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Serenade of the Seas Cruise Review by for2une: WOWed by RCL and Serenade


for2une
6 Reviews
Member Since 2009
0 Posts

Member Rating

Cabin 5.0
Dining 5.0
Embarkation 5.0
Enrichment Activities 2.0
Entertainment 2.0
Family & Children Not Rated
Fitness & Recreation 5.5
Public Rooms 5.5
Rates 4.0
Service 5.5
Shore Excursions 4.0
Value for Money 4.0

Compare Prices on Serenade of the Seas Eastern Caribbean Cruises

WOWed by RCL and Serenade

Sail Date: February 2011
Destination: Eastern Caribbean
Embarkation: San Juan

BACKGROUND

I have cruised 14 times on Carnival, Princess, once on HAL and a two times on NCL - my least favorite cruise line, because I feel they are ruining and "dumbing down" cruising with their over use of their Freestyle(means pay more for the good stuff) concept - more fees, more costs. This was our first cruise with RCL and they really wowed us and won us over - beautiful ships, well designed for crowds, and the food and service was as good as any line we have sailed. The Serenade might be considered a little older now, but it was appreciated that they did not peddle too many extras that you have to pay for and represented a lot of what is traditionally great about cruising.

PRE-CRUISE and HOTEL

We had a week in Puerto Rico surrounding a 7 night Caribbean cruise from San Juan. We were blessed with beautiful weather most days - rain was short lived and usually short afternoon events when it did rain a few days, except at Dominica there were a lot of More rain squalls off and on during the day. Most of the past 4 or 5 trips to Florida and the Caribbean from November through February had been plagued by a fair amount of rain, bad weather and cold. We had pretty good weather this time - mostly sunny warm days and a couple of days with hardly a cloud in the sky.

We flew in for 3 nights and 2 days stay before the cruise and then planned to visit Ponce in southern Puerto Rico for 4 nights and 3 days after the cruise. The land part of the trip was excellent and very memorable. Puerto Rico is fun, friendly, and a crazy, interesting mix of cultures. Before the cruise we stayed at the Conrad Condado Plaza hotel, within sight of the cruise ship port. This was an excellent location. We got a special price of $109 night on Hotwire and felt this hotel was a great value for the price and amenities. Arriving fairly late, around 9 PM, and the hotel being full we got a special unexpected benefit - although it took a while to find us an available room we got a free upgrade to a suite room, that was one of the largest and nicest we ever stayed in. The hotel pool and grounds were perfect for one of our days hanging out and the much better than average, fully equipped and well furnished fitness center was much appreciated for a good work out on out "hotel" day. The main breakfast eatery in the hotel has very good breakfast deals which we used both days. You can get an American style breakfast for under $10. We also rented a car at the on site Enterprise car rental. Great service and prices by the Enterprise desk there. We were very glad we opted for the new Garmin Nuvi GPS. If you don't know your way around, a GPS is pretty indispensable. In the San Juan area, however, we never could figure out how to get an exact address recognized by the GPA or get the GPs to find several places we wanted, but it did not get lost and saved us a lot of time and trouble. It also seemed it had the proper turns, but wrong street names several places in San Juan and that was not just translation problems -0 the Names were different but the turn directions were correct. Still it managed to get us around when we would have been totally lost oterhwise. After the cruise the Garmin GPS we used in southern Puerto Rico was pretty accurate on everything, but again we didn't have much luck getting it to find some specific businesses and addresses.

I had read about a beach bicycle/walking trail and board walk at Pinones, near San Juan, in the Carolina area that had bicycle rentals. My wife and I like cycling. The GPS helped get us to Pinones and as described, as soon as you cross the bridge and on the down ramp, go right into the first parking lot and business area. Here your will find a building marked COPI that rents some old beater multi gear mountain bikes - good enough to have fun with. We rode for several hours along the trail, seeing beautiful beaches, shoreline and some inland swampy areas loaded with tiny crabs, making a very interesting and nice outing. You will be able to see much more by riding than walking and I recommend you use COPI or keep driving to find some other bike rentals that we saw signs for along the way, but you probably will not find any "great" bikes. We also had lunch across the street from the COPI building before riding, at a popular hill top place, favored by locals, and good food and prices. After riding we enjoyed drinks at a local beach front bar overlooking the ocean and interesting reef and rock formations. The area seemed mostly used by locals and wasn't busy during a mid-week day. You could also takes towels and have some great beaching, wading or even snorkeling on beaches in that area after parking your car or taking the stuff with you as you bike or walk the trail.

