Dick Ellis & Shirl Croy
Occupation:Public Information Officer, NC Courts
Number of Cruises: First Cruise
Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean
Ship: Enchantment of the Seas
Sailing Date: May 26th, 2002
Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean
I first want to thank Tom and Mary Milano of Florida who have sailed so many seas and taken the time to write about their experiences so those of us not knowing a thing might benefit. We would never have gone on a cruise without reading your many wonderful descriptions of your past trips. Tom and Mary….Thank You!
Sitting in front of my computer at the office one cold day last January…..still suffering from the post-Christmas “let-downs”, I was thinking about the up coming summer and what was I going to do vacation-wise to surprise the special lady in my life Shirl. I have had the opportunity through the military and as a civilian government employee to see many places….but Shirl hasn’t. I knew that a trip to the shore for several days in a hotel wouldn’t satisfy me although she would think we had won the lottery! How could we go first class, combine sun, sand, warm weather, luxury, our enjoyment of good food and wine, and a little touch of dress-up class you just couldn’t get in rubber flip-flops around the resort pool for a week…without selling your car! I then typed into my computer the magic letters….C-R-U-I-S-E…..and “bam” as the famous cook says…..I was introduced to a whole new world! Cruise deals….simply click here! Go around the world on a ship for only $212 per person (restrictions apply). The cheapest cruise deals in the world….we pay you to come on the ship…simply click here! Oh! Oh! Just as I thought….it was like a country boy walking down the midway of the fair….see this! Buy this! Great deals here! Gaaaaa Leeee said Gomer!
Then…I saw a little light pop up on the screen that said…CruiseReviews.com. This is it, now I will see hundreds of letters from suckers like me who thought they could go on a luxury ship, dine like a state dinner at the White House, rub elbows with people from all over the world and lay on the beach of a tropical island for a couple of thousand dollars and have found a place to whine about it when they didn’t!
Mr. Tom Ogg has created a special place for folks like us to go. Page after page of information to lead us non-cruisers through the fog! To bring our little ships of insecurity safely into the harbor of Ogg! Excuse me Tom…I got a little carried away there…but you get the idea how glad I was to see, in the night, the beacon of the CruiseReviews lighthouse! OK…I’ll stop!
I couldn’t wait to get home that night and scan page after page of information. To learn about the different cruise lines and the different ships. Eastern and Western Caribbean, first seating, second seating, and I was soon an expert. I made several new friends too, when I emailed to ask questions of fellow reviewers who spent much of their time answering about any subject, giving tips and remembering places that served that special drink….or the name of a taxi driver that gave a free guided tour along with the cab ride.
Faithful companion Shirl (like a family puppy who will jump in the car to go anywhere) and I were soon hooked on cruising. A phone call to our friend the travel agent shortly brought a swirl of brochures and information.
First, we are in our mid-fifties and didn’t want to be part of the “drink and drown” crowd who spend all day in the sun and all night in the disco, drinking all the while, but at the same time we didn’t want to get on board a rest home outing that served prune juice three times a day and gave lectures on medic-aid benefits in between naps! (More prune juice is sold in South Florida then anywhere else in the country by the way).
We soon learned that Royal Caribbean seemed to be the middle of the road company. Special programs for the kids, a few honeymooners, pretty good food in a real dining room, a dress-up night and a piano bar with a tune or two written prior to 1970.
We started with a budget figure (dictated mostly by what was in the savings account at the time) and soon were booked on the Enchantment of the Seas…for a Memorial Day…5-26-02, Eastern Caribbean tour!
We were off to the races! Every evening after dinner…it was the routine of dragging up chairs to the computer and see what new cruise website we can find tonight….who has answered our emailed questions today and….how much longer before we leave! I have hunted and fished all of my life and have always found the anticipation as much fun as the actual hunt. How many nights before have I oiled my reel, wiped the barrel of my shotgun for the fifth time or check the closet to make sure my hunting jacket was right there where it was a couple of days ago. I almost drove Shirl crazy making lists….destroying two closets looking for my binoculars and worrying about how I was going to get on a ship Sunday afternoon and see the Indy-500 at the same time. (I wound up listening to it on a little radio and everybody keeps asking, “What is that wire thing sticking out of Dick’s ear?” in all the photos we took that first day getting on the ship.) Thank you honey for not throwing me out of the house. We did have a ball going out on Saturday mornings to malls and sporting goods stores scavenger hunting for the things on our lists such as; the little plastic poncho’s that fit in your shirt pocket, the little plastic pill box “thing-a-ma-gig” that has S-M-T-W-T-F-S on it so you can put your pills for each day in the separate little squares so you won’t have to pack 6-bottles of medication. New toothbrushes (my last one was only 3-years old), a fold up cooler and tote bag to bring gifts back. Which was so full they almost didn’t let it on the plane coming home. All this to say, counting down to Christmas or a special occasion is still just as much fun as it was when we were kids….if you make it so!
Speaking of getting back on the plane….let me say a few things about security. We did not have any big hassles from the security people except there appeared to be too many of them in each airport we moved through. But, what federal program has not first padded the payrolls with everyone they can hire to make themselves more important. I guess it’s better to have too many than too few during these times. The security is tighter the further one goes south in Florida and I am sure you can see the reasons. I saw one lady take a safety pin from a man’s shaving kit. The metal detectors at our home base in Raleigh-Durham or our stopover in Charlotte did not appear to be nearly as sensitive as the ones in Ft. Lauderdale. Coming back from the trip, one lady made me take off my shoes and even un-button my pants when the metal button set off the alarm.
