Seabourn is our cruise line of choice. The reasons are simple, it feels like you are on your personal yacht, the staff never uses the phrase "sorry, we can't do that", the cuisine is the best afloat on any ship sailing today ... Read More
Seabourn is our cruise line of choice. The reasons are simple, it feels like you are on your personal yacht, the staff never uses the phrase "sorry, we can't do that", the cuisine is the best afloat on any ship sailing today and last, but not least, you never feel crowded or rushed in any venue aboard.
The odyssey is currently doing an itinerary that runs back and forth between Barbados and St. Maartin. The cruise was, as anticipated, wonderful and relaxing.
HOWEVER, Getting to the ship to board and disembarking were rife with difficulty and unpleasantness. This was not just my bad luck, but prevalent among nearly all of the guests who we met aboard and shared stories with.
After booking the cruise we discovered that you cannot get to/from these chosen ports before or after your cruise (Barbados and St. Maartin) in one day of travel. Unless you live in a city with a direct flight to the island (Miami, Washington DC, New York - basically the east coast major metros) you will have to overnight enroute in each direction. Airline costs to and from these ports and overnight hotel costs, in many cases, exceed the price of the actual cruise. Additionally, attempting to arrive or depart the same day as ships in port turn over their passengers will result in unmanageable crowds at the airports. (specifics about our experience below)
St Maartin's airport was destroyed during the most recent Hurricane and despite what you may read about the Caribbean being ready for tourism and that everything is back to normal ... It is NOT.
Let me recount our disembarkation experience in St. Maartin:
The positive: our late afternoon airline departure time worried us. We were unable to arrange a "day pass" with any hotel on the island despite two weeks of trying prior to leaving home.
With nowhere to go until our flight departure and Disembarkation from Seabourn Odyssey scheduled for 8:30 am, we were worried. Seabourn, graciously, permitted us to remain aboard the ship in comfort until after lunch. A real blessing considering what was to come.
The negative: Upon disembarkation we took a taxi with our luggage to the airport thinking we could relax comfortably at the airport (a relatively short distance, but a long drive compounded by bumper to bumper, slow moving traffic - nearly an hour) our taxi driver described to us while enroute that after the hurricane so many cars were destroyed that there was a huge influx of new cars purchased with insurance money and that the old damaged cars were mostly repaired, sold and put back on the road... hence gridlock like Manhatten or Chicago during rush hour (but on single lane roads). He also informed us that we were LUCKY because up until just a few days prior, the airport operations and passenger terminal were being run from TENTS in the tropical heat.
We arrived at the airport, part of the destroyed terminal building had been repaired and it was operating in compressed space. No assistance at the curb with bags, entered into the ticket area and found grand central station with hundreds of people in line for multiple carriers. We were flying first class so our shorter line took only 40 minutes to reach the front, check baggage and proceed. Next came the security and immigration line. We arrived and joined a single line in a large ante-chamber, with the line snaking back and forth to allow more passengers into it - no bypass for any sort of travel class division or TSA Pre-check thing available here. Another 45 minutes to proceed through this portion. As I approached the two clerks doing the pass along I thought it was the light at the end of the tunnel.
We walked up a ramp to another level and there was another snake line with a few hundred people in it for baggage examination, x rays etc. Belts, shoes, computers everything off. One hour in THAT line and we thought "hooray, it's over" we were finally near the actual departure area. We walked about 20 yards around a turn and into a large space that was rectangular and about fifty yards wide and 25 yards deep roughly half the size of a football field. In a glass wall facing the fresh air and sunlight were several doors (no individual gate areas just some doors with a thousand or so plastic chairs arranged around the room). Every chair was occupied, little room between the rows, wheelchairs and luggage blocking everything and crowds of standing passengers waiting along every wall and every lane between chairs. these gates/doors were within feet of each other and each door was a "gate" with a number on it. This waiting area facing the gates would have been shut down by any decent fire marshall due to more than double the number of waiting passengers in that space than it was designed to accommodate.
We snagged two chairs when a flight was called, and waited until our flight was ready. The boarding was called traditionally, by row number and class. We walked through the door and an airport employee gathered everyone into one disorganized group (defeating the prior procedure) and we waited in the sun for a people mover bus to arrive. When it did arrive, the bus was packed like a subway car at rush hour. If someone had died, they would have remained in a standing position.
Our flight, United Airlines Flt # 1741 from St. Maartin direct to Washington DC is a daily scheduled turn around flight - fly in arriving mid day or a little later early afternoon, dump off the arrivals - load up and turn back around. The bus disgorged us and directed us to stairs leading up to the airplane door for us to struggle up carrying our hand baggage. Again no assistance for those needing it (the passengers assisted the elderly and disabled ourselves).
Once aboard, we anticipated United Airlines would be a welcome change. The flight, while professionally flown, was improperly provisioned and there were inadequate meals and drinks for all passengers - Here's a bit of humor, the first class stewardess told us not to worry, delicious cookies were forthcoming. She then either burned all of the cookies or the oven failed - so half of the first class section who had no meal choices didn't even get a cookie on this 5 hour flight. But the pretzels were delicious.
Arrived back into the USA and my Hartmann bag (advertised as nearly indestructible and a veteran of several international flights to Europe and Asia) was delivered for customs inspection with a wheel smashed off and rips in the side of the "indestructible" material.
No doubt the same airport services staff in St. Maartin responsible for provisioning the airplane with food and drinks “loaded” the luggage, as well. My destroyed bag necessitated a LONG walk, easily a mile from the international arrivals area, through a nearly deserted late Saturday night Washington DC terminal to the United baggage claim office (would have been convenient if it was located near where their flights were arriving - alongside all of the OTHER airlines baggage offices).
We made it to the hotel two hours later than anticipated, we were not allowed to check our heavy vacation packed bags through to our early morning departure flight, so we had to carry them with us to the hotel and bring them back for check in the next morning. 4 hours of sleep and back to the airport before dawn in Freezing weather, to board our final United Flight home (which was a delightful, problem free flight).
IN retrospect, Seabourn's decision to necessitate boarding and disembarking at these 3rd world ports and airports is a decision that significantly diminishes the attractiveness and affordability of these itineraries. Seabourn has chosen to no longer originate or end their Caribbean and Transatlantic to Europe itineraries in US ports like Fort Lauderdale or Miami but choosing instead these awkward Caribbean ports.
True, The St Maartin airport terminal was better than TENTS, however it is painfully obvious that the services that the St. Maartin Airport staff are expected to perform for this volume of passengers is significantly beyond their current capability to deliver.
Hindsight is 20/20…If I had it to do over again, I would not have chosen this voyage simply because of the disastrous and unpleasant overall travel experience to and from the ship.
I recently read a psychological study that evidenced that as Passengers/Customers, our remembrance of a vacation is formed in significant measure by what happens at the end of it. If things end with a pleasant experience - we will always remember that as one of our best vacations. If not... then it will be remembered as unremarkable or a disaster, as in our case. Read Less