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Serenade of the Seas Cruise Review by erniesband

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Serenade of the Seas
Serenade of the Seas
Member Name: erniesband
Cruise Date: January 2012
Embarkation: San Juan
Destination: Southern Caribbean
Cabin Category: D2
Cabin Number: 9256
Booking Method: Internet Agency
See More About: Serenade of the Seas Cruise Reviews | Southern Caribbean Cruise Reviews | Royal Caribbean Cruise Deals
Member Rating   5+ out of 5+
Dining 4.0
Public Rooms 5.0
Cabins 5+
Entertainment 4.0
Spa & Fitness 1.0
Family & Children Not Rated
Shore Excursions 5+
Embarkation 4.0
Service 5+
Value-for-Money 5+
Rates 5.0
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Ship Facts: Serenade of the Seas Review (by Cruise Critic!) | Serenade of the Seas Deck Plans
The Farewell Tour Serenade 1/14 - 1/28/2012
Serenade of the Seas January 14-28, 2012, The Farewell Tour

Much like some folks return to the Outer Banks every year, Serenade of the Seas has been our vacation home since her 16th voyage in January 2004. Exactly 400 voyages later, voyage 416, we embarked on our 7th and 8th weeks, our first back-to-back. The title of this review is "The Farewell Tour" because this is Serenade's last Caribbean season. After this season she's moving to Europe, going for a major refurb at the end of this year, and then trading places with Brilliance of the Seas. Brilliance will be coming to the Caribbean and Serenade will be going to the Mideast. We'll miss Serenade!

A little about us: I'm Jodi, an active 57-year old, my husband, Ernie is a less active 61 year old (or as he says -- he has a different skill set -- he can drink and eat me under the table, I can out-hike him any day of the week). We travel with friends close in age, and equally active, and look for active excursions on the islands. We cruise for the destinations, not so much for the ship, so look for islands we like, and port-intensive itineraries. For us, the Southern Caribbean itineraries have the most to offer. January-February is the most convenient times for us to vacation. We're from Cleveland, and head to the Caribbean so we can get a break from winter.

We always fly at least a day before our cruise. This year we flew from Cleveland to Baltimore on a cheap Southwest flight, to take advantage of great pricing from Baltimore to San Juan on Airtran. We stayed Thursday night at the Hyatt Place near BWI (on points). It's a hotel geared to the business traveler, and was very comfortable and convenient. There's shuttle transportation to and from the airport, and they'll take you to nearby restaurants, as well. We had dinner at G & M, a restaurant known for it's crab cakes, and weren't disappointed. Friday we caught the 8:00 shuttle to the airport for our 10:00 flight to San Juan. We had upgraded to business class, which gave us 2 free bags each, very useful for a back to back! Our seats included free wifi. Worked great with my iPad -- for the first hour or hour and a half of flight. Once you get away from the coast the wifi goes bye bye.

After an uneventful flight we landed in San Juan about 2:30 pm, and along with our friends, whom we had rendezvoused in Baltimore, headed for Le Consulat, a small boutique hotel on Magdalena, in the Condado area. It's a 26-room hotel (a Choice Hotels property) one block off of the main drag, Ashford Ave. We've stayed there before. The prices are great, the rooms SMALL and basic, the staff attentive. We paid $108 plus tax for the night -- considering it's high season, and it was the weekend of the San Sebastian Festival, it's hard to find accommodations at a lower price. It was a sunny, warm afternoon, and we spent some time walking along Ashford deciding where to eat dinner. We ended up at Cafe de Angel, on Ashford near Magdalena. We'd eaten there before, and, as usual, had a good meal at a reasonable price. It's a Puerto Rican restaurant. I had the Tostones Camarones, others tried Mofongos, and everyone enjoyed their meal. We made the requisite stop at the Walgreens at the corner of Ashford and Condado for some last minute necessities (good place to pick up sodas, water, etc., to take aboard), and headed back to the hotel. Later that evening my husband and I met another couple, staying at Le Consulat and boarding Serenade the next day at Buenos Aires, an Argentine restaurant on the corner of Magdalena and Condado, for drinks. We've already decided we'll be heading there for dinner next January.