EMBARKATION

The 8 PM sailing time, recommended boarding at 2 or 4 PM seemed late for us since we were staying within sight of the ship and cruise reviewers reported they were getting on board with little problem around noon. We taxied over at 11:30. The initial rush seemed large, but really we were in the first hundred and after maybe 20 or 30 minutes waiting in line, we went through security, check in and boarding pretty quickly and efficiently to be some of the first on board, to check out the ship, our dining table and buffet lunch on Lido. Same as I have found many times - arriving early can usually get you on board early and with little hassle. It seemed like this was another time that getting there for earl boarding was rewarding and less stressful than arriving later.

STATEROOM AND SHIP INFO

Our balcony cabin number was 7068, about midway up the front half of the ship, on port side, deck 7 out of 12 decks on Serenade. One of the very few drawbacks we found on Serenade, was that our row of balconies, just above the life boats, had a metal canopy/cover over the life boat deck and that canopy stretched out from the base of our balcony, obscuring the view of the water or any activity for several yards out from the ship. For example, in port, we could not even tell if passengers were getting on and off even when the ramps were on our side of the ship. You would probably see more of the water and stuff going on by the ship if you were in a balcony wher the ship curved out past the life boat area, or on a higher deck.

My wife and I both thought Serenade Of The Seas was one of the most beautiful and well designed ships we have ever been on. We like the extra pools, decks, bars, lounges, etc of by now, just mid-size newer ships, with about 3,000 passengers but the slightly older, 2,000 passenger Serenade made up for it with great design in all areas.

ENTERTAINMENT AND DANCING

We cruise for the ports, food and good accommodations and service and although we like to swing dance plus slow dance and some line dance, we have found all cruises, in recent years, to be lacking in entertainment during sea days and early evening. Not many people want stay up to 10 PM to mid-night for dancing when they have active early tours the next day such as scuba diving. For a lot of people vacations are not about burning yourself out trying to enjoy everything, but also getting some rest and relaxation. Not having as many passengers as some ships we have been on the past 10 years, and making even worse use of the space and dance floors the have - such as the Safari lounge and lounge on top of the ship, until very late at night we felt the on board entertainment ad dancing opportunities were the worst ever, especially for dancing in the early evening - good thing we had low expectations anyway. The other aspect of cruise entertainment we find so poor is "snippets" - EVERYTHING is short - less than an hour. This was as bad as ever too on Serenade - for example, country and western "night", our favorite music was only one 45 minute set AND they held this like most early evening dancing on the tiny, totally inadequate, overcrowded and overrun atrium floor - it quickly turned into a wiggle fest, mass of people gyrating in place that was un-danceable in a normal sense, especially for swing or c&w dancers. The c&w music by the Philippine band was very light country, a lot of cross over to rock n roll and the finale was not c&w at all. As expected - a short snippet of dancing on a too crowded floor and that's it. I'm sue their spacious Safari lounge was available or the club on top of the ship that they never seemed to use at all until late at night after we had gone to bed. I constantly submit comments and suggestions about this to all cruise lines. Instead of getting more logical in their use of dance area and music it seems to just be getting worse - maximum impact for minimum bucks and forget about people who have a passion for some really great dancing and entertainment for most of the evening.

The ship's main theatre, at least every other night, was just another song and dance by the ship's entertainment crew and orchestra, with "fancy Vegas like" apparel and uninteresting themes. Some poor comedian/variety acts with jokes we have heard on several recent cruises. We tried several of the shows and were usually bored crazy and gone within 15 minutes. Again, low expectations saved us. If you like any old song and dance( I do grant that their young ship's performers are good - that I'm no disputing) and a Vegas like show or really hungry for comedy or not used to great shows, you might find the ship's shows fulfilling or even fascinating. I am surprised on all cruise lines that reviewers like the canned, bland entertainment so much.