This was nearly a show for everybody as I almost lost my pants down around my ankles due to the extra 6-lbs I came home with….. that I didn’t take down there!
One of the many tips we read was; save a larger pair of pants from your wardrobe to wear back the last day of the trip to compensate for that extra Lobster tail. Well, I laughed but if you are 6’3” and weigh 250 lbs like I do and look like an old football player….then there is more truth than fiction. I could even see the difference in my face looking at the first day’s photos and the last ones.
Back to security, please read all the information in the reviews about making a photo copy at the office of your drivers license and birth certificate, putting one set in your luggage and one set back in your room on the ship just in case you are robbed or loose your wallet. Then make your own decisions. All of this stuff is good such as writing down all the medications you take and the phone number of your family doctor back home just in case. We all like to think we wouldn’t be the one to get sick or fall on a foreign island but it does happen and my theory says, always to the ones who are least prepared for it. I am not going to list all the different things to do. One can drive ones self crazy with too much preparation…but read the tips and decide for yourself. A copy of credit card numbers…drivers license numbers, insurance numbers and others could be invaluable left back home in a safe place and in your cabin on the ship, if you are the one who looses the wallet on the trip. And no, we don’t have a videotape of the inside of our house and it’s contents in case it burns to the ground one afternoon…..but we should!
One of the things we noticed (and I have no facts to back this up) is we appeared to experience less hassle through every checkpoint, from our home airport ticket counter when we had to show a photo ID to the US Customs desk coming home because we had PASSPORTS. Shirl had never been issued one so we included that as one of our little adventures prior to departing. One day at lunchtime I ran by the post office to pick up the forms. Later, after dinner one night we ran out to the local Kinko’s Copy Center and had our photos taken. As long as you give the passport folks plenty of time you can get them back before you depart. We did and we used them for every security check. It just seemed to us we were eyeballed less. We did not open a bag for inspection during the entire trip. Maybe when the security people looked at an old gray guy with a pop belly and a young looking chick on my arm, the only danger I offered was to myself! And, we have the passports if we try Europe next year.
Last point on security. We did see a lifeboat lowered on the outside of the ship at each stop we made, with; I assume, a local policeman or armed crewmember inside. It remained next to the ship the whole time we were in each port. By the way, we did make it a point each time we went through any type of security check or stop point to thank them for being there!
We did follow one tip and bought bright red ribbon bows for our suitcase handles. 90% of all luggage is black today and so is ours so the red bows did save us a few minutes and worries more than once. Also, several people noticed and commented to us what a good idea it was and they were doing it next time.
I won’t say anything about the airlines accept we American people are fools for allowing them to give us smaller and smaller seats in order to pack more cattle on board….no food….lousy attitudes….a pack of lies about why the plane is delayed….and the privilege of destroying our luggage…without saying anything about it. I understand we don’t want to be inconvenienced.
We arrived at the Ft. Lauderdale airport in reasonably good shape and were met by very nice people holding up Royal Caribbean signs. We were herded to near-by busses and within minutes (only a 10-minute drive away) were unloading at the terminal in Port Everglades. The size of the big white ship behind the building was breath taking.
For security reasons we watched our luggage being unloaded from the bus, identified it, and were away down the walk to enter the terminal and the fantasy world of cruising!
I will have something to say about tipping later in the report but by now we had tipped the driver that picked us up at home and took us to the airport ($5), tipped the man who checked our bags on the sidewalk at the airport in Raleigh ($1 per bag), tipped the bus driver who met us at the Florida airport (he even announced on the bus PA system during the short drive to the ship, that tips to him for loading the bags on his bus would be appreciated) ($1 per bag) and finally we were met by the ship employees taking our bags from the sidewalk to the ship who announced that all tips would be appreciated…..by then…we just walked away.
Within minutes we were directed from sign to sign like a maze through this large warehouse like building. Give us your forms already filled out at home, stand in this line to have your credit card made (which was used for the remainder of the trip to purchase everything on board the ship and act as your ID card), sit on this bench to fill out this form, tear this page out of your ships book, walk this way to identify your luggage, come over here to board the ship but first stop to have your new card scanned and your picture taken. From then on, every time we left the ship we scanned our cards and when we returned they scanned them again and our pictures popped up on a screen so the security guards could be sure we didn’t swap ID’s with someone on shore whose idea of a good time on board was a little different than ours! When it was time to depart the dock our Captain would check a computer, which would inform him that everyone, had their cards scanned and were back on board safely….all 2,224 of us not counting the crew.
And….we’re off! I was an Army guy so I’m sure you Navy guys can explain to your ladies much better than I, how a ship works. But, these new ones are something else. They have large “pod” like motors under them that blow water out in a jet stream that can cause the ship to actually move sideways away from the dock. They also have stabilizers on them that are operated by computers. When the waves try to rock the ship one way, the stabilizers squirt out a jet of water and push it the other. We did not feel any movement on the ship for the entire 7-days other than a slight rocking twice while walking down a long hallway (yes sailors I know it’s a passageway but you don’t know how long it took me to explain port and starboard to Shirl who was born and raised in downtown Baltimore City!) We had read about the legendary “vibration” aboard the Enchantment of the Seas and it IS there. Something about the engine shafts were slightly off center when it was built which the builders won’t admit and the Royal Caribbean folks won’t comment on because they don’t want to alarm the public or start a rumor about the Enchantment being a bad ship so it all just adds fuel to the fire and causes the speculation to continue among those who are really into cruising and ships. I think it’s charming and like the stories of the ghost on board the Queen Mary ship/hotel in Long Beach! I know absolutely nothing about ships or boats although I did own a 14 – footer once long ago, but if you look at an aerial shot of the Enchantment you will see it is big and fat from the stern to about 3/4ths of the way toward the bow. It then tapers off quickly into a pointed bow area. This causes the waves to not hit they ship on the bow but come under and hit the hull about 7 cabins back from the bridge. I think the ship rides like it is a little heavy in the rear end. The so-called “vibration” is more like a bump. During dinner in the dining room we did encounter bumps that felt like someone kicking your chair as they walked by. At first I thought it was the waiter. When you were in bed at night it did wake me up a couple of times feeling like someone had kicked the bed lightly. One couple we met said they had a little Poodle at home and it felt like the dog jumped up on the bed during the night and they even found it rather comforting. I do know we felt it quite a bit more going south into the wind than we did on the return trip back to Florida with the wind at our stern. Hey, the ship made its maiden voyage on July 13th that’s what I think it is….make up your own story!
