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Live From the Mariner of the Seas: Days 2-3-4 Report (Eastern Carib. Ports)



 
 
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  #1  
Old December 27th, 2003, 06:48 PM
D Ball
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Default Live From the Mariner of the Seas: Days 2-3-4 Report (Eastern Carib. Ports)


This is a report of Days 2-3-4 of our Christmas cruise on the 6th voyage of
RCI’s Mariner of the Seas. The Mariner flip-flips between Eastern and Western
Caribbean itineraries. This week, she’s on an Eastern route. This is our
family’s 5th annual holiday cruise.

DAY 2: AT SEA from the Bahamas to St. Thomas

We had to move the clocks forward an hour from EST to AST last night, so
I got up feeling like I had slept in to 8:00, but it was really 9:00 a.m.
The ship was rockin’ and rollin’ all night and this morning. The captain
had warned us the seas would be moderate. The Atlantic is always a little
rough, in our experience, anyway.

I went up to walk, but it was soooo windy, I almost needed a buddy to keep
me from blowing off the bow. I love how RCI painted lap markers and a legend
(5 laps = 1 mile) on the jogging track—it’s such a simple thing, but something
I’ve noticed missing from other ships. After a mile, I was beat from fighting
the gale and headed to the gym, but all of the machines were occupied, which
is not unusual for the first morning At Sea. A spot would have cleared had
I hung around a few minutes, but eating won out over more exercise, so I
went to the Windjammer for a quick breakfast. The custom egg station is run
very efficiently—initially, I was discouraged by the line, but my eggs-to-order
were produced quickly. I like the change from a self-service drink station,
which was always congested and produced many bumps and spills, to a waiter-attended
drink station. Even better, waiters stroll around the dining room serving
juice and coffee.

I read on our balcony the rest of the morning. The rest of our bunch didn’t
get going ‘til lunch, which I skipped in favor of the 1 p.m. Cruise Critic
gathering. For some reason, only a few folks showed up vs. a crowd on the
last RCI cruise we took. I won a Royal Caribbean gimme cap and had fun getting
acquainted with a cyber correspondent who is the parent of an ice show performer.

This afternoon, while Craig and his mom enjoyed more ship touring and our
daughter hooked up with the 12-14 young teen group, our son and I spent several
hours up on the Sports Deck, which was a hopping place! Everything up there
is free. Parents must sign waivers of liability to permit their minor children
to climb the rock wall and in-line skate. There are several ping-pong tables
tucked into corners out of the wind, which is nice. But playing putt-putt
on the 9-hole course was quite a challenge in the wind! We were over par
on just about every hole. I forgot to grab socks, so watched while he skated.
The in-line skate track is a long narrow loop—I’m terrible at guesstimating
distances, but I’d say 20 yards long and then 20 yards back? Whatever, it
isn’t enough of a course to interest an older kid or adult. The climbing
wall was packed (to avoid a long wait, we need to get up and climb first
thing on Friday morning, our next At Sea day), and there were tons of folks
out playing some hard and fast basketball. It looked like a pick-up game.
Later, there was an announced adult volleyball game. It rained a short time
this p.m., clearing the sports and pool areas for about 15 minutes. I love
the Romero Britto pool deck art…it’s colorful and whimsical.

We prefer the main dinner seating (6 p.m.) to allow everyone to enjoy a full
evening of post-dinner activities, but it’s definitely a drag when you have
to cut a fun afternoon short to go get ready. Tonight was the first formal
night of the cruise, so we headed back to the cabins about 4:45 p.m. to shower
and dress. On the way to dinner, we stopped at several photo backdrops and
posed for many shots with the hope of getting that one really good one. Dinner
was good, not great. Our waiter and assistant are friendly and competent,
but a little rough around the edges. Our head waiter is a delightful young
man from Croatia who, like many of the young Eastern Europeans we’ve met
working on cruise ships, views his cruise work as nothing more than a temporary
money-maker to pave the way to bigger and better things. I have often wondered
how many of these idealistic young people will, in fact, be able to break
out of this work and further their education and employment opportunities.
Anyway, last night, he asked if we had any special requests. Craig decided
to see if he could pull off a specialty pasta like the Princess head waiters
do so well. So our second course tonight was a pasta appetizer featuring
arrabiata sauce. The sauce was nothing more than a marina to which too much
crushed red pepper had been added, and the kitchen prepared it, not the head
waiter working tableside as we have enjoyed with the admittedly Italian Princess
staff, but our head waiter certainly gets an “A” for effort and appears to
have enjoyed the challenge, inviting us to allow him to make something special
for us again tomorrow night—which is Italian night—so we order pasta carbonara.


After dinner, Craig and his mom hit the casino to kill the time until the
evening show. I don’t like the slots, and it’s hard for me to get serious
about playing blackjack for 30 minutes, so I used the short gap to send a
couple of holiday e-mails and write today’s report to this point.

We bought the Cyber Cabin package for $100, which provides unlimited laptop
connectivity from our cabin for the week. It is a bulkier and less convenient
arrangement than we’ve had on other ships, specifically remembering the simple
cabling we used this summer on RCI’s Serenade to tap into their satellite
feed. Anyway, we had to unplug our cabin phone by the bed (a drag—it means
we have to get out of bed to use the phone, how lazy are we?!) and plug in
a large digital phone on the vanity/desk (where real estate is already at
a premium). Then, we get only a dial-up connection at an average speed of
44K. Also, the replacement digital phone does not have the speed dial buttons
to room service, wake-up call, etc., and guess what number is listed for
room service in the telephone directory? You got it, “speed dial.” So, we
have to call 0, which is Guest Relations, for help with such requests.

On the subject of being connected to the real world, we get constant CNN
International feed, and RCI continues to provide the New York Times Digest
daily for free (which makes me, a print media news junkie, happy and my crossword
puzzling husband and his mom even happier!).

