bahamas. It was also at this point we made an interesting discovery of a certain group on board that would be known and enjoyed by most. The group I believe was called "Naturally Santa". They were santas that had natural beards and there were according to rumor I overheard there were 36 in all but the most I ever saw together at once were 12.
SUSHI: Since we had a late dinner there would be a need for something to eat between lunch and dinner. So we began our typical evening snack of sushi sometime between 5 and 6 to tide us over and it seemed to work quite nicely.
UNPACKING & THE UNSAFE SAFE: We then returned to our cabin to check on our luggage to see if we would be able to change for dinner and sure enough they had both arrived. Also, our cabin steward let us know he had left in our room our tickets for our excursion the next morning. I decided this was as good a time as any to unpack and there was more than ample places to put clothing and any other random items like electronics.
We also put the safe to use and immediately discovered we were inept at using it. It's actually very straightforward to use, we were just a bit incompetent at that moment haha! You slide any card with a magnetic strip through it and it locks, to unlock you simply slide the same card you locked it with. So you can actually use a different card every time, to unlock you just have to the same one you locked it with. Well there's also a note that say NOT to use your sail & sign. DH got out a gift card that had like $2 left on it and decided to use that, he sat it down next to my sail & sign and next thing I know he has picked up my sail & sign and had locked the safe with it! We immediately unlocked the safe and it opened without a problem. But, we noticed there was a note on the safe saying if you use your sail & sign it will deactivate it or something like that. At this point we thought we had used his sail & sign so I wasn't too mad but then I picked it up and saw that it was mine so I was not pleased. We went down to the Purser's Desk and they were confused what the problem was because we didn't realize you could use a different card each time and because we unlocked right after we locked it there really wasn't a problem at all. Haha live and learn. The trip to the Purser's Desk was worthwhile because we did end up getting a pocket sized map of the ship. We never really used it as we just used the maps that were located at the elevators but they make nice souvenirs.
DINNER & WELCOME ABOARD SHOW & TOWEL ANIMAL: Off to our first dinner in the Lincoln Dining Room. We find that we are at a table for 8 and one couple is already there. They are from North Carolina as well so that was pretty cool. Another couple showed up shortly and they ended up bonding with the NC couple as they were similar in age (late 30s, early 40s). The final couple didn't show up so DH and I mostly talked to each other but that was fine with us as we aren't the most social anyway.
After dinner we went to the Welcome Aboard and Comedy Show. We really enjoyed the shows and comedians all week. Afterwards we were tired and knew we had an early morning ahead of us so off we went to our cabin where we discovered our first towel animal, a seal! We didn't know it was a seal until the last day of the cruise. We really weren't sure what it was supposed to be but thought it resembled something else not too appropriate. After learning that it was a seal it made much more sense.
Day 3: Monday, May 5, 2008
WE CAN'T FIND NASSAU: We hung a request for room service breakfast on our door the previous night and they came 5 minutes before the time I specified (7am - also the time we arrived in port) which was fine and was a very nice way to wake up. We turned on the TV to the channel where you can see a view from the front of the ship and we could see that we were in Nassau. This was actually the only morning I felt shaking from the engines (I guess) as we came to a stop in port.
We were supposed to meet our excursion group on the pier at 7:45am and even though I'd tried to prepare everything we would need the night before I still ended up feeling harried as this was our first ever port of call. We went down to deck 3 because that was where we had boarded the ship the previous day but it was quite apparent that's not how you got off the ship in a port of call. We tried looking out the windows and couldn't figure it out. I saw a crew member passing by and asked for directions (very helpful even though she seemed in rush to get somewhere) and found out you exit the ship at ports on deck 0! They swipe your card and once on the gangway photographers take a photo of your group and at this port you get an individual photo with a guy dressed up with dreads and an oversized red, yellow, and green beanie.
WATER TAXI: We saw a group standing around a person with a sign for Dolphin Encounter so we approached them and they asked for our tickets and gave us wristbands. We were to leave at 8am but it was a little after that time before we did. We walked through the port to another dock where a ferry was waiting to take us to Blue Lagoon Island where Dolphin Encounters was located. On the ferry ride over we made a stop at Paradise Island to pickup up other passengers and some Dolphin Encounters employees. What stood out the most to me on the ferry ride was the water! It was the most beautiful turquoise blues and so clear you could see to the bottom even when it got what I'm sure was quite deep.
WELCOME TO DOLPHIN ENCOUNTERS: After we got off the ferry we were split into 2 groups, one doing the swim and the other doing the encounter only. We were taken to a classroom type setting and sat on benches while we learned about a dolphin's anatomy, how they live etc to prepare us. It was very interesting and informative. Most dolphins in the wild live approximately 25 years, the oldest at Dolphin Encounters was 41 years old and she was pregnant!! Then we were given a quick restroom break and told to change into our swim attire. Free lockers were available to store our things. We were also given life jackets and given the option of wearing a wetsuit. I think I was the only one that chose too but I knew even though the air was warm I would most likely get cold in the water after a short bit and I was right.
SWIMMING WITH DOLPHINS: We were led down to a floating platform and instructed to sit at the edge and wait. This was so cool as the dolphins are just as curious of you as you are of them and kept surfacing inches from the platform and checking you out, it was so neat!
The 10 in our group (5 young couples, 2 honeymooners, the rest on 1 or 2 years anniversaries!) and we got down in the water and waited in a line several feet away from the platform. Thank goodness for the wetsuit as the water was a bit chilly but we quickly adjusted. The trainers had the dolphins swim by our line and we were allowed to touch them. Their skin is very smooth but they do shed a layer like every 2 hours or something incredibly quick like that. Then they brought one couple forward at a time and we each had a dolphin which we got to hug, kiss (both cheek and lips), feed a fish which the dolphin brought to you in their mouth first, and dance with. So, so, very cool, neat, awesome, not really enough words to describe it.
