My husband and I booked the Cuban Adventure last March to celebrate our Silver Wedding Anniversary (in August). Itinerary was the key reason, couldn't agree or see anything around the real date. Hubby not too keen to go anyway, but he'd always wanted to go to Havana, so when we saw this, we eagerly booked it. Only a week later the ship crashed in Sharm El Sheik, and so I spent 9 months reading the dreadful reviews and not really enjoying the build up to the cruise at all, especially as Hubby wouldn't discuss this awful thing I had made him do, book a cruise!
Well Christmas came and went, and it suddenly dawned on us that we were really going and so early on the 30th we set off for the airport. Dreadful weather meant cars at Birmingham Airports Long Stay were abandoned all over the place, as with the snow, no one could see the white lines, but having finally parked, after looking for a space for ages, we found one, luckily not far from a bus stop. Got on the bus, only to pass acres of empty parking spaces further on, no staff around directing cars, could have calmed me down no end thinking we were going to miss the flight, but no problem, we were delayed an hour, which soon passed, and to which I later found out was very fortunate compared with flights from other airports.
Flight was very good, it wasn't full so we were able to spread out. Had a few issues with my monitor, but just changed seats to resolve the problem. Flight is long, but the monitor really helps pass the time. Leg room was very good and so we eventually arrived in Montego Bay. Immigration cards filled in we were soon on the bus to the ship, with a very friendly driver pointing things out and saying Yeh Man! every two seconds.
Arrival on board ran very smoothly, no smells at all and it wasn't long before we were shown to our cabin 6041. Very pleased with this cabin, no smells, plumbing worked, air con worked, not far from destinations desk & stairway A which took you on level 4 to the Orion Restaurant, and usual location for disembarkation, level 8 & 9 the theatre. Our housekeeper Elizabeth was excellent, nothing was too much trouble and she was always cheerful, and so were all the other housekeeping staff, who all said hello as you passed.
Our routine didn't change much during the cruise, my husband would get up early and bring me coffee in bed. Then we would eat breakfast on the deck or inside if it was too windy. Very good selection for breakfast, there were tinned fruits, cheeses, hams, toast, croissants, fresh pineapple, melon and watermelon, porridge, hot milk, scrambled egg, mushrooms, fried eggs, hash browns, black pudding, baked beans, and bacon. Cereal was around other side. Twynings tea bags, sachets of instant Nescafe, or you could have the machine coffee (we preferred the instant). There were also four juices, Orange, Apple, Pineapple and Cranberry. If i've missed anything out I'm sorry there really was so much choice.
For Lunch we generally ate in the Lido, the buffets were pretty good, a couple of times we ate ashore, and twice we had lunch in the Orion, although 5 courses twice a day wasn't going to do my waist line any good.
The Orion every evening was superb, The food was good, and well presented, and the food was very quickly served course after course. This was greatly enhanced by the waiters we had. On our 2nd night one called us over his name was Esmer, he made the dinner an occasion every night. He was assisted by Francis who was so polite, and to top this we had a wonderful wine waiter called Carlito, If you get a chance do try and seek them out, they were really special. We didn't move from their area, except one night when there was a queue an we were directed to Gharland's section, he was wonderful too and had us quite torn, but out of loyalty we stayed with Esmer. (One reason my hubby didn't want to cruise was that he likes finding a restaurant whilst we are out on holiday, but he really enjoyed the atmosphere here and said he hadn't missed the search at all)
It took us a while to go to the shows after dinner, my husband didn't think he would enjoy them. (I think he expected the traditional showgirls in feathers and not much else) but after one show he wanted to see all the rest. The singing was excellent, and one dancer Sonya really stood out (I'm an ex professional dancer myself). The comedians were quite good too, although the material the second week did seem a bit dated to me. The theatre was very comfortable, with many different types of seating. Double seated sofas at the front, then large circular ones for groups then traditional cinema seats at the back. There are two levels, on the balcony, it was mainly the 2 seater sofa variety. Really nice space and stage, only spoiled by a few pillars, which ruined the view from certain seats.
I expect you want to hear more about the ship though. I must confess we didn't frequent the bars much, preferring to drink wine with our meal, but there were plenty of them, and none of them seemed too crowded. The busiest was the Medusa Lounge, this usually had either bands, or a quiz going on, and was a nice light space. Some of the decor in the other bars were a little dark for my taste, but being short sighted, the dimmed lighting didn't help me too much.
There are nice sun loungers on the sides of the ship on deck 9, but the ones on the end near the Lido pool are rather tatty and should be replaced. Some were a little torn, and although difficult to procure one on many occasions (they could be a bit stricter about people hogging them with towels) I often found them quite uncomfortable.