And speaking of my mother-in-law, a friend privately responded to my first
post with questions about wheelchair accessibility. My MIL ambulates slowly
after several strokes, and we’ve found complementary wheelchairs very handy
several times already on this trip, first at WDW, and then at the pier in
Port Canaveral. After check-in, there is a fairly long walk through the terminal
and then up a long gangplank of sorts to the ship. Fortunately, RCI had several
wheelchairs right there for the taking, so we grabbed one and pushed my MIL
all the way to her cabin. We asked her attendant where to return it, and
he said she could keep it for her use throughout the cruise. So, while she
hasn’t used it for the routine trips to the dining room and such, Craig has
pushed her around in it to tour the ship and check out the Promenade shops,
and she will probably go into port tomorrow with the aid of the chair. We
have encountered no accessibility issues so far, except there was a tight
squeeze getting the chair through the cozy-tables-for-two on the second floor
of the Dragon’s Lair disco. There is even a chair assist into a Jacuzzi on
the pool deck—how cool is that?!

The 9 p.m. show (for main seating pax) in the Savoy Theatre tonight featured
guest crooner Hal Frazier. He sings Nat King Cole and other standards of
the same era fairly well. We just wish he’d cut out the lame stand-up bits
in between songs.

Craig, our son and I played Scrabble in the game room. There are actually
two card and game rooms, side-by-side, and both were nearly full. We had
to go through three game boxes to find a complete set of tiles—and this is
just the 6th cruise. We lump game destroyers in the same category as pool
chair hogs and theatre seat savers…boo, hiss!

Craig and I had talked about painting the town red tonight, but we’re kinda
tired (from what?!) and realize we will want to get going early for our port
day tomorrow. The captain predicts rain for St. Thomas....

DAY 3: St. Thomas, USVI, 7a-6p

Everyone aboard ship must go through US immigration this morning between
7-9 a.m. The lines are long from 7a on—I kept checking with the idea we needed
to go when the line shortened so Craig’s mom wouldn’t have to stand for an
extended period. I forgot about the wheelchair. We finally got in line around
9a—the end of the line was still back at the Promenade Café, and it extended
the entire length of the promenade into the 5th floor dining room! But the
line moved surprisingly quickly. All we did was show our key cards to an
RCI employee and passports to US “Homeland Security” agents. I don’t recall
doing this the last time we “re-entered the US” at St. Thomas. I could be
forgetting having done it, but I think it must be either a post-9/11 addition
or a check instituted during this sailing because the nation went under heightened
“orange” security alert. In any event, word to the wise: If you have an early
morning excursion, get up a little earlier than you had planned to deal with
immigration!

We got off the ship around 9:30 a.m. and checked conditions for repeating
our last adventure in St. Thomas, which involved taking the ferry from Red
Hook, St. Thomas, to Cruz Bay, St. John, and renting a motorboat to explore
and use as a snorkel launch to see the fabulous undersea life along the northwest
side of the island where Trunk and Cinnamon Bays are located. That had been
one of those highlight days that we’ll remember all of our lives…but a repeat
was not meant to be, this trip, anyway. We could see the small boat traffic
laboring under choppy seas, and it was windy and overcast, with dark skies
in the direction of St. John.

So, we decided to follow the recommendation of lots of RTCers and try Sapphire
Beach on St. Thomas’ north shore. We read in a guide book and the RCI port
guide that a taxi to Sapphire would cost us $8 per person, one way, and that’s
exactly what the taxi drivers were asking when we got off the ship, with
no discount for kids. Note that public transportation options in Charlotte
Amalie leave a lot to be desired. The city bus system runs infrequently on
a few main routes. We took a public jitney the last time, which was an eye-opening
cultural experience, but it required a fair walk and then a long wait to
catch, so already feeling as though we were getting a late start on our day,
we simply grabbed a cab and paid the $32 to cross the island. On the way,
Craig saw a Budget rental car office and asked why I didn’t set up a rental
car, which is something we often do in port because it gives us the freedom
to go anywhere and, with four in our party, is almost always cost-competitive
with other options, which was certainly true here as we faced a total ground
transport expense of $64 + tips in taxi fares for the Sapphire Beach journey
alone. However, I reminded him that you have to drive on the left side of
the road on St. Thomas, the roads are very narrow and particularly precarious
along the mountain ridges, the locals are known for their unpredictable driving
maneuvers and, given these factors, the tourist auto accident rate in St.
Thomas was extremely high. Craig doesn’t shy away from tough driving conditions
and is a capable left-side driver, but it didn’t take him too long in the
back seat to realize it was a lot more relaxing to leave the driving to someone
else on St. Thomas.

On first blush, Sapphire was a disappointment. We chose it over Magens Bay,
which is supposed to be prettier, but overcrowded with cruisers and not so
good for snorkeling. Well, Sapphire was crowded, and the surrounding resort
is old and in need of TLC, which made it feel like a not-so-pretty place.
However, the beach itself is a gorgeous strip of clean, white sand, the waters
are signature turquoise, and the island of St. John is in clear view straight
ahead. And unlike most beachfront hotels and resorts, this resort welcomes
non-resort guests. (We called the Ritz-Carlton, which we passed on the way
to Sapphire, and they didn’t offer any beachfront amenities to non-resort
guests. Note, we had cell service—Sprint—while in the USVI.) Good-quality
folding lounge chairs are available for $5 each. The watersports shack rents
fins, mask (of better than average quality for a rental) and snorkel for
$5/hour, $10/day or, perfect for our purposes, $8/3 hours. There is a restaurant
and public restrooms. We found a shaded spot (another nice feature is the
abundance of shade trees along the beach) and “set up camp.” Craig set up
this tiny little boom box gadget—a Creative Labs Travel/Sound MP3 player
with speakers—which is perfect for a situation like this, when you don’t
want to impose your music on the people around you. He had loaded it with
Christmas music. It was Christmas Eve Day, after all.

