Pre Cruise. Continental Bristol to Newark was fine, arrived at lunchtime then caught the train into Penn Station. We have never been on an American train before and loved hearing all the bells and whistles (we thought Casey Jones was coming down the track!). We walked to our hotel the Hampton Inn Madison Sq. Garden on 31st st. We dropped the cases off then headed for the Empire State Building. Sadly the line was 1.5 hours and it was so cold we didn't wait but headed into Times Square and then a meal at Ruby Tuesday which was great fun. The following morning the time difference got us and we were awake at 5.30am. After an early buffet breakfast in the hotel we headed back the the Empire State Building and were 1st in line to be up there at 8am. WOW, the views were amazing, we could see The Explorer in the distance beyond the Statue of Liberty. There was also a bird of prey on a ledge up there which we watched for a while until he took off. He flew for miles across Manhattan. We headed back to our hotel and collected the cases about 10am and following cruise critic instructions found on here we went to catch the Path Train to Hoboken. Next we got onto the Light Railway. This was great as there are wonderful views from the station and then the train. We would definatley travel this way again. There was a shuttle bus at the station which cost $4 each to take us to the ship.
Embarkation V easy, we were checked in within about 30 mins and were on the ship almost straight away by about 12, The windjammer was open and our room was ready by 1pm.
The Ship Beautiful, we found her to be in good condition. We enjoyed used the mini golf in rough weather (its more fun) The pools were good although I would prefer a ship which has an indoor pool. We had a look around the well equipped gym but didn't use it. The promenade was great and we liked the cafe serving snacks and drinks. We had Captain Olav who was great. He would wave at people on the Peekaboo Bridge and was often seen around the ship. He seemed very friendly and approachable. At St Lucia he announced that the sunset would be lovely near the Pitons and so he was going to sail there and watch it. This was wonderful, we were really close in and had fabulous views. As we sailed away there was a magical moment as a pod of dolphin swam past.
Cabin Promenade cabin on deck 6 above Guest Services. This was great, the location was quiet, our stateroom attendant was Derlen who looked after us very well. The cabin was fine. We kept the curtains closed most of the time as we felt a little "exposed" to the cabins opposite and above. The shower was great, larger than a usual cabin cubicle, no curtain but a solid sliding screen instead.
Dining We ate breakfast and lunch in the Windjammer. No real problems here and we always found something to suit our tastes. We loved the Jade section where there were good curries and even Sushi once. Breakfast pancakes and waffles needed to be hotter but we have never found them to be much good on ships anyway. The omelette station was good and so were most of the other sections. We had second seating at 8.30pm in the Da Gama dining room on a table for 8. Our tablemates were a lovely German family and an American couple. Our waiter was Javier and his assistant was Siddharth. They were an excellent team who looked after us extremely well. Sidd should be a waiter not an assistant. When we asked why all the curries were vegetarian they organised for us to have a meat curry the following evening. This was excellent. Most of the meals served were of good quality and we enjoyed everything ordered. The lobster on formal night was good and so was the Tempura. We booked for the mystery dinner at Portofino. The food was OK but nothing spectacular, we thought that it wasn't worth the cost. Johnny Rockets was very enjoyable even though we were the only diners there. Burger was good and the service excellent. We felt that there needed to be more places to eat outside. When in the caribbean we would prefer to enjoy snacks etc outside not in the promenade.
Weather The first 2 days were rough with a force 9 gale, we were fine and didn't get seasick. The ship seemed to handle the rough seas really well and there wasn't too much rocking and rolling. The next 10 days were great with some cloud, a shower in Antigua and lots of sunshine. The last day on the way back to Cape Liberty we hit a storm with thunder, lightening and heavy rain. Some loungers went overboard and the pools were sloshing about and emptying themselves all over the deck. The captain slowed down and the ship was lurching around a fair bit. We were watching all this from Dizzys bar. The decks were closed until the following morning as the wind was still strong.
Entertainment The ice shows were excellent. We enjoyed the Quest although our team didn't win. We saw a ventriloquist, comedian, and a production show. All were good. The cooking demonstration was fun and worth going to. We enjoyed competing in Trivia games and won the ultimate prize with our team (Hi George, Pat and Chris) There were a few problems with the Name That Tune games held in Dizzys Bar, but the ones with the piano player in the Schooner Bar were excellent. We didn't bother using the Casino as it was usually too smoky.
Ports (Not in order) St Thomas Did the Skyride and then a bit of shopping, this was a quiet day for us as we had been here before. St Lucia RCI Whale watching tour was Ok, we saw lots of dolphin but no whales. The boat took us to view the Pitons and then into Marigot Bay (not stopping). We probably wouldn't bother doing this again, as its a bit expensive and we have tried whale watching twice now without success. Barbados As this port was on Easter Sunday we knew that most places were closed so we opted for the ships Best of Barbados Tour. We visited Orchid Farm which was small but beautiful and then on to St Johns church. The plantation house was very interesting although the craft village was closed. Dominica We joined the Cruise Critic group on the tour with Levi Baron Bumpiing Tours and had a great time. This was the most beautiful island. We swam at the Titou Gorge, had a dip in the hot springs at Trafalgar Falls and then snorkled at the Champagne reef. This was a real highlight, we saw iguanas at the beach and then a Turtle swimming at the reef. We would definatley recommend this tour. Enough drinks were provided but we could have done with taking some snacks with us. Antigua Following directions on the CC ports of call forum, we took the local bus from the fish market to Nelsons Dockyard. This is a beautiful, peaceful place to wander around. There is a small but very interesting museum and lots of places to sit down and relax while admiring the views. We caught the local bus back which was a fun experience. Firstly it appeared very well used. The driver wore a rasta hat and had very loud music which he was watching (yes watching) on a small video monitor in the ancient dashboard. I was expecting a bit of Bob Marley or Reggae but no, we had Mariah Carey on full blast. He took phone calls, watched the videos and even stopped to do some shopping on the way back to town, but the hightlight was when he left the main road and took a detour through a scrap car yard and on to a house where he picked up a car battery. A lady (maybe his wife) came out of a house and had an animated conversation with him. Although we didn't understand a word we think she was probably telling him to take the tourists away and not to keep bringing them home. It was all great fun and we laughed all the way back to the ship. Puerto Rico We used the free bus to the Fort, where we wandered around enjoying the views. Back at the port we did a little shopping and then watched the Parrots in the trees. St Maarten Took a taxi to Maho Beach and watched the planes. We stayed nearly all day and had a nice meal at the Sunset Bar before taking another taxi back to the ship. Disembarkation V easy, after changing our tags to be in one of the first groups off, we were off and in the taxi by about 9.30. This was a shared taxi which cost $7 each for 6 people to get to Newark Airport, a bargain when RCI was charging $27 each for a transfer. We arrived at the airport and were able to check our bags in even though our flight wasn't until 9pm. Following a suggestion on the CC boards we had hired a car for the day and made our way to Liberty State Park. This meant we had somewhere to leave our hand luggage while we toured the Statue of Liberty (I had prebooked the tickets) and visited Ellis Island. We had planned to do some shopping at a Mall but ran out of time. We could have done with more time at Ellis Island. We would recommend doing this if you have a late flight as it was great.
Overall This was one of our best cruises yet, and we would love to return to do another itinerary.