So we are on the big white boat and headed out to sea, that’s all I care about! We first went to check the location of our cabin and to meet our cabin attendant. Nice chap from the Turks and Cacaos islands but absolutely no personality. We did get him to chat a little during the week and he was good at his job but he couldn’t moonlight as an MC in the theatre down stairs. But that’s OK, he kept the cabin very clean, kept ice in the bucket, and I tipped him a little to bring extra towels. We then headed out to find the dining room and our seating. We had asked for a table of 8 to 10 back when we booked the trip in January but found we were assigned a table of 4. The other couple never showed up for a single meal by the way (we and the near-by waiters jokingly called them the “honeymooners”). It would have been nice to have a big table full of folks from around the country with wonderful stories to tell, but it turned out quite charming to have a table to ourselves each evening after all. When you have breakfast or lunch in the dining room you are assigned anywhere and we did meet some interesting folks at these meals. A firefighter from Memphis, two twin sisters and their family from Texas, a New York City police detective and his wife. (told us about ground zero..wow!) And a wonderful couple from Georgia. He was a retired Colonel Army doctor and delightful people. A quick walk around the ship and we heard the announcement that we were ready to depart. We agreed then to take the stairs everywhere we went during the coming week, which we did and enjoyed. I also briefed Shirl (who could not teach a compass course at a girl scout camp but mysteriously can locate new malls and shopping centers miles away) that we slept on 7 and ate on 4. We made up a little numbered list in our heads where things were and it served us well for the trip. On the wall outside the elevators were large brass numbers telling which deck you were on. We checked back by the cabin and found half of our luggage had arrived. The Captain announced later there were 6-thosand pieces of luggage coming on board! Right in the middle of all that, it was time to attend the mandatory lifeboat drill. Each cabin is assigned a deck and a place to gather if there is any sort of emergency on board during the week and they are required by United States Law, the Coast Guard and good sense to familiarize everybody with it. Now here is a tip. Keep in mind you are going through a lifeboat drill before the ship is allowed to leave port. So when you find your cabin and you do have a suitcase or two…CHANGE INTO SOMETHING COOL! Or take a change in your carry on bag if you have to. Sometimes your checked luggage doesn’t arrive in your room until after you have sailed. You are herded to the lifeboat deck and are required to take your life vest with you and put it on when you arrive. You are also backed up against the wall about 6 people deep so you can see the instructions from the crewmember showing you how to buckle the vest. Many times this is in the sun. And…there are always a few who don’t think the rules apply to them and decide to skip the drill. Your name is checked off a clipboard and everyone has to be there. A crewmember is sent to knock on your cabin door and bring you to the drill if you don’t show. Meanwhile, several hundred fellow passengers are packed like those little sausage in a can, standing in the hot air, waiting for you to grace us with your royal presence! We didn’t see anyone but have heard stories that almost always someone passes out in the heat. We stood out there in our traveling clothes for 45-minutes. I repeat….change into something cool for your lifeboat drill and your stroll around the deck after departure. Use this time to check your place in the dining room and where the bars are and the pools, then return to your cabin to shower and rest before dinner. We didn’t change clothes and we were soaked! We returned to the cabin, showered, and cooled off a bit.
I had taken a little Tennessee whiskey on board in my checked suitcase along with 8 cans of soda (we will explain all this later) so it was time to have a little toddy and celebrate the departure. Our cabin included a little balcony with two chairs, a table and a sliding glass door. I assure you it is worth every extra dollar it might cost, for we spent some wonderful times on that little patio during the next week. We watched the ship slip sideways from the pier (remember the little thruster pods) and move into the channel. Leaving Ft. Lauderdale and going through the inlet into the ocean, the ship passes within a yell of high-rise condos and houses built right on the water. It must be the local custom but everyone who was home had a 5:00 cocktail and were out in their yards or on their balconies waving and bidding the ships good bye. Some had banners and lots of American flags out, one guy even had one of those can air horns and blew it while of course our Captain blew back! We were eye to eye with some folks on the upper floors and many yelled “happy voyage or safe trip.” This was one of my favorite memories of the entire trip and we were less than an hour into our adventure. Thank you people of Port Everglades! What a wonderful way to spend a cocktail hour on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.
