We headed to the Spring Hill Suites by the Newark Airport at 1:00 pm and arrived to the hotel at 2:30.
Finding the hotel is a bit difficult if you are not familiar with the area but we managed just fine since we scoped it out a few months prior to our stay.
The hotel was just OK for the price we paid. We had a broken fridge (which turns out was unplugged from the back so it got fixed), a non working desk light, and no lock on the bathroom door. The hot tub would not turn on until a worker came in to flip the switch for us. Breakfast was good with plenty of options.
Jackie is one of the managers and she is great. We had to make an emergency run to a Rite Aid to get a prescription filled for our DD and she gave us easy directions to get there. It turns out the RA is brand new and less than 10 minutes away. After getting our meds, we went two more blocks down the road to a Pappa Johns Pizza for dinner.
We opted to keep our car at the hotel during the cruise because we liked how secure their parking lot was. They have a gate that can only be opened with your room key and those spikes that can tear your tires apart if you do the wrong direction.
Cost of our room was $99 and with the 8 nights of parking ... total paid $190, which was a good deal because we had $150 in Marriott gift cards from My Points.
We called Black Car to pick us up at the hotel at 10:15 to take us to the port. We made a big mistake though and got in the wrong car. A driver came up to us with a town car at 10:15 and said he was there to take our party of 4 to the cruise port. We got in the car and did not realize it was the wrong company until we went to pay him at the port and was told it would be $55 not $45. Lesson learned there .. check which company car you are getting into. We left the hotel at 10:30 and drove over to the port. I cruised from Bayonne a few years ago and don't remember the drive being so long once you go through the entrance to the port.
I am glad we only had to pay a flat rate to Cape Liberty because we were stuck in a long line of traffic to get to the drop off point.
The porters were quick and efficient so we were in the terminal in no time flat. We are platinum members to got to go through a different line and we only had one family in front of us so we got in and out real fast. Cookies and coffee were being offered in the lounge. The time posted for the first shuttle to the ship was 11:45 but we did not head out until 12:00.
Upon entering the ship we were told that food was being served in the Windjammer and that our cabins would not be ready until 1:30.
Our first stop was at the dining room to check out our table. Once again, our request was not honored and we were stuck in the back corner on deck 3. After speaking to the maitre d' we were reassigned a different table but had to move to late seating in order to get it.
We then moved on to the guest relations desk to get extra keys made for our two cabins.
Last stop before our rooms .. Windjammer. Nothing special about the food here but except for the honey stung chicken. It was the best I had.
At 1:30 the cabins were opened so we headed straight to our home for the next 9 nights aft cabin 7388.
The room itself was smaller than I imaged since my last aft cabin was 1394 but it still worked great for the two of us. The best feature of this cabin would have to be the side port hole. It was nice having two different views from the balcony. The downside was also the side port hole view because of the wind and rain that came in through the opening. The only time we got sun on the balcony was on our way back from San Juan.
Our hallway was quiet and our kids were very close by in cabin 7387, which is an inside. The cabin shows as a double but in reality, it's a quad. Our room steward set up one of the berths for my son because he likes sleeping on them. Ports of Call
Labadee - got off the ship early and headed to Barefoot Beach. We usually go to Hideaway but since that end of the beach is all under construction, we could not go there. The water was as bit cold at first but once you got in, it warmed up enough to enjoy. The beach has a nice sandy bottom but the water was not very clear. I understand they are working on building a new pier but it sure is taking away from the views in and around Labadee. I hope its worth it once all is said and done.
Samana - Many people ask questions about this port because it is very new to Royal Caribbean and there are not threads about what to do here. After a lot of research, we decided to try our luck with a private tour and not book through the ship. We picked an excursion with Casa Dorado http://www.casadoradodr.com/excursions.html and very happy with the beach but what an experience getting there.
We were not supposed to be able to leave the ship until about 9:30 but were whisked to deck 1 by 8:45. The tender ride to Samana is very fast, I would guess less than 10 minutes. The tenders are small compared to Labadee. On my first view of Samana I thought "why are we even coming here?" It does not even look like a port but a big fishing village with a dock to bring in the tender. Once you walk past the entrance, you are bombarded with offers of taxis and tours.
Luckily Catherine from Casa Dorado was there to help us find out taxis and we were off. After a 45 minute taxi ride through some of the worst road and living conditions I have seen we arrived at Casa Dorado where we boarded a boat to Playa Rincon and 10 minutes later we were there.
The beach is breathtaking and the water was as clear as a pool with some fairly decent snorkeling. I would guess the total number of people at the beach would be under 150 but there was plenty of room to stretch out. We stayed for about 2.5 hours and then headed back to the ship. My DH left his sneakers behind on the beach. Catherine's DH sent word back to the beach that if they were found, he would send them back with another ship passenger and we got them back!
If you want a peaceful uncrowded beach, head off to Playa Rincon for the day but be ready for an adventure. This excursion is not for the faint at heart. I am glad that I did it but would not leave the ship again. The roads were almost non existent, and there were children holding machetes up to each other along the road. I even saw a family of 4 on a moped with a toddler on the handle bars.
Trip cost $260 for 10 people which included round trip taxi service Chairs $3 each Beer $5 Frozen Drinks $5 Food $10 - $15 (we did not opt to eat after seeing the cooking conditions) There were also a few vendors that tried to sell their wares but were easily moved on with a simple no. The bathrooms have no running water and are flushing by pouring water into them
St Thomas - We docked at Havensight and were greeted at the exit by many people to help you grab a taxi to where you wanted to go for the day.
We headed straight to Emerald Beach Best Western which cost us $8 per person. The hotel is very nice and I was even able to get a peak at the rooms. The beach is not the best that St Thomas has to offer but was uncrowded which was great with 6 ships in port. The water was calm, a nice sandy bottom, and you could snorkel off to the far side where the rocks are located.
Chairs are not free, but by the time the guy was coming around to collect money for using them, we were all ready to leave.
We grabbed a taxi back to downtown which cost us $7 each. We did a bit of shopping and then walked back to Havensight along the water. It was an easy walk that took about 30 minutes.
We dumped our bags back at the ship and then headed to the Sky Ride to get a good view of the port. Its not worth $18 a person but I had OBC to spend so I went for it anyways. We had a quick bite to eat and a few drinks. Frozen drinks were $6.95 each and the Bushwacker was $10.95 in a souvenir mug. Fries were $3.95 each.
We finished our day in St Thomas shopping.
San Juan - My DD was not feeling very good this morning so we just took the free trolley around the fort loop and then spent the rest of the day shopping. I found some great deals here and came home with many treasures including a Tanzinite necklace.
My biggest complaint about this stop is the fact that we arrived at 7:00 am and nothing was open until 9:00. Its a waste of two hours port time.
Day 1 - 40 but it seemed much colder with the wind
Day 2 - 55 to cold to do much of anything outside but still managed golf and blading
Day 3 - I was hoping for some warm weather by then. The compass said 70 but since the sun hardly came out, it did not feel like it was that warm.
Day 4 - Labadee - 82 and partly cloudy. Finally some nice weather to soak up some sun.
Day 5 - Samana - A passing shower hit us right after we got off our tender but the skies cleared fast and the compass said 86 and partly cloudy.
Day 6 - St Thomas - a beautiful day with partly cloudy skies and a high of 82.
Day 7 - San Juan - We woke up the a rain shower passing through as we were coming into port. Skies were clear by the time we left the ship. Compass said 84 and partly cloudy. The seas were pretty rough this night and to me, the ship was really rocking and rolling but the TV said 4- 7 foot seas. I don't believe it one bit.
Day 8 - A great day at sea to enjoy the pool deck. Compass said 83 and partly cloudy.
Day 9 - You could tell we were getting closer to home. The compass said 68 but it did not feel that way out on deck. If you found a chair in the sun and away from the wind, it was a lot better.
Day 10 - back home to Bayonne and a car covered with snow and ice.
CABIN I enjoyed 7388 but am going to try 1390/1290 next time. Having an aft cabin on deck 7 is a lot of walking and being on deck 10 is more convenient to the WJ and pool. I also think you hear more engine noise on deck 7 but we did not get any soot that others have mentioned. I will also comment that our balcony lock and safe were broken through the whole cruise. I put in a request and the safe was never fixed and the balcony lock was once but then broke again.
CREW Edward our room steward was amazing. He had 19 rooms to take care of yet was always there when you needed him. We had two cabins between the 4 of us and we were constantly coming and going from both of them.
Each room steward we passed in the hall way were friendly and always said good day to you.
Dining room staff - Jacob our head waiter helped us out a lot with my DD special diet and brought us a menu each night so we could plan the next days dinner.
Our waiter came to learn our DD diet by the end of the cruise and could almost order for her. He also arranged a plate of watermelon and honeydew each night along with her own basket of French bread.
Our assistant waiter gets high grades because he kept our dishes cleared and filled out water glasses without us even noticing.
Dave Chapman - my favorite CD. Of course he is cute and I love his accent.
Guest Relations Desk - great crew as well. We had a problem with our TA giving us the right OBC and they worked with us to get the problem fixed and even gave me a free call to the states from the ship. Any questions or problems we had was fixed right away.
Neal in the Crown and Kettle is the man to see for a Mojito, which is my DH's favorite drink. He makes all his drinks good and strong.
SHOWS Ice Show - Do not miss. Productions Shows - I enjoyed them all but my least favorite was Invitation to Dance and I am a huge DWTS fan so go figure. Guest Entertainment - I would not have given a thumbs up to any of the entertainment they had on board the ship. I saw two of the shows in person and watched the other on the TV and would have been happy to spend my time doing other things.
FOOD: This is really a matter of taste but I found the food to be good but would still like to have more selection in the WJ each day. The food was hot in the DR but we had a table of four and our wait staff did not have anyone else to serve so we had great fast service.
SHIP: Overall the ship is in great shape with some wear and tear but nothing that would effect your cruise. You always saw the crew out and about cleaning and doing repair work.
IN CLOSING: If I would have to pick a favorite class of ship, it would be Voyager but I still need to try a Radiance. I really enjoyed the ship and crew and am waiting for dates to become available for summer 2010 because I want to do the 9 night itinerary with a stop in Bermuda.