All First Time Cruisers:
Hubby, 30 years old
Me, 42 years old
Uncle, 45 years old
Aunt, 51 years old
We flew into Fort Lauderdale Airport on the Thursday preceding our trip. My uncle had timeshare points that needed to be used so he booked us at the Palm Aire Wyndham in Pompano Beach, FL. This area of Florida is absolutely beautiful! None of us had ever been to Florida so we were delighted to see palm trees everywhere and found the Fort Lauderdale by the Sea area to be quite nice.
We didn't do a whole lot in this area. We had just planned to kick off our vacation in a nice relaxing way. We did take the Millionaire's Row sightseeing tour onboard the Jungle Queen. We could not believe the breathtakingly beautiful homes along the intracoastal waterways there. The yachts with their own helicopters, etc. left us speechless!! Hubby and Uncle went fishing for a day off of the pier in Lauderdale By The Sea. My uncle caught a rather large angel fish, hubby did not catch anything. While watching them my aunt and I saw a shark, stingray, and many barracuda and eels.
Shuttle Service from Fort Lauderdale Airport to Port of Miami - I would not travel by any other means other than SAS Shuttle Service. Steve was timely, friendly, and very helpful. We had no issues going to Port of Miami; nor returning on our debarkation day. His instructions were very clear and concise. His fees were very reasonable. There were 4 of us, and it was $13 per person one way. Carnival charged much more! We actually had our ground transfers paid with Carnival and called and cancelled them so we could save a few $$$.
Embarkation - Smooth and easy. We arrived at the port by 11:45am. We were on the boat and eating at the Red Sail Buffet on Lido Deck at 12:45pm. Our rooms were ready at 1:30pm, and our checked luggage was promptly delivered to our room. We did not have passports and were worried this would slow the process down. We had our driver license and birth certificates and had no problem getting through customs and security.
Recommendations: If you have a common style of luggage be sure to place ribbons or something eye catching on to your bag so you can easily spot it. We had a black bag and if it had not been for the yellow ribbons I had tied on it, we would have been forever trying to figure out which bag was ours!
Cleanliness of Ship/Room: I am a fairly picky person when it comes to cleanliness. I can say that our room was always spotless. I found the public areas to be pretty decent. Some of the public restrooms left a little to be desired but that is what happens when you have 3000 people on a boat. Floors were slippery on Lido Deck (due to swimmers) so be careful when entering those areas.
Motion of the Ocean: I had a hard time with this. I seemed to feel every movement the ship made. Luckily I had asked my physician for the nausea patch. I bought the wrist bands and they did work, but I wanted to put the patch on so I didn't have to wear them as they were tight on my wrists. I did not have any affects from the patch except for a very dry mouth. It was VERY DRY. I could not get enough to drink. The patch did help my seasickness and I was fine for the rest of the week.
Meals: I am a very picky eater. I can eat the same thing for a week straight and be satisfied. Hubby is totally opposite. He likes to try new things and never usually repeats his selections. We ate dinner on the "your time" schedule which was held in the Golden Restaurant. We could eat on our own schedule anywhere between 5:45pm and 9:30pm. Surprisingly we always were placed at table 146. And our waiter, Putu was FANTASTIC! His assistant, Heri, was awesome as well. Between the two of them we never waited for refills on our drinks, and they were very eager to ensure we were happy with our meal and dessert every evening. Every meal came with a Starter (appetizer) and a selection from the Main Course. It was then followed up by a delicious dessert. Some of our favorite dining room meals were Filet Mignon, Flat Iron Steak, Country Fried Chicken, Turkey, etc. The meals were always presented well, They looked like they were out of a magazine. We had no bad experiences with any of the meals. Dessert ranged from warm chocolate melting cake to different kinds of cheesecakes. I was fond of the sherbet and sampled pineapple, and orange many nights.
We ate in the dining room during one formal night. Hubby and Uncle were underdressed, but we were admitted since my Aunt and I had dresses on. Some people really do these nights up nicely! Hair, make-up, evening gowns, etc! I enjoyed watching them parade around! Next time I believe I will try to do it up right like they did! It looked fun - for one night anyway!
Other options: Red Sail Restaurant Buffet (usually a very nice buffet selection), The Grille (chicken tenders, huge hot dogs, cheeseburgers, shoestring fries) The Deli (turkey sandwiches, reubens, pastrami & rye, grilled ham & cheese), The Asian Wok (stir fry), and The Burrito Bar. We were never at a loss for dining options! Again, no complaints! Everything was great no matter where we got it!