WINE SERVICE AND BEER

We had never used a ship's wine services before but for this cruise we pre-purchased a 5 bottle, lowest level, Gold wine package. Buying it before the cruise it was supposed to be something like 20% off, but being the profit center liquor is for cruise lines, the Beringer white zinfandel, which we drank 4 of our 5 bottle, we can get at home for around $10 a bottle was more like $30 a bottle on RCL in our package. When checking out and paying for our package there was also a $25 service charge - part of the reason for $30/bottle total. We did enjoy having the wines with dinner. The cost seemed high but the wine was enjoyed enough that we might do that again. As a beer lover, I brew my own, and like amber and dark beers like Porter. Cruising beer selections and the Caribbean in general is a barren wasteland except for popular lagers and lights such as Corona, Heineken, Carib and of course Budweiser, which I will drink - not even so much as popular and inexpensive Amber Bock or Killian's Red is to be found - it's a light colored beer and light beeer world out there and don't expect to find anything for beer connoisseurs, unless they prefer light colored beers . I drank one regular beer on RCl. I researched ahead of time and didn't really expect they would have anything unusual and the selection of beers was as typical limited and I have always found on cruises. I guess if they carried a wider selection they would have to charge even more to make big profits for carrying a better selection of beers or having a "Beer Bar".

FITNESS CENTER

We are 58 and 64 years old but like to work out with weights at least 3 times a week, plus other daily exercising, and try to get in several word outs during a cruise, especially since ships usually have rather nice work out centers - certainly much better than the majority of hotels and resorts. The Serenade fitness center was as good or better than any we have used on a cruise - open, lots of room plus windows all around for views outside. We expected RCL cruisers to be a little younger and more active and using the fitness center a lot. Instead the fellow passenger's age range seemed very similar to all other cruises we have been on and on this cruise they were even more into lounging by the pool - the fitness center was one of the lightest used we have enjoyed.

PORTS OF CALL AND TOURS

We picked the cruise for lots of ports of call, some new for us. See port reviews below

Our last day at sea was another beautiful day. For most passengers that was a day for lying around the pool and sun bathing. My first full day on board we enjoyed various aspects of the ship - shopping deals on RCL insignia clothing, a long work out at the fitness center, a few miles of laps walking the deck, the food and of course, some lounging on deck, but in the shade. It was too hot for us in the sun and it looked like a lot of people were overdoing that.

DISEMBARKATION

Disembarking the Serenade was very traditional. We had pre-assigned bag tags for a disembark group and time and had to have out luggage out between 6 and 11 PM the last night. No problem. Since we were not flying out they gave us one of the last disembark groups. I noticed that might make us late for our car rental reservation at San Juan international airport, so we decided to jump in with one of the earlier, middle groups. Since they weren't checking groups codes that seemed to work Ok and it didn't look like we were putting an extra load on that group or in the way of people needing to get off the ship for very early flights. We go to the airport about 30 minutes before my car rental reservation time. The ship does make it clear that the day before disembarking you can talk to them to get an earlier group if you need to get off quickly for travel arrangements. Very efficient. The only slowdown was TSA in the luggage area. With only 2, sometimes 3 agents, the line of people with bags, exiting, was almost the length of the building. I didn't time it but it seemed like at least 15 minutes in line. Worse can be the way TSA does things. We got in the slightly shorter line at first and for a while seemed to move with the other line. Then TSA added a third agent to the floor, but only servicing the other line. It was frustrating to see that line surge way ahead of us and they never put anyone else on our line and didn't have the third agent alternate taking people from the two lines. The effect was very noticeable and pretty annoying / unfair to our line that had waited as long.