I made mention earlier of the Indy 500 and the Charlotte NASCAR race both on Sunday, Memorial Day Weekend, and that’s when we sailed. I had read on the internet that the RCL ships now have extra sports channels on the TV’s in your cabin so you can catch special sporting events. We couldn’t find the race on TV and didn’t learn until a week later as we were walking off the ship when I happen to spot a forklift on the dock loading a new satellite dish and dome, that the other one had been damaged while the ship was in dry-dock in Haiti the week before and several of the ship’s usual TV channels were missing all week. No announcement or apology was ever made which I think is poor public relations on the part of RCL. Kind of like the airlines, lie to them or better yet don’t tell them anything. Another bit of poor public relations was the Chief Engineer on board the Enchantment. One afternoon I saw him in the hallway and stopped to ask him what was done to the ship during the dry-dock the week before. He brushed me off quickly with, “Oh, just minor repairs,” and walked off. I later learned from the dining room staff that they helped work crews put new curtains up in the dining room and had done a lot of cleaning themselves during the repair days because they had to stay on board the ship for the week. The musicians and staff under contract were all sent home for insurance reasons I was told. I have never learned what work was done on the ship and would have never known about the TV dish if I hadn’t seen them loading a new one as we disembarked the ship. I did listen to the Indy race on my little portable TV with an earpiece until we were too far off shore to receive it any more. RCL has lots of demonstrations and seminars on this and that and art auctions during the week so I would like to suggest they do one during the afternoon for the boys. Get the Chief Engineer or the Captain in one of the lounges and let us guys ask technical questions about the Enchantment. Hell of a lot more fun than napkin folding if you ask me!
Finally, we are sailing all Sunday night, all Monday and won’t see land again till Tuesday afternoon when we arrive in Puerto Rico, so let’s learn to be sailors. We walked around the ship again once we sailed out of sight of land and took in the spectacular architecture that is this moving hotel. I won’t go into a lot of detail about the décor and the railings and things like that because I don’t know much about them….but I do know the glass elevators going up several stories looked like space capsules launching and the artwork and the balcony and the sweeping staircase in the My Fair Lady dining room and the white piano bar at the bottom of the solarium were wonderful! We strolled through the casino that was already going strong and this proved to be the first and only time we saw it. Neither of us are gamblers plus common sense tells me that the odds of taking away any Royal Caribbean money from this place were two….slim and none! We did want to play bingo sometime during the trip because we had been told that the pot toward the end of the week gets up to 7 or 8 thousand dollars, but we found out the cards were $20 each to play and just never made it. We heard later in the week that two guys won at the same time Friday afternoon and split the pot. They were both from San Diego, California and had never met. It has something to do with the ship being launched on the 13th and the vibration and…..never mind!
We did find a real pearl on the ocean during our stroll…...the ship’s library. They have a little faxed newspaper that comes from New York each day and offer it in several languages and lots of good books in case you forgot to bring one. You check them out on the honor system, which is kind of pleasant to see these days. Also here is another secret. There is a little private outside balcony in the library and if you happen to have a cabin without one this is a great place to visit late one evening after dinner while walking the decks…and maybe even steal a special kiss!
We passed through the shopping mall and marveled at all the shops. It even includes a little drug store, a liquor store and lots of jewelry. All the pictures taken on the ship by the photography staff are on display in the camera store all week long.
Try to remember to bring extra film for it is expensive on the ship and a battery cost me $10 bucks one afternoon. We only posed for three ships pictures. The one taken as you come onboard the ship, the one taken with the Captain at the special cocktail party Monday night and a formal portrait later in the week. The photographers are available all around the ship taking pictures during the cruise so you will have plenty of opportunities. The little ones cost $10 and the larger 8 X 10’s are $20.
Back to the cabin to prepare for our first “Enchanted” meal. Shirl and I enjoy nice food and wine. I am a “foodie” which means we enjoy food as kind of a hobby and like to cook for each other and friends. I even teach a cooking class at the local community college, it’s called Basic Cooking Southern Style. I buy cookbooks from local flea markets and have a collection of more than 800 right now! But we are by no means experts in anything. We just enjoy good food and wine and strive to learn more. We watch the food channel on TV many nights instead of the Crocodile Hunter! Our wine collection is about 25 bottles and the most expensive one costs about $25 dollars so you can see we ain’t gourmets with a wine cellar. Food entered a great deal into the planning of our trip and was one of the things we looked forward to most. We booked the late seating and I planned to wear a jacket to every dinner even if it was listed as casual….just to show respect to the chief. We have had friends over to eat a meal I spent a few dollars buying and two days cooking and after a few drinks they could have been eating dog food and wouldn’t know the difference. In a restaurant, what the hell you are paying….but cooking in our home for friends is respect and a labor of love! We enjoyed the food on the Enchantment and our waitress Serife from Turkey and our assistant waiter Jon from the Czech Republic made it even more pleasant. We felt special when we dressed up, we had a romantic table of four to ourselves (remember the honeymooners), took our time, had a glass of wine with each dinner and enjoyed some pretty fancy food for the week. My favorite dish was the Escargot and sopping the garlic infused butter sauce with a bit of crusty French bread in one hand and a nice glass of wine in the other while looking out at the moon over the Southern Atlantic Ocean made me think for a minute that poor folks can have fun too! Shirl’s vote for the best was Lobster tails and the Cream Brule dessert. Overall we rate the food on the Enchantment: Better than we had heard it was although it appeared there had been some economizing going on. Not a Paris 5-star establishment but a nicer up-scale restaurant found in many hometowns. We will comment more on the food a little later in this report under Loves and Hates!
Memorial Day, Monday….actually our second day at sea but our first full day. Each night they leave a newsletter on your bed for the next day. The Monday edition of the Compass was packed with things to do…. they had to keep us busy because there was no land in sight!
There are a number of ways to start out. All the spas and beauty salons will be open today along with the gyms at 6 AM and of course all of the shops….they have a captive audience. One could even participate in the “Early Bird Eye-Openers” at the Schooner Bar starting at 9 AM Bloody Marys & Screwdrivers for only $3.25. The slots opened at 9 and the tables at 10 in the Casino Royale and the schedule was packed with a Walk-a-thon, trivia game, art history lecture, party bridge, Ping Pong Tournament, get your Tux rented for tonight’s formal dinner and check the shore excursion desk for your island tours the rest of the week………and this was all before lunch!
