By Marilyn Reaume
(SAN JUAN, PR) – I was nervous about taking a cruise. We’ve all heard stories of holidays tainted by seasickness, nausea, or missed ports on choppy seas. After holding off for years, I finally took the plunge this summer and set sail for the eastern Caribbean on Carnival Cruise Lines.
There was nothing to be worried about.
The sea was calm, the weather balmy, the ship luxurious, and the ever changing hues of sea and sky a constant delight.
We met many fun and interesting people, some of them enjoying their third or fourth cruise. With the benefit of their experience, we learned a few things.
- There is no time to see Miami before setting sail. Our flight arrived in Fort Lauderdale, and after the one hour transfer to Miami, we figured we’d have several hours to kill before boarding the ship. Wrong. The line-up of passengers was clear around the block and, when all was said and done, we’d spent three hours in three different queues to process our luggage, show passports, and check in. Thank goodness we didn’t taxi into downtown Miami as planned or we would have missed the ship.
- Take some booze along. The all inclusive cruise does not include alcohol, but you’re allowed to take a one litre bottle of your own on board. Had I known this, I would have taken a bottle of rum and my friend a bottle of gin, nestling them in bubble wrap inside our suitcases before take-off. Otherwise count on a $10 charge for a mixed drink or $30+ for a bottle of wine.
- Service gratuities aren’t included either. That will be about another $80 on your Sail & Sign Statement.
- They don’t want your cash. Whatever you purchase is on credit, and they make it deceptively easy to pull out that card, because it doubles as the key to your room. So it’s a good idea to go to one of the kiosks near the Customer Service area and get a printout of your statement periodically so you can keep track of the charges.
I thought I was being prudent, ever so watchful, resisting the temptation of on board shopping, I really wanted that purse, staying away from the casino, and enjoying only a few alcoholic beverages all week. So, when I got my bill of nearly $500 I was shocked.
Here’s my breakdown for the week: six alcoholic beverages; $60, six lattes; $30, one yoga class; $14, a spa package; $140, three excursions; $180, and the service gratuity; $80. It adds up fast. My friend’s bill was over $600 with similar expenditures plus some jewellery and professional photos she couldn’t resist. It’s a good thing we’re not big drinkers!
Knowing the above, and budgeting for the extra charges, the cruise ship is a fantastic floating luxury hotel with amenities galore. The massage at the spa was wonderful and there’s plenty of gym equipment if you want to work out.
The yoga class was fun though challenging to hold a balance pose on a moving vessel.
The pools were great, though busy on the two sea days, and a few children on the Serenity Deck made it slightly less than serene.
The lattes were a real treat; I wouldn’t recommend the buffet coffee. But the buffet food was otherwise varied, fresh, and delicious.
We ate in the dining room every morning and evening, preferring to order meals and enjoy the service; everyone pays the service gratuities, after all. And the wait staff were a hoot.
We sat at the same table each evening, and the waiters called each of us by name. They kibitzed and frolicked and even entertained diners with a few rollicking dance numbers, shaking it atop tables while decked out in wigs and costumes. This had everyone up on their feet shooting photos and dancing along. And, after dinner, there were plenty of distractions to keep us entertained.
It’s never dull on a cruise ship.
The atmosphere was exciting and energetic, with music and entertainment offered around every corner. The varied bars, nightclubs, casinos, shops, dining rooms, buffets, comedy clubs, and stage shows presented a plethora of opportunities to party and enjoy the nightlife. But the ship itself was rivalled by the experiences we had onshore.
Ports of call for this one week, eastern Caribbean cruise were Bahamas, Grand Turk, Puerto Rico, and St Thomas.
We rode bicycles at Half Moon Cay and watched stingrays swim near the shoreline. We zip-lined through the forest canopy in St Thomas, enjoyed a walking tour of old San Juan, and stretched out on the pristine sandy beach in Grand Turk. These were all amazing experiences in a picturesque setting of azure sky and deep blue sea.
The colour blue was everywhere, sparkling with alluring splendour. I was particularly enticed by the glitter of blue pectolite or larimar, a rare and beautiful gemstone possessing the same striking blue colour thought to embody the sea and sky of the Caribbean. It’s found in all types of jewellery, and I purchased earrings and bracelets of larimar as well as a stunning necklace made of sea glass, an exquisite cobalt blue.
These lovely souvenirs will continue to remind me of my time adrift at sea.
Would I go again? Honestly, probably not.
I still prefer the flexibility of discovering an area at my own pace, without the necessity of returning to my floating hotel, lest I be stranded. Certainly I would have loved another day in Puerto Rico, not to mention evenings, as we needed to board the ship for dinner by six o’clock. However, all-in-all, it was an enjoyable, interesting vacation and I’m happy I went.
Without a doubt, any well-travelled person should experience a cruise at least once in a lifetime, and the lovely Caribbean never disappoints.