Saturday morning the front desk staff at the hotel called a cab for us and by 11:00 we were on our way to the Pan Am pier to board Serenade. It's about a 15-minute cab ride and costs about $16 plus $1 per bag, plus tip. The line at the pier was the longest we've seen at that time of morning, but went quickly enough. We did find the priority embarkation line (behind the other lines, closest to the building) after we had been standing in line for a few minutes -- it's the first time we've actually seen a priority embarkation line in San Juan. That got us into the building quickly, and the check in process went quickly, as well. However, once we had received our sea pass cards we were directed to an area where everyone was sitting in chairs and waiting to board. Normally, at this point, you can get your security picture taken and be on board before noon, however there had been a noro outbreak the week before and boarding was delayed while the ship was scrubbed down. In fact, the passengers doing 1/7-1/14 back to backs had to get off the ship to accommodate the cleaning. There was a priority chair area, as well. Once they were ready to allow boarding, the back to back passengers from the previous week were escorted back on, then those of us in the priority chair area were allowed on, followed by the rest. One note: we didn't decide to get Coke to take aboard until we reached the pier -- we ended up paying $8.00 for a 12-pack at the shop on the pier -- way more than if we had the forethought to pick it up at that convenient Walgreens! We were on board by 1:00. The cabins are normally opened at 1:00 but weren't available until 1:30, due to the noro cleaning. We headed up to the Windjammer, had lunch, and then headed to our cabin.

Our cabin: We finally scored the coveted 9256, for both weeks. It's a D2, aft, portside. The special thing about this cabin is its balcony. All the aft balconies are special -- the middle ones are very deep. This one isn't quite as deep as the one's in the middle, but it's very wide, and part of it curves around to the port side of the ship. That part isn't really usable -- you can squeeze over there to get a different vantage point, but you can't sit over there. The balcony has 2 lounge chairs, 2 regular chairs and a small table. Unlike the balconies in the middle, it gets a fair breeze -- enough that we had to be careful things didn't blow away when we were underway. The middle aft balconies get no breeze at all. We had breakfast on the balcony several times each week. While we enjoyed it, we'd be just as happy with any aft balcony, or hump balcony, in the future.

The cabin, itself, was in good shape. It was your standard D2, plenty of room, plenty of storage. In fact, we didn't even use all the available storage. Our cabin steward, Jeremy was a gem. We found out toward the end of the 2nd week that the female cabin steward handling some of the cabins back in that section was his wife. They're from St. Vincent, and departed the same day we did, on vacation. The minifridges in the rooms are now stocked and maintained by the bar staff. We emptied ours and had the barman take the contents, so we had a place for our Cokes. Jeremy made sure we had a full bucket of ice every afternoon. Robes were not waiting in the cabin, but were supplied on request. They aren't always available -- they go to the suites first, and then, if available, non-suite guests (diamond or above C&A) can get them. We were lucky and were able to get them. I had pre-ordered an egg crate for the bed, and it was on the bed when we got there. Last year's cabin had a new flat screen TV; the TV in this cabin hadn't been changed out yet. I also used my own hair dryer -- the one in this year's cabin was an older, harder to use one. However, we do understand why they're not happy about people bringing on extension cords. We have a short one with 3 plugs we travel with, and toward the end of the 2 weeks I did pop the circuit breaker to the 110 power in the room with the hair dryer. If you travel with a lot of electronics, you'll need something -- there are only two 110 outlets at the desk area. We have my iPhone, my iPad, my Shuffle (for exercising), 4 cameras and my hair dryer -- 2 outlets frequently don't cut it. There is no 110 outlet in the bathroom, either.

Muster Drill and Sail away: Muster drill is 8:15 pm, before sail away. Life jackets are no longer required. The best place to watch sail away in San Juan is from the helipad at the front of deck 5. Wait a few minutes after muster drill while the crowd heads back inside or wherever and then head up front. Go all the way to the front, up the stairs to the helipad. This is one of those little known "secrets they don't tell you." In fact, both weeks we were on board there were very few people up there at all. Sailing out of the harbor San Juan is on the starboard side. The city walls are lit up, and you can see the El Moro lighthouse. Shortly after you get out of the harbor the breeze picks up and it's time to head elsewhere.