Once everyone had a chance to do this we got back on the platform and then were sent out into the water one at a time. We floated belly down with feet extended shoulder width apart behind us. Then 2 dolphins swam up behind and pushed on the back of your feet. You went zooming across the water and got pushed up and out. So, so, so very much fun!!! Once everybody did this the dolphins swam past the platform waving bye and splashing us. Overall this was such an awesome experience and though a bit expensive it was definitely worth every bit of it.
EXPLORING DOLPHIN ENCOUNTERS: We were allowed to change into dry clothes, watch the DVD of our experience and look at the photos they had taken. We decided to definitely purchase the photos as they turned out great except one where DH blinked! We also ended up deciding to purchase the expensive DVD because it is an experience that you remember was awesome but it can be hard to remember the details so this way you can relive it. There was still some time left so we were able to explore the rest of the facility to observe the other dolphins, a new sea lion encounter area that's being built and a very large sea turtle named Lucky. The habitat is a natural lagoon (you would see fish swimming through) where they've altered very little and it is being maintained very well. I would love to come back and just explore the facility more, it's not that large but it's just really a great observation experience.
NASSAU, BAHAMAS: The ferry took us back to Nassau and dropped us off in front of the straw market (large white tent with MANY vendors selling mostly straw bags and wood carvings. As soon as we stepped off the ferry, local women started calling out to you wanting to braid your hair. I just avoided eye contact and if they were extra persistent I said no thank you and that seemed to appease them. We walked around some of the shopping areas of Nassau. It's what I would describe as a typical island town. I thought it was nice in a beachy kind of way. On the way back to the ship we were accosted by more locals wanting to give us a horse and carriage tour or braid hair which to one I replied I did not but DH did (he was bald).
RELAXING AFTERNOON: Back on board we observed the Disney Wonder cruise ship parked next to us and took in the view of Nassau from higher up as we left the port.
We ate lunch and laid out in the sun reading. We found a nice place on deck 10 port side where it was quieter, non-smoking and usually not totally packed. So you had the choice of either staying in the sun or in the shade since deck 11 hung over halfway. We moved back and forth as we got either too hot or cold so it worked out quite nicely for us. Also it was close to the entrance on the upper deck of Rosie's restaurant so we could get free drinks (tea, lemonade, apple juice, fruit punch, or water). So this was our relaxation location for the rest of the week.
After a while we decided to take a shower and get a nap since we were tired from the early start and activity of the morning. At this point I noticed I was feeling a little shaky and thought I might be dehydrated so decided to become conscious of drinking more water.
SEASICK: After the nap I still didn't really feel much better but got ready for dinner anyway as it was the Captain's Cocktail Party (I really wanted to meet him) and it was also the first Formal Night. I was pretty much ready to go but still felt pretty shaky. Then I got hot (almost sweating) so I sat down on the bed and sent DH to get me some bread or crackers. He brought back a roll and some pineapple which I ate.
I still thought I just might be dehydrated so I drank more water. Then I realized I'd forgotten to take my ginger that morning (I had been taking one at breakfast and one at dinner the past few days and hadn't had any problems from Miami to Nassau) so I took that and decided to also take a Bonine just in case it was seasickness.
Shortly after I started feeling cold so I decided to take my dress off and crawled into bed. I was now missing the Captains Cocktail Party and I was sad but just didn't feel like going anywhere AT ALL. My tummy also started getting upset and I had to get up to pee often since I drank lots of water so I thought for sure I was going to get sick.
I never actually got sick, thank goodness, and my tummy seemed to settle down which I can only guess was because of the meds and small bit of food. DH was not pleased to be missing dinner but since I crawled into bed he decided to just join me because he didn't feel like venturing out alone so we both went to sleep. I did make feeble attempts to tell him to go eat at least on Lido Deck or watch the show but we both ended up sleeping for about 13 hours that night.
SHIP MOVEMENT: The ship was actually moving around a lot more after we left the Bahamas even though the waves weren't large by any means. But the waves were bigger than they had been from Miami to the Bahamas. We were also moving at top speed, 21 knots. The slight rocking motion of the ship didn't bother me mentally since I knew it was a ship and it would move so I highly doubt in my case it was a psychological thing, though I can definitely see how you could talk yourself into getting seasick. Interestingly enough DH never had a problem, but he was surprised at how much we did move around considering how big the ship was and the waves weren't that big.
Day 4: Tuesday, May 6, 2008
RECOVERY: When I finally woke up around 9 or so I felt better and was glad it was a sea day so I would have time to recover. We went up to Lido for breakfast and I still felt weak but tummy was fine and I was hungry. Dizzy was about the best way to describe how I felt. I couldn't decide if it was the ship that was still moving a lot or if my equilibrium was just screwy.
After I ate I started to feel better so I went to listen to the shopping talk since all it required was sitting and I still felt kinda weak. I did learn that supposedly the stabilizers were deployed but I'd read before the cruise that they don't deploy them at top speed so I kinda think they weren't because of the movement. Eventually I just left when I got too bored and went to find DH outside on deck 10 reading a book.
The breeze outside really seemed to help me quite a bit, guess there's something to be said for fresh air. We decided to go eat lunch and I ended up talking to another woman next to me in line at the Mongolian Station. She actually experienced the same thing as me the previous evening so it wasn't until this point it dawned on me that it was probably seasickness I experienced. Throughout the rest of the day I heard other people mentioning the same thing happened to them as well.