POST CRUISE, SOUTHERN PUERTO RICO AND HILTON PONCE

Post cruise we got a taxi to the airport to pick up a Budget rental car and GPS, about 10:30 AM local time. We drove to Ponce, in about 1 hour and 20 minutes, where we were staying at the Ponce Hilton, getting there around noon on a Saturday. This is an older Hilton, but nicely furnished and remolded with lots of amenities, a pretty good beach considering southern PR doesn't have good beaches, and lots of activities and a beautiful pool area to hang out. There are not may resort like hotels in the area and after getting a price of about $125.night it seemed like a great value and perfect fit for us. I wanted my wife to have a resort to hang out at while I went diving one day and then for both of us to enjoy. That afternoon we used the GPS to find a Mexican restaurant I read about on Tripadvisor. I don't think we could have found it without a lot of problems and trouble without the GPS. The food there, at Maria Bonita, was very good - we had burritos stuffed with chicken and beef , perfectly spiced and plentiful meat. Then we used the GPS to find a Wal-Mart for some goodies for our room. Ponce was much bigger and busier than I ever expected. I got the feeling from per-trip research that it was small, It is not a large land area but it is densely populated and somewhat congested.

The first morning I had to get up and leave by 6:30 Am to find a dive shop I had reserved a two tank dive with, at Guanica. Using the GPS to get me to Guanica, then directions from their web site, I had little trouble finding it, but it did seem like it was out there in the boonies. The dive operation, Island Scuba, was excellent and I had been wanting to see the 20 mile long underwater wall, that falls away to 1,500 foot plus depths. The day was one of the best I have ever gone diving - beautiful sunny blue skies and calm winds for a fairly flat ocean and of course, it was warm. The wall dive was good, with a bank of coral maybe 30-50 feet high, then a sandy slope before vanishing into the blue depths. There were some noticeable suspended particles in the water but visibility was still good, probably 80 feet. There was good coverage of marine life and fish, but nothing impressive like big coral heads, big sponges and soft corals, or caves, and swim throughs. It was a good dive but not as great as I hoped it would be and I prefer several other Caribbean destinations more for diving. I did not dive when we were at San Juan because the visibility there is usually poor and it doesn't seem popular as a dive destination. I was getting a cold and my head was totally stopped up after the first dive. I stayed on the boat for the second dive which it sounds like I would have liked - lots of fish and fish varieties. I highly recommend the dive shop - Island Scuba. I might have liked the dives more if I got to do more of them.

The next day we caught a great kayak deal from the Hilton, much to our dismay that seemed lightly used. For $20 we got a tandem kayak for 2 hours. The large shallow bay by the resort had a string of 3 small mangrove islands and just outside of that was a barrier reef. It was an easy paddle out to the islands. There was a narrow almost hidden entry to a sand beach on one of the mangrove islands that made a sandy, shady, interesting stop. The shallows had lots of grasses and you could paddle around some fairly large coral heads some of which broke the surface in during swells - very interesting and nice kayaking. We seemed to be the only ones using that part of the resort that day. We spent the afternoon enjoying the resort's pool area and amenities. Around 5 PM we had to drive about 45 minutes to a bay that has bioluminescent water tours at night. The bioluminescent tours are very interesting and there are 3 places in Puerto Rico you can see it.. My parents went to Puerto Rico years ago and my Dad kept recounting the story and recommending their bioluminescent trip. After dark you are taken in a boat to a dark bay in the mangroves. When you wave your hand in the water - the stars and heavens seem to appear where you disturb the water - brilliant tiny specks of white light. Our boat also had a swimmer that went in. You could see the ghostly glow of his arms and legs as he swam through the water and it was shocking to see his illuminated form popping through when he swam under the boat. You can catch these tours, near Gaunica for $6 per person.