We stayed at Sapphire ‘til a second, hard rainstorm drove us off mid-afternoon.
We had watched it rain on St. John most of the day, so in the end, we felt
like we made the right decision by staying on St. Thomas. The snorkeling
was good, not great—we saw a large ray in the sea grass and a nice variety
of fishes in the coral. (Tom K., if you are reading this, help us identify
this fish: small silvery white body with a brilliant blue needle-like nose.
The needle is just stuck on the face—not an extension like a gar or barracuda.
We had a blast swimming with a huge school of these fishes for a long time.)
The water conditions were nearly ideal for snorkeling (and swimming)—warm,
clean, no floating vegetation, and mostly clear, with some cloudiness because
the surf was up somewhat.

We shared a taxi van back to town with two women who were “stranded” on St.
Thomas because of Royal Olympic’s bankruptcy. They were on the newest ship,
which is touted as the fastest cruise ship in the world—I can’t recall if
it is the Explorer or Voyager. Anyway, they were in the beginning days of
a 20+ day cruise through the Caribbean to South America and inland to the
Amazon when the cruise line went into bankruptcy. A bankruptcy court ordered
the ship to get to the nearest US port and stop—so the ship went to St. Thomas.
The women said they were getting a full refund because their fares had been
escrowed (I don’t understand if this is SOP or if Royal Olympic, which was
known to be in trouble, had voluntarily taken that protective measure?),
return travel assistance, and for those that desired to just hang out in
St. Thomas (since they had the vacation time blocked out anyway), the usual
use of the ship as a hotel with meals included through the balance of their
cruise term. These women were making the best of it and having a ball exploring
the USVI. (There were lots of other cruise ships in port with us today—I
remember the Golden Princess and the Zuiderdam being at the dock with us,
several others were anchored off shore.)

Before we turned into the port terminal, our daughter and I hopped out to
catch an open-air taxi to the old town shopping area. The going rate was
$3 per person, one way. She got her hair braided under a tent at the vendor’s
plaza by Emancipation Park. Craig met up with us later (sans son, he had
thought he’d get his mother out, but she didn’t want to come), and we strolled
the shops for a while. Not surprisingly, the jewelry stores were wall-to-wall
with holiday shoppers. There are some artisan boutiques down some side streets
that are worth discovering. We walked along the waterfront and drooled over
the private yachts, most of which were from the US. Another rain shower,
and we were ready to go home.

Christmas Eve dinner was Italian. Surprisingly, there was no big show in
the theatre tonight—this is a first in our experience with holiday cruising.
Two caroling sessions were scheduled, but the first wasn’t until 10 p.m.
The kids and I crashed, but Craig and his mom went and reported it was wonderful.
Everyone was given a magazine-style song book (to keep), and crew dressed
in holiday attire lined the bridge over the promenade as well as the promenade
to lead the carols. They had a huge turnout, which made it fun.

I should note that the decorations this year have been better than we’ve
ever seen. In addition to the usual garland, poinsettias, Santas and Christmas
trees, there are creative themed trees all over the ship and an ornate gingerbread
“complex” of houses set up outside the Promenade Café. Also, because Hanukkah
extends nearly all the way through the cruise in addition to Christmas, there
are rich, blue fabric banners with gold cord trim lining the promenade with
lots of decorative Stars of David and dreidls and menorahs all over the ship.


DAY 4: St. Maarten/St. Martin, 7a-6p

It’s Christmas Day! We are up early, and it is overcast and misty. Out of
five holiday cruises, I guess we’re due one with only fair weather. But that’s
okay—this is a new port for us, and the harbor is beautiful!

We’ve never spent a Christmas Day in port, and there was a lot of advance
grumbling about and even a fax protest of RCI’s itinerary by Cruise Critics
because others who had been here on Christmas Day before said it was “dead.”
I tried to book the America’s Cup sailing excursion and another independently,
but the operators weren’t working Christmas. We could’ve just done another
beach day, but I wondered what services would be available on the beach.
At the last minute, we decided, what the heck, let’s do a cruise excursion.
(We generally make independent arrangements for port day activities.) After
dinner last night, we made a beeline to the Shore Excursion desk to see what
wasn’t sold out. Our first choice was gone, but our second choice was available:
The Golden Eagle catamaran sail to a secluded island for some beach time
and snorkeling, with snacks and “open bar.” I kidded Craig that this was
one of those “booze cruises.” He didn’t believe me.

Well, at 8:30 a.m., we kicked off our shoes and climbed aboard (with maybe
50 or 75 others?), settled into the “web” of the cat, and the first thing
that happened was a waiter offered us rum punch, beer, non-alcoholic punch
and soda! And Craig took a rum punch! I couldn’t believe it (he’s not a big
drinker).

We sailed for about an hour to the northeast, French side of the island,
to Ile Tintamarre, which is part of a protected reserve. The sun came out
just as we arrived, and what lay before us was the deserted island of your
dreams. It was spectacularly beautiful and untouched, with a wide swath of
sparkling white sand beach. Another Golden Eagle cat bearing Dawn Princess
pax was anchored near us, and a few private sailboats were anchored farther
out. There is a ladder to the water, or you can just jump off the boat. But
you do have to transfer to the beach via water deep enough to require a short
swim.

The location was expansive enough to spread everyone out—it didn’t feel crowded
at all. Note that the printed description of this excursion warns of possible
nudity, and the excursions desk agent asked us twice if we understood the
local custom because we were taking kids along—but we didn’t see any bare
locals or cruise pax!

We probably should have ditched our swim suits because the unexpected activity
of the day was taking a natural volcanic mud bath! There are pits of volcanic
ash mixed with seawater that you can sit in or just use to scoop out the
mud and “slime” yourself. I know you are thinking you wouldn’t be caught
dead doing this out on a beach in front of a bunch of people—but before the
morning was over, everyone was covered, from head to toe, in volcanic mud.
It was hilarious! I figured it was ordinary mud and the local kids who staffed
the cat excursion were playing a great big joke on the tourists, but, when
we washed it off, our skin did feel smoother and exfoliated. Of course, several
cruise pax bemoaned the fact that they had just dropped hundreds in the spa
for a similar treatment!

