Background: We are three couples who have been friends forever. This was the second cruise for DH and me, and the first cruise for the other two couples. It was our first experience with Royal Caribbean. I am a vegetarian who is lactose intolerant and allergic to tree nuts, peanuts, and sesame (and yes, I tipped our wait staff appropriately!!). I was a voracious reader of all the reviews posted here, so I wanted to return the favor.
Day 1: Embarkation- We were up early and excited to get to the boat. We had hired a van to pick us up and drop us off and it arrived about 10:45. We arrived at the terminal a little before noon and proceeded to go through the boarding process. Pretty easy boarding... there were lines, but not bad at all and the whole process was easy. Pretty soon, we were boarding the shuttle to take us to the ship. We were on the ship by 12:30 and headed to the Windjammer. It was hopping, but we were able to find seats. Food was good.
By the time we ate and wandered around the ship a little, and made sure that the MDR was aware of my eating difficulties (!), we went to check to see if our rooms were ready- they were. We had an inside cabin with an adjoining door with our friends. The room was cozy, but I didn't think it was bad at all. The bathroom was also cozy, but it had plenty of room for me. The biggest surprise was the shower. I thought it was huge compared to the one we had had onboard the Island Princess for our first cruise. Plenty of room to turn around and shave my legs- which is always good!
We headed to the muster drill, which was quick and easy (love that you don't need your lifejackets anymore!) and then headed to the helipad for sailaway. Seeing the Statue of Liberty in the distance and going under the Verrazano Bridge was amazing! After we went under the bridge, we headed back to our rooms to see if our luggage was there- it was. We quickly unpacked and then explored the ship a bit more. We popped into the WJ for a quick snack (exploring is hungry work!) and ran into the Captain. He said hi to us and we went on our way. We headed to the sailaway show (good show, although wasn't overly impressed by Adam Ace, the comedian- more on him later). This was where we were first exposed to Jimmy Rhodes, the Cruise Director. He was the BEST!
After the show, we headed to the MDR for dinner. We were blessed with a really great waitstaff. Both our Waiter, Graham, and our Asst. Waiter, Savio, were from India. We got the feeling that this might have been one of Savio's first times as an Asst. Waiter, but he got much better by the third night. We had ordered a 12 bottle Platinum wine package, which turned out to be just perfect for our table. Dinner for me that night was Indian food (Aloo Gobi), which became my theme for the week... that was fine with me! I love Indian food and don't get a chance to eat it often. Wonderful!
After dinner, we walked around a bit, but the girls decided to call it an early night. The guys hung out a bit longer checking out the Casino and the bars on board. They had thought that the Weekend Warrior bar would be their go-to spot, but the ESPN channel in the bar was an international version and showed mostly soccer (which would have been fine with me... big EPL fan!).
Day 2: At Sea- We decided we would try ordering room service for coffee, tea, and toast and the phone call alerting us that it was coming came right on the dot of the time we had specified. We tipped the attendant a couple of bucks, which was the key, apparently, to getting timely service from then on. Our two sets of friends didn't realize that they could tip and had spotty service during the week. We never had a problem. The toast was a little sparse, but it was just right to settle my slightly seasick stomach.
After we got up and dressed, we headed to the WJ for a slightly bigger breakfast. It was very crowded and it was tough to find a seat. We eventually found seating and ate. After breakfast, we headed to the pool deck (seeing/speaking to the Captain again!). The pool deck was also crowded and we eventually found some chairs on deck 12, overlooking the pool. We spent the day soaking in the rays and jumping into the pool- really relaxing.
This was the first of two formal nights, so we headed back to the room a little early to get ready. We headed to the Royal Promenade and took a picture with Captain Olav Nysetter before his speech. His speech was enjoyable and he seemed to be a very personable, friendly, and humorous guy- very different from our experience on Princess. On that cruise, we saw the Captain exactly once- during his speech on formal night. Captain Olav was definitely the man.
Dinner was a delicious potato curry and I enjoyed every bite. In fact, Graham kept offering to bring me another plate because I had pretty much licked the plate clean. That also became a theme. My desserts through the cruise were mostly fruit plates, because of my allergies and intolerances. I loved it. We also met Aran, our Head Waiter. He came over to introduce himself and chat with me about my food issues. After that night, he was over every night to check in on me and check with the table about food and service. He also brought me the menu for the next night and had me order my food for the following day so that the chefs could make sure it was prepared without allergens and separately from the other food. This was wonderful and my tablemates enjoyed a sneak peak of the next day's offerings.