GAMES: After lunch I was feeling much closer to normal but still just not quite all the way there yet. DH was getting bored and wanted to play mini golf so I thought I might be ok to try that. I was fine but wow was it windy up there underneath the funnel, it's probably one of the highest points you are allowed on the ship. Sometimes the ball just wouldn't stay put so it made playing interesting. This also seemed to entertain DH.
We then decided to go down to the arcade on deck 5 and he played several games: Initial D racing game, a couple shooting games (I joined him on one but didn't last long, haha), and a motorcycle game so now he was having fun again, yay!
TAKE YOUR MEDS: He asked me if we were going to dinner that evening and I said I planned on it. I still felt bad that he missed out on the lobster the night before but I told him at least he didn't have to stay dressed up and we were going to Scarlett's the next night so he could eat lobster then. It was probably about dinner time when I actually felt pretty much normal again.
My entire seasick experience started and was over in about 24 hours which was nice. I still don't know if it was the missed ginger or I just needed something stronger as I took both from then on out. So take your meds is the moral of my story and you'll have no problem!
SEASIDE THEATER: DH wanted to watch Transformers on the big screen on Lido deck so we picked up some sushi before heading up there. It's fun watching movies out there, kinda like an outdoor theater. There were quite a few people watching too so I'm glad we didn't arrive late.
DINNER: At dinner the final couple at our table showed up and they were one of the couples from our dolphin swim! They were our age (mid 20s) so we enjoyed eating with them the rest of the nights. During dessert the wait staff did a conga line dance through the dining room to the "Ole, Ole, Ole" song, not sure what is the real title. They encouraged you to join but as this was my first experience of such an event we chose to watch and take pictures.
JUGGLER/COMEDIAN & TOWEL ANIMALS: After dinner we watched people dancing in the lobby before it was time for the show.
The show was a juggler and a comedian. The juggler had some entertaining skills and was very fun to watch. He had some unique tricks. I was impressed by the various comedians each night, well I think there were 3 total but I enjoyed them all as they all made me laugh.
After the show we headed back to our cabin to get some sleep and prepare for St Thomas. Tonight we had 2 towel animals. I think they also included the one we missed the night before which was really nice of them, a sting ray and a pig. The towel animals in general are just really cool and a nice touch I think.
Day 5: Wednesday, May 7, 2008
ST THOMAS & A PIRATE: We ordered room service breakfast the night before and once again they came 5 minutes prior to the time I gave them of 8:15am. They are quite efficient! We were to dock at 9am. Again we turned on the TV to see where we were. Love being able to do this! Since we had gone out of the U.S. when we went to the Bahamas and St Thomas is a U.S. territory we had to go through immigration before we could exit the ship. Immigration consisted of going to the disco, One Small Step, getting your sail & sign swiped and an immigration official glanced at your passport. People on early excursions got to go first around 9:30am, I think, then they called for the rest of us at 9:45 and it went very quickly.
I felt better debarking this time since I knew a little better what we were doing. Our excursion wasn't until noon so we weren't in a hurry but still got off the ship by a little after 10am. The photographers took our group photo again and an individual photo with a woman dressed as a pirate. DH's pirate photo turned out really nice so he ended up buying it. Maybe he just thought she was hot, I dunno haha, but it was a good picture.
WE WANT A TAXI: We wandered through the port and followed signs to the taxis. We had considered renting a car but in hindsight I'm really glad we didn't. Maybe another time we will. People here drive a bit crazy, the roads are small as well as hilly and they drive on the left side so some intersections were a bit confusing because they weren't necessarily 4 way stops in nice pretty right angles.
Once we got to the taxi dispatch we were confused what to do next and just stood there looking around. The taxis here are mostly open air truck/van vehicles with bench seats in the back so they can carry several people at once. After standing around and observing other people, for a short bit, we noticed official looking people in blue shirts directing people to taxis. I guess they were taxi dispatchers. So we found one and told them where we wanted to go. They either tell you to stand in a group or quickly look around and point to a taxi to get on. This was a new and interesting experience. It works very well because they group people in a taxi going to similar locations.
We ended up running after a taxi that a dispatch woman flagged down for us that was about to leave the port. We got to ride up front with the taxi driver since the back was full and he gave everyone a tour pointing out places on the northeast part of the island that we were driving through on our way to the east end of St Thomas. The taxis like to beep at each other, as they pass, in greeting I suppose. The first stop was at Coki Beach/Coral World. Then it was our stop at Wyndham Sugar Bay Resort, he was nice enough to take us to the top of the hill where the main lobby was located. He then took the rest on to Red Hook to go to St John I'm guessing since that's where a ferry departs from.
WYNDHAM SUGAR BAY RESORT & SPA: We walked around the lobby as our directions said that from the lobby we'd see signs to the pool, beach and water sports center. Well you don't go into the lobby as the map is outside where the taxi dropped us off. Oh well it was a nice lobby. The bellhop noticed us looking at the map and asked to help us and directed us where to go. They have a shuttle for the lazy people but we figured it was downhill and we were early so why not walk.
You walk partway through some of the hotel buildings, there are several buildings built on the side of the hill, then down a wooden staircase with tropical vegetation all around. There are really some beautiful views of the nearby hills, pool, and ocean.
You walk across a bridge over the pool and down into the pool area. We noticed the water sports center on our left which is just a little hut but decided to explore first since we were early. We walked along the beach, around the pools and waterfalls. We saw 2 ducks actually swimming in the pool!