All in all, we had a playful and relaxing Christmas morning on the beach.
The snorkeling was only fair—not much fish life—but the staffer who patrolled
the area in a motorized inflatable took Craig and our son to a spot where
they saw a sea turtle.

During the trip back, the music switched from laid back reggae and Jimmy
Buffet tunes to high energy pop and rock crowd pleasers. Before we docked,
the crew had everyone on their feet doing “YMCA.”

All four of us gave the Golden Eagle catamaran excursion a big thumb’s up!


We showered, donned Santa hats, picked up Craig’s mom and went to Johnny
Rockets for Christmas lunch and gift exchange. The milk shakes are well worth
the added fee, and their onion rings are terrific.

Santa Claus made his visit to the ship this morning while we were gone. The
children were told to pick up their gifts in the kids’ program. They received
a Royal Caribbean backpack. Each cabin was gifted with a small roller suitcase.
There was a Christmas Eve midnight mass and another Christmas Day mass, but
there wasn’t an interdenominational Christmas service—another departure from
what we’ve seen offered in the past. (There have been nightly Hanukkah candle
lighting services.)

Craig’s mom agreed to go out with us to explore the island this afternoon,
so we walked the dock to the port terminal and checked out the touring situation.
Luckily for us, there were a few taxi drivers working this Christmas afternoon.
A 2+ hour circular island tour was $23 per person. We thought that sounded
a little long, especially since the driver told us everything was closed
in both Phillipsburg and Marigot—we wouldn’t be able to shop or stop for
refreshments—so when he offered a $15 per person 1+hour tour, we took it.
We drove up the west side of the island by the airport (packed with private
jets which had brought holiday visitors), along Simpson Bay, through Marigot
and back down the center of the island to the port. This is one of the most
attractive Caribbean islands we’ve visited. Our driver points out a number
of vacation homes of the rich and famous, many from America. But even the
locals live well here. It is clear that both the Dutch and French enjoy a
healthy economy, and the driver confirms there is a large middle class, with
relatively low unemployment of 3-4%. Interestingly, the Dutch side has resisted
following the mother country in adoption of the Euro—the US dollar is their
currency of choice. Because the Euro is so strong against the dollar now,
the French locals are going to the Dutch side to buy groceries and other
consumer products at lower prices.

The tour was a perfect length. We stroll the few port terminal shops that
remain open and board the boat a little after 5 p.m. The kids re-join us
after an afternoon in the kids’ program, and we dress and go to Christmas
Dinner. The souvenir menu features the traditional “Tom Turkey” meal as well
as a Hanukkah brisket with latkes. Our son and I agreed that the best part
of the whole meal was the different, but delicious, gingerbread soufflé with
rum raisin sauce (without raisins, which pleased both of us). RCI always
does soufflés well, and this was divine! I’m going to have to have to find
a recipe….
Tonight’s featured entertainment is the second production show by the Royal
Caribbean singers and dancers. It is called “Pure Energy,” and based on the
song list we previewed on the program given out during the first show of
the week, we thought this would be a good show. But we’re not up for it—Craig
and his mom go to the casino, our son and I crawl into bed and watch a movie,
and our daughter returns to the young teen group. (This is the first cruise
she’s spent so much time with the onboard group. I know she’s having fun
because every time we drop by, she’s right in the thick of things, but we’ve
missed her.)

It was a great Christmas Day!

That’s it for the port stops on this itinerary. We like At Sea days, and
there’s a lot out and about around the ship that we haven’t seen yet. It’ll
be a busy two days ahead…or not! That’s the great thing about cruising—you
can do as much or little as you want, it’s your choice.

Diana Ball
near Houston, TX

  #2  
Old December 27th, 2003, 07:11 PM
Cruising Chrissy
external usenet poster
 
Posts: n/a
Default Live From the Mariner of the Seas: Days 2-3-4 Report (Eastern Carib. Ports)

On Sat, 27 Dec 2003 18:48:22 -0000, "D Ball"
wrote:

On the way to dinner, we stopped at several photo backdrops and
posed for many shots with the hope of getting that one really good one.


I'm not doing this anymore. "Put your hands like this, no, like that".
I'm sick of it. If I want that crap, I'll go back to the Prom.


The Not So Fine Art Of Google
http://makeashorterlink.com/?E29A321E6
  #3  
Old December 27th, 2003, 07:21 PM
clint
external usenet poster
 
Posts: n/a
Default Live From the Mariner of the Seas: Days 2-3-4 Report (Eastern Carib. Ports)

"TERMINAL!"(worse than BORING!)
"D Ball" wrote in message
...

This is a report of Days 2-3-4 of our Christmas cruise on the 6th voyage

of
RCI's Mariner of the Seas. The Mariner flip-flips between Eastern and

Western
Caribbean itineraries. This week, she's on an Eastern route. This is our
family's 5th annual holiday cruise.

DAY 2: AT SEA from the Bahamas to St. Thomas

We had to move the clocks forward an hour from EST to AST last night, so
I got up feeling like I had slept in to 8:00, but it was really 9:00 a.m.
The ship was rockin' and rollin' all night and this morning. The captain
had warned us the seas would be moderate. The Atlantic is always a little
rough, in our experience, anyway.

I went up to walk, but it was soooo windy, I almost needed a buddy to keep
me from blowing off the bow. I love how RCI painted lap markers and a

legend
(5 laps = 1 mile) on the jogging track-it's such a simple thing, but

something
I've noticed missing from other ships. After a mile, I was beat from

fighting
the gale and headed to the gym, but all of the machines were occupied,

which
is not unusual for the first morning At Sea. A spot would have cleared had
I hung around a few minutes, but eating won out over more exercise, so I
went to the Windjammer for a quick breakfast. The custom egg station is

run
very efficiently-initially, I was discouraged by the line, but my

eggs-to-order
were produced quickly. I like the change from a self-service drink

station,
which was always congested and produced many bumps and spills, to a

waiter-attended
drink station. Even better, waiters stroll around the dining room serving
juice and coffee.