After dinner, we headed to the Crown & Kettle, where the gentlemen of the group had already befriended the bartenders and servers. They gave us bar puzzles and challenges to figure out while we sat there, which was fun. I ended up calling it a night a little early, because my seasickness hadn't quite subsided. I decided to just take Bonine every morning for the rest of the trip, which worked wonderfully (except for Day 8!). Adam Ace's show was the night show that night, and since I hadn't been impressed by his routine during the sailaway show, I didn't think I was missing much. Apparently, I was wrong and the rest of my group enjoyed his show tremendously. I came back to my cabin to see a bunny towel animal on the bed. Loved it!
Day 3: Bermuda- We got up early today so that we could eat before having to meet for our excursion at 9:30am. Headed to the WJ and seats were found easily. After breakfast, we got off the ship and walked around the pier in Bermuda. We met up with our excursion and headed out. We had booked a glass bottom boat excursion through the ship. The boat was at the pier, so we just walked across the pier and got on board. We headed out and were treated to a bit of a tour and information about Bermuda. We hit a small rainshower on the way to the coral reefs and everyone piled downstairs. The shower lasted about 15 minutes and was one of two of our entire cruise. The other one came a few hours later and lasted about five minutes. The excursion was great and we enjoyed the 1.5 hour long trip.
Once we got back to the dock, we decided to catch the bus to Horseshoe Bay Beach. It was easy to buy tokens right on the pier ($4 one way) and the bus stop was a short walk from the dock. We got on the bus and it was about a 25-30 minute ride to Horseshoe Bay Beach. It was a beautiful beach and the water was nice and warm. We rented umbrellas and chairs and enjoyed the sun and water. It was a little crowded, but I'm from MA and the beaches on the Cape are no less crowded, so I guess I'm used to it. J The sand was gorgeous, although I think we were expecting the "pink sand" to be a little more pink. I think it's probably more pink at sunrise and/or sunset. After enjoying the beach for a few hours, the weather started to turn a bit and the rain started. It lasted for about five minutes in all, but we decided to pack it in and call it a day. We caught the next bus back to the dock and it was crowded! We made it back to downtown King's Wharf and walked around a bit. There was a very cool glass shop where you could watch them blow glass. DH and our friend decided to check out the Frog and Onion pub, where they ordered 50 oz beers. The rest of us headed back to the ship. Once on the ship, I quickly changed my clothes and headed up to Deck 12 to watch as we pulled out of Bermuda. Note to self: the ship will leave port as soon as everyone is on board, not necessarily at the posted time. :)
After we pulled out of Bermuda, I decided to check out the Fitness Center and hop on a treadmill. I spent about and hour in there and planned to go back... I never did. Oh well. It was nice. I spent the rest of the time before dinner relaxing on the pool deck, reading, and watching the sunset. Dinner that night for me was a Vindaloo curry, which was excellent. We didn't do much of anything that night... no shows (just not interested in the show choices overall). There was a 70s dance party on the Promenade, which we got to at the end. Afterwards, we just walked around, got drinks, and enjoyed what the ship had to offer.
Day 4: Day at Sea- We slept in a bit this morning and then got up and headed to the WJ for breakfast. We found seats fairly easily and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast. Our Cruise Critic Meet & Mingle was this morning (it had been listed on the RCI/CC site as taking place Day 2, but we had the invitation in our room with the new date, time, and location listed). We were welcomed by Rodrigo Martinez, the Group Coordinator and one of the Cruise Director's staff, and given a gift of a little pouch that had a pen, paper, and could hold our ID badge- very cool. We also received tickets for the ice show, which was later that day. This was AWESOME, since we had missed the ticket release and were bummed about it. We then went around and introduced ourselves to the group. Rodrigo then held a raffle for prizes, which included wine/champagne, $50 internet credits, and free in-room movie vouchers. That was unexpected and fun, especially since DH won a bottle of champagne! We had time to chat and meet each other. Our turnout was good- about 30ish people total. It was nice to meet some of the people with whom I had been chatting on our Roll Call board. I was really impressed with Rodrigo and thought the M&M was well organized.
After the M&M, we decided to hit up the scheduled Scavenger Hunt... which we ended up winning! Our prize was a set of luggage tags for each member of our team... we enjoyed that! Apparently, it was a lucky day for us!