We found a fitness path near a pond behind the pool area. We saw many more ducks including babies, other waterfowl, and lots of iguanas in this area. It's pretty cool to watch these creatures. We planned to eat lunch before our excursion but I don't think the grill opened until 11:30 or 12 so we had to wait.
Checking in at the water sports hut was quite simple, the lady wanted to see our confirmation email which all I think she wanted to see was how much money we owed them. We paid and she sent us to the hut next to her to collect our snorkel equipment. So far everyone we'd encountered at the resort was VERY friendly and glad to help if you had questions or needed something. Not sure if it was a customer service thing or island culture or both, either way it was much appreciated. I had contacted Island Marketing ahead of time and asked if there would be a place for us to store things and they said the water sports hut would keep it for us. They allowed us to store our backpack with cameras, money, id, etc with them (inside on the floor haha). Really I think I would've felt safe leaving it under the umbrella table near the boats and jet skis down by the water as well. But, this way we knew someone was with it at all times so that was nice.
The previous jet ski excursion was running a little late but that was ok as we found a hammock in the shade on the beach to lounge in until they showed up. Can a vacation get much better than this!?
WILD JET SKI RIDE #1: Our Jet Ski group consisted of 3 jet skis: 1 for the guide, 1 for DH and me and 1 for another couple so we were a small group of only 5. I let DH drive as he had a small amount of experience and I had none. This was good as the guide didn't give any guidance up front, he just motioned for us to follow him.
Off he went at high speed bouncing over waves. The guide had the luxury of standing to absorb the bounce of the waves but since there were 2 of us we had to sit. Wow was I grateful I wasn't the one driving. DH later said he was glad I wasn't because it wasn't easy out there. After we left our somewhat calm inlet the waves got to around 3-4' in the open water. The guide never really slowed down so I hung onto DH for dear life.
I was quite glad to have on sunglasses as they protected my eyes from the wind and water. We were going fast enough that I wasn't really afraid of losing them as they were plastered to my face by the wind. I kept trying to comment on things to DH but this only resulted in my teeth slamming into the inside of my bottom lip which hurt!
With all that said it was actually VERY fun and quite the adrenaline rush! We jet skied to Christmas Cove at St James Island. The water was calm here and our guide anchored us a little ways from the shore as watercraft are not allowed to get to close to shore due to the fragile coral.
CHRISTMAS COVE SNORKELING: Once anchored our guide spoke to us. I wouldn't say that he was unfriendly because he was quite nice and answered any questions you asked him. He just seemed like he was similar to DH, just doesn't say much unless it's worth saying. He told us to meet back in 45 minutes and pointed out the locations where we would see the most underwater. While we snorkeled, he just chilled on his Jet Ski and called people.
When I first looked under the water there wasn't much to see but some small seaweed covering on the bottom. I panicked at first with the snorkel gear because it kinda freaked me out having to breathe through a tube. I had played around in a swimming pool when I was younger with snorkel equipment but that was a long time ago. I did quickly figure it out and was fine, being distracted by the cool things to see underwater probably helped. When I saw my first fish I was so very excited to see it. It wasn't very big but I just thought it was cool. I pointed at it and tried to talk to DH through the snorkel tube. Haha words don't come across very clear when spoken through a snorkel tube but we usually figured out what each other was trying to say.
We made it over to an outcropping of rock near the shore where there was some brain coral, that's about the only kind of coral I could identify so I was quite excited. It really is a neat world under the sea especially in such clear water. We then swam out to a tiny island (rock outcropping?) not too far from where we our jet ski's were anchored. There was a lot more coral and fish here. We saw needle nosed fish near the surface, schools of small fish, 3 squid, and DH also saw an eel tail hanging out under a rock. On the way back to the Jet Ski's we saw a couple of sting ray gliding along the bottom. I thoroughly enjoyed this snorkeling experience. It's really great exercise and we had sore muscles the next day!
Oh and don't forget sunscreen in places like your shoulders, your upper legs near your swimsuit ladies and most especially your ears. My ears got burnt BAD and it was quite painful. (Note: It's a month later and I still have a tiny bit of peeling, they've peeled about 3-4 times!! But no other ill effects.) This was my first real sunburn so to make it about halfway through the cruise before getting one I felt pretty good about that. Perhaps SPF 55 had something to do with that haha! Before we left my sister teased me I wouldn't get a tan but I did and I didn't get burnt as quickly so it all worked out in the end. The sun is definitely more intense the closer you get to the equator.
WILD JET SKI RIDE #2: I think our guide's mantra was jet ski as fast as you can or don't jet ski at all. Haha so off we went again at high speeds. I think the highest we clocked it on the speedometer was 55 km/h, it didn't do mph but we later converted that to be about 35mph. After we left Christmas Cove we circled St James Island which is uninhabited and had a lot of cactus growing on it which I thought was interesting. Once we hit open water the waves were probably 5-6', significantly larger than on our way out. Again thank goodness DH was driving.
I was more prepared for the wild experience this time and really enjoyed the exhilarating trip back. When we got back to the resort's beach, the guide was happy to take our photo on the Jet Ski at our request. All in all I thought it was an awesomely fun experience and VERY enjoyable.
IGUANA GRILL: The appropriately named Iguana Grill was open when we got back and we were quite hungry so we both ordered an $11 fish sandwich with fries. A bit expensive but it was very good so we didn't mind so much. Most of the buildings, restaurant and bars are open air with no air conditioning so there were a variety of birds large and small wondering through and they kept us entertained.