Food and Service:

We ate at the Windjammer twice during the 2 weeks we were on board -- for lunch the day we boarded, and for breakfast on the final day. The food was standard Windjammer fare. I'm always happy with their salad selections. And the fact that they've got flavored water available. There was plenty of staff both days cleaning tables and offering drinks. We particularly like the outdoor eating area at the back of the Windjammer.

We had main seating dinner, and ate almost all of our meals in the main dining room. Food was average to very good throughout the trip. The menus were exactly the same weeks one and two. The best meal of the week had to be the first night each week -- the "catch of the day" was Corvina -- a delicious and well-prepared fish entree. There were some service challenges -- food coming out cold, and an absent bar waiter. At one point the bar waiter mixed up my husband's and our friend's sea pass cards, resulting in the drinks being charged to the wrong cards and multiple trips to Guest Services to get into rooms, and to rectify the charge problems. The first week service was very slow -- we'd be getting our entrees when other tables were finishing up dinner. We spoke to our headwaiter, Marcello, who made sure we had a better experience our second week. The first week he actually ended up serving the table, getting drinks and filling in for the shortcomings of the wait and bar staff. We were at a large table all the way aft in the center. 5 of us were sailing together, and another gentleman, sailing solo, was also on for 2 weeks. Mid-week we checked with Marcello on our table for the following week, and to make sure that the 5 of us were appropriately linked for dining. My sister and brother-in-law and another couple were joining us on board the following week, and we wanted to make sure that we were seated with them. Marcello arranged for the 5 of us, plus the solo traveller seated with us the first week, plus the 2 new couples, to be at the same table the following week. We had a different waiter and assistant waiter the second week that were much more on the ball. The bar waiter was the same, but had obviously been given additional instruction; my husband's coke and our friend's drink were on the table every night before we ever got to the dining room.

Portofino: We ate at Portofino Wednesday night the first week. It was wonderful! Dining room waiter had suggested that we order 2 crostini and 2 antipasti for the table and then order enough of the other appetizers to share. By the time we were done with that, I didn't really need dinner -- but had it. Well worth the upcharge. We also went to the pasta demonstration lunch on the sea day. That's $10 per person. One of the chefs demonstrates making pasta -- he's great, could have his own cooking show. We thought it was going to be a tasting menu, but no, it's a full 4-course lunch. Didn't eat much for dinner that night. This was our first time eating at Portofino, and for the life of me I don't know why we waited so long!

Chops: We were able to make our Chops reservations for the second week on Friday the first week of our cruise. We made reservations for our entire dining room table of 10 for Tuesday night. They take reservations for large tables either early or late -- that's what works best in terms of flow for them, and we had 6:30 reservations. We'd eaten in Chops before and enjoyed it. This time, however, it wasn't as successful. The price has gone up, the menu has changed. We didn't enjoy the food anywhere near as much. I had the barramundi (yeah, I know, when you order fish at a steak house, what do you expect?), and it was okay, not great. My husband's filet wasn't a particularly good cut of meat. It was cooked properly, but not particularly good. He didn't send it back because he wanted to eat with the rest of the table. And to top it off, they've taken my favorite dessert, the caramel apple pie, off the menu. They still have the awesome onion rings, however (you can get the same onion rings at the Seaview, by the way). We didn't think it was worth the $30.00 per person (plus our Cokes).

Seaview: my husband went to the Seaview several times for late night snacks. I didn't get up there this time at all. He recommends the Cuban sandwich and the onion rings. The burgers are cooked to order, and from my recollection, they have great brownies! The Seaview, sadly, is disappearing in the refit later this year.

Room Service: we had room service for breakfast every day that we had an excursion planned, so 3-4 times each week. The service was consistently good through out. There are a couple of things I like that aren't on the standard room service menu (salmon and the absolutely addictive raisin bread). They arranged to get both for me. In fact, after the first day I requested it they pre-ordered the salmon from the dining room so that they'd have it available for me. They always called before they brought the order, and always had it to us at the beginning of the half hour window we had indicated we'd prefer. We tipped a couple of dollars each time.