Afterwards, we headed Poolside for the Bellyflop contest. If this is a must for you, get there early. We ended up watching from above the Sky Bar, but we had a good view and enjoyed it. After the bellyflop, we headed to Studio B for the Ice Show- this was really, really good! I was amazed that they could skate like that while on a ship! Really enjoyable.
After the show, we split up to have a lazy afternoon. DH decided that his lucky day had determined that he play Bingo. He ended up winning $1500, so I guess it really was our lucky day!
Dinner that night was a little change for me, as the Indian offering had paneer, which is cheese. I had a nice pasta dish with vegetables, and it was delicious. I missed the spice of the Indian food, though. We did enjoy drinking the bottle of champagne that DH had won at the M&M. He had brought it down to our Head Waiter and asked him to chill is for us. :) After dinner was the Liars game show, which was hilarious. After that, we headed to The Chamber for the 80s-90s dance party. There wasn't much 80s or 90s music... but we enjoyed ourselves on the dance floor anyway. It was late when we finally headed back to the cabin, which was fine, since we weren't docking in St. Maarten until noon the next day.
Day 5: St. Maarten- We had an easy morning and watched the docking after breakfast in the WJ. We were headed to Maho Beach to catch the planes, so we jumped off the boat as soon as we could. Catching a taxi to Maho was super easy- we just walked through the tourist center right off the boat and there were taxis lined up. The rates are posted (I think it was $7 per person to Maho) and very easy. We had James as our driver and he got us to Maho in about 25 minutes. I had read about the construction work going on in St. Maarten, and we could see it (and its effects) all the way to Maho. We weren't looking forward to the ride back, but I was too excited about the planes to care much.
James dropped us off at Sunset Bar & Grill and we quickly found a table. We asked James to return at about 2:30, but he ended up staying at the bar and waiting for us (we tipped him well, considering that he probably missed out on fares because of us). The rest of the group ordered beers and food, but I rushed over to the beach to watch the planes.
Now, I should probably mention that I am a HUGE fan of planes. My dad was Air Force and is a pilot of a small Piper Cherokee, so I've been into planes my whole life. I was more excited about Maho Beach than anything else on the trip, so this was my moment. :) It didn't disappoint. I can't really describe the whole thing... it was that cool. I had planes about 20 feet over my head and got blasted by the jet wash of planes taking off. DH and I went swimming and that was even cooler. I can't really describe how cool it was to swim in that beautifully warm water while planes were landing over my head and taking off mere feet away. The highlight was an Air France Airbus which landed over us while we were swimming. It was really amazing.
Sunset Bar & Grill was very cool. They had a great menu and really good prices for food and beer. We ordered a couple of buckets of six Bud Lights for $20, which was a great price, I thought. They also have a gift shop there and I bought a t-shirt for my father and one for myself. They also have a surfboard that lists all of the arrivals for the day, as well as a speaker that monitors the tower/pilot communications. It was fun to listen to that, but I spent most of the time on the beach or in the water.
If you are into planes, you will enjoy Maho. It was my favorite part of the entire trip and the beach and water were exactly my speed. If you like gorgeous beaches with lots of sand, and don't care about planes, this is not the beach for you. There is very little sand, and if you set up in the wrong place, all of your stuff can get blown into the water by the jet wash. It has to be your thing, I think, to enjoy Maho. If I ever go back to St. Maarten, my first stop will definitely be Maho again.
After Maho, we cabbed it back to Philipsburg. James got us around the traffic by going through the French side of the island, which was cool for a couple of reasons. Firstly, we got to see Marigot, which is the French capital. It was very pretty and I'd love to see more of it. We also got to see the border between the two sides of the island, which I also liked seeing. Secondly, we missed all of the traffic and made it back to downtown Philipsburg in about 35 minutes.
We spent the rest of the day shopping in Philipsburg. My friends were looking for jewelry (mostly Tanzanite) and we were looking for rum. There is a guavaberry rum place down the street a bit... go try the guavaberry rum! It is delicious! We bought a few bottles and also bought some bamboo sheets at Cariloha (check this place out!). We made it back down to the center of town and waited for our friends to finish shopping. I wandered in to one of the jewelry stores and wandered back out with some Tanzanite... for a great price. Make sure you haggle. The jewelry stores will start really high, but keep at it and you should be able to get the price down to what you want to pay. It would also be good to research prices before you go, if you can. We weren't planning to buy jewelry, so we didn't do any research, but my friend got some really good deals on blue diamonds and emeralds.