Didn't swim in the pools there were quite a few children on board (even the second week when I assumed they would be back at school) and they tended to use both the pools and the jacuzzis. Not much else on the ship for them to be honest. There is a small room towards the back of the ship full of game machines, but whenever I was there it was completely empty. Not having any children with me, I'm not sure what else there was, I think there was a supervised club room also, and one night the kids club came to watch one of the shows with the club's staff.
The only activity I joined in was on the last day, there was a very brief salsa class. This was up on the pool deck, and although there was a row of empty sun loungers they weren't moved for the class, which was pretty poorly attended, only 4 couples or so, with very limited space to move, you had to watch you weren't kicking the bands speakers, but I still enjoyed it nevertheless.
The service on board was always very good, and the staff always smiling, even though a couple of them confessed to being homesick. It must be very hard to be away from your family for 8/10 months at a time.
Now to the trip:
Day one of course was muster drill, shore excursion talk for the whole of the first week (quite tiring on the same day as the flight, but as it covered the whole of the first week so we went). Dinner followed, we then tried to stay up as late as possible to adjust our body clocks, having just decided we would retire, the first panicky message from the engine room came over the tannoy, my heart sank, I thought I'm so tired I'm dreaming this (the sort of I've booked a cruise and now watched Titanic, what have I done type feeling), others have described it very well in their reviews, yes I was concerned, my hubby told me not to get undressed, but as we were in our cabin, I didn't see any of the panic described, and was frankly too tired to panic, just grateful when we were finally told we could Rest in Peace, it wasn't until breakfast the next morning and everyone was discussing this that I even thought about the connotation of RIP.
We limped into Grand Cayman the following day, hours late, with all morning excursions moved to the afternoon, there was barely time to fit them in before we should have been back on board. The tenders took ages to get ready, but just as we boarded ours, they announced that our time ashore had been extended by 2 hours, we had been told at the excursion show that there weren't many places left on the tours, but my hubby decided even though it showed limited places available, he would try to get on the 4 x 4 Jeep Adventure, luckily there was space and we had a good time, although there was very limited off road driving, and although the tour was 4 hours (i think) the last 1.5 hours we were taken to a beach, which we thought was a bit of a cop out, and not what you really wanted to do if you booked a jeep excursion. Glad we were on a smaller Thomson ship though, as Carnival Glory was also tendering from the same port, and though we could walk straight onto a tender back, they had a huge queue. This trip also included a stop at a rum shop, where we got to sample free rum and rum cake, and also to the town of Hell, which was quite interesting, but not very big.
Day 2 was also New Years Eve, unfortunately, my hubby hip was playing him up, so we didn't stay on deck for the party, but went to the Ocean bar which was much quieter. Not sure how everyone on deck got their champagne by midnight, as we only left 10 mins before and they hadn't started to serve it out by then, in the Ocean bar we got one almost immediately and enjoyed the calmer atmosphere. We seemed to cross the date line at exactly midnight, as my husbands phone showed 11pm whilst they were celebrating midnight, only to move to 1am the next minute, so not sure what happened there.
Day 3 was a day at sea, we seemed to have picked up speed since our slow arrival at Grand Cayman on one engine, and as my husband had a GPS app on his ipad, we could follow the journey, which helped pass the time, however, when we woke up we were almost half way to Roatan, and then we noticed we were sailing in loop the loops to waste time. Very odd to say the least.
Day 4 was Roatan, such a pretty harbour Coxen Hole, we were supposed to dock at Mahogany Bay, but apparently the wind/currents were too strong to dock there. We walked around the little town, lots of little shacks and a few shops, not much to see, and we got pestered for ages both at the dock and in the town, by taxis and tour guides. We had a couple of drinks and then decided we would go back to the port and take a tour of the island. As things had quietened down, we were able to get the price down a bit as they weren't expecting any more business really. We had a good guide from Bodden Tours (not sure of the spelling), first hut on the left as you leave the duty free area behind, he took us wherever we wanted, stopped for photos, and even recommended somewhere for lunch, and waited whilst we ate, he was much cheaper than the equivalent ship tour.
Day 5 was supposed to be Costa Maya, but we apparently couldn't stop there as we needed water, and they didn't have any. As we had booked a tour to the Mayan ruins I was a little upset, but we ended up going to Cozumel a day early, and docking overnight there, (which my husband loved, found a nice restaurant/bar and had beers, dips and chips. They moved our tour to Tulum a day forward, and thinking back 2 x 8 hour trips with Havana to follow would have been exhausting. Not sure why we left Cozumel 3 hours earlier than originally planned though on the second day. Tulum what can I say it was more beautiful than I had imagined and if you have any interest is definitely a great excursion, it was followed by the coach taking us to Playa del Carmen for Lunch (a bit late at 4pm) but this was also excellent in a nice restaurant called Karen's with live music.