I read on our balcony the rest of the morning. The rest of our bunch

didn't
get going 'til lunch, which I skipped in favor of the 1 p.m. Cruise Critic
gathering. For some reason, only a few folks showed up vs. a crowd on the
last RCI cruise we took. I won a Royal Caribbean gimme cap and had fun

getting
acquainted with a cyber correspondent who is the parent of an ice show

performer.

This afternoon, while Craig and his mom enjoyed more ship touring and our
daughter hooked up with the 12-14 young teen group, our son and I spent

several
hours up on the Sports Deck, which was a hopping place! Everything up

there
is free. Parents must sign waivers of liability to permit their minor

children
to climb the rock wall and in-line skate. There are several ping-pong

tables
tucked into corners out of the wind, which is nice. But playing putt-putt
on the 9-hole course was quite a challenge in the wind! We were over par
on just about every hole. I forgot to grab socks, so watched while he

skated.
The in-line skate track is a long narrow loop-I'm terrible at

guesstimating
distances, but I'd say 20 yards long and then 20 yards back? Whatever, it
isn't enough of a course to interest an older kid or adult. The climbing
wall was packed (to avoid a long wait, we need to get up and climb first
thing on Friday morning, our next At Sea day), and there were tons of

folks
out playing some hard and fast basketball. It looked like a pick-up game.
Later, there was an announced adult volleyball game. It rained a short

time
this p.m., clearing the sports and pool areas for about 15 minutes. I love
the Romero Britto pool deck art.it's colorful and whimsical.

We prefer the main dinner seating (6 p.m.) to allow everyone to enjoy a

full
evening of post-dinner activities, but it's definitely a drag when you

have
to cut a fun afternoon short to go get ready. Tonight was the first formal
night of the cruise, so we headed back to the cabins about 4:45 p.m. to

shower
and dress. On the way to dinner, we stopped at several photo backdrops and
posed for many shots with the hope of getting that one really good one.

Dinner
was good, not great. Our waiter and assistant are friendly and competent,
but a little rough around the edges. Our head waiter is a delightful young
man from Croatia who, like many of the young Eastern Europeans we've met
working on cruise ships, views his cruise work as nothing more than a

temporary
money-maker to pave the way to bigger and better things. I have often

wondered
how many of these idealistic young people will, in fact, be able to break
out of this work and further their education and employment opportunities.
Anyway, last night, he asked if we had any special requests. Craig decided
to see if he could pull off a specialty pasta like the Princess head

waiters
do so well. So our second course tonight was a pasta appetizer featuring
arrabiata sauce. The sauce was nothing more than a marina to which too

much
crushed red pepper had been added, and the kitchen prepared it, not the

head
waiter working tableside as we have enjoyed with the admittedly Italian

Princess
staff, but our head waiter certainly gets an "A" for effort and appears to
have enjoyed the challenge, inviting us to allow him to make something

special
for us again tomorrow night-which is Italian night-so we order pasta

carbonara.


After dinner, Craig and his mom hit the casino to kill the time until the
evening show. I don't like the slots, and it's hard for me to get serious
about playing blackjack for 30 minutes, so I used the short gap to send a
couple of holiday e-mails and write today's report to this point.

We bought the Cyber Cabin package for $100, which provides unlimited

laptop
connectivity from our cabin for the week. It is a bulkier and less

convenient
arrangement than we've had on other ships, specifically remembering the

simple
cabling we used this summer on RCI's Serenade to tap into their satellite
feed. Anyway, we had to unplug our cabin phone by the bed (a drag-it means
we have to get out of bed to use the phone, how lazy are we?!) and plug in
a large digital phone on the vanity/desk (where real estate is already at
a premium). Then, we get only a dial-up connection at an average speed of
44K. Also, the replacement digital phone does not have the speed dial

buttons
to room service, wake-up call, etc., and guess what number is listed for
room service in the telephone directory? You got it, "speed dial." So, we
have to call 0, which is Guest Relations, for help with such requests.

On the subject of being connected to the real world, we get constant CNN
International feed, and RCI continues to provide the New York Times Digest
daily for free (which makes me, a print media news junkie, happy and my

crossword
puzzling husband and his mom even happier!).

And speaking of my mother-in-law, a friend privately responded to my first
post with questions about wheelchair accessibility. My MIL ambulates

slowly
after several strokes, and we've found complementary wheelchairs very

handy
several times already on this trip, first at WDW, and then at the pier in
Port Canaveral. After check-in, there is a fairly long walk through the

terminal
and then up a long gangplank of sorts to the ship. Fortunately, RCI had

several
wheelchairs right there for the taking, so we grabbed one and pushed my

MIL
all the way to her cabin. We asked her attendant where to return it, and
he said she could keep it for her use throughout the cruise. So, while she
hasn't used it for the routine trips to the dining room and such, Craig

has
pushed her around in it to tour the ship and check out the Promenade

shops,
and she will probably go into port tomorrow with the aid of the chair. We
have encountered no accessibility issues so far, except there was a tight
squeeze getting the chair through the cozy-tables-for-two on the second

floor
of the Dragon's Lair disco. There is even a chair assist into a Jacuzzi on
the pool deck-how cool is that?!

The 9 p.m. show (for main seating pax) in the Savoy Theatre tonight

featured
guest crooner Hal Frazier. He sings Nat King Cole and other standards of
the same era fairly well. We just wish he'd cut out the lame stand-up bits
in between songs.

Craig, our son and I played Scrabble in the game room. There are actually
two card and game rooms, side-by-side, and both were nearly full. We had
to go through three game boxes to find a complete set of tiles-and this is
just the 6th cruise. We lump game destroyers in the same category as pool
chair hogs and theatre seat savers.boo, hiss!

Craig and I had talked about painting the town red tonight, but we're

kinda
tired (from what?!) and realize we will want to get going early for our

port
day tomorrow. The captain predicts rain for St. Thomas....