All of the stores in downtown Philipsburg must close at 6:00pm, so make sure you leave yourself plenty of time if you want to shop. After they closed, we got a taxi back to the pier with Alfred, who spent the whole ride telling us to come back to St. Maarten and how much better his island is than the others. Looking back now, I have to agree with him. St. Maarten was definitely my favorite stop and I would definitely consider doing a land vacation there.
Back at the pier, there were smaller versions of the shops from downtown that were still open, so if you missed anything, this was your opportunity to buy more! We did buy some more of that guavaberry rum while we were there and then got back on the ship. Dinner that night was a vegetable curry (delicious!) with samosas for a starter (yum!). After dinner, there was a "midnight" buffet and dance party that started at 11:30pm on the pool deck. It was good- lots of fresh fruits and some nice chips and salsa. I couldn't believe I could eat more after dinner, but there I was, eating more. The dance party was fun and then we headed for bed.
Day 6: St. Thomas- Up early to grab a quick breakfast at the WJ and then off the ship to shop in Charlotte Amalie. We caught a taxi downtown (again, very easy!) and we were downtown in 10 minutes. We did some shopping, which I found very different from the shopping in Philipsburg. Most people in the shops were quite aggressive and they tended to pester you on the sidewalks or if you walked into the shops. We did manage to get off the main street and find some less aggressive places, but, to me, the whole feel of Charlotte Amalie was very different from that of Philipsburg.
One shop that is a must if you are looking for unique jewelry is Bernard K. Passman. He was an artist who crafted art out of black coral. Since he passed away, the shop serves as part museum and part store, selling very unique pieces. He was commissioned to create a cutlery set for the marriage of Prince Charles and Princess Diana and there is a similar set on display (along with the tank you note signed by Prince Charles!). I highly recommend at least taking a look in the store. It was one of the few where we didn't feel pressured or rushed and the pieces were gorgeous. The other place that wasn't too bad was a liquor/souvenir shop near Passman. They had amazing deals on rum and we ended up with a couple of bottles of Cruzan, which is the local rum (made on St. Croix).
After we shopped, we headed back to the ship for lunch before our excursion. We ate at the WJ (no problem finding a seat today!) and then changed for our excursion to Coral World and Magen's Bay. We met on the pier and climbed into a big, open air taxi (awesome!). The taxi trip was beautiful and it took us about 25 minutes to get to Coral World. Once there, we had an hour for a self-guided tour. The place was very cool and had sharks, stingrays, and turtles. There were iguanas everywhere! There was also an undersea observatory, which let you go underneath the water and look at fish and coral reefs. Very cool.
After our very hot(!)hour at Coral World, we were back in our taxi and heading to Magen's Bay. The trip took about 15 minutes. We had 1.5 hours there, which worked out to be about perfect. Magen's Bay was beautiful, although our friends judged it second to Horseshoe Bay Beach in Bermuda. The water was lovely, although we did spot a jellyfish! It must have swam/drifted away, because we couldn't find it again after about 15 minutes. We spent most of the time in the water and then got out to dry off before the taxi drive back to the ship. On the drive back, we stopped off at an overlook for an amazing view!
The taxi dropped us off at the dockside shopping area, which was about a five minute walk to the ship. We popped into some of the shops and then walked over to the Señor Frog's that was right by the ship. We order yards of piña colada and watched as people boarded the ship. Note to self: when the ship blows its horn, you have half an hour until your All Aboard time. :) We finished our drinks and got back on the ship to watch the sailaway. There were a few people who were late getting back- it was fun to watch them run down the pier to board the ship.
By the way, they tell you on the ship that your cell phones will work in St. Thomas. That was partially true. I have Verizon, which didn't work. AT&T and Sprint apparently work on the island, so you are in luck if you have those carriers. :)
We rested a bit before dinner. Dinner was another delicious Indian meal; Masala Dal. I am a big fan of masala and this was so good! After dinner was the Love & Marriage game show- this is not to be missed. Very fun! Afterwards, we went outside on Deck 4 and watched as we drifted around Puerto Rico. Then we headed to bed- we had an early day the next morning.
Day 7: San Juan- Another room service morning, because we wanted to get started in San Juan early. We had to be back on board the ship by 12:30pm, so we wanted to make the most of the time we had. We got off the ship and walked into downtown Old San Juan. Very easy. We walked around Old San Juan a bit and popped into the Coach Factory store. Amazing deals- not to be missed!