At Noon, Enchantment of the Seas Captain Per Kjonso (John-so), a real class act all week long, came on the PA system to make his usual announcements and make a funny or two in his wonderful Norwegian accent. He also gave a special salute to Memorial Day and thanked America for all she has done in the past to help her neighbors and fight for world peace. He asked all of us to remember those military members who have given all for peace. It was special! That afternoon there was an attempt to put together a veterans gathering in one of the bar areas, but, none of the ship’s staff really followed it up and about 6 guys sat around for a few minutes and said hello. Thanks; at least the thought was there.
At 3 PM we attended a wine tasting in the main dining room. I think it was $10 per person for about 6 cheaper wines. It was a nice hour with one minor problem. The waiter from India who conducted the class was very knowledgeable about wines but between the PA system and his accent we only understood every 4th word.
Shirl had been sitting by the pool during the afternoon while I was doing my little veterans meetings and attempting to meet most of the 2-thousand people on board….I’m sorry….I work in public relations….OK! It was now time to get serious for tonight is the Captain’s welcome aboard reception and our first of two formal evenings. A nap, a good shower, and dressing up in a tuxedo can put a man in a pretty good mood. I am a Vietnam veteran and am honored to have been wounded and presented the Bronze Star Award. I found out you can; “ wear your military medals on a civilian suit or a tux at a military function or observance, if displayed properly”. What better time than aboard a ship at sea on Memorial Day, so I pinned all my military medals on and headed for the party. Shirl was also dressed up in a fine gown and we had our picture taken with the Captain. As we went through the receiving line, both he and Cruise Director Richard Cooper, who is from England, said “thank you for your service”. It was then on to the dining room for a nice dinner with a lot of dressed up people. Let’s talk tuxedo for a moment. I own a couple of them because I do a bit of master of ceremony work for the local Shriner’s group. Also, we always find a nice place to go for New Year’s Eve where we can dress up, so it’s no big deal to me. We saw quite a few tuxes around the ship. Those not in formal attire at least had a coat and tie. Others ate casual at the Windjammer café, went to the show or the casino in their tee shirts and also had a lovely time.
The Orpheum Theatre offered a show every evening, most of the time twice so both seatings in the dining room could attend, but we didn’t take full advantage of it. After finishing dinner around 10 PM, strolling around the deck a few minutes, then going to the huge Centrum mall in the center of the ship to see Sherri Cafaro play the huge white piano along with her trio, we were usually ready to crash. We spent every night but one visiting with her before and after dinner. Sherri is one of those rare people who can sit down and play anything you name, knows the words to every song ever written, and has the natural beauty of someone like Elizabeth Taylor. When passing out the talent, God got stuck on Sherri before moving on to the next one in line! We are proud to say she lives in the mountains of our great state and is a fellow North Carolinian. We brought one of her CD’s home with us and every time we play it remember the wonderful late night dances we had with this Enchanted lady.
We did attend three performances at the theatre to see singer Toni B. He brought back to life Sanatra, Mel Tormay, and all the old New York nightclub acts. A talented guy! We also saw Don Ware a stand-up black comic from L.A. This guy is a real pro in the same league with the big stars. Our most memorable night was Friday when we enjoyed the Drifters. Only one of the 5 was an original and he was 77-years old, but the Detroit sound was still there. Being in our 50’s….Shirl and I knew every word to every song they did and sang them all! I am sure the other folks on board could feel the ship rocking when they did…”Under the Boardwalk”. Wow!
Ok, this afternoon we arrive in Puerto Rico so the morning will go by fast. I went to the napkin folding class while Shirl again headed for the sun and the pool. Sounds backwards doesn’t it? I did learn a few new skills and the next time we have a dinner party each guest will have a candle, boot or fan napkin on his plate. Shirl loves it, telling friends….”hey, stay out of his way, that’s stuff I don’t have to do”!
We are very fortunate in that we have a very special friend who lives in San Juan. His family goes way back into the history of the great island of Puerto Rico and has done much for the people over the years. He now owns the historic Park Plaza Normandie Hotel in San Juan. It was built by a Paris millionaire for his wife back in the 30’s to resemble the famous French cruise ship the Normandie. It looks like a ship inside and out, and has it’s own private beach. My friend picked us up at the ship when we docked, gave us an auto tour of the old part of the city, went by his newly remodeled hotel for a tour and a cocktail, then on to his penthouse apartment down town to pick up wife and out for an authentic Puerto Rican dinner. We didn’t understand a single word that was being said during the ordering, but did not leave a single morsel on the plate when we departed! Shirl and I have talked about it and if we were in charge of the trip more time would have been spent in Puerto Rico and less in Nassau. The south side of the island has some wonderful resorts and the middle is a world famous mountain top rain forest. Thank you Thera and Bubo for sharing your wonderful island and for the cigars. Plan on seeing us again soon! Ship departs at 10 PM for St. Maarten.
Wednesday morning we were up for breakfast as we were starting to establish a pattern. We ate in the main dining room each morning around 8 AM and most days either skipped or had a very light lunch. We had heard the stories about gaining 10 lbs during the week and I simply couldn’t afford it but we wanted to enjoy the food so the compromise was to use the stairs everywhere we went on the ship, light or no lunch and walking on shore as much as possible whenever we got off the ship. We usually go out for a nice breakfast at home on Saturday morning so this was part of the planned vacation. The dining room meal in the morning also gave us a chance to sit with 10 or 12 people we had not had a chance to meet and enjoy new folks, everybody has a story to tell. I was shocked to learn they served grits and took advantage of that each morning with eggs and bacon. I swear they had the thinnest bacon on this ship I have ever seen. I don’t know to this day how they managed to cut it that thin…..but it was good. I tried an omelet one morning and it was a bit dry, maybe cooked ahead to save time but everything else was delicious. I did miss biscuits and found out later they were served in the Windjammer café on their buffet every morning.
