It's been over a week now since we returned and this is the first chance I've had to take a minute to write about our voyage.
My wife and I are in our early forties and this was our fourteenth cruise since 1990, eight of which have been with RCI. We will sail for the ninth time with RCI aboard the "Splendour of the Seas" this coming December 18th. We sailed alone on the "AOS" to celebrate our twentieth wedding anniversary but will have our two teenage sons with us and our in-laws in December. This was our second trip on a "Voyager" class ship having done a family vacation last year on the "Voyager of the Seas" (Western Caribbean).
We departed Las Vegas on the red-eye Saturday night May 1st flying into Ft. Lauderdale on America West, which ran into a storm over Alabama and arrived an hour late, causing us to miss our connection on American Airlines to San Juan. Fortunately America West was on the ball and phoned American Airlines while we were in the air, booking us the last couple seats on a slightly later flight. We finally departed Ft. Lauderdale at 9:30am and had a smooth flight down to San Juan arriving just before noon. We quickly gathered our bags from the carousel and took a taxi to the pier for $18.50.
There were two very long lines at the pier. First you have to stand in line for ever to hand over your luggage and then you go to the back of an even longer line to wait to enter the terminal. The terminal opened about 12:30 pm just after we dropped off our bags and fortunately the line into the terminal moved pretty fast. Once through security we were able to get into the Crown & Anchor line which was very short. We only had one couple in front of us and we were in or cabin in a matter of minutes.
After dumping our bags I went immediately to the dining room to check out our table and was pleasantly surprised to find we had been assigned the table for two we had requested. We then moved on to the Windjammer for some lunch where we witnessed a passenger being removed on a gurney by the ships medical crew. We never did learn what that was all about. With some food in our stomach and after a sleepless night we returned to the cabin for a three hour nap. We woke at five and prepared for dinner at the early seating which turned out to be at 6:30pm the first night and was at 6pm thereafter.
Let me stop for a minute and say that we always try to fly in the day before for a cruise but we just couldn't make it work with our schedules this trip. NEVER AGAIN will I arrive the day the ship departs. We had very little sleep on the flights and were absolutely exhausted the first two days of our vacation.
First let me give you a quick run down of the important things. We had an inside category N cabin. As much as we'd like to have a balcony, we can afford to take two cruises a year with an inside cabin vs. one cruise a year with a balcony. We got an especially good deal, paying $650.00 ea for the cruise including all port charges and fees and $350 each for airfare, so we were able to do the trip for $2,000, not including tips, excursions and miscellaneous expenses.
The ship was in excellent condition, the staff was incredible, and despite what anyone says the food was very good. We ate every dinner in the Dining Room except the last Monday at Sea when we dined at Portafinos. I went with my waiters recommendations every night and he only let me down once. Every meal was excellent except for the Veal Shank.
Portafinos was spectacular and I highly recommend it. One small complaint though, we ate at Portafinos the next to the last night and the ship was headed into dry dock following our cruise. Just like we had read on the "Cruise Critic" board, renovations were beginning towards the end of our cruise. The carpet in the lobby and on the stairs, just outside of Portafinos was being replaced while we ate, and the very strong smell of contact cement drifted in as we dined. Not the most pleasant smell while you're eating a spectacular meal.
I would say the only low point on the ship was the entertainment. RCI has a reputation for top notch entertainment both with the production shows and the guest headliners. Unfortunately, this time the entertainment was not the cream of the crop. The wardrobe for the production shows was ghastly. Let me say that I work for the Cirque du Soleil show "O" at the Bellagio, so I'm very involved in the entertainment field. Honestly, I'm not being overly critical. Most of the time I love the ship board entertainment and the theaters on the "Voyager" class ships are state of the art. I just feel that the entertainment was not up to par on this sailing. The Ice Show was definitely the strongest.
This was our second ten day cruise and is definitely the only was to go. One week just isn't enough time to unwind.
Now the ports:
Day 2- St. Thomas We docked at 7am, grabbed some breakfast at the Windjammer and were off the ship at 8am. We immediately caught a taxi to Red Hook ($7.00 ea) and took the Ferry across to Cruz Bay in St. John ($3.00 ea) once in Cruz Bay we rented a jeep ($50.00) and headed for Waterlemon Cay to snorkel. We drove until the paved road ends and then onto a dirt road for about a mile. We then parked and hiked about a mile and a half down the beach until we came to a tractor tire on the beach. From here we put on our gear and swam out to a small island. There is minimal snorkeling just off the beach, but the snorkeling around the island is world class. The swim out to the island isn't too bad but there's a strong current against you coming back to the mainland and you have to kick pretty hard. We had snorkeling vests and I wouldn't go out there without wearing one. We made it back to Cruz Bay by 2:00pm and caught the 2:15pm Ferry all the way back to Charlotte Amaile where the ship was docked ($7.00 ea). The Ferry doesn't actually go to the pier but drops you off in town, where we walked back to the ship, which is quite a long walk. There is a "Pueblo" supermarket by the dock where you can stock up on Soda, Beer and Wine.