We decided we really liked the resort so decided to stay and enjoy it instead of taking a taxi to Mountain Top which I'm sure was a great view since the day was so clear. But, it wasn't really on the way back to the port and we liked the idea of relaxing. DH enjoyed playing around in the pool, especially the waterfalls while I just sat poolside reading. A lady came around with pieces of fruit on toothpicks for guests so that was quite nice! We both felt really relaxed staying there and just enjoyed the atmosphere.
LIVING THE RESORT LIFE: We didn't have to be back on board until 7:30pm but we decided to head back around 4:30pm. From the hotel entrance it was very easy to get a taxi back with the help of the bellhop. We were able to get in an air conditioned taxi van. This taxi driver drove like our Jet Ski guide rode the waves. DH said he tripled the speed limit at one point.
We drove along the southeastern part of the island through Red Hook on the way back to Havensight Dock. He took 4 passengers to a nearby resort then it was just us the rest of the way. About halfway there I decided to put my seatbelt on, he was driving just a bit too crazy for me and I was getting bounced around. We had to make a quick pit stop to fill up on gas and let me tell you, I won't complain as much about our gas prices as there's were around $1 more than ours!! When we got closer to the port a local hailed the taxi and he wanted to go to the port as well so that made me feel better since I knew the taxis liked to have a full load and he had to travel a fair distance to take just the two of us back. Back on board we took some panoramic photos and watched the sun start to set.
We headed to our cabin to take showers and get ready for our dinner at Scarlett's Supper Club. Since Scarlett's is on deck 10 and we were ready a bit early we wondered around outside, took pictures, watched us sail away and enjoyed the lights on the hills of St Thomas. St Thomas is really beautiful at night.
SCARLETT'S SUPPER CLUB: After a long day of activity and exploration we were hungry enough to consume a large meal, we hoped. Scarlett's was definitely one of the nicest restaurants I have ever eaten at. They pull out your chair, put your napkin in your lap, and things randomly appear/disappear from the table as you may or may not need them. It was what I would call a 4.5 course meal. With no prices on the menu and only the $30/person cover charge I felt I could freely order anything without feeling conscious about affordability. Before we ordered they brought out a cart to show us the different cuts of meat.
Shortly after we ordered out came a small taste of food that we were told was "compliments of the chef." I got a small cup of asparagus vichyssoise and DH got shrimp something or other. So this was our first half of a course.
Next, out came our appetizers/starters. I tried escargot for the first time and it was prepared quite deliciously and DH tried beef carpaccio in which the beef is raw…it was interesting, not bad but I wasn't a fan of the texture.
For the next course, we both ordered the same spinach salad with exotic mushrooms.
We also ordered the same main course of surf and turf. It included a 4 oz filet mignon, half a lobster tail, a pumpkin ravioli, and asparagus in phyllo dough. So delicious!!
Then for dessert I ordered a chocolate ensemble and DH got an apple tart. I felt like I needed a wheelchair to get me out but it was nice the meal was stretched over 2 hours and really the portions were of a good size, in other words not large.
GOOD NIGHT ST THOMAS:We decided to skip the show tonight, which was the Motown Sounds of Marcus Anthony. Since our dinner finished around the same time the show started plus we were just really tired after a long day. When we got back to our room, waiting for us was a frog towel animal.
Day 6: Thursday, May 8, 2008
GOOD MORNING ST MAARTEN: Today was our last port of call and it was in St Maarten. This is an interesting island because it's actually occupied by 2 countries, the southern half is the Dutch side spelled Saint Maarten and the northern half is the French side spelled Saint Martin. We docked around 7am but since we had no excursions planned we decided to get up a little later. As we did most mornings we turned on the TV to see what was outside, it was really neat to be able to do this from your cabin. We ate breakfast at Rosie's and enjoyed the view before exiting the ship.
Our plan of action was to shop for souvenirs/gifts in Phillipsburg, the capital city of St Maarten, then later to catch a taxi to Maho Beach to see airplanes land at Princess Juliana International Airport. This airport is known for it's landings and take offs because the runway is so near to the beach that it looks like the airplane is going to land ON the beach. Search YouTube for videos and you'll see…it's actually quite impressive.
PHILLIPSBURG SHOPPING: The port at St Maarten was actually the nicest and cleanest one we had been too. You can take a taxi, water taxi or walk to Phillipsburg. Since it was only a 15 minute walk we decided to do that. There were signs to guide you but at one point it's slightly confusing because you're led into a parking lot. There are no more signs at this point but you can see the shops across a small bridge so we headed off in that direction and followed another couple that seemed to know where they were going. We walked along the shops facing the beach and people would come right up to you trying to sell you things. DH totally ignored them but I couldn't find it in myself to be rude so if they were persistent I at least told them no thank you and that appeased most.
We then explored the main shopping street called Front Street. It's a very small cobblestone street with tons of shops crammed right up next to each other. Mostly jewelry and some electronic shops, it was hard to find a good ol' souvenir shop. We went into a Swarovski store as I really enjoy their crystal creations. In Del Sol we found t-shirts for several people including myself, these shirts are white while indoors and turn colors when in the sunlight or UV light in general. Outside of one of the del sol shops was a local weaving baskets out of some palm plant so we bought one for $15. Usually you can get prices lowered but we figured it was a good deal and didn't feel like haggling for a price. At least he was a local, most of the shops are owned by Indians, the ones from India that is.
We also found a shop called the Yoda Guy. This is owned by the gentleman that helped create Yoda for the Star Wars movies. He has a LOT of paraphernalia, artwork, copies of scripts from the original movies. For any Star Wars fans it's really neat plus the gentleman is there and you can talk to him. He gave us a discount on some artwork since we were cruise ship passengers. He signed and dedicated the piece we decided to buy for my Dad, who is a big Star Wars fan. It wasn't a t-shirt like most souvenirs we got but hey I thought it was pretty cool and DH really liked it too and thought he got the best gift we bought for anyone haha.