The third and last day we thought we had a boat snorkeling tour to the newly environmentally protected islands near Ponce with Caribbean Images - a highly rated tour, but when we showed up at the instructed spot about 9 Am no one was around. A mix up, on both sides they did not show up for us. They are fairly hard to deal with unless you have a cell phone and constantly stay in touch with them to satisfy them that you are going to show up. They don't have enough customers to just go every day and sometimes they cancel because of the weather. If you try them I suggest you have alternate plans at the ready in case your tour gets canceled or mixed up. We revered by taking a "tour" recommended by a frequent visitor in a PR tourist magazine. The recommendation was to go into old Ponce to the big park - a square like most Mexican towns have - that was very fun - theer was also an interesting closed pedestrian only street, with shops, no tourists, beautiful pink flower trees, that goes off from one corner of the square The square had a big Catholic cathedral, a grand fountain and on our visit, they were setting up for a festival. It was a great place to people watch and catch interesting cheap food at stands and shops. You have to go and get out of your car to experience how nice it is. You can find the pedestrian street of shops by following the east side of the park going north - the pedestrian "mall" starts at the northeast corner of the square and runs about 3 blocks north. There is also an enclosed "mall" along the way, with mostly fruit and food vendors inside.

For the second half of the day we drove to an attraction called Guilligans Island. It was great but we should have been more prepared and had poor information from the Hilton about it - we expected kayak rentals and snorkel equipment rentals. When we arrived it looked like some kind of cheap tourist trap. For $6 we could get a boat ride to the island and back, but this day it was going at 2Pm, coming back at 3 PM and then not until the last 5 PM boat, so we only got an hour because we didn't want to stay 3 hours. The island is a beach gem of wading, shallows, fish , great for snorkeling and wonderful for families and picnics, but there were no rentals, food sales or anything commercial. If you go, be prepared - take your own cooler and snorkel equipment. You can also order food from their land based restaurant for eating on the island and they will even take your order on the boat and bring the food to you on the island using the next boat. The main menu, of mostly sea foods, seemed pricey, but their $6 specials of pork or chicken, boiled and served Puerto Rican style was delicious when we returned from the island and ate there. I highly recommend this as a beach break, but go prepared with some of your own stuff. There are quite a few picnic tables, shade and restrooms on the island but that's about all.

Beware San Juan rush hour traffic. Our trip home starting from Ponce at 5:30 AM, with a 1 hour 20 minute drive time, for an 8:40 AM flight seemed like a no-brainer. We did have a hint when before the cruise we saw a fairly nasty rush hour going the opposite direction as we were returning to our hotel from bicycling at Pinones in the afternoon. We got to San Juan metro area around 7 AM on a Wednesday and at just 17 miles to the airport, hit some of the worst rush hour morning traffic we had ever witnessed. Each time we got "going again" we hit another seemingly worse jam up. It took us nearly 40 minutes to wrap up the 17 miles and had us mightily worried and stressed out that we would miss our flight. After returning the rental car we hit the airport curbside about 60 minutes before our flight and probably due to light mid-week flights loads, we got to the gate about 5-10 minutes before boarding. Please do factor in San Juan morning and evening rush hour traffic if you like to get to the airport on time. After that out flight home with a stop over at Dllas Fort Worth was thankfully uneventful and okay. A great cruise and trip. I have been to most of the islands of Central America, and the Caribbean and found a week long stay in Puerto Rico very fascinating and entertaining, if you are not expecting just relaxing and enjoying great beaches. Puerto Rico has a few great beaches but you need to search and work for those, but there is so much more to see and do that makes it a wonderful experience. Less


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Cabin review: Serenade of the Seas Deluxe Oceanview Stateroom Deck 7 7068

A fine cruise state room - nothing exceptional or unexceptional. See comments above about being on deck 7, above the life boats - a canopy extends out 5 or 6 feet from the bottom of your balcony, obstructing views of the ocean, socks, etc for several yards away from the side of the ship.

