Cruise Activities and Entertainment: The cruise director, Dennis, was obnoxious and had a poor sense of humor (often relying on racial jokes with the air of a game show presenter). If you do not have Dennis coordinating your cruise, the following problems likely won't be an issue for you. However, on our cruise, the biggest complaint was a lack of activities offered. Sure, we went to five ports in six days of cruising. But when we got back to the ship at around 4:30 every day, we would head to dinner at 6, catch the evening show at 9, and then that would be it. The few "dance parties" the cruise hosted did not interest us. There was a "disco night," a "dancing under the stars night," and a "farewell dance." Each dance had few people show up and when you heard the music they were playing, you could understand why. Disco is self-explanatory, and I suppose would have been more fun if there were more than a couple dozen people. The dancing under the stars night was simply a series of line dances (i.e. "Macarena," "Electric Slide," etc), which are reminiscent of junior high school dances which I would rather not live through again. And the dance on the last night had all of 5 people show up in the first 45 minutes.
The entertainment during the cruise was less than excitable. I will admit that we did appear to miss the one night of entertainment that was actually worthy - some famous comedian. However, after the first two nights with the cruise director making his racial slurs and the "Royal Caribbean Singers and Dancers" butchering some of my favorite musical songs, we were unmotivated to attend that third (and apparently reputable) night of comedy. We did, however, see the two remaining comedians, one of which worked magic tricks into his act and was a decent performer, and the other who had his show at 11:45 (for adults only) and performed to a nearly empty and silent audience (silent due to lack of any humor whatsoever). Another performer was "El Gaucho" whose entire act consisted of twirling ropes and making egocentric cracks at the audience (normally that they weren't applauding enough for his ability to crack a rope on the ground). Needless to say, the entertainment left us more than somewhat disgruntled. The one redeeming show that we sat through was, ironically, the one that the audience put on - or rather, three couples from the audience. A show called "Love and Marriage" where a couple of 65 years, a couple of 20 something years, and a newlywed couple were selected to answer questions about their spouse the way they think the other would answer. We suffered through the cruise director (hosting the show) to hear hilarious answers and cheer on the couples who guessed correctly. That was our favorite activity throughout the cruise.
Now, while it is somewhat understandable to not have many activities offered during the days we were in port, it is an entirely different thing to have a limited selection on the one day at sea. We woke up usually by 7 on the days we were in port, however on the day at sea, the only activity planned before 9:30 was a yoga class that you had to pay for. After that, the selection was very limited: you could choose to go to a "towel folding demonstration" (the crew members make animals out of towels on your bed each night), a "napkin folding demonstration," and a "cake demonstration," the latter of which we attended. Now, with a name like "cake demonstration," you would come to the conclusion that you would be shown how to make a cake, right? Wrong. We were shown how to ice a cake with whipped cream by a very obnoxious Dennis and a chef from the cruise kitchen. They did feed cake to those who suffered through the painful "demonstration," but it was mostly whipped cream and wasn't worth the hour of wasted time. Although, it's not like there were many other options that morning.
In the afternoon, things did not get much better. Twice, there were classes at the champagne bar that nobody showed up to and thus did not happen. We finally just gave up on the pathetic attempt at "activities" and climbed the rock wall then went in the pool.
Dining Experience: The dinners on the ship were decent. Decent, but not out of this world. In fact, by the time that I had lobster on the second formal night, I was convinced that they just drizzled everything with butter and salt as their form of seasoning. We attended both specialty restaurants. At Chops, we were handed a wine list that had a few higher end options not available in the dining room. I ordered the lobster carpaccio and filet mignon - by far my best meal on the ship. My fiancE got the "recommended" New York Strip and onion soup - which turned out being offered in the dining room two nights later (he ordered it and it tasted exactly the same...waste of $20). We also attended the mystery dinner theatre in Portofino, which consisted of watching the ship's singers and dancers perform a show and then moving into the dining room to eat and quiz the characters, attempting to guess who committed the murder. The show was a disaster. The script was nightmarish and the performers were having trouble staying in character - often laughing at inappropriate times, forgetting lines, and well...making up lines (and they were not good at improvising). The food was disappointing. There was a limited menu with only two choices for an appetizer (clam chowder or Caesar salad), two choices for an entrEe (filet mignon or a shrimp dish) and tiramisu for dessert (the one Italian dish we were served). I would not recommend this experience to anybody and almost demanded my $55 back.
Service: Despite the disappointments from our dining experience and entertainment (or lack thereof), the service was impeccable. We loved our dining room staff and our room attendant and wouldn't mind going back on the cruise simply to chat with them some more. Everyone is from such diverse backgrounds and makes for very interesting conversations. The crew onboard really went the extra mile to ensure that our cruise was enjoyable.