Diamond Breakfast: Ernie discovered he could get his eggs cooked to order in the diamond breakfast area, so we ate breakfast there on days when we had time. You have your choice of being seated alone or at a larger table with others. It didn't matter to me -- I had the same thing for breakfast as I would have from room service or if we had gone to the Windjammer, but Ernie really enjoyed it. And we got wonderful service.

Lounges: We went to the Schooner lounge several evenings, once for a play off game, and for some of the trivia contests. The bar waiters were efficient and pleasant. We went to the Safari club to watch Quest, good service in there, too. We hadn't seen Quest in years. It was funny, but I don't feel the need to go again for another few years. We went to just one of the repeaters parties, the Platinum and above party the first week. They passed around trays of drinks -- champagne, rum punch and one other thing, and trays of hors d'oeuvres, and entertained us with a flamenco dance. We didn't go the second week. Which was a mistake. Not because it was a great party, but because we earned our first crystal ship block the second week (140 cruise nights), and it was to be presented at that party. We didn't realize that, and missed getting it from the Captain. The loyalty ambassador made sure we got it the next day. A note about the crystal ship block: you do need to track when you're due one, and talk to the Loyalty Ambassador. They frequently don't know. We had to tell her, and she had to check. And update our C&A records manually. Because we talked to her (a couple of times) we did get ours while we were on board and don't have to wait for it to come in the mail. Because Serenade is our favorite ship, I really wanted that block!

Formal Nights: Monday and Thursday both weeks. We saw everything from casual dress to tuxes, dinner jackets and long gowns. Not something that really bothers us. I didn't pack any long dresses, and Ernie had a pair of slacks, sports coat and tie.

Entertainment: We have seen not only the production shows but most of the guest performers multiple times, so we went to very few shows this year. We did see headliner, Greg Bonham, the first week. He's a Vegas performer, and was very entertaining. The second week we saw The Drifters, enjoyed that, too. We went to, and won, a couple of the trivia contests. More plastic key chains and pens ?

State of the ship: In very good repair. A couple of things we noted from last year had been that both the jogging track and pool were in need of resurfacing/repainting. Both had been done. There were always people cleaning, painting, and spiffing things up in general. Hand sanitizers were in abundance, at every food venue, and leaving and reboarding the ship every day. Every night you could smell that they had wiped down surfaces in the halls and stairwells. The final night of the second week there was an issue with some of the electricity -- there were obvious issues with some of the lights in the dining room, and with toilets in the forward part of the ship. Some folks didn't have working toilets that evening. The captain announced early Friday evening that the ship would be pulling into San Juan very early for "scheduled maintenance." We believe that was to address the electrical issue, as the toilet problem occurred later in the evening.

Back to back experience: Can't wait to do it again! It was wonderful heading into the sea day that first week knowing we wouldn't have to pack up and leave the following day. We had the same cabin both weeks, so we didn't have to do a thing. They sent us a letter Thursday evening, I think, giving us instructions. There was a Friday evening meeting for the back to backers in the theater. There were 160 of us, not all of whom showed up for the meeting. At the meeting they gave each couple a raffle ticket, and you had to fill out your health forms for the second week. They gave you a packet with the stuff you would have received on the dock when you did your check in. There were sales pitches from shore excursions and spa services. And they verbally repeated the stuff that was in the letter that got sent to the rooms. They forgot about the raffle tickets, and when reminded, said, "Oh yeah, this is the first time we're doing that," and raffled off a bottle of champagne. All in all, a waste of 30 minutes. We had to go to the Vortex between 8 and 9 the next morning to pick up our new sea pass cards. They gave us in transit passes in case we wanted to get off the ship and return before they started general boarding, but at the same time said we'd not be allowed back on board until they opened the ship up for general boarding. The in transit pass would have saved us from having to go through customs getting off the ship. They took our old sea passes, saying that we'd get them back mid-week, but in reality we had to go to guest services and request them. We were able to stay on board, and had continuous access to our stateroom. We tried to stay out of the crew's way to allow them to do their turnover day cleaning -- it's a very busy day for the crew. We had breakfast in the dining room, then went and played minigolf -- we were the only ones there. Lounges by the pool are available, and once they were sure everyone getting off was off (about 11:00), they opened the pool for use. The gym is available after noon. There's a special lunch in the dining room for back to backers -- and you'll get probably the best dessert you can find all week, strawberries Romanoff (basically a strawberry sundae). It was a nice, relaxing day.

