To start, I would like to thank Cruise Critic and all of the posters who ask and answer so many questions. I definitely felt knowledgeable and prepared for our first cruise. And I would like to send out a big HELLO to all the teachers we met on this cruise -- both from Ontario and elsewhere. And finally, thanks to Vercat067 for inviting my husband and I to join in the Tight Budget Tour with you and your family -- we had a great day.
We sailed during March Break in Ontario (March 11 -- 18) from San Juan. The islands we visited were: St. Croix, St. Maarten, Antigua, St. Lucia and Barbados. We flew in the same day and were onboard the ship by just after 4pm. Embarkment for us was easy as we arrived later in the afternoon. There were no line ups and we literally walked right on the ship. What a great first impression! We walked onto Deck 4 and were amazed that we were on a ship. We went right up to our cabin on Deck 9, changed into our summer clothes that we carried on with us and started exploring the ship.
We had My Time Dining and ate at 6pm every night. The first night we went to the dining room and were encouraged to make a reservation as we would have had to stand in line. We knew we were not going to be in the dining room on certain nights, so we let the girl at the front desk know not to expect us.
We had a table for 2 right by the window, so we could enjoy the scenery. Our waiter, Ibrahim, was amazing. I honestly believe he could read our minds as we hadn't even mentioned something out loud and he was already asking if we wanted it. Dinner every night was great -- the selections were good, I'm sure everyone could find something they liked. On the alternative menu, there is always a pasta, fish, steak and chicken entree that is offered. And you could order as many things as you wanted. One night the entrees didn't appeal to me, so I asked for 3 starters instead. No problem. Another night I didn't like the sides that were offered with the main, again no problem. Oh I should also mention that the breads offered during dinner were incredible. We were told on many occasions that this was our vacation and we could do want we wanted.
We weren't sure about the formal nights, so I brought a few sundresses and my husband brought a pair of nice dress pants (ones you would wear with a suit), a long sleeve button down shirt and a tie. The 2nd night (St. Croix) was the first formal night and meet the Captain and the 5th night (Barbados) was the second (ie. Lobster night). On the first formal night we noticed that some people were dressed more casually than us, but the average were dressed more formally -- a suit for men and a nice cocktail dress for the women. There were photographers set up at the entrance of the dining room every night as well as a few walking around taking pictures while we were eating.
The 2 nights we didn't go to the dining room, we ate in the Windjammer. The selection was also very good and I noticed quite a few things that were either offered that same night in the dining room or from the night before.
We ate in the Windjammer Buffet every morning (other than our at sea day) and it was nice. We're not big breakfast eaters, so we mostly had fruit, yogurt and a few slices of bacon or a pastry. I should mention that every day at breakfast they offered a cold cut and cheese area with a big platter of smoked salmon.
On the sea day we had breakfast in the dining room. It really wasn't much of an experience. I ordered the eggs Benedict and asked for a side of hash browns. When my plate was brought to me, there wasn't any ham on the eggs and no extra hash browns. The waiter than argued with me saying that he remembered me asking for them without ham. In the long run, not really a big issue, but don't argue with your customer and make them feel like they did something wrong. I asked just for a plate with a few pieces of ham on it, but he ended up bringing me a whole new order.
We only ate lunch twice on the ship -- the 2nd and 6th afternoons. Again, lots of selection and I really enjoyed the different pasta and potato salads that were offered.
We did not attend the welcome aboard comedy act, but did see it on the TV and the comedian was really funny. The Vegas style shows were awesome and the ice skating show was incredible. I'm still not sure how they are able to spin and do flips and lifts so perfectly when the ship is moving. The other entertainment was great too, especially Judy and the farewell act.
We picked this cruise mostly for the ports and we were not disappointed.
In St. Croix we visited the Fort located to the left of the pier, walked around the town square/park area and picked up a few souvenirs and then went back to the ship for lunch. In the afternoon we headed to the beach located to the left of the pier -- max a 10 minute walk from the ship. The water was great, but it was a little rocky getting in. This pier also offered free shuttles from the ship to the end of the pier area.
St. Maarten was next and we have a friend who lives on the island, so she took us on an island tour. We did some shopping in Philipsburg and walked along the beach. We headed over to Maho Beach for lunch and it was incredible. I have seen the videos of the planes landing/taking off on YouTube, but seeing it in person is totally different. We have some great pictures/video of the planes.
Antigua we joined up with a group we met on Cruise Critic and went on the Tight Budget Tour with Gordon. At first he didn't seem very organized -- we thought we were all going to be travelling together in a big bus (there were 15 of us), but instead he split the group into 2. We drove to Nelson's dockyard and did the interactive tour there, followed by a drive up to the look out and the block house. Absolutely incredible views. We then went to Valley Church beach. There is a restaurant on the beach (The Nest), where we had lunch. The sand and water were both very beautiful. There are a few vendors around, but they didn't bother us at all.
In St. Lucia we did a ship tour (Land and Sea to the Pitons). For the first 2 hours we drove down to Soufriere, making many stops at lookouts. At the beginning of the tour, we were told that the employment rate on the island is 24% and most people are self-employed -- meaning they sell souvenirs. At every stop there were tables set up with people offering different things. For the most part they weren't too pushy, but some were. We then had a tour of the Botenical Gardens and took pictures of Diamond Waterfall and had lunch at the Old Mill Estate. After lunch we headed for the catamaran. The view of the Pitons was amazing. We sailed to a small beach area where the locals paddled up to us on kayaks selling shells and coconuts. If we weren't with a large group I'm sure it would have been intimidating, but we were fine. The water is beautiful and we swam for about 45 minutes. The rest of the time we made a few short stops to look at different resorts on the island as we made our way back to the ship.
In Barbados we walked to Bridgetown and do some exploring and then walk to Carlisle Beach. It was pretty overcast, so we decided not to bring our towels. We went to the Pelican Art area and expected there to be a lot more than just a few stores offering local art. We looked around, but didn't buy anything. On the boardwalk there was a man who was painting (watercolour) and selling originals and prints. If you're walking into Bridgetown stay on the water/boardwalk side. We followed the road and ended up in a kinda sketchy area. Again, I didn't feel unsafe at any point, but there really isn't anything to see either. Once in Bridgetown we went to the government complex and the museum. It was a nice way to spend about an hour, but nothing too exciting. We then asked for directions to the beach and made our way to Lobster Alive. I really wanted to try flying fish, but Lobster Alive didn't offer it on their menu so we walked down to Harbour Lights. It's a nice mild fish and we both ordered the platter (2 fish fillets, fries and a bit of salad).
On the At Sea day we found 2 loungers and relaxed for a couple hours before the Belly Flop contest. This was so much fun and I definitely recommend being around for it. GO CANADA!! There were a few more activities that afternoon, but we either missed them or just watched briefly from our chairs.
Overall we had a very nice experience. I didn't expect to be able to feel the ship moving as much as I did. I guess I'm just very sensitive to that sort of thing. Neither of us were ill or felt ill, but it's a different kind of feeling that takes some time to get used to. We saw quite a few people walking around with patches behind their ears, but I didn't have to use anything more than a few herbal gravol during the day just to make sure I was ok. It's a great way to see a lot of different islands and we'll probably cruise again in the future.