DAY 3: St. Thomas, USVI, 7a-6p

Everyone aboard ship must go through US immigration this morning between
7-9 a.m. The lines are long from 7a on-I kept checking with the idea we

needed
to go when the line shortened so Craig's mom wouldn't have to stand for an
extended period. I forgot about the wheelchair. We finally got in line

around
9a-the end of the line was still back at the Promenade Café, and it

extended
the entire length of the promenade into the 5th floor dining room! But the
line moved surprisingly quickly. All we did was show our key cards to an
RCI employee and passports to US "Homeland Security" agents. I don't

recall
doing this the last time we "re-entered the US" at St. Thomas. I could be
forgetting having done it, but I think it must be either a post-9/11

addition
or a check instituted during this sailing because the nation went under

heightened
"orange" security alert. In any event, word to the wise: If you have an

early
morning excursion, get up a little earlier than you had planned to deal

with
immigration!

We got off the ship around 9:30 a.m. and checked conditions for repeating
our last adventure in St. Thomas, which involved taking the ferry from Red
Hook, St. Thomas, to Cruz Bay, St. John, and renting a motorboat to

explore
and use as a snorkel launch to see the fabulous undersea life along the

northwest
side of the island where Trunk and Cinnamon Bays are located. That had

been
one of those highlight days that we'll remember all of our lives.but a

repeat
was not meant to be, this trip, anyway. We could see the small boat

traffic
laboring under choppy seas, and it was windy and overcast, with dark skies
in the direction of St. John.

So, we decided to follow the recommendation of lots of RTCers and try

Sapphire
Beach on St. Thomas' north shore. We read in a guide book and the RCI port
guide that a taxi to Sapphire would cost us $8 per person, one way, and

that's
exactly what the taxi drivers were asking when we got off the ship, with
no discount for kids. Note that public transportation options in Charlotte
Amalie leave a lot to be desired. The city bus system runs infrequently on
a few main routes. We took a public jitney the last time, which was an

eye-opening
cultural experience, but it required a fair walk and then a long wait to
catch, so already feeling as though we were getting a late start on our

day,
we simply grabbed a cab and paid the $32 to cross the island. On the way,
Craig saw a Budget rental car office and asked why I didn't set up a

rental
car, which is something we often do in port because it gives us the

freedom
to go anywhere and, with four in our party, is almost always

cost-competitive
with other options, which was certainly true here as we faced a total

ground
transport expense of $64 + tips in taxi fares for the Sapphire Beach

journey
alone. However, I reminded him that you have to drive on the left side of
the road on St. Thomas, the roads are very narrow and particularly

precarious
along the mountain ridges, the locals are known for their unpredictable

driving
maneuvers and, given these factors, the tourist auto accident rate in St.
Thomas was extremely high. Craig doesn't shy away from tough driving

conditions
and is a capable left-side driver, but it didn't take him too long in the
back seat to realize it was a lot more relaxing to leave the driving to

someone
else on St. Thomas.

On first blush, Sapphire was a disappointment. We chose it over Magens

Bay,
which is supposed to be prettier, but overcrowded with cruisers and not so
good for snorkeling. Well, Sapphire was crowded, and the surrounding

resort
is old and in need of TLC, which made it feel like a not-so-pretty place.
However, the beach itself is a gorgeous strip of clean, white sand, the

waters
are signature turquoise, and the island of St. John is in clear view

straight
ahead. And unlike most beachfront hotels and resorts, this resort welcomes
non-resort guests. (We called the Ritz-Carlton, which we passed on the way
to Sapphire, and they didn't offer any beachfront amenities to non-resort
guests. Note, we had cell service-Sprint-while in the USVI.) Good-quality
folding lounge chairs are available for $5 each. The watersports shack

rents
fins, mask (of better than average quality for a rental) and snorkel for
$5/hour, $10/day or, perfect for our purposes, $8/3 hours. There is a

restaurant
and public restrooms. We found a shaded spot (another nice feature is the
abundance of shade trees along the beach) and "set up camp." Craig set up
this tiny little boom box gadget-a Creative Labs Travel/Sound MP3 player
with speakers-which is perfect for a situation like this, when you don't
want to impose your music on the people around you. He had loaded it with
Christmas music. It was Christmas Eve Day, after all.

We stayed at Sapphire 'til a second, hard rainstorm drove us off

mid-afternoon.
We had watched it rain on St. John most of the day, so in the end, we felt
like we made the right decision by staying on St. Thomas. The snorkeling
was good, not great-we saw a large ray in the sea grass and a nice variety
of fishes in the coral. (Tom K., if you are reading this, help us identify
this fish: small silvery white body with a brilliant blue needle-like

nose.
The needle is just stuck on the face-not an extension like a gar or

barracuda.
We had a blast swimming with a huge school of these fishes for a long

time.)
The water conditions were nearly ideal for snorkeling (and

swimming)-warm,
clean, no floating vegetation, and mostly clear, with some cloudiness

because
the surf was up somewhat.

We shared a taxi van back to town with two women who were "stranded" on

St.
Thomas because of Royal Olympic's bankruptcy. They were on the newest

ship,
which is touted as the fastest cruise ship in the world-I can't recall if
it is the Explorer or Voyager. Anyway, they were in the beginning days of
a 20+ day cruise through the Caribbean to South America and inland to the
Amazon when the cruise line went into bankruptcy. A bankruptcy court

ordered
the ship to get to the nearest US port and stop-so the ship went to St.

Thomas.
The women said they were getting a full refund because their fares had

been
escrowed (I don't understand if this is SOP or if Royal Olympic, which was
known to be in trouble, had voluntarily taken that protective measure?),
return travel assistance, and for those that desired to just hang out in
St. Thomas (since they had the vacation time blocked out anyway), the

usual
use of the ship as a hotel with meals included through the balance of

their
cruise term. These women were making the best of it and having a ball

exploring
the USVI. (There were lots of other cruise ships in port with us today-I
remember the Golden Princess and the Zuiderdam being at the dock with us,
several others were anchored off shore.)