Ports:

Tortola: This year we grabbed a cab and 6 of us headed to Smuggler's Cove, a beautiful beach. It drizzled on and off during the day, not enough to ruin the day, but enough to keep us out of the water. There are a couple of little beach bars, the most well known (and the only one open on a Sunday), being Patricia's. It's basically set up on a couple of card tables, with a couple of grills for preparing the barbeque lunch. The lunch choices were hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken, shrimp and Mahi Mahi, with sides of cole slaw and a hot potato salad. Very good. Locals actually come to eat there. Warning: order early, everything is prepared on island time. The beach wasn't crowded. There were just a few other people from the ship, plus some land vacationers. There were also a couple of yachts anchored off. Really very picturesque and pleasant. We made arrangements with our cab driver to come back and get us at 2:00, and at his suggestion we didn't pay him until we got back to the pier. There is a racetrack on the island you have to go past, and he recommended the 2:00 time to avoid race traffic and ensure a timely arrival back to the ship. Note: if you get car sick, this may not be for you. The roads are hilly and bumpy. One of the women in our cab did have difficulty with it. If that isn't an issue for you, this is a beach well worth visiting. The only other ship in port was Norwegian Gem, and they pulled out early, at 1:00 pm.

St. Maarten: Rained a little before we got off the ship -- typical for January in the Caribbean. We spent our day finding ways to enrich the local economy. I looked at additional camera equipment, didn't buy any. I did get my annual Heineken Regatta cap, and we visited (and bought from) the Yoda Guy, the artist who created Yoda for the Star Wars movies. He's opened a small museum, and if you buy something from him you can go in for free. We also visited a couple of our favorite island jewelers, and picked up a few trinkets. We stopped for lunch at a restaurant on the boardwalk on Great Bay. We tried roti -- not to my taste, and Ernie says he's had it, doesn't need to try it again. The conch fritters were very good. St. Maarten was pretty empty -- with only the Caribbean Princess and Balmoral in port with us, there were no crowds.

St. Kitts: This was a great day! We had made arrangements with Javin, of My Island Tours (http://myislandstours.shutterfly.com). He runs small-group, personal tours. Once you book him he's yours, he doesn't add others. He will take up to 6 people. You do some things no one else is going to take you to do, and you will not be in large crowds of tourists. He takes pictures all day and publishes them on SnapFish, and makes them available for you to download. We went to Black Rock, climbed down, took pictures and climbed back up. There were a few fellow cruisers who had rented a car and driven there, standing at the top trying to figure out how we got down there -- they did not try to follow. We then headed for a rainforest hike, stopping along the way at a sugar cane field, where Javin got us some fresh cane to taste. It rained in the rainforest. Javin made us rain hats out of giant pothos leaves. The hike was easy to moderate, and on a trail where there were no other hikers. There were some very slippery areas and rocks to negotiate on the trail. Throughout the hike, and throughout the day Javin entertained and educated us. Knowing we had all been to the island previously, he had quiz questions for us, too. We had the option of adding about an hour and a half to the hike and going to some pools, but with the accumulation of rain over the previous week, that hiking would have been more challenging, and we would have had to give up the snorkeling in the afternoon, so we chose to leave that for another time. When we got back to the car Javin had a hearty snack for us -- passion fruit juice and water, along with freshly baked island pastries and breads -- raisin and coconut stuff -- delicious! There was plenty to go around, and this served as lunch. From there we headed through Javin's boyhood village, and over to Whitehouse bay, where we snorkeled on an 80-year old wreck of a tugboat. The tugboat went down on a rock in the middle of the bay. This is not a beginner snorkel. It's a fair distance out, and there can be some heavy currents. This is not a sand beach -- lots of rocks, you do need Keens, or water shoes, or like we use, dive boots. You go in off a dock. There wasn't a whole lot to see on the way out to the wreck, but the wreck was interesting once you got there. Javin's camera is an underwater camera, and he took some pictures of things he saw that I wish he had called us over to see. From there we went to relax on Cockleshell Beach for a while. On the way back we stopped for pictures at the narrowest part of the island -- with the Caribbean on one side, and the Atlantic on the other, the high vantage point makes for a very cool picture. We spent the day on the southeast area of the island, an area we had never been to before. When we go back, we'll go with Javin again, and this time we'll do the entire rainforest trail hike and not do the snorkel. Again, only 2 other ships in port with us that day, Equinox and Mein Schiff (it's an old Celebrity ship). Interestingly, Equinox left early -- about 3:30 pm. Mein Schiff had been anchored out and when Equinox left they moved her to the dock. While they were docking her they closed the pier, and no one could return to the ship until she was all tied up. Considering all aboard was 4:00, there was quite a crowd waiting at the gate to get back onto Serenade.