On shore was the beautiful island of St. Maarten, which is half Dutch and half French. We stayed on the Dutch side and had a pleasant day walking and shopping in Philipsburg. We had talked about this for weeks before leaving home and agreed not to schedule any organized shore excursions but just strike out on our own. We of course planned to visit our friends in Puerto Rico, shop in St. Maarten and swim on St. Thomas. We had heard so many negative things about Nassau, Bahamas that we planned to just stay on the ship if it looked dirty when we arrived. We were going to play that one by ear. St. Maarten proved to be a great visit. Again cooking comes up, we planned to buy liquors here we would have trouble finding back home or were very expensive in the states. We did research and came prepared. I had read other reviews saying St. Maarten was the cheapest, even more so than St. Thomas and I think that is correct. It may be only a dollar or two but the venture was fun. RAM’s Liquor store had been suggested as a good place and it was. Located on Front Street down from the Courthouse, the prices were right, the people were nice and polite, and we even bought some Dutch cheese that would have cost an arm and a leg back home. The little rounds of cheese made great gifts for friends when we got home. We also purchased some of the famous guaveberry liqueur made only on this island. Guaveberry is a wild cranberry that grows on the island and is mixed with rum I believe to make a beautiful red concoction. We bought some of it and will use it in frozen drinks at our next island party. Let us mention her the “hawkers”. They are on every island and are selling everything. Again, had read on the Internet about the aggressive hawkers in Nassau but not the ones on St. Maarten and St. Thomas. We stopped a lady on the corner and asked were the RAM’s store was. Very sweetly we thought, she agreed to show us. We followed her about a half block to a very small store we knew right away was not the one we were looking for. We walked right in and right out and found the RAMS store about two blocks away. You have to watch them!
There are a large number of people selling time-shares or stays at resorts also. You just have to politely tell them…. no thank you! We did find that when you step off the ship and look for a taxi, there appears to be and we heard was, a government agent dispatching the cabs. It could have been a senior driver that everyone allowed to fill the cabs…but whatever it was orderly. Many of the cabs are vans or covered pick-ups with wooden benches in the back and you may have to wait a few minutes till it fills with 8 or 10 people, but it works and all drivers were polite to us. I have learned a trick traveling all over the world and that is; ask before you sit! Ask the driver… how much is it from here back to the ship, establish a price, and then climb on board. That way everybody will be happy!
OK, St. Maarten has been designated for shopping and tomorrow St. Thomas is for playing so a cab ride back to the ship and we are ready to sail.
Somewhere along here we wanted to talk a little about the cabin. Shirl and I had looked up photos on the computer, scanned every brochure and even gotten the tape measure out in our living room one night to gage the size of our cabin. Shirl was a little disappointed at first thinking it was a little smaller than she expected. I described it as a large camper or motor home. If you go to an RV show in your hometown and look at one of those big motor home things (especially the bathroom) I think you will find out the same guy designed both. Expect your room on a ship to be smaller than a hotel or motel room. When you walk in there is a little hallway with a closet on the right and the bathroom on the left. In front of you is the bed. Two singles or pushed together to make a nice queen size. You have to walk around the foot of the bed, which is about two feet away from the wall to get into the little living room/dressing room area. On one side is a nice desk with mirror and shelves along both sides, lot’s of drawer space and a chair. Shirl thought this was the best feature because she had a make-up table with lots of lights. On the other wall were a small couch and a small round coffee table. A sliding glass door led to a patio for two with chairs and another small round table. I have read several reviews about dividers on the patio and yes, the designer could have been a little more concerned about privacy and not rounded off the top outside corner. Standing at the rail you can see over into your neighbor’s porch. But what the hell….I’m not going to sunbathe in the nude and the neighbors wouldn’t want to look if I did! We spent many wonderful minutes on that little patio during the week. Me smoking cigars and having a drink, Shirl reading and sitting in the sun and both of us watching a port come into view during the day or the moon over the waves at night! A lot of friends have asked about leaving the door open at night and the answer is no. The humidity was just too much in that little cabin. We wanted to but found quickly that air conditioning at night slept a little better than a very slight humid sea breeze. Bathroom! I don’t know what people expect when they travel but the bathroom! in a motel isn’t all that big….why would you expect it on a ship? I am 6’3” and weigh 250 pounds. The shower is one corner of the bathroom. It has a sliding showerhead that slides up and down a chrome rod. It is also European style and detaches to become a hand sprayer. I had plenty of room to shower (not to share) with plenty of pressure and plenty of hot water. If you want to soak go to the hot tubs at the pools. The sink also had plenty of room, a nice size cabinet mirror with lots of light and room for my shaving stuff and her foo-foo stuff on different shelves! I have bathed and shaved in a steel helmet….I thought the bathroom was fine! A little tip: Bring along a can of pleasant spring forest or island fruit bathroom spray when you come cause ships bathrooms are not vented to the outside!
Final subject on human hygiene. Hairdryer! I think I saw more email and review time devoted to hairdryer or no hairdryer aboard Royal Caribbean ships than any other subject. We had read that none of the rooms had dryers and you had to go to the Purser to borrow one then bring it back within an hour. We always carry a small/powerful dryer with us when we travel, so we took it along just in case.