We then explored Back Street which kinda got a little shady looking. We bought a couple of Gatorades from a street vendor, they looked like locals and I hoped that since the bottles were sealed they were safe to drink. (As of today I can report no ill effects.) I got a pink flavor without a label which I assumed from the taste was guava berry or something native like that, DH's was orange and it had the label.
We were quite hot, tired and hungry by this point but I wanted to find a well known Belgian chocolate shop which was on Old Street. I took us a little bit to find it but unfortunately wasn't really impressed with it but I didn't try any chocolate either. We were quite tired from walking a lot but we decided to walk back to the ship anyway even though we still needed a couple more gifts. Exercise is good for you! Around the port it was really windy for some reason and I kept having troubles keeping my hat on my head and holding onto all my other things. DH was amused but I was not.
MAHO TAXI OR LACK THEREOF: We dropped off our purchases in our cabin and went to Rosie's on Lido to eat lunch. Oh, DH liked to call the Lido deck the "eat-o" deck since that's where the food was.
We exited the ship and headed to for the taxi stand to get a ride to Maho. We got to the taxi dispatcher at about 2pm and didn't have to be back on board our ship until 5:30pm. Well, we told him where we wanted to go and he turned to the taxi drivers sitting there waiting for business (3-4 of them) and NONE of them wanted to take us. They flat out refused business though there obviously was no other business around to choose from as the taxi stand was empty of customers and just empty taxis. Since it was later in the day the best they could hope for from the cruise port would be people wanting to go into town for like $4. We said we only wanted to go for a short time, an hour or less so we would be back in plenty of time. I had heard on board it was only a 20 minute cab ride to get there.
After the dispatcher couldn't convince any of the drivers to take us, to which I was kinda in shock about. He informed us that later in the afternoon the traffic gets terribly bad and it could take 1.5 hours to get back from Maho and maybe around an hour to get us there. Well that would get us back to the port right at the latest time we needed to be back on board. So we said ok and walked away. I tried not to let it show but I was extremely disappointed as this meant all I would get to experience of St Maarten was Phillipsburg and whatever I could see from the top decks of the ship. We did find the rest of the gifts we wanted in the port shops before going back on board.
(Note: Upon returning I read more about this on the Cruise Critic St Maarten port board. So if anyone plans to do what we wanted to do make sure you read up about traffic and such on that board before going.)
ENJOYING SHIP TOP AMENITIES: Since it was still early, 3 hours left in port, and not too many people on board the ship, we were able to: go down the waterslide, play in the pool, and hot tub for a while. We then took a shower and went to get sushi and brought that up to the big screen so we could watch License to Wed. So we both had gotten to enjoy a movie we each wanted to see (Transformers and now License to Wed) and saw them together, which is uncommon for us.
DINNER, SHOW, & TOWEL ANIMAL: At dinner, I learned from the newlyweds at our table that the taxi people may have been partly correct about the traffic situation. They had gone on an excursion with the ship and said there was a lot of traffic coming back and it probably would have taken maybe an hour at most but the traffic to Maho was not that bad and shouldn't have taken an hour. Oh well, we tried, guess we should've left earlier. I'm just in disbelief that they flat out refused business since $40-$50 would've been more than the $0 they were getting by sitting and waiting for nothing.
Anyway, we went to the comedian show (Allyn Ball) after dinner and he was entertaining. DH especially enjoyed him since he made bald jokes and was politically incorrect about things. Tonight was the deck party and they had the Deck Party/Mexican Buffet so we went to check it out and take pictures before heading back to our cabin.
Tonight's towel animal was a hippo chilling out well stretched out, at least that's what we decided he was.
Day 7: Friday, May 9, 2008
BRUNCH: Today's a day at sea, so this means we slept in, late, really late, haha it's vacation!! It was almost noon by the time I woke up and I was hungry so I got up. DH, on the other hand, was still cutting them Z's and not showing any movement. So I got dressed and went up to Lido to get breakfast except I went when they were switching from breakfast to lunch food and had to wait about 10 minutes.
I decided on fish and chips again which are so yummy but greasy which I found out later wasn't the best idea. After eating I went to get DH and he was attempting to move around now. Of course, now he wanted to go eat so I went with him. My tummy wasn't too pleased with the grease so I decided to eat something healthier (peaches and cottage cheese) to try and settle it and that seemed to work.
INDOOR ENTERTAINMENT: After brunch, we decided we would try to stay inside for the day so we could both recover from our sunburns. But, before we could stay inside we had to watch the Men's Hairy Chest Competition. DH wanted to know when the Women's competition would be since this one specified men. We did manage to find a shady spot next to the DJ to watch. The Santa's ruled this competition and won it.
Now we really did stay inside. We went down to the Ivanhoe Theater and ended up participating in and watching games for the next few hours. First it was the Famous Faces game which they showed 40 faces of famous people and you had to guess as many as you could. DH got 12 and I got 20. The winners got 39 correct but they were a newlywed couple that worked together, I think we could've gotten a lot more if we had worked together. Winners of games get a plastic ship on a stick that kinda looks like a small trophy.
Next was the love, sex, and marriage game which started with a LOT of people on stage. We just observed but they asked a question, usually based on statistics, with two answers and you picked which side of the stage to stand on that corresponded with the correct answer. If you were wrong you were out until there was one left.