Days, 6, 7 & 8 were Havana, you just have to go, it was truly amazing. The architecture was stunning, although crumbling and although you also got asked if you wanted a tour every five minutes (we did have a map in our hands so fair game) we thoroughly enjoyed this port. We had a great welcome with a band, dancing girls and free shots of rum. We did two ship excursions here the Havana Highlights, which was very good, included rum museum, cigar shop with cigar making demonstration (sorry not a virgin girl rolling it on her thigh) and loads of sites, including a fort which was reached by an underground tunnel under the port entrance. The other tour we did was the Cannon Shot Ceremony, this was also a good night out (we didn't want to do Tropicana), followed by two free cocktails at El Patio, in the cathedral square, with a music and dance show. This really was a fascinating city, and you will not regret going. We did so much here, just wandering and absorbing the friendliness and wonderful sites.
Day 9 - Day at sea, we needed to rest after Havana, just pottered, read, drank, ate and relaxed (sometimes you just need to recharge)
Day 10 - Dominican Republic. We hadn't planned a beach trip as we are more into the culture of places, but decided that we would try Cayo Levantado, boy am I glad we did, I finally got in some serious sunbathing, and my hubby found a lovely bar on the beach, were he could jabber away in Spanish, he was as happy as Larry. We ate at the barbecue there and very tasty it was too. A good relaxing day again.
Day 11 - Tortola, we had decided that we would try and do the rest of the islands on our own, but I'm glad we had booked something here as it was a fair walk into town, with tour touts and market stalls, but as our tour didn't start for about an hour, we decided to walk in, Not very much to keep one occupied from what we saw, and instead of nice dockside bars and restaurants, the government building and car park dominated the waterfront ( of what was recently reclaimed land) could have made a more tourist friendly port entrance we thought. Our tour took up up the ridge road across the top of the island, lovely views down to the other virgin islands, but we had already sailed passed them all in the morning, and they had looked just as stunning from sea. There was a lovely mural, which went on for ages, and a nice little break at a high point, where there was a lovely souvenir shop, toilets and free rum punch (not necessarily in that order). I saw a pelican dive into the sea, down at Carrot Bay, and the North coast is very pretty, although no beaches to speak of, I believe there is one further around. We then stopped in Pussers Landing, which is a very upmarket yachting harbour with prices to match, the rest of the island had seemed so down to earth, it seemed a bit out of place.
Day 12 - Antigua, broke our rule about no more excursions again, and went on the Lobster and Champagne catamaran cruise which was superb. We had 2 beach stops, unlimited soft drinks until after lunch, and then the Champagne and alcohol just kept flowing. Needless to say we had a great time, although I didn't feel we really did Antigua the island as such. A great day!
Day 13 - St Lucia, finally kept to our no excursions rule today and just walked into Castries, delightful town with very friendly people. My hubby was looking for a bar for ages, finally found a row of them opposite the exit from the Market. 2 bottles of Piton beer was the closest we unfortunately got to seeing the famous 2 Pitons, still we had a good time, and felt we saw a real Caribbean town. We had a couple of showers here, but things soon dried up, glad it wasn't a beach trip day though. Bought some great coconut carvings here and lots of souvenirs and t-shirts etc in the market.
Day 14 - Barbados, woke up to discover we had already docked. Looked out of the window at a huge grey concrete girder, the port was not the prettiest we had docked at. We decided to stay on board, having heard the town was a mile from where we were docked and having already packed and luggage gone we had lunch in the Orion, finished our books and just pottered around until it was our time to catch a bus to the airport. We will see Barbados on the trip across we thought, we did, but nothing really caught my eye, and we were glad we didn't bother to trek into Bridgetown. A few drops of rain, turned into a heavy downpour, when we got to the airport. The only thing to recommend here was free wifi access, the shops were expensive, and not numerous. A beer cost 5 US dollars. We arrived at 2.30pm for a 5.45pm flight, without the wifi, we would have been bored stiff. The terminal was packed too, so we were glad we were on the first bus to arrive, and managed to find seating. With the rain, it finally felt like the holiday was over, and I hope it didn't ruin those that remained on The Dreams day.
In summary, I needn't have fretted about the cruise, I loved it and so did my cruise-shy husband. We won't book again for a couple of years probably (need to save up as well) but we did have a good time, and so did most of the people we spoke to on our itinerary. Hope this helps put some peoples minds at rest, it is possible to have a wonderful cruise on this ship, we did!!!