Before we turned into the port terminal, our daughter and I hopped out to
catch an open-air taxi to the old town shopping area. The going rate was
$3 per person, one way. She got her hair braided under a tent at the

vendor's
plaza by Emancipation Park. Craig met up with us later (sans son, he had
thought he'd get his mother out, but she didn't want to come), and we

strolled
the shops for a while. Not surprisingly, the jewelry stores were

wall-to-wall
with holiday shoppers. There are some artisan boutiques down some side

streets
that are worth discovering. We walked along the waterfront and drooled

over
the private yachts, most of which were from the US. Another rain shower,
and we were ready to go home.

Christmas Eve dinner was Italian. Surprisingly, there was no big show in
the theatre tonight-this is a first in our experience with holiday

cruising.
Two caroling sessions were scheduled, but the first wasn't until 10 p.m.
The kids and I crashed, but Craig and his mom went and reported it was

wonderful.
Everyone was given a magazine-style song book (to keep), and crew dressed
in holiday attire lined the bridge over the promenade as well as the

promenade
to lead the carols. They had a huge turnout, which made it fun.

I should note that the decorations this year have been better than we've
ever seen. In addition to the usual garland, poinsettias, Santas and

Christmas
trees, there are creative themed trees all over the ship and an ornate

gingerbread
"complex" of houses set up outside the Promenade Café. Also, because

Hanukkah
extends nearly all the way through the cruise in addition to Christmas,

there
are rich, blue fabric banners with gold cord trim lining the promenade

with
lots of decorative Stars of David and dreidls and menorahs all over the

ship.


DAY 4: St. Maarten/St. Martin, 7a-6p

It's Christmas Day! We are up early, and it is overcast and misty. Out of
five holiday cruises, I guess we're due one with only fair weather. But

that's
okay-this is a new port for us, and the harbor is beautiful!

We've never spent a Christmas Day in port, and there was a lot of advance
grumbling about and even a fax protest of RCI's itinerary by Cruise

Critics
because others who had been here on Christmas Day before said it was

"dead."
I tried to book the America's Cup sailing excursion and another

independently,
but the operators weren't working Christmas. We could've just done another
beach day, but I wondered what services would be available on the beach.
At the last minute, we decided, what the heck, let's do a cruise

excursion.
(We generally make independent arrangements for port day activities.)

After
dinner last night, we made a beeline to the Shore Excursion desk to see

what
wasn't sold out. Our first choice was gone, but our second choice was

available:
The Golden Eagle catamaran sail to a secluded island for some beach time
and snorkeling, with snacks and "open bar." I kidded Craig that this was
one of those "booze cruises." He didn't believe me.

Well, at 8:30 a.m., we kicked off our shoes and climbed aboard (with maybe
50 or 75 others?), settled into the "web" of the cat, and the first thing
that happened was a waiter offered us rum punch, beer, non-alcoholic punch
and soda! And Craig took a rum punch! I couldn't believe it (he's not a

big
drinker).

We sailed for about an hour to the northeast, French side of the island,
to Ile Tintamarre, which is part of a protected reserve. The sun came out
just as we arrived, and what lay before us was the deserted island of your
dreams. It was spectacularly beautiful and untouched, with a wide swath of
sparkling white sand beach. Another Golden Eagle cat bearing Dawn Princess
pax was anchored near us, and a few private sailboats were anchored

farther
out. There is a ladder to the water, or you can just jump off the boat.

But
you do have to transfer to the beach via water deep enough to require a

short
swim.

The location was expansive enough to spread everyone out-it didn't feel

crowded
at all. Note that the printed description of this excursion warns of

possible
nudity, and the excursions desk agent asked us twice if we understood the
local custom because we were taking kids along-but we didn't see any bare
locals or cruise pax!

We probably should have ditched our swim suits because the unexpected

activity
of the day was taking a natural volcanic mud bath! There are pits of

volcanic
ash mixed with seawater that you can sit in or just use to scoop out the
mud and "slime" yourself. I know you are thinking you wouldn't be caught
dead doing this out on a beach in front of a bunch of people-but before

the
morning was over, everyone was covered, from head to toe, in volcanic mud.
It was hilarious! I figured it was ordinary mud and the local kids who

staffed
the cat excursion were playing a great big joke on the tourists, but, when
we washed it off, our skin did feel smoother and exfoliated. Of course,

several
cruise pax bemoaned the fact that they had just dropped hundreds in the

spa
for a similar treatment!

All in all, we had a playful and relaxing Christmas morning on the beach.
The snorkeling was only fair-not much fish life-but the staffer who

patrolled
the area in a motorized inflatable took Craig and our son to a spot where
they saw a sea turtle.

During the trip back, the music switched from laid back reggae and Jimmy
Buffet tunes to high energy pop and rock crowd pleasers. Before we docked,
the crew had everyone on their feet doing "YMCA."

All four of us gave the Golden Eagle catamaran excursion a big thumb's up!


We showered, donned Santa hats, picked up Craig's mom and went to Johnny
Rockets for Christmas lunch and gift exchange. The milk shakes are well

worth
the added fee, and their onion rings are terrific.

Santa Claus made his visit to the ship this morning while we were gone.

The
children were told to pick up their gifts in the kids' program. They

received
a Royal Caribbean backpack. Each cabin was gifted with a small roller

suitcase.
There was a Christmas Eve midnight mass and another Christmas Day mass,

but
there wasn't an interdenominational Christmas service-another departure

from
what we've seen offered in the past. (There have been nightly Hanukkah

candle
lighting services.)

