by David Wright
February 24, 2002
Well, I've decided I can bear the guilt no longer. After savoring the most exciting vacation of my life so far for four months, I'm finally giving back to the online cruise community by writing a review.
Pretty bold statement considering this is just about the least expensive way to cruise, at least in the contemporary price range but I've found that in every memorable event in one's life there are "moments" that really define the event as special. For me I'd have to say there were at least three on this cruise. This review is intended to help people who want to have a good time on their vacation, for any ship or destination. Read on..
TIP: When you get on a message board or review site, sort the results by rating if you have that option. Don't submerge yourself in other people's negativity or you'll develop unnecessary anxiety. The good reviews will tell about the things to watch out for. The bad ones might convince you you're going to have a lousy time no matter what.
I'd been cruising virtually on the Internet for almost a year when I found myself in a situation where I could plan a last minute getaway. And I really mean "last minute." We had less than two weeks to put it together. My wife and I went to a reputable travel agent in town and inquired about a four or five day cruise to the Bahamas or W. Caribbean and we got set up with the four day Fantasy with an inside cabin for which the total fare for a late Feb. sailing came to about 1200 dollars for the two of us. A few days later the TA called and said he'd found us an ocean view for a little over 900. These figures included taxes, port charges and insurance. Naturally we were delighted. Sorry if some feel it's tacky to talk price but I thought some might want to know. As a lower middle-income folk it's important to me to get my money's worth out of a vacation dollar.
As I said before I'd read a lot of reviews and tips on the net, so I guess you could say we were over-prepared, if that's possible. I took concentrated ginger capsules (to avoid sea-sickness) for a day or two prior to sailing, which turned out to be a huge mistake for me because, as I would soon find out after pondering my extreme abdominal pain and the fact that I often have trouble digesting oriental food, I am allergic to ginger. Don't worry, though. I didn't let it keep me from having a good time or enjoying the food on board. I didn't eat as much as I normally would, the first two days, though. We also had the whole list of cruise kit contents, which I'll try to run down now.
Less-drowsy formula Dramamine (which we ended up giving to our
Aside from this we packed all the items that went into our carry-ons in gallon-sized zip-locks so that any inspecting could be done in a snap. We also drove to the port the day before and stayed in a hotel the night before to avoid any rushing or panic in the event of a delay in traffic. And although the security folks wouldn't let us drop off our baggage until after 11:00 AM, we got to the port at 10:30 sharp to try to be the first ones on the ship. I guess we were about number 20 or so. We were on board shortly after 12, and the line behind us quickly grew into hundreds of people.
This would probably be a good time to talk about pacing one's self. There is a need to be somewhat alert and rushed when you're preparing to embark, but once you're aboard the sooner you can adjust to a leisurely pace the better off you'll be. We also found that for us there was a tendency to try to pack as much of the cruise experience into the schedule as you can. This probably comes from the nagging notion that this might be the last time you get to go on such a vacation. Try to avoid this if you can. It could easily ruin your trip if you're normally laid back like we are. More about this later.
We were greeted by smiles and found our cabin and went to lunch at the "Windows on the Sea" grill. Nothing to write home about, but then I wasn't expecting nor was I particularly in the mood for gourmet food at that point. Traffic moved well enough in this area, and the food was tasty and hot. There is salad and juice and condiments and crackers and just about anything else you'd want to put atop, underneath or aside of your chow here. I don't know if the pizza was going at this time or not. It's in the same area. Don't ask me if I liked it. I live in an area of Pennsylvania that has a genuine Italian Pizzeria on every other corner. We hate Pizza Hut and Domino's, if that tells you anything.
TIP: We found out early on that the best way to travel from the forward to the aft areas and vise versa is to find the nearest elevator, take it to the Promenade deck and walk down the "boulevard." Beats the heck out of walking down the narrow walkways adjacent to the cabins.
After lunch we went back to our cabin, straightened up a bit (I think the luggage was already there by now) and headed up to the pool area for a drink and a plastic chair.
MOMENT NUMBER ONE: This is hard to describe. Picture walking through dimly lit corridors and elevators and then suddenly finding yourself on a wooden deck with the sun shining brightly overhead and then as you walk to the railing, just below and before you is the sight and sound of the island shirts and dreadlocks and "Stir it up, Little Darling." This was the point at which it became clear to me that I was really here and this was going to be a hoot. So we ordered up drinks and relaxed for a while. We soon found out that we preferred the pina colada smoothies (they were exceptional) to the alcoholic drinks, and believe me, they're just as happy to serve these. I don't drink anyway and I'm not proud or ashamed of it. The only reason I tried the booze was to numb the pain of the ginger capsule misery. I can only imagine what the "moment" would have been like without this distraction (putting it mildly).