Port and Shore Excursions


Barbados was our last port of call, on day 6. The day before, at Dominica, Samantha, part owner of the dive shop, who had lived a lot of years on Barbados, told me to check out the Barbados beach, near by, within walking distance of the ship - just keep left to get to it she told me. When we docked, from our balcony, I could see portions of what looked like a nice big beach behind the ship, left of the port. That turned out to be Brandon beach. A tourist info booth inside marked it on the map for us and I notice there is also a popular nearby beach, they also marked for us, called Brown’s Beach, to the right of the cruise port and also within walking distance. The weather was absolutely perfect - blue, sunny all day and light to moderate wind from behind us. The walk over to the beach wasn't too complicated - staying along the water front, it took about 30 minutes from the cruise terminal and it was easy to carry towels, magazines, sun block, glasses, etc in a pack we brought along and a beach bag. The beach was a beautiful crescent of white sand, a lot of it a public park, but there were also two places with beach chairs and umbrellas, restrooms, drinks etc for $5 for each item - $15 total for chairs, umbrella and 2 rum punch thrown in at the first one, which we used. The shallow watere of the bay were perfect Caribbean blues. Locals and cruisers drifted in and out. Even though other cruisers also found and used the beach, it was never crowded like St Maarten or Cabo San Lucas beaches and there were no people selling goods on the beach. It looks good for snorkeling. The UV index was 10 plus, extreme, so we enjoyed the warmth and also the shade of the umbrella, playing in the water and lunching at the restaurant that sponsored our beach loungers. Beers for the beach were $2 US, but on the restaurant menu they were $5 Bajan dollars. Keep in mind if you eat at the restaurant and use your credit card you will automatically be given the exchange rate. Our $25 Bajan lunch and tip was converted to less than $18 US. A jet ski and a small Hobie Cat sail boat made passes along the beach, asking people on shore if they wanted to rent a ride. There was a light to moderate wind all day and I asked the Hobie Cat guy for a short $10 ride. That was fun. We went downwind for a few miles, then back. I had not been on a Hobie before and he really knew how to sail it. We had just enough wind to raise the pontoon out of the water a little bit, once or twice. Fun ride. The walk over was easy enough so we walked back late afternoon. A great, inexpensive, self made tour.

Read 702 Barbados Reviews

Dominica was the next stop and similar to our previous and first cruise ship stop there - rain squalls occurred off and on, mostly after noon and dampened activity of people checking out the shops, etc by the ship. I arranged my own 2 tank dive tour, with an independent company for $100 before the cruise - Al Dive. They set up easy to follow instructions to meet me and drove me to their shop a few miles away. I wasn't quite feeling up to it that day, but very glad I went - it was the most amazing diving of the entire trip. Dominica is full of huge basket sponges, corals, and a big variety and abundance of fish - my favorite for diving. I would highly recommend Dominica and Al Dive. to divers who like to see interesting features and marine life. The first dive was at the somewhat famous Champagne, good for both snorkels and divers where underground thermal gas vents release “champagne” bubbles and warm water into the ocean. The second dive at Solomon was also full of intrigue including passing pilings for a large commercial operation's docks. My wife managed to get in some shopping next to the ship between rain squalls while I was gone, but due to the frequent rain we stayed on the ship the rest of the day, enjoying Dominica’s waterfront scenery from our balcony and enjoying ships' amenities.

Read 491 Dominica Reviews

My second ship's tour was the next day at St Kitts. For the price it was a bit of a let down. It was advertised as a 7 hour snorkel, beach, lunch and booze cruise, for $108 per person - a little steep. The only parts that were great - the catamaran was very nice and a great day for sailing - they put up full sail and got the boat up to some of the fastest speed I have ever been on a sailing vessel, while still being very comfortable even for novices. The other detail they got very right was a friendly, helpful crew and plenty of booze and beer after the first thing snorkeling stop. The stop for snorkeling, although it seemed popular as a place to take cruise customers was mediocre - beautiful cliffs rising up off rocks and boulders, but unfortunately that was the main thing to see underwater - rocks and boulders and some nice fish, but not abundant and very very few corals, sponges, etc. I only found one little 5 foot bump of coral, maybe 15 feet long and 6 feet high, and I covered most of the area they allowed us, several times. After that the booze was flowing and nice party music and a good sail to the beach for lunch, across the maybe 1-2 miles channel between St. Kitts to Nevis island - also a wind tunnel where the boat reached maximum speed. The beach at Nevis was rather plain - no water toys, no loungers or shade umbrellas - a picnic area with enough picnic tables, but the food was poor. My wife really disliked it - some chicken and shriveled up hot dogs were the main course and several rather tasteless salads, and conglomerations, probably our worst food of the trip, but I filled up on it. People did enjoy the nice wide, but dark and fairly coarse sand beach or hanging out in the water with plenty of beer and rum punch served up to everyone. I think almost everyone drank more than they were used to - I did. When I got off the tour I knew I was drunk, but not sick or staggering. So they got the booze part of the tour right. We had to be back to the ship at a time that cut the tour to more like 6 hours. This tour was also crowded - we jumped on among the first so I could get a place where my less water and sun loving wife could get shade and spray shelter at a table, but people did fan out over the boat, mostly on the nets up front or sides - enough to be tolerable. The ship sold so many tickets to this tour there was a second similar catamaran taking another full load from our ship - same itinerary as us. We had a fun mock race on the return - we seemed faster for a while - they tried to get around us on the up wind side and some of the guys on the other catamaran mooned us - pretty funny and entertaining exchanges. Later the other boat slipped around us on the downwind side and beat us back to port. So half or more of the components were underwhelming, especially considering the price - the food, the beach and amenities there, and the snorkeling were all a bit sub standard in my opinion. I would recommend, if you pick this tour, to pick it for the booze, party atmosphere, nice catamaran sail boat, and a good crew and service. I expect you could arrange similar on shore before hand or after disembarking for nearly half the price and a lot less people - I noticed one boat following our itinerary for the day, at a distance, had maybe 6-12 people. Our single catamaran had 60 people.