Craig's mom agreed to go out with us to explore the island this afternoon,
so we walked the dock to the port terminal and checked out the touring

situation.
Luckily for us, there were a few taxi drivers working this Christmas

afternoon.
A 2+ hour circular island tour was $23 per person. We thought that sounded
a little long, especially since the driver told us everything was closed
in both Phillipsburg and Marigot-we wouldn't be able to shop or stop for
refreshments-so when he offered a $15 per person 1+hour tour, we took it.
We drove up the west side of the island by the airport (packed with

private
jets which had brought holiday visitors), along Simpson Bay, through

Marigot
and back down the center of the island to the port. This is one of the

most
attractive Caribbean islands we've visited. Our driver points out a number
of vacation homes of the rich and famous, many from America. But even the
locals live well here. It is clear that both the Dutch and French enjoy a
healthy economy, and the driver confirms there is a large middle class,

with
relatively low unemployment of 3-4%. Interestingly, the Dutch side has

resisted
following the mother country in adoption of the Euro-the US dollar is

their
currency of choice. Because the Euro is so strong against the dollar now,
the French locals are going to the Dutch side to buy groceries and other
consumer products at lower prices.

The tour was a perfect length. We stroll the few port terminal shops that
remain open and board the boat a little after 5 p.m. The kids re-join us
after an afternoon in the kids' program, and we dress and go to Christmas
Dinner. The souvenir menu features the traditional "Tom Turkey" meal as

well
as a Hanukkah brisket with latkes. Our son and I agreed that the best part
of the whole meal was the different, but delicious, gingerbread soufflé

with
rum raisin sauce (without raisins, which pleased both of us). RCI always
does soufflés well, and this was divine! I'm going to have to have to find
a recipe..
Tonight's featured entertainment is the second production show by the

Royal
Caribbean singers and dancers. It is called "Pure Energy," and based on

the
song list we previewed on the program given out during the first show of
the week, we thought this would be a good show. But we're not up for

it-Craig
and his mom go to the casino, our son and I crawl into bed and watch a

movie,
and our daughter returns to the young teen group. (This is the first

cruise
she's spent so much time with the onboard group. I know she's having fun
because every time we drop by, she's right in the thick of things, but

we've
missed her.)

It was a great Christmas Day!

That's it for the port stops on this itinerary. We like At Sea days, and
there's a lot out and about around the ship that we haven't seen yet.

It'll
be a busy two days ahead.or not! That's the great thing about cruising-you
can do as much or little as you want, it's your choice.

Diana Ball
near Houston, TX



  #4  
Old December 27th, 2003, 07:23 PM
Howard Garland
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Posts: n/a
Default Live From the Mariner of the Seas: Days 2-3-4 Report (EasternCarib. Ports)

D Ball wrote:

Great details, as usual, Artemis. You guys sure no how to take a family
vacation. I'm knew you would enjoy Sapphire Beach. I'm surprised that
it was crowded, but I guess with all those bulletin boards on cruising
websites, there are few nice spots that remain hidden treasures for very
long these days.

Happy new year to you and your family.

Howie


  #5  
Old December 27th, 2003, 07:35 PM
CupCaked aka CupCaked
external usenet poster
 
Posts: n/a
Default Live From the Mariner of the Seas: Days 2-3-4 Report (Eastern Carib. Ports)

"D Ball" wrote:

All four of us gave the Golden Eagle catamaran excursion a big thumb’s up!


This is a thought for our trip next month! We loved something similar
in Roatan a few years ago.




__ /7__/7__/7__
\::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::...
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

http://www.cupcaked.com/reviews
(...and leave off the "potatoes" to e-mail)

  #6  
Old December 27th, 2003, 08:36 PM
Charles
external usenet poster
 
Posts: n/a
Default Live From the Mariner of the Seas: Days 2-3-4 Report (Eastern Carib. Ports)

In article , D Ball
wrote:

We probably should have ditched our swim suits because the unexpected activity
of the day was taking a natural volcanic mud bath! There are pits of volcanic
ash mixed with seawater that you can sit in or just use to scoop out the
mud and “slime” yourself. I know you are thinking you wouldn’t be caught
dead doing this out on a beach in front of a bunch of people—but before the
morning was over, everyone was covered, from head to toe, in volcanic mud.
It was hilarious!


Great report Diana. We didn't do the above when I did the Golden Eagle,
the water was too rough to get to the beach. I may have to book this
excursion agian even though I usually skip ship excursions.

--
Charles
  #7  
Old December 27th, 2003, 10:25 PM
Jeff Coudriet
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Default Live From the Mariner of the Seas: Days 2-3-4 Report (EasternCarib. Ports)

Great job Diana! Two words -- volcanic mud. I must have the volcanic
mud. Do you think they'd get upset if I brought a couple of containers
with me and brought some home? That shore excursion is on my list for my
next time in St. Martin!

Jeff


D Ball wrote....


  #8  
Old December 27th, 2003, 11:42 PM
Eileen Garland
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Posts: n/a
Default Live From the Mariner of the Seas: Days 2-3-4 Report (EasternCarib. Ports)

Diana, thanks for taking me along on your cruise! I sure have enjoyed
the trip, and it will hold me till our triple cruise fest starts next week.

Sounds like you had a great time.

Eileen

  #9  
Old December 27th, 2003, 11:43 PM
Eileen Garland
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Posts: n/a
Default Live From the Mariner of the Seas: Days 2-3-4 Report (EasternCarib. Ports)

Uh, Jeff, what will you DO with those containers of mud you take home?

Eileen

Jeff Coudriet wrote:

Great job Diana! Two words -- volcanic mud. I must have the volcanic
mud. Do you think they'd get upset if I brought a couple of containers
with me and brought some home? That shore excursion is on my list for my
next time in St. Martin!

Jeff


D Ball wrote....



  #10  
Old December 28th, 2003, 04:27 AM
Peri
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Posts: n/a
Default Live From the Mariner of the Seas: Days 2-3-4 Report (EasternCarib. Ports)

Brava, Diana! I am LOVING reading your cruise journal. We're off a week from
tomorrow, and I am even more psyched than I was before!!

Keep up the excellent and interesting observations. I feel like I am there with
you, which has given me a headstart on our upcoming vacation.

~ Peri

D Ball wrote:

This is a report of Days 2-3-4 of our Christmas cruise on the 6th voyage of
RCI’s Mariner of the Seas.


 




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