There was a dryer in our room, cord screwed to the wall as a matter of fact so we didn’t attempt to return it to the Purser’s desk, but ours was better than theirs so we used ours. There IS only one wall plug per room and we even took along a short extension cord, but never needed it. We didn’t feel the need to take a coffee pot or blender, but have heard of it being done. If we wanted coffee we simply called room service 24 hours a day and it was there in 15 or 20 minutes. Or…throw on some shorts…run up to the Windjammer Café from 6 AM on and grab a couple of cups. The whining I have seen on the various sites about these subjects.
And finally! One couple told us to take along a nightlight because it was dark in the cabin. We left the curtains open at night and had plenty of moonlight and even enjoyed the early morning sunrays streaming in. They must have had an inside cabin, we left the nightlight in the suitcase.
St. Thomas…..land of adventure! As reported, we decided months earlier not to book any of the pre-planned shore excursions. We don’t like to be herded, we don’t like to be crowded and we don’t like to be cheated. After reading everything we could about $65 per person boat trips and $100 per hour rent-a-scooters we just decided to strike out into the jungle on our own, let the chips fall where they may and have a good time. We had two adventures planned! One was leaving the island where the ship had docked and traveling to a second island. Second, Shirl cannot swim. I mean almost afraid of the bathtub fear of water. So our second mission was to take her snorkeling!
Here we go. Enchantment docks at St. Thomas 7 AM and minutes later we were in the theatre for a U.S. Immigration check. Your name was checked off by a ship employee at the front door then down the isle lined with that plastic crime scene tape so no one could slip past and to an immigration official standing in front of the stage. Again, we flashed our PASSPORTS (as reported earlier) and hardly got a thank you before we were on the dock ready to take on the adventure. Taxi…. not down town for shopping but to Red Hook, a bay half way around the island to catch a ferry over to the magical island of St. John. As we had researched, St. John Island is about 2/3rds US National Park land. Yes, I mean like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon and the Washington Monument! National park like showers and snack bar and bathrooms and rangers! It’s called Trunk Bay and they have an underwater-guided snorkel trail that is known internationally. If my Shirley was going to snorkel or swim or go into water over her head for the first time in her life or even drown…. then by golly she was going to do it in a world-class place!
OK…first question? ask before you sit…how much is a ride to Red Hook? $6 each I think it was and we were away. One young couple was on the way to St. John to ride on a private yacht they had rented for the day. Go for it kids! What a hoot on the left side of the road through the capital city of Charlotte Amalie and out into the countryside twisting and turning, ooohing and aaahing at the scenery as it switched from right to left side at every turn. Soon we were rolling into the little village of Red Hook. Ferry runs every hour… $4 each I think we paid…and all aboard. We had planned to visit the Windjammer café early this morning and stock our little collapsible cooler with fruit…water and ice. But gave that up thinking the park would have nice snack shops and opted instead to take only one small bag with swimsuits and beach towels from the ship. A good tip we learned is take the little cooler anyway if you are going to be away from the city for an hour or so. A cool drink during the ferry ride and later would have been good. Ferry pulls into a movie-like little fishing village with cottages, villas and quaint restaurants all around. We jump this time into a covered pick-up truck with rows of benches for our ride to Trunk Bay. Let me explain, the main road goes in a large circle around the island and the taxi’s stop at each location if not filled with passengers. So, a ride back is no problem if you walk out into the parking lot or side of the road from the bay you choose, it will be only minutes before you are headed back to the ferry. There are lots of bays around this wonderful island but we had heard of Trunk and that’s where we were headed. It was all we had seen in the pictures. Palm trees on the beach….crystal clear water and the famous snorkel trail. We checked in the front gate with the ranger and paid a $4 fee. Rental of fins, masks, and chairs have to be backed up with a credit card or around $100 cash so don’t forget to take your wallet. Soon we were on the beach and getting Shirl ready. After gearing up we waded in about knee deep. I had rented her a blow-up life vest and explained that it would keep her afloat in every condition so that was a good start. She was most skeptical when I showed her how to spit in your mask to keep it from fogging up. Not overly enthused, she went through the procedure and later learned it works. I have been scuba diving since the 60’s by the way and she did give me a large degree of trust. We went through the “put your face in the water” phase then the “kick your feet” drill…soon we were seeing fish and little shells on the bottom. I promised to stop the minute she felt we were too deep…..15 minutes later and in 15 feet of water we were gliding over giant heads of coral, pointing out to each other some of the most colorful fish I have ever seen and acting like real diving pros following the famous snorkel trail! I am so proud of Shirl. She overcame a life-long fear and we had one of the most memorable experiences of our lives. Snorkeling is like flying. One feels like they are looking down at the countryside from a thousand feet in the air with no plane! About lunchtime we took advantage of the great park facilities, showered, changed and headed back to the main island to shop. The ferry ride back was beautiful and we couldn’t stop talking all the way about the special adventure.
Friday was another full day at sea. Yes, I went to the towel folding class, the ice carving demonstration and the cooking demonstration by Enchantment Chef Herbert Ludwig while Shirl went to the pool. I had better not hear one single snicker out there!
The cabin attendants have a series of animals they make out of towels and leave on your bed each night when they turn it down and place chocolates on the pillows. We found everything from a monkey hanging from a clothes hanger and wearing Shirl’s sunglasses to a stingray in the middle of the bed. It was fun and I wanted to learn how to do it too in case any of our friends visiting over a weekend brought kids.
