Embarkation: Looked chaotic, but actually went pretty fast. I came up from Baltimore via Amtrak, the first time I have not flown to a departure port. From the Eastern Shore of Maryland, using the Wilmington rather than BWI Amtrak station would have been faster and cheaper. I also heard about a bus from Baltimore that drops passengers off right where RCCL assumes responsibility for their bags. This might be the best option of all if you have trouble handling bulky bags. There is a tendency to pack more with no airline weight restrictions and Redcaps can be hard to find. I did take a cab from Penn Newark and it cost $48.00 plus tip, exactly what I read on the Cruise Critic site. It was almost dark when we got away from the dock. We went on deck to see the lights of the city and it was frigid. I had a hat, scarf and gloves plus my coat and still could not stand it for very long.
I was worried about the first two sea days being cold, but even the first day out was much warmer and quite comfortable in the sun and out of the wind.
Labadee: The one and only day of bad weather during the entire cruise occurred in Labadee. It rained hard for pretty much the entire visit. I ventured off between showers and hurried back aboard before the real downpour started.
Debarkation: We got our numbers in the process the night before. Members in our party had different times, but our room steward made it possible for all of us to go at the same time. We gathered where told and were soon off the boat. Our bags were easily found among a fairly small group of bags. I remember this having been a problem in the past, so I think having smaller groups of bags is a very big help. We found a ride to Penn Newark on the spot at less than $20.00 person, and even waiting for the cab to fill, we were still at the station an hour and a half early for our 11:51 train. Fortunately we were able to find a Redcap to handle all the bags and get us seated together.
I give San Juan only a 4 because of the time in port. Arriving in port at 1400 and leaving at 2200 means that, at this time of year, fully half the time in port is in the dark. We had hoped to go out to Dorado, where we once lived, and see changes and play golf. We found that we would run out of time or light,whichever came first. We did not want to miss the boat. I did a little local shopping and my family took a walking tour. There were many cabs lined up, so all sorts of tours could be arranged on the spot. We had no interest in having dinner in San Juan, having already paid for the one on board.
I know that it is almost impossible to take a Caribbean cruise without a stop in St. Thomas. There has been a change here since my last visit, and while it is handy to shop in a big complex right at dockside, all the flavor of St. Thomas hs been lost. The narrow winding alleys and archways with a profusion of colored blossoms curling around may still be there, but you will have to make the effort and go into Charlotte Amalie to see them. I missed the coolness of the alleys after the bright sun of the streets, the aroma, not so much.
Here again, we had plans visit earlier homes and here again we missed. My fault entirely because I did not insist that it was necessary to be pretty much off the boat first in order to get over to St. John and back. We did get a cab and got out to Red Hook just in time to see the last ferry that we could use pulling out. In retrospect, I should have known ferry times before I left home. We did go on to a nearby beach for sunning and swimming and some diving and snorkeling. On return, I stopped dockside and bought perfume.
St Maarten was a lovely stop. There were scattered showers but nothing of any consequence. I took one of the shuttles into town. It was fun just to wander around and look into the shops. There was "Boardwalk" but it was not made of wood, separating the shops from a very nice beach complete with umbrellas and lounge chairs and towels. Servers were out and about selling drinks and local arts and crafts. People on segways were whizzing by and I saw a bicycle or two.
I did walk back to the ship from the beach area and it took me about ten minutes. If you do any organized walking, it is not far but it is hot.
The rest of my family went out to the airport to see and experience what happens as planes land and take off. They came back with hilarious pictures and embedded sand in unusual places. I gather it was a very good time.
I think Antigua is a pretty island with its many colored buildings sourrounded by a vivid sea. I took my own walking tour from dockside. There were lots of local arts and crafts sellers and the usual perfume, jewelry and liquor stores. The prices are such that locally produced products may be the best and certainly the most original things to buy. My only purchase was a pair of sunglasses. The price was pretty much what I would have paid for them at home, but I had not found the style and fit at home. I asked why my cruise identity was needed to complete the sale. The clerk said it was so I could avoid the 25% local tax.
The image that remains with me is that there were practically no overweight people to be seen in Antiqua.
St Kitts is another British Island. If I could have made selections, there would have been only one British Island. Prices were comparable to Antigua and local arts and crafts were the best buys for my money. I