We flew from Portland, OR to Ft. Lauderdale the night before our cruise on Feb. 6. Booked the Days Inn at $69.60 a room, as we are members of their Choice program. Was a little wary after reading so many negative reviews on Trip Advisor and Cruise Critic. But, they now have hteir own van which was waiting for us as we got our bags. The 5th floor rooms (we had another coule with us) had good views and were clean. The free continental breakfast was varied and filling, and the vans were lined up to go to the port at noon the next day. The only negative for the hotel was that it is located in an industrial area, with no restaurants nearby, so we ordered takeout.
Boarding was easy, and I used a wheelchair at the recommendation of the staff, as I walk with a cane. The cabins were ready by 1:30 p.m., and we were given two "cross ship" inside cabins on deck 8, right under the Serenity area on the Lido deck. People across from us marvelled at the roominess of our cabins compared to their oceanview cabins across the hall. Juan and Sue, our cabin attendants, were outstanding. The only negative about being under Serenity is that they move the lounges around two mornings early for cleaning,which creats a little noise, and cruisers are up there at 5:30 a.m. to reserve spots even though the area doesn't open until 8 a.m. So, if you want to use Serenity, you'll need to be up there before 6:30 a.m. or all the lounges will be taken.
The food in the Main Dining Room and on the Lido Deck was very good. We chose Your Time Dining for the first time and had no wait at all any night when we went at 6 p.m. We had the same great wait staff every night but one, and they were terrific. Main dish highlights were the New York Strip Steak, Prime Rib (two nights), Chateaubriand and Mahi Mahi. As for the appetizers, the Chilled Mango soup was the best cold soup I've ever tasted and the frog's legs were as good and tender as those I've cooked fresh. For dessert, we all raved about the warm drizzle chocolate cake with vanilla ice crea, which was served nightly. The only negative on dining was that they ran out of the chardonnay and pinot grigio offered on the Cruise the Vineyards 5 wine package which we purchased prior to sailing, and they didn't substitute anything. All the other wines were a good value for the money and represented a savings over purchasing them onboard.
Entertainment was a mixed blessing. Aoo four of us enjoyed "Generations", a song and dance tribute spanning 8 decades, and the long-running "Ticket to Ride" revue honorning the music of the Beatles. Early shows on the Carnival start at 8:45 p.m., an hour or more later than RCI schedules, and this prevented us from staying up and watching other etertaimnment options. "Laws", a two man group from Jamaica, that played daily on the Lido stage, were much appreciated. Their music is called "Island Grooves", and the vocalist works hard to please cruisers and does a great rendition of "Unchained Melody" and "My Girl."
Excursions were wonderful! We wnt with Bernard's on St. Maarten's and had the good fortune of being led by the "Mailman", who really delivered! I acted as co-pilot and bartender, and his homemade rum punch comprised of rum, mango, sugar cane and cinammon was potent, as advertised! At Orient Beach, we parked next to Pedro's Restaurant, where we got two chaise lounges with pads and umbrella for $5 total, including two rum puches and a bathroom pass. We also enjoyed a BBQ pork rib lunch there for $15 a plate, including great spiced rice and salad. To our right was the nude Club Orient beach, and on the left was the "no nudity" area. Swimming was fine, with a sandy bottom, but I didn't find any snorkeling to speak of. Visiting with Calvin, the sea urchin man, was a treat, as was viewing the jet planes land at Maho Beach. There were 7 cruise ships in port that day, including the "Allure" but getting away from town didn't make the island seem that crowded.
The enxt day on St. Lucia's we pre-booked Spencer Ambrose's boat tour to Jalousie Beach. This beach, nestled under toe Pitons, was the loveliest beack I've ver seen. Snorkeling in a roped off area was very good, although acess to the wsater is over rocks. We enjoyed a tasty BBQ chicken lunch, more rum punch and beer, and hospitality of a super two-member boat crew.
The third day, on St. Kitts, we walked to the Palm Court Gardens, 15 minutes from the ship, and enjoyed spectacular gardens, an accomodating staff, and great views of our ship and town. For $10 per person, you can use their pool, jetted spa, deck chairs and walk the two-acre gardens. All proceeds go towards spuporting the island's underprivileged youth. We took a cab to Shipwreck Beach ($21 for the four of us, although it was just $l6 coming back), were a bucket of 6 bottles of beer wa $l5 and haamburgers were just $5. Monkeys and mongoose abound just a few yards from the outdoor restaurant, and they refrain from actually coming to your table...a blessing!
On Sunday, Feb. 12, we were diverted back towards Puerto Rico, as a guest had to be helicoptered to the island for car. It was a 5-1/2 hour delay, and watching the copter pilot jockey above Serenity to lower the medic and then hosit the patient aboard was a one in a lifetime experience for all of us. Captain Rocco was aboe to make up all but 1-1/2 hours of time back to port, although some passengrs with early flights missed their connection. Fortunately, we booked a 2:45 p.m. flight with Southwest back via Phoenix and had plenty of time. Cab fare from the dock to the airport was $l7 for the four of us.
Weather was oustanding every day, although we had wind on the 13th. And, best of all, my wife and I only gained one pound each during the 8 days of fun!