Our second cruise was definately going to be a 7 night cruise, the Eastern Caribbean really appealed to me. We booked our cruise through the same Travel Agent as we used for the first cruise.
This time, we were going to fly in a day ahead, as we