Then there was the marriage game, they pick 3 couples out of the audience, newlyweds, middle of the roader's and the longest married couple. The longest married couple actually turned out to be 2 couples that had been married for 61 years!! Since this was rather rare, Chris, the cruise director, asked the newlyweds to sit out in honor of them but they still got a free bottle of champagne. On stage each couple sat back to back and given a pad of paper and a writing utensil. The host then asked ten questions each had to answer about their spouse. At the end, they compared answers and got points if they matched. Most answers were quite amusing and some a bit risqué. The last question got the audience rolling and was a perfect way to end the game. Chris asked the wife, "if your husband had 24 hours to live and was on a deserted island, would he rather spend it with a missionary or hooker?" The middle-of-the-roader's wife said hooker and the husband confirmed. The first set of 61-yearers wife said hooker and he confirmed. Then the last set of 61-yearers the wife said missionary and the husband said a hooker in the missionary position. ROFL!!! The afternoon, in total, was quite hilarious and entertaining.
CASINO & SUSHI: Since it was nearing the first dinner time, the activities start disappearing so we found ourselves wondering around the ship trying to find something to entertain us. I wanted to play something in the casino but I'm pretty clueless except for the basic idea of how to play poker and blackjack. I found a poker video slot(?) machine and decided maybe I could do that. At one point I was up a little more than 3x what I had started with but ended up losing it all haha. Then DH played a little and lost too. I watched a lady on another video slot machine and tried that but it didn't work out either. Oh well, in the end, we only lost $5, the same DH had already spent in the arcade. Next time I either need some lessons or take someone with me that knows what they're doing.
This passed some time and we could go get our daily evening snack of sushi. There were always 3 different kinds: a sashimi (a rice block with a hunk of raw meat on top), a roll with rice on the outside, and a roll with the rice on the inside. They were all very good, I never had one I didn't like. My least favorite was probably the tuna sashimi. I tried and surprisingly liked both the eel sashimi and the rolls with tofu in them.
FORMAL NIGHT: Tonight was the 2nd Formal Night and there were several photography stations setup, as there were most nights at dinner time, where you could have pictures taken for free. It was starting to get crowded with all the early dinner people getting there photos taken so we headed back to our cabin to get ready ourselves. I was glad to be able to go to this Formal Night and be able to where my "fancy" dress. DH surprisingly went along with my idea of getting some pictures taken of us as we do not have many. We didn't get all the backdrops we wanted before it was time for dinner so we had a couple more taken after dinner. The show at dinner tonight involved all the wait staff singing a song while standing on the grand staircase going from the bottom to top levels of the Lincoln Dining Room.
EVENING ENTERTAINMENT: The show tonight was the big 80s show by the Carnival dancers and singers. I'm not a big 80s fan but I actually knew almost all of the songs and it was very high energy and entertaining so I definitely enjoyed it. After the show, we went up to Lido to see the Grand Gala Buffet. This is where all the chefs get to show off their creativity and create works of art, basically, with food. It was really impressive what we got to see. Unfortunately the line was really long so we only got to see what we could see peeking over shoulders and looking down from the second floor by the fish & chips restaurant. We didn't wait in line to get a close up because we wanted to go to the midnight adult comedy show by the comedian that had performed the previous night.
Again Allyn Ball was hilarious, though he claimed to only be of average intelligence and to be very politically incorrect, he had some great solutions to the world's problems. He was impressed by the many different nations working together harmoniously on the cruise ship and thought if the world's leaders took a cruise together they might work things out. They might sink a few ships at first but by the 4th or 5th cruise ship he figures deals WILL be struck. Haha! Another idea was to send our militants to fight other countries militants since those seem to be the people that want to fight.
Tonight was a late night but another enjoyable one and the towel animal waiting for us was a monkey hanging from the lights! So cool and cute!
Day 8: Saturday, May 10, 2008
GOOD MORNING…TO THE SEA: Our last day at sea, once again, began with much sleep. Not quite as late as the previous day but almost. Unfortunately, we also ended up missing the debarkation talk which probably was kind of important since we had never cruised before but we hoped it would show up on the TV. Well, we never did see it on the TV but at least they delivered an information sheet to our cabin that evening. This morning, we did manage to make it to breakfast before they switched it to lunch unlike the previous day.
ICE: We watched the ice sculpture demonstration on Lido deck. He works amazingly fast. They said it usually takes a couple of hours at least but he did this one in 20 minutes! The sculpture had water just running off of it while he worked because it was so hot out. We were told it would be used for any weddings on the ship the next day in Miami.
TOWELS & GALLEYS: After the ice demo, we went to the towel animal and napkin folding demonstration. We learned how to make the seal (this is where we finally learned what it was!), a dog, and an elephant. After the towel animals some of the wait staff had a table set up where they showed us how to fold napkins. I was able to figure out two of the three. This day kind of ended up being a partly indoors day too.
One of the most interesting events while we were on the ship was the Galley Tour. This started in the Lincoln Dining Room where they shared lots of interesting tidbits about the food service onboard. There are approximately 1200 crew onboard and 600 are related to food: wait staff, cooks, chefs, room service, bartenders and bar staff. They had served 16,000 pounds of shrimp to us over the course of the week. They only purchase food at U.S. ports so for this ship that would be Miami and St Thomas. I was surprised at the amount of stuff they're allowed to dump at sea. Gray water is filtered and dumped. Leftover food, after shells and bones are sorted out, is chopped up and dumped. The captain is allowed to give the ok when the ship is more than 12 miles from any shore. The Valor had been randomly inspected by the U.S. food service inspection people just 6 weeks prior to our voyage and they received a 99%!