Watch out for the guys in the port shop area with the monkeys -- they're going to try to get you to take pictures with the diapered monkeys and pay them for the privilege. We gave them wide birth and managed to avoid it.

Something else new and interesting -- at every port they have cold water (plain and flavored) waiting for you before you board.

Dominica: More breakfast-time drizzle, which cleared up before we left the ship. Lots of rainbows this week! We met our friend, Levi (http://www.bumpiingtours.com/), for his newest hike, the Pedu Temps Trail hike. We were the very first ever to get the chance to take this hike. This is an easy-to-moderate hike. We had toured with Levi on two previous trips to Dominica so we wanted to do something different and something we wouldn't be seeing a few hundred of our fellow cruisers doing. Levi limits this tour to 8 people and leads it himself. We had 6 hikers.

Levi met us at the dock, this time it was the industrial dock not the one downtown. It took us a while to figure out where he was, getting out of the industrial port was a bit confusing, but we found him by our 9AM meeting time. After about a 45 minute drive we arrived at the starting point of the Pedu Temps Trail. And off we went.

We hiked though the rainforest for about an hour on fairly easy terrain, slowly going up hill and crossing over 6-7 rivers (we'd call them streams). Levi took the time to make sure everyone had help crossing the streams where the footing can be slippery. Then comes the uphill not so easy part for about 20+ minutes of climbing. Again Levi made sure everyone was comfortable climbing up on a slippery rock trail. We soon came to Pump's residence, a vast area where Levi's uncle has his farm. After meeting Levi's uncle and chatting for a while about his views on life, the universe and everything, we were treated to a lunch of a veggie stew and an orange/ginger drink. All from things grown right there, including fresh grapefruit straight from the tree. If other fruit had been ripe and ready, we would have gotten that. We spent about an hour wondering around and learning about all the plants growing there. A very interesting experience. We then hiked back down to where we had started. The hike up was about an hour and a half and the hike back was a little longer. Ernie saw an Agouti running through the brush and Levi found a freshwater crab for us to see. After getting back to Levi's van it was time for a Kabuli (beer) and a scenic ride back to the cruise dock. If you have or can pickup a walking stick it will come in handy especially for the hike back down the mountain. I did leave the one I had found at the trailhead for others to use. Dominica is the prettiest island we've ever been to -- love visiting here and love Levi's tours!

Again, no crowds to contend with, not only because of our choice of activity, but because there were only a couple of other ships in port -- P&O Arora at the cruise pier in town, and Club Med anchored out.

Barbados: Having been to Barbados many times on Southern Caribbean cruises, we were looking for something fun and different to do, and this did not disappoint! The Agapey Chocolate factory is just over a year old, near the port, and started offering tours a couple of months ago. Reservations must be made on-line and paid for in advance (http://www.agapey.com/chocolatefactory.html). The price is a very reasonable $15.00 per person. A map is available, and the walk is not far, but it is a little confusing. Plus, you have to navigate a gauntlet of taxi drivers all out for your business to get there. And, most of the cab drivers do not yet know about the factory. It's been there only a year. We ended up going with a great driver, Adrian, who took a look at our map and ran us over there. We had an agenda for the day - chocolate, then flying fish for lunch, and then the Mount Gay rum tour, and he stuck with us, recommended a great place for lunch, and took us everywhere for just $15 per person for the day (plus tip). Back to chocolate, though. If you tell your cab driver, or who ever you ask for directions, that the chocolate factory is in the old Colgate Palmolive factory, at the back, they'll be able to direct you.