The order of things is a bit of a blur after this, so bear with me. The condition of our cabin was clean but obviously used. There were no malfunctions and everything seemed to be well maintained, but 12 years of Middle America running in and out was evident. I didn't ask for a new mattress, but I've since heard that it's pretty easy to get one. Mind you, we wanted for nothing, the steward never failed to clean the room twice daily, and he left the obligatory towel animals (they were cute), fancy bedding arrangements and mints on the pillows. We saw him twice, and he smiled brightly and genuinely both times and spoke friendly to us. I can't remember his name or where he was from. I did notice that a lot of the hotel and restaurant staff were from Indonesia and Romania.
I guess this would be a good time to talk about service. I can honestly say that I didn't get a single bit of bad service. The closest thing I can remember to what some would actually stretch to call bad service were as follows: One day at lunch our waiter brought my fish and chips which were supposed to be served with malt vinegar (mandatory for me) without malt vinegar. I asked him for some and he remarked (notice I didn't say argued) with friendly words to the effect that this was the way he always served the dish and that it must be in the batter or something (I don't think so). I persisted and he very politely said he would go and check on it. Sure enough, he quickly came back with a bottle of malt vinegar and a smile. Now for some poor folks who write reviews, this would have come under the heading of arguing and poor service. Like I indicated before, I consider arguing to be at least more than one protest and as far as poor service goes, hey, the guy's from India and he serves fish and chips to Americans twice a week. What does he know about malt vinegar? The second incident was one night when I called for the steward ten minutes before he was to go off duty and he didn't respond. 'Nuff said. Actually, one day I forgot to tip room service and I was so embarrassed that I called them, they sent her back down and I gave her a big bill.
TIP: If you do run into someone who looks or acts like they don't enjoy the job, try to get away from that person. Most of these ships are big enough that you can do that. And if you want to spend precious moments of your vacation time on the phone and at the purser's desk complaining about unimportant things, I guess I can't stop you but I sure do feel sorry for you.
by the way, I weigh in at about 350 pounds and I felt more comfortable on this ship than I have at any hotel or restaurant on land, for what it's worth. The shower in the cabin was huge.
Food: Such a hard subject to tackle. It seems that you can get on any forum or review site and find two different people saying two opposite things about the same food. I think I could clear this up if people would listen and heed this tip:
TIP: If you're from Philadelphia, don't order a cheese steak. Floridians, eat your key lime pie at home.
I live in the northeast and I'm originally from Florida. I tried the pizza one day when I was relaxing at the grill and I tried the key lime pie one night at dinner. The pie was green. For those of you who know your key lime pie, that would be enough information, but consider this: If you were serving several hundred pieces of key lime pie twice a week and they were coming back because people thought they were being served the wrong kind of pie because of the color (lemon and lime juice are mostly clear, you know), what would you do? That's right, you'd start puttin' some green food colorin' in them puppies. The pie was actually fairly tasty. I can also understand why they make the pizza the way they do. It appeals to the larger part of the customer base. That's what you're supposed to do. Wifey is quite a French onion soup aficionado and she didn't care at all for the offering on this ship. In fact, I think we had a bit of an awkward moment when after everyone else raved about it, she reluctantly admitted it was the worst she'd ever had. My favorites were the vegetable curry, the mushroom polenta, the salmon, the chilled apple soup, the roasted pumpkin soup, and the dessert soufflé. We had breakfast in the dining room once. Wifey didn't like it. I did. I lost. We had the rest of them at the grill, which is hard to beat, anyway.
Wifey says I have to say more about food. We noticed that there was more variety to choose from than you might expect. Also, the portions were somewhat small for American tastes, but whereas some reviewers see this as a demerit, I think it actually makes it easier to try more different dishes or have more of the same thing, whichever you like.
TIP: I hope this isn't in the same class with hanging towels on lounge chairs, but if you arrive to dinner a minute or two late you can practically get in line and walk in the dining room at the same time. No wait.
Our tablemates were all friendly and just about our speed when it comes to enthusiasm. We tend to be low-key, yet humorous. The couple sitting diagonally from us was from Georgia. They were a scream. The man was into denim dress and hamburgers. He ordered the beef Wellington the first night, hated it, and after that I guess they ate at the grill. The couple sitting across from us was from Missouri, I believe. We went to the show with them a time or two. The man got pretty green when we ran into 8-foot seas the first night. We gave them our Dramamine. We figured if we were doing okay even with my ginger capsule misery, we wouldn't need it. The couple sitting aside of us was from Wisconsin, and I think we might have clicked with them more than the others if we had paid more attention to them. It's just easier to chat with the folks sitting directly across from you. The night we were in Nassau, the Missouri couple didn't make it to dinner (they did the dolphin encounter thing and they really enjoyed it), so we moved and sat across from Wisconsin and we warmed up to them pretty well.
We didn't care for the pictures taken by the ship's photographers for the most part. They were over-exposed and too rushed, understandably. We did get a 5X7 of us at dinner, though. And a portrait of the ship in a souvenir portfolio thingy. I took some pretty decent pictures if I do say so myself (and I do).
TIP: We weren't careful to pack formal clothes that matched (mine to hers, that is). We clashed with each other on formal night. Wifey could have handled this (I don't have a clue), but we just overlooked it. This factored in to our decision not to get the formal pictures.