By the way, your cell phone should work here with no problem. Mine did and I was able to make a phone call to my parents to say 'Hola'! It was cool to talk to them.
We made it to El Morro, which is an old fort on the water. Gorgeous! We didn't go in (there is a $3 cost to go in) because we were running out of time. We headed back and stopped into Barrachina, the home of the piña colada. They were very good and the bartender was awesome. He told us to stop into the DonQ distillery, right by the ship (DonQ is the local rum... Bacardi isn't considered local by Puerto Ricans, according to the bartender, because it came from Cuba). We did and he was right. They had delicious rums and would mix sample drinks for you so that you could taste it. We bought a few bottles there and headed back to the ship. The line to get back on the ship was LONG and we waited for quite some time.
We made it back on the ship in time and watched as we sailed out of San Juan, knowing that the next time we were off the ship it would be in Bayonne and our cruise would be over. We just enjoyed the boat for the rest of the day. I read for a bit in the sun and swam. Dinner was cauliflower curry (not my favorite curry of the week). After dinner was The Quest (we asked Graham to hurry things up a bit so we didn't miss it). The Quest was SO MUCH FUN!! A definite must do!!! After The Quest, we headed back to the Crown & Kettle for a bit and then off to bed.
Day 8 & 9: Days at Sea- We used these day to try everything on the boat that we wanted to try. Rock climbing (fun!), mini-golfing (windy!), trivia, swimming, reading, a little packing on Day 9, and just relaxing. A great couple of days.
Dinner on Day 8 was formal. This was lobster night for everyone else, but another Indian night for me- it was similar to Chana Masala (the best meal of the trip), but I couldn't really enjoy it because the ship was rocking so much that I got seasick. I even took an extra Bonine, but it didn't do much to help. We were heading back to NJ at full speed, which is what caused the extra rocking, I think. Anyway, not a great night for me, but we tried to make the best of it by going around to all of the photographers and having our formal pictures done. They all came out well... it was so much fun. We headed over to karaoke, but I wasn't doing well, so I headed to bed.
The Farewell Show was before dinner on Day 9. It was a great show, although it had me in tears for most of it. The comedian was Tony Daro and was quite funny. I suspect that his adult show would be even funnier, but this was for all ages. Dinner on Day 9 was pasta, because the Indian offering had paneer again. Graham was also able to surprise me with a delicious sponge cake with strawberries for dessert, which was so nice. After dinner, we rushed up to the room to put our luggage in the hallway. Afterwards, we wandered around the ship and took it all in. It had been a great vacation!
Day 10: Disembarkation- We were in group number 7 and not scheduled to disembark until about 10ish. We got up and had breakfast in the WJ. We were expecting it to be crazy, but we were easily able to find a table and enjoyed a relatively leisurely meal. We walked around the ship again and then headed back to the room to grab our carry-ons and head to our meeting place. They actually called our group about half an hour early and we headed off the ship. We got on the shuttle, got into the terminal, found our luggage, found a porter, and got in the Customs line. The line was long, but it took us about 30 minutes to get through it. Very easy. Our van was out front and we were back at our friends' house about two hours after our group was called.
I loved the length of this cruise. It was a perfect mix of sea days and port days, although I would have liked a little more time in San Juan. Our last cruise was a seven night cruise in Alaska, which was great, but felt short. This felt like exactly the right amount of time.
A couple of negatives: sometimes it was overwhelming to walk into the WJ and try to find a seat. Trying different times was key. There were a TON of teens on board and no one seemed to ever enforce the 1:00am curfew. DH was out until 3am a few nights and said that there were always teens wandering around and hanging out in the Cafe Promenade. I also would have loved to see some of the shows and activities pushed back to 10:30pm, as 10:00 was sometimes difficult to make for us second seaters.
Overall, the trip was really amazing. I can't say enough about how much I liked Royal Caribbean. The ship was beautiful, the service was outstanding, the food was delicious, Jimmy Rhodes (the Cruise Director) and his staff were phenomenal (How U Cruisin'?)... it was a wonderful cruise. Our waitstaff went out of their way to cater to me, bringing me fruit plates, special desserts, and making suggestions about meals. I will definitely cruise with RCI again (in fact, I purchased an open-ended cruise certificate so that I can cruise with them again!). :)