The place is small, the tour is intimate. The owner has one employee, and it's basically one room. The tour is a chocolate educational experience. The owner is a chemical engineer by training, and his engineering background shows. You get to taste different chocolates, cocoa beans, and sugars, to understand what makes Agapey chocolates very special. Beans are roasted during the experience, and you get to taste the beans during the roasting process to see how they change flavor as they are roasted. All the machines are explained and demonstrated.

Agapey Chocolate is luxury chocolate. He only makes dark chocolate, including an espresso flavor. I don't like coffee, but found all three chocolates he makes delicious! Unfortunately, he doesn't have a gift shop at the factory or any way of buying it right there. However, it is sold at Cave Shepherd, downtown, or Best of Barbados, in the mall at the cruise terminal. You can bet we stopped there and bought them out! Since you also get to taste various kinds of sugar, you learn the difference between the white refined sugar we have generally available in the stores, and the brown Barbados cane sugar (larger crystals) used to make the chocolate. That, too, is available in small bags at Best of Barbados, and we bought some of that, too - there truly is a difference.

The whole experience took us a little over an hour, leaving us plenty of time for our flying fish lunch at the Waterfront Cafe (on the Carenage) and rum factory tours.

Again, only a couple of other ships in port, Maasdam (a lot of folks from that ship were at Mount Gay with us), and Freewinds, which is, interestingly, operated by the Scientologists.

Nearing the end of our first week on board, we decided to use the discount coupon in our Diamond book for wash and fold service. I don't know exactly what you're supposed to do with this coupon in order to get the appropriate credit. We put ours in the laundry bag with the laundry list, but it got lost somewhere and it required a couple of trips to Guest Services to get resolved.

Friday was the sea day, didn't do a whole lot of anything, except go to the repeaters meeting in the evening. We did book next year's cruise, back to the Southern Caribbean, this time on Adventure of the Seas.

Saturday was a sea day on board, as it was turn over day and we didn't get off the ship, and Sunday was the sea day for week two. Another day of hurry up and relax. The meet and mingle was late morning, and there were a lot of people. We missed the first week meet and mingle (which was held Monday evening).

Grenada: Headed to Magazine Beach, reputedly the best shore snorkeling on the island. It's a gorgeous beach, $10 per person total by taxi (pay when you get back to the ship). The taxi drops you off at the top of a drive and you walk through the Aquarium Restaurant to get the beach. The bar was open, but not the restaurant. Chairs, with one umbrella per 2 chairs, were $5.00 each. There were a few vendors on the beach and one small group on an excursion from the ship. The water was very rough close in, and we decided we weren't going in. One of the older gentlemen from the ship tour got in okay, but had trouble getting out, and had to be rescued. One of the vendors pulled him out and got him safely back. There are no life guards, and as at most beaches you visit on your own, it's swim at your own risk! The ship tour left at one, leaving us and the beach vendors (we had made arrangements for a 2:00 pick up). We should have left at 1:00, too -- the bar closed when the tour left, leaving us on a beach with vendors who were just waiting for us to leave, no food and no drinks. Pretty, but we won't be going there again. Once again, it wasn't crowded -- only Club Med 2 was in port with us.

St. Lucia: We booked with Island Divers to spend the day at Anse Cochon (http://tikaye.com/_OLD/). This is the 4th or 5th time we've done that -- it's one of the best snorkeling sites on the island. They pick you up in Castries on their dive boat, and return you later in the day the same way, Your day pass includes lunch, snorkeling gear, if needed, use of Ti Kaye resorts beach chairs, umbrellas and kayaks. There are some beach vendors, but once you tell them no they leave you alone. This is the beach where some of the excursions come, but it's a big enough beach and they're not there long enough to bother you. The vendors swamp the excursion boats when they come in -- it's a case where you're glad you're not them. The snorkeling is excellent, there have been some obvious changes due to hurricane impact, but we were happy to see flat fish, eels, angels, tangs, and a lot of recovering coral. Lunch included an island specialty in the appetizers, Accra, which is kind of a fish fritter that was excellent! Try the local chips, too. The mahi mahi sandwich was delicious. The boat ride back at 3:00 left plenty of time to wander around the Pt Seraphine shops before reboarding. And Pt. Seraphine wasn't crazy, because we were the only ship in port.