Our next port of call was St. Maarten where I had arranged a dive trip on my own. The dive shop Scuba Fun Dive Center, was in some of the first businesses/marina off the ship and I could kind of envision where it was from a previous cruises stop at St Maarten. I walked off the ship soon after passengers were released and got there in about 15 minutes and early. The 2 tank dive with equipment was $110. The weather was sunny but windy. The reef they wanted to dive we couldn't get that day. We ended up diving on the Gregory, a sunken barge type ship that was upside down and presented some good photos ops around the propellers, and a narrow swim through underneath, plus some flat areas with a little corals and fish. The second dive at Bridges was 3 small wrecks - looked like sail boats and some dumped cement bridge debris. Okay diving, but I was getting tired of nothing but wrecks. The dive boat also lost one engine so we were slow getting back and I was about 20-30 minutes later than expected to meet my wife, as we planned on the beach closest to the cruises ships. During our first and previous cruise stop to St Maarten we discovered the beach nearby was perfect for a do it yourself beach day. You can easily walk there in about 15 minutes - no need for the over hyped ferry - it saves you very little walking and doesn't seem worth the money unless you like paying for short ferry taxi rides. After I went diving our plan was for my wife, at her leisure, to shop and walk to the beach and rent us loungers and an umbrella for the best price she could find - usually the prices get better the farther from the ship you get. After diving I hit the beach and walked down to where she was. She talked a beach vendor down from $20 to $10 for two chairs and a shade umbrella. An ice bucket of 5 beers I got for under $10 when I got there and we also ordered a tasty lunch from their menu at reasonable price, staying to enjoy the beach as long as possible until making it back about 40 minutes before last call for the ship. Another great time on the main beach at St Maarten. We want to fly back to that island some time and investigate some of the other many things to do and beaches to visit. Making your own beach day there is a hit with us.


Our first stop was new - Tortola in the BVI. I used RCL for my tour there - scuba diving on the very popular, to scuba divers, Rhone wreck. I only used ship's tours at two ports this cruise. The other tours I arranged on my own. This tour was excellent, great equipment, dive boat and more checklists and safety than I have ever seen on a dive boat. As expected it pricey at $155 for a 2 tank tour and I knew other islands on our trip were around $100 for a 2 tank tour. Sure enough, there was an independent traveler with us and he got the dives for $110. I like reefs, coral and marine life the most, but the dives on the Rhone wreck were excellent and not to be missed by a diver. My other ship's tour was mediocre, especially for the cost - see my St Kitts comments below. My wife, not a diver, was going to make do with walk off shopping, browsing, but it was Sunday and Tortola shops are all closed, except for some tent vendors as you exit the port secure area. Not a very interesting port for her but she got to explore the ship that day and liked doing that afer checking out the skimpy offerings on shore.

Read 501 Tortola Reviews

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