The Port of Freeport was fairly nice although I wasn't prepared for the industrial look of the area when we approached, and it seemed that this island (Grand Bahama) was something of a has-been. I think I read that it was really hopping in the sixties with celebrities, casinos and new hotels. We went to the International Bazaar, which was barely open (it was early), and did some shopping. There was a kind of one-man steel band playing and he remarked about our taste in selection of bags. He seemed to know which vendor we had dealt with from just looking at them. I can't remember her name but she was the oldest lady there, I think. Wifey has exceptional taste in trinkets and such. If you or those with you don't, just ask the one-man band who to buy from. Tell him the fat guy with good taste in bags who put the 5-dollar bill in his jar sent you. I have since read that there is a place called "Ocean Motion" which is supposed to be a very pretty and relaxing place to spend your day in Freeport / Grand Bahama.
Nassau is a beautiful place, I've decided. I don't necessarily mean to the eye. I'm sorry for those of you who have memories of this place in earlier days that are long gone. However, we found in this area a charm that is hard to describe. The locals have an almost protective maternal-type affection for Americans that I have not seen or heard of anywhere else. A woman fell off the edge of the dock while talking to some Bahamian sailors aboard their tugboat and immediately the locals were in an urgent flurry to rescue her. A loud cheer went up when the sailors fished her out, apparently unhurt. I was just a little embarrassed. What must they think of us, I thought? "Stupid Americans, can't even stand on a dock without falling off," I thought. I am now a lot embarrassed to say that we even made fun of her later (after all, she wasn't hurt), expecting a taxi driver to join in with us. He maintained a polite and friendly tone, but he was having none of it, and he was eager to know if she was all right. We asked him about this affection, as I called it earlier, and in a nutshell he explained that we are their bread and butter, and they are proud, grateful and not resentful of it. Here's to them. Anyway we did the ship-arranged sightseeing tour here in the A.M., which was very nice and informative. Then we went back to the ship for lunch, called room service for some sandwiches to brown bag with us to the Paradise Island beach trip in the afternoon.
I guess you could say I did my share of snorkeling in Guam when I was a kid (Navy brat) so I wasn't about to pay for a ship sponsored snorkeling tour. Besides, I was hoping to top what I experienced as a boy, and I couldn't see going with the crowd to some picked-over spot. Anyway, we took a taxi to the Cabbage Beach drop-off point ($10 for 2 people I think), and walked down the hill to the beach with our gear. We didn't really know where we were until we got to the shoreline and could see where we wanted to be about a mile and a half to the east. The info I got from the excursion desk was that it was short walk. Well the soft pink sand doubles the effort of walking any given distance, but I was on a mission. Wifey stopped about half way to lounge and I trekked on and made it to Snorkeler's Cove, and it looked like a fine place, but the water was really rough and there were about 5 people in a 50 yard radius, so I think I knew the story before I even got into the water. I'm glad I broke down and got fins and a life jacket because the water was really rough and there was nothing to see but translucent-brown seaweed. Back to Wifey.
MOMENT NUMBER TWO: Wifey could see that I was disappointed and she genuinely consoled me, talking about how beautiful "this place" was and how she never would have thought she'd see anything like it. I guess I could have walked another 3 miles to hear her say that.
We didn't do any of the night life stuff in Nassau, even though this a 24 hour port call, but we did do and enjoy an art auction, where Wifey won a signed 16" X 20" seriolithograph of Linda Le Kinff's "Accords." I think she's the only woman artist featured in the Louvre. The background info on the artists was interesting and the champagne is free, if you care to indulge. We also enjoyed the Austin Powers dance class and the Game Show. Amateurs can be so entertaining. Some even stole the show. Wifey didn't care for the women's outfits in the Vegas-style shows. I didn't notice it much. The midnight buffets were impressive, at least to look at. We hade late seating so we weren't very hungry at midnight. We had the Carnival Line champion of ice carving on the ship, so you can imagine the demonstration on the Pool deck went over pretty well. Go to the Captain's reception. Interesting info on crew and staff and free drinks of all kinds. Even non-alcohol. If you drink a lot of soda, get a soda card.
MOMENT NUMBER THREE: I was little irritable the last afternoon, I guess because I could feel our dream vacation slipping away from us and Wifey suggested I go up top with my portable music player and try to relax. Well the view of the Sunset/Sea with some soft music on the side was just what I needed. I began to reflect and realized that I really hadn't made any personal effort to make this trip romantic for Wifey. They're different than we are, you know. I made a special effort to at least be relaxed and patient for the trip.
Again, this review is somewhat general purpose in nature. I hoped to give some good advice for setting the mood for getting the most enjoyment out of your cruise, no matter the ship or itinerary. I hope I helped someone. We figure if we could enjoy the cheapest contemporary Bahamas cruise on the market, things can only get better. For Photos go to:
The slideshow feature is really nice. Notice also the "View
Original" feature (Not really original, but bigger). Scanned
with a $50 scanner, and by the way, the pictures taken at the beach
were the product of an $8 water-proof camera - Sorry.