Antigua: We did Eli's EcoTour (www.adventureantigua.com), our fifth time doing this excursion. We love Eli's tours, having done this one, the Xtreme Tour, and his sailing tour on Ocean Nomad. The Eco tour focuses on ecology and information about the island. You spend the day in the North Sound, going places Eli used to spend time as a kid. You see and get information on some of the out islands, spend time in the mangroves (we saw a turtle, and if you're lucky we see more of them, and fish and other things that live in the mangroves), climb Hell's Gate (something no one else does), snorkel on the reef, hike on Bird Island, and have a great lunch on the boat. The crew is terrific -- they take good care of you and give you lots of interesting information. There's enough to do during the day to keep everyone happy, and if all you want to do is sit on the boat, talk to folks and enjoy the boat trip, you can do that, too. There are a lot of reviews of Eli's tours on the ports of call boards. We're looking forward to seeing him when we're back in Antigua next January. We were in port with Caribbean Princess again, just the 2 of us.

St. Croix: Part of the American Virgin Islands, St. Croix is the Easternmost point of the US. It was a late day in port, all aboard was 5:30. St. Croix is very pretty -- lots of rain forest, and the architecture in Fredrickstaad, where you dock, and Christenstaad, is very interesting. We rented a car (driving is on the left hand side) and headed over to Christenstaad. There's a fort there that's part of the National Park Service, we didn't tour, but I hope to next year. Lots of upscale shopping, and we had lunch at Rum Runners -- quite good. It was on the water in the marina. Got to watch the sea plans coming and going. It poured while we were there, then cleared up. From there we headed to Cane Bay Beach. We ended up just walking around there -- there was a lot of "looks too rough to get in" this year, and we're experienced snorkelers. We may try it again next year -- it's supposed to have good snorkeling, and from there we headed through the rainforest to the Domino Club to see the near-beer swilling pigs. The deal is you buy 4 O'Douls (one for each pig -- they don't like to share), you give the closed can of near beer to the pig, they use their big teeth to chomp into it and they drink it. Very amusing. That's about 15 minutes from the pier, so it doesn't take a whole lot of time to get there and back. The recommendation is that you go earlier rather than later, as the pigs apparently go to sleep later in the afternoon. Back in Fredrickstaad a lot of vendors set up in booths up and down the street near the pier, and we spent some time walking there and taking pictures.

St. Thomas: It was our first time there in many years. Because it was Friday and we had to pack to get ready to go home, we decided to wander around Charlotte Amalie and find a couple of shops we had been to last time we were there. The walk into Charlotte Amalie is about a mile or so through the yacht marina, and it's fun to look at the big yachts. We had lunch at Gladys' -- local food -- it was okay, but more expensive than it was worth. Walked back to the ship after lunch, wandered through Havensight for a little while then headed back to get ready for dinner. I forgot my shawl in the dining room, retrieved it successfully after late seating, packed and got our luggage in the hall after dinner, and then met our friends for our final drinks on board. We were off Puerto Rico by 10:00 in the evening.

Saturday we were back at dock by early morning for them to deal with maintenance issues, but debarkation remained the same. Celebrity Summit was back in San Juan after her refurb, and we watched them move her from across the harbor to directly aft of Serenade. We had breakfast in the Windjammer and then headed down to the priority debarkation lounge to be walked off the ship at 9:00 am. Soon we were standing in the luggage hall, finding our luggage, reorganizing and then finding a taxi. We didn't have to be at the airport until 1:00 pm, so we went into Old San Juan, left our luggage at Barrachina Village and wandered. Had lunch at La Bombonera, then headed to the airport. Our Continental direct flight to Cleveland left a few minutes late, but we arrived home on time, about 7:00 pm, tired, but looking forward to our return to San Juan next year.

Publication Date: 02/22/12
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