Friday is the second formal night on board and we came prepared for that too. I know most people might think it crazy but I came well prepared with a tuxedo and a white dinner jacket. Hey, some folks like to dress down on their vacations; some folks like to dress up. Shirl brought another formal outfit also and we looked so pretty we had a photo taken of us in front of a backdrop of the Enchantment at night.
Dinner in the My Fair Lady Dining Room included lobster and was one of the nicest meals we enjoyed during the entire week. After dinner we rushed to the theatre to enjoy the Drifters. Also scheduled was the giant midnight buffet at 12:30 and after such an exciting time I just couldn’t stay awake. By midnight we were snoring!
Saturday morning and we are pulling into Nassau. We had read and heard so much about this island we were not really sure if we wanted to go ashore or not. We had heard the tales of aggressive and rude salespeople, the crowded straw market and really didn’t know what to think. But, what the heck you are only here once, let’s go see. I must say we were pleasantly surprised. Yes, we did encounter a few sales people who wanted to sell us a condo or take my trip….but we encountered that on every other island too. The famous straw market had burned down several months ago and there was a temporary market set up by the waterfront. It was like any other giant warehouse flea market we have seen. It was crowded and filled with cheap souvenirs along with some unique shell, carved and woven items also. The people were polite and not overly aggressive and we enjoyed a short tour. We also walked several blocks deep in the city to find a quaint courthouse and a number of historical buildings. Our stop was on a Saturday and maybe things were quieter than normal. We found a little sampler-pack of flavored rums while in Nassau town and bought a couple of them to take home as gifts for our friends. There were also rows of jewelry and other shops much like we had been seeing all week. We did notice that the prices, especially on clothing were a lot higher than we had encountered anywhere else, just about the same or a little more than home in the states.
Lesson learned: buy whatever you want to buy before you arrive Bahamas stop. Go ashore and walk around or take one of the fun excursions or even go to the famous Atlantis resort. We self explored a bit, saw what there was to see, stored it in our memory banks, took a few photos, returned to the ship and had a wonderful rest of the afternoon. Here is an interesting one, see if you agree. The night before little cards were placed on our bed saying Bahamas Department of Immigration. They wanted to know who was coming on the island to visit. OK, I’ll give them that…but…why did they want our name, home address, phone number and zip code? I read somewhere that the little country of Nassau is one of the big locations for offshore telemarketing companies. I have also learned that a list of phone numbers and addresses sells in the telemarketing or mass mailing world for about 10-cents a name. Great source of revenue huh? Two thousand people per ship, even at 5 or 6 ships a week…. and, before you know it, you are talking about some real money! We gave them a false address and incorrect phone number.
Saturday night is a busy night on board the Enchantment. Returning to our cabin we found the satisfaction survey cards on our bed that I had read so much bitching about in the past. Others had said they were approached several times by their wait staff in the dining room and by their cabin attendant, saying please fill this out and how important it is we get a good rating. It was never mentioned to us. We simply found it on the bed Saturday afternoon, filled it out and put it in a box as we left. Also on the bed were pre-marked envelopes for tipping our cabin attendant, waiter and assistant waiter. We hadn’t seen the headwaiter much but did give him $5. We did watch the tape on TV about having your bags packed and outside your room by midnight. When you pack, don’t forget to leave an outfit out for Sunday’s ride home….we have heard that some folks have actually forgotten to do that!
It was not fun packing up the cabin that had been our home for the past week. We had more stuff scattered around than we remembered. But, soon it was all packed away and we were ready for travel. Don’t forget to take that extra/empty suitcase when leaving home for times like right now.
During dinner we did slip our waitress Serife and assistant waiter Jon a few more dollars…(we had tipped her and the others on the first day of the cruise with pre-prepared envelopes done back home before departing as suggested by the expert cruisers Tom and Mary Milano) but felt several of our friends deserved another little thank you. There were lots of hugs and photos after dinner, for our wait staff, near-by tables and others we had met. I almost forgot to mention settling up the bill with the ship.
Our charge card bill was $304 dollars. We were not shocked because $50 of that was for photos.
Also, we had a glass of wine with dinner each evening ($5 to $8 each), we had a couple of drinks or beers each afternoon by the pool or walking around. And, we had a cocktail or glass of Champagne each evening before dinner at the wonderful white piano with Sherri Cafaro ($6 each) so, we expected it and had programmed these special times into the overall budget.
Later, we slipped our cabin attendant a few dollars and said we planned to stay in our cabin Sunday morning when they began calling bag-tag colors, to relax and watch TV if he didn’t mind, rather than go and sit in one of the bars or lounges or open spaces waiting for the call. Earlier, you turn in your departure flight time and color-coded bag tags are left for you so you might leave the ship in coordinated groups. Within an hour our color was called and we were off and running for home.
The disembarking procedure “nightmare” we had been warned about, did not rear it’s ugly head. We simply got our carry-on bags and liquor boxes and headed out to the busses to reverse the arrival drill. Caution: it was hot trying to gather up the luggage and get on the bus, it could get frustrating if you were not in a slow mode, so just take your time.
How can we sum up all of this weeklong adventure filled with new places, new sites, new experiences and new friends, into a few sentences?
First: The old Boy Scout motto: be prepared. Read reviews, send emails, ask questions, look up maps and websites for the planned stops and know what to see and what to expect before you ever get there.
Two: Take tips from others and bring the things along that will make your trip easier such as colorful bows for your suitcases, spray for the bathroom, some snacks, an extra carry-on bag or suitcase for taking things home you didn’t bring with you. And, a little soft cooler for trips ashore.
Three: Make sure you take comfortable shoes. A walk back to the ship after a long day in flip-flops or shower togs