After the talk, we got to tour through the main kitchen which stretches from the Lincoln Dining Room to the Washington Dining Room. It was very clean and interesting to see how they prepare some dishes ahead of the actual service.
LAST RAYS OF CARIBBEAN SUNSHINE: Since it was later in the day and the sun less intense, we decided to enjoy our last little bit of time relaxing outside at our typical locale on deck 10. Then it was off to get ready for dinner and go visit our sushi guy for the last time. He asked if we were sad the cruise was almost over and offered up his cabin to hide in if we wanted to stay. Haha, I wish! Before dinner we finally went and actually watched a sunset, not sure why we hadn't thought to do this before the last night.
FAREWELL FESTIVITIES: The last dinner was the only dinner that everyone at our table was actually there at the same time. We were all sad and glad in ways to be at the end of our cruise. The wait staff sang a farewell song for all the diners.
Tonight's show was the Legends Show which cruise passengers auditioned for earlier in the week for such roles as James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Elton John, Britney Spears, Madonna, Garth Brooks, Ricky Martin, Gloria Estefan, Elvis and finally Frank Sinatra. Overall, I thought the show was really good. With around 3000 passengers on board I guess the odds are pretty good you can find some decent singers/entertainers. The standouts were Aretha Franklin and Frank Sinatra. Aretha was actually done by a girl that sang a couple of karaoke songs the night we were at Scarlett's. We had heard while eating there that she was a professional singer so I suppose that's why she did a great job! Frank Sinatra was played by an elderly gentleman who came out on stage with a black hat which he took off and had the words to "I did it my way" inside the hat for him to read. He had a really awesome voice and "brought the house down" as the finale number.
PACKING: With all the festivities over with we trudged back to our cabin to fill out our customs declaration form. Packing, I thought was going to be interesting as we'd bought a few items, mostly small ones but it still needed to all fit back into our carry on only bags if at all possible. But, after I sorted dirty clothes from clean clothes and put them in separate suitcases and I added the items we'd purchased, there was still room for more. It was as if I packed more efficiently than we had come which I didn't think possible. We haven't discovered anything missing yet so I guess we did a good job!
Day 9: Sunday, May 11, 2008
WELCOME BACK TO LAND…THE HOMELAND: A sad day, the day of departure… As usual I turned on the TV and this time I was not excited but quite sad to see the city of Miami. The feeling where your heart has sank to the pit of your stomach.
They started debarkation about 7:30am and we had number 7 out of thirty something numbers. I was surprised we were such an early number since our flight wasn't until almost 3pm. They actually called our number before we even left our cabin around 8am. But, we wanted to eat breakfast so we had our last meal up on Lido.
Then we headed off the ship, there was a bit of a crowd in the lobby but not too bad and it moved pretty quickly. We went back through the terminal, reversing the path we went to board a week ago. But, this time we were sent down to the basement of the terminal where the luggage carousels and customs/immigration officials were located. We had brought all of our luggage with us so we headed straight to the customs and immigration lines. Shortly after getting in line, the newlyweds from our dinner table ended up in line behind us so it was nice to talk to them as we waited. The line didn't take that long, I'd guess about 10 minutes. When we got to the counter, the official looked at the front of our customs form to be sure the money we spent on items was below the duty free cut off. It was, so he turned it over and only barely glanced at the items we listed on the back. He then scanned our passports and said "Welcome back." No searches, no scanning of baggage, no questioning but we did see them pull people at random to be searched.
So that was that and we were headed outside to hail a taxi. Yay for U.S. taxis, they didn't even worry about filling the vehicle, refusing to take you, etc just put our suitcases in the back, got in and asked where to. We were in a minivan on our way to the airport in very short order. There's something to be said about visiting other countries that allows you to appreciate and get a perspective on what you have at home. I gotta say I have a renewed love for the good ol' US of A!
MIAMI TO HOME: Since it was only mid-morning, MiamiAirport didn't seem quite as crazy as when we'd arrived a week before. There were a lot of lines at the American Airlines counter so even though we had several hours until our flight, lines are never fun. But, out of the corner of my eye I spotted 3 computer terminals all alone that had signs by them saying boarding pass only (no baggage to check). There were no lines and an American Airlines official was standing by them. So in about 60 seconds, we were checked in and had boarding pass in hand.
It was off to security and the lines were about an average wait, not too bad and uneventful. Once to our concourse, we found that we were gate 51 which was at the VERY end so we walked for a long time. And so begun our 5 hour wait, it wasn't very exciting. We saw people from our cruise including a couple of Santas, we got some expensive food and drink, looked at our cruise pictures and read books/magazines…normal airport stuff.
Our flight was delayed since the previous flight got in a little late but not too bad. I was sooo sleepy at this point and as soon as we were high enough in the air after takeoff to permit you to turn your devices back on I put my tray down and went to sleep on it. Apparently the girl next to me (a high school senior trip Carnival Victory passenger from the past week) and DH joined me but I apparently slept the longest, haha! The flight was pretty bumpy, probably one of the bumpiest I've been on but I was so tired I didn't really care. Back home the weather was about 15-20 degrees cooler and I missed the tropical weather already.
SYNOPSIS: What a wonderful first cruise experience and first out of the country experience for me. Both of us are ready to go again though interested in trying another line. Carnival was great and will definitely consider coming back but we're just curious to see what the other lines have to offer. Thinking about Royal Caribbean at the moment on one of their ships with the climbing wall, ice rink and wave rider or maybe Norwegian. At some point, I'd especially love to try Disney but that may have to wait a bit longer due to the higher cost compared to most other cruise lines.