by FJS in MD
October 9, 2004
We just returned from a 7 day cruise, out of Fla., to Ocho Rios, Cozumel & Key West. We were supposed to have included Grand Cayman, but the hurricane damage was apparently so extensive that we were told that the local government has closed Grand Cayman through Nov, and possibly later.
The line is very organized, and entry went smoothly. State rooms are rather small, but there is plenty of storge room; we didn't need all that we had. We went "Concierge class" which was very little value for the money. There were bathrobes for use onboard ($68 to keep them), daily hor d'oeuvres delivered to the room (sub-standard), and a few other little amenities, which weren't necessary, such as special invitations to events. There are loads of these events, and they're all open. Whatever you want, they have.
The food was outstanding, and the Grand Dining Room shouldn't be missed. All meals were events, with live music, etc. We opted for a table for 8; 1 couple never showed, apparently dining at the other facilities (which are all excellent). The 6 of us enjoyed ourselves - each evening was a 5 course meal, and no dishes were repeated. Service is superb and the maitre d' visits each table, every evening. There were 2 formal evenings; 75% of the men wore business suits. On the 2 "informal" events, men wore sport coats, & there were 3 "casual" evenings with polo shirts & khakis. The photographers are always taking posed photos, at $25 each (very nice quality). Multiple purchases get discounted.
The Caymans were dropped from the itinerary without any advance notice, & we spent 3 full days at sea. Some passengers were quite upset, but we enjoyed the down time. Typical day at sea was a 5 course breakfast (or the buffet), pool-side relaxing, deck music or demos (ice carving, games, etc.), cocktail hour, 5 course dinners, casino, floor shows, & piano bar for nightcaps. There were computer classes, the usual bingo, shopping, art & wine auctions, receptions for newlyweds & anniversaries, a movie theater, etc. If you attend the overview for shopping, buy the $20 book with discount coupons, if you plan to make any substantive purchases. It paid for itself several times over. However, most of the shopping is either schlock or really expensive items. Know the prices from home before you buy. Most things don't have price tags and they try to negotiate, so unless you know what an item is worth, you may over pay.
The ports left much to be desired. In Ocho Rios be prepared for very aggressive sales tactics, which the tour directors call "highly entrepreneurial." Dunns River Falls is beautiful, but walking up the falls is a little daunting, and isn't something that we decided to do. On the way out of the Falls, you are directed to a craft fair - tables, etc. The vendors try to shake your hand, and won't let go. They put the other arm around your shoulder and guide you into the booths. One elderly man was intimidated and purchased a T-shirt for $30 just to get out. Unemployment is at 25%, so expect poverty, panhandling, etc. Shopping is not worth the effort, and locals are prohibited from entering the shopping areas where they take cruise passengers. Shaw Park is OK, but if you're used to American style botanical gardens, this is going to be disappointing. Very small. Skip the "Taste of Ocho Rios." Not enough to see. We were glad to leave.
Cozumel was also not what we expected. It's a small island, much of which is swamp. There is only 1 town (you're 2 hours from Cancun), and there were 8 cruise ships in port simultaneously. The main street in town has all the shopping; it's been completely torn up, and won't be finished for another 5 months. So, everyone in the downtown has to use the one sidewalk - very crowded. Watch your wallet. We weren't getting aggressive panhandling, but the prices on items were ridiculous. One pendant was priced at $1,200 and dropped to $400 in 5 minutes of discussion. Skip the bus tour of Cozumel. Total rip off - the only Mayan ruins on the island are rubble with trees growing over them. Nothing like the pyramids (which you can book, but it's an 8 hour trip). We were taken to the middle of a swamp to see the "ruins" and left there for 30 minutes to shop. Outrageously priced junk. From there, it was out to the seashore where an "associate" of the tour guide wanted to take our photos - on our own cameras - for $10. The horseback riding got high marks, as did the 4x4 jeep rides. However, the jeeps flooded (high water from the rains) the the 4 hour excursion ended up being 6. Very rough roads, etc.
Key West was a delight - plenty to do, etc. Go to your bookshop & read up. It's easy to get around, and we recommend the $22 trolley ride around the island, if you haven't been there before.
Bottom line - good cruise, great food, pretty good entertainment (2 comedians, 3 large floor shows, & an instrumental presentation). Relaxing. They seem to cater to the over 40 crowd, but the nightclubs & late buffets go until the very late hours. I wouldn't go back to Jamaica or Mexico under any conditions.