Day 3- St Maarten The Ship docks on the Dutch side and we took a taxi ($5.00ea) to Orient Beach which is on the French side. Orient Beach is beautiful with pristine white sand. You will see some topless sunbathing on the main part of the beach and the very south end is totally nude. We loved this port and would consider returning here for a vacation.
Day 4- St. Lucia We had originally planned on visiting Sandal's until they doubled the price of a day pass. I went scuba diving by myself with an independent operator and my wife went shopping. The first dive was one of the best I've ever done and I've been to a lot of dive sites all over the world. The second dive was a drift dive called "Superman's Flight" and it really lived up to its name. The current was so strong it was like diving into a tornado. I have to admit that even as an experienced diver I was a little nervous on this dive. I was out from 9am-4:30pm so I never saw much of the island but my wife wasn't too impressed with it.
Day 5- Antigua We did very little here but look around town. The island was very poor and dirty and I wouldn't particularly want to return there again.
Day 6- Barbados This was the only ship excursion we took which was the 5 Star Catamaran trip. You used to be able to book this excursion independently but RCI has an exclusive arrangement with them now. It's only a couple dollars more thru the ship so it really doesn't matter. We heard great things about this excursion and they were all true. We snorkeled in two spots, saw big turtles, had a wonderful hot lunch, unlimited open bar, and spent some time at a private beach. This is a must do in Barbados. The trip lasts 5 hours so we didn't see much of Barbados but it looked like a very nice place.
Day 7- At Sea Ate at Johnny Rocket's for lunch and watched a lot of DVD on the laptop in our cabin. We took a mini surround sound system and this was just great! Spent some time at the pool. Just a good relaxing day at sea.
Day 8- Aruba (in port 7am until 1am the next morning) I booked a horseback riding trip online with a place called Rancho el Campo for $45.00 ea. The owner's wife picked us up at the pier at 8:30am and took us to the ranch. What a wonderful professional bunch at the ranch and what a great set-up. This is another must do excursion if you like to ride. The ranch hands are Columbians, and boy did we ride. This wasn't a boring old trail ride where one horse walks slowly behind the other. We trotted, we ran, we went up and down the mountains, stopped at the "Natural Pools", ran on the white sand beach and trotted all the way back to the ranch. I was sore for two days after, but what a great ride. We returned to ship just after noon, and showered and ate lunch. We walked around town in the early afternoon but it was Sunday and not too much was open. We finally took a city bus to Palm Beach ($1.00 ea) where we swam and hung out at a beach bar. This was the best stop on the cruise and definitely a place we want to return to for a long vacation.
Day 9- Curacao We booked a dive at the Curacao SeAquarium directly online for 11am. The ship offers this same excursion at 9am for $89.00 ea but we booked it directly for $54.00 ea. I am a certified diver and my wife is not, but since you're in only 12 foot of water you can do this dive without being certified. They give you a great briefing and this is a once in a lifetime experience. You get to feed sharks, and swim with the stingrays. The SeaAqaurium is very nice and the staff is wonderful. We caught a taxi back in to town ($5.00ea) and dropped off our gear and showered at the ship. We spent the rest of the day in town where we shopped and had a drink. Curacao is a cool place. It has some slightly scary places if you get too far off the beaten path, but we were never really frightened. I liked it but I'm not sure I'd want to visit there on a solo vacation? I would like to check out the third island of the A-B-C islands, Bonaire as it's supposed to be a diving paradise.
Day 10- At Sea Just a relaxing trip back to San Juan with a wonderful farewell dinner of Lobster.
Weather was great, seas were fairly calm and we couldn't have asked for a nicer vacation. Debarkation was quick and smooth and we were off the ship at 8:30am. Despite what everyone warned us about the San Juan airport we had no complaints. It was air-conditioned and the lines were short. Our flight didn't depart San Juan until 2:50pm so we had a long wait and didn't return to Vegas until 10:30pm. A very long day but well worth the trip.
I'll be happy to answer any questions?