24/7 Pizzeria and Ice Cream: What else needs to be said? Loved their pizza and hubby enjoyed the endless ice cream cones!
Entertainment: We loved the English Accents of the Entertainment Staff. Gary, the cruise director did an amazing job! It was nice to see him at almost every event. We came to love Sam (C'mon Sam! Call my bingo number LOL), Meyer, Steve, Charlotte, etc. They all did a great job to keep us entertained on the ship! We enjoyed the welcome show, the rock show, the hypnotist, the illusionist and the 4 comedians. They kept us laughing and were the highlight of a few of our nights! Top notch! Funny as heck! Word of Warning: The Glory Dance/Show Girls do wear thong-style apparel. You will see skin. You will also be amazed at the quality of their choreography, etc. We really enjoyed all of the shows! Bingo was pricey.. $20 for three games. I do not believe I will ever play bingo on a cruise ship again.
Casinos: Hubby and Uncle loved the tables! Aunt and I loved the slots! She even got lucky and hit a jackpot on Cinco De Mayo -- yup... $5,869.50!!! I would not have believed it had I not been there!
Onboard Pools: These were smaller then I had imagined. We did enjoy the pool at the back of the ship by the Azure Bar and Pizzeria. This was an adults only pool and it was never crowded. We also enjoyed the Serenity area for adults. Nice hammocks and big lounge chairs to lay in! Very quiet and peaceful!
Ports of Call:
Cozumel - paid for an independent driver to take us around Cozumel. Originally he asked for $40 per person. We ended up paying $30. Our driver stayed with us. He had a nice air conditioned van. First stop was a beach resort called Club Cozumel Caribe. We were the first to arrive there. It was a private type beach. Many beach chairs, and a few that were up by the pool which were elevated so if you sat up there you had a beautiful view of the water. Snorkeling gear was included with the price we paid the driver. They had a beautiful pool and restaurant. The water was a little rough as it was early in the day. But you can't complain when the water is blue and beautiful like that! We stayed there for a few hours and then had him drive us to a Tequila Processing Plant. We sampled some of the tequila (which was pretty good! Yum!) and then head for Margaritaville where we had a great lunch! We souvenier shopped for a little while and then had our driver take us back to port!
Belize - this was a tender port and it was a rather lengthy ride to port. We were only the boat about 20 minutes each way. We did not enjoy this port at all. Locals will hound you to death. The city is very dirty and poor. We paid a driver $20 per person to be our driver for the day. She took us throughout the city pointing out many interesting places. They will insist on taking you to their man-made beach which is like a swampy lagoon. It cost us $10 per person to get in. The only thing it had going for it was a huge water slide. Beware though - my uncle lost his swimming trunks briefly! Zip-lining was closed. Hindsight for this port: we should have stayed on the boat!
Roatan - we rented a Kia as soon as we ported. $50 for the day, $1000 deposit. We drove to the West End Bay area. We visited Bananarama which is a public access beach. Beach chair rental is very costly ($40 for the day). The water was very calm in Roatan. Very clear. Very warm. We loved it! My husband got a massage on the beach which cost him $25 for a half hour. Many young kids on the beach were peddling their wares (hammocks, cigars, necklaces, conch shells). We want to go to Gumbalimba Park but did not have time. My uncle says he wishes that we had just stayed near port and taken the sky lift chairs over to Mahogany Bay and just swam there. I do not regret the rental car. We were able to get away from the boat crowd and have some nice beach time.
Grand Cayman - my favorite port now! We loved it here! Nice, clean and many shops to wander around in. The water is absolutely gorgeous. We did not do anything here but wander the shopping malls and souvenier stores that lined the streets. Traffic was very tourist friendly. I thought the water in Roatan was the most beautiful I had seen until I saw the Cayman Islands! We are thinking about flying back and staying directly there for a week!
Debarkation - quick and painless! Without passports we were a little slower to enter bac into the U.S. as the customs agent pointed out that everything had to be hand entered. But overall it was a very smooth process.
My Impression: This was a great first cruise. We have no regrets, other than we wish we had taken the kids. We will not cruise again without them (they are 10 and 14). The boat was a little more outdated than I had hoped for. Hearing others in the airport talk about the Royal Caribbean ships has made me think that we will give them our next shot for comparison. However, Carnival seems to be more affordable so we may just stick with them again. We are definitely cruise converts now! This is really the way to vacation! No worries! No meals to prepare, no housekeeping! Fantastic food, fun, sun!!! It exceeded our expectations and we cannot wait to plan our next one!