So after about 3 hours of this tour, Gordon took us back to St. John’s after that and we asked for his suggestion of authentic local food. He took us to a place that he often goes to himself for lunch, gave us pointers on what to order, and ate with us! The meal was great and we loved getting the chance to chat with him for longer. Overall, I would highly recommend his tour, although the island itself left me wanting and the vendors on the island I would say were the most aggressive of all. The town of St. John’s itself also did not have much to offer.
Then we drove for a bit and took a great hiking trip (about 30 minutes) through the rainforest to reach two waterfalls (I believe part of the “Seven Sisters”). The waterfalls had a decent amount of people filtering in and out, but plenty of room to swim in the pools at the bottom of each. The lower one, people could even dive off of, and I indeed was one of the brave. The fall was no more than 15 feet and I didn’t touch the bottom when I dove in. We then hiked back through the rainforest and went to the most popular rum distillery on the island. I didn’t try any of the rums, but my fiancé wouldn’t really recommend any of them to anybody – although we did purchase some two-shot sized $1 bottles for folks back home.
Finally, we ended at the Grand Anse Beach (2 mile long beach). We were dropped off at the Lazy Days restaurant with Gordon putting in a good word with the owners for us and we ordered some pretty authentic and delicious (my favorite food of the entire trip) roti and Creole dishes. The beach was also my favorite beach of the vacation – the softest sand, the smoothest waters, and the least amount of vendors strolling the beach. There was, however a designated arts and crafts vendor area, which we were generally unimpressed with (mostly everything looked the same), except for this vendor who does his own work and was making a coral bracelet when we came walking by. I loved the way it looked, so he crafted it down to specifically fit my wrist – I was very impressed by his craftsmanship.
We took the water taxi back to the main town ($4 one way), wandered the streets a bit (but were getting tired of seeing the same spices stall after stall), and then headed back to the ship.
We toured the Bacardi Rum distillery which you can get to by ferry ($3 round-trip a person) and then a taxi ($3/person each way). At the distillery, you get 2 drinks free and can take a tour where you can test your sense of smell with their different types of rum at different stages of development, watch a (highly marketing intensive) video on the history of Bacardi, and view an museum-like exhibit with old documents and famous bottles. It's a pretty neat place and the free drinks are nice.
Then we walked the streets of old San Juan, which is reminiscent of small, quaint European streets and buildings. Lots of lovely restaurants to choose from and we enjoyed browsing the many shops.
Spencer provided lunch, the most delicious bread on the island with the consistency of a scone, some coconut cookies and muffins, and the most delicious bananas I have ever tasted. This was a wonderful tour – although we were not able to go to the falls near the pitons due to a strain in time (this port was the shortest for the ship, ironically with the longest tour - about 7 hours). The vendors on the island were also somewhat aggressive, and several towns we drove through were the most poverty stricken places I have ever seen. If you can get past this, though, for sure take Spencer’s “West Coast Delights” tour – he is one of the most hospital people I have ever had the fortune to meet.
The cab ride to both of these places was about $20 per ride (no matter how many people). In Marigot, we had lunch with more authentic Creole style conch and shrimp dishes. After lunch we browsed around the town, but in very French fashion, the stores were all closed on Monday. We did go to a bakery, though, and get an Opera and an éclair.
Then we headed back to Phillipsburg (I believe another $20 cab ride) to stroll along the boardwalk (it was DEAD by 3…seriously, no one on the beach). If you have children, and they like collecting shells, this is the place to do it. I had fun myself seeing how many different types of shells I could find. We also checked out the shops and although I didn’t fancy the Guavaberry drink that everyone rages about, my fiancé enjoyed the rum enough to buy some from the shop. We then debated whether or not to take the water taxi back to the ship, but ended up walking – which was about a 10 minute (and very pleasant and straightforward) walk.
The beach afterwards we had all to ourselves, and although it wasn't the nicest beach (too many rocks for my taste), it was enjoyable. We played on the water trampoline and the climbing floating device - however it was very difficult to climb up on either and not recommended for children. I tried a "painkiller" - drink with pineapple juice, rum, and nutmeg, among other things - and sat in a (free) beach chair, just soaking in the sun. It was our favorite excursion on the cruise and well worth the money.
After the tour, which lasted from about 8:30-1, we decided to take a cab ($6 per person with 4 or more in the cab) over to Cane Garden Beach - without question, the most popular beach on the island - and even though we went in the afternoon, it really didn't feel all that crowded. We ate at Myett's, which we heard was the best restaurant option on the beach, but I would recommend others to simply not each at that beach at all if possible. Even at Myett's, the food was catered to tourists and overpriced. We had the roti and creole style mahi mahi (dish of the day), which at the time we very much enjoyed, but when we compared with ports later on, we realized that we had not been served the authentic stuff.
We met "Juan Love" which my father had also met there over 20 years ago and is apparently very popular among tourists and locals alike. He and his wife own the shop that is the first on the left (right across from Myett's) as you enter the beach. If you get the chance to meet him, he will leave a lasting impression with you. He gave us two CDs of reggae music and we had a discussion on how to live a lasting and happy marriage, among other things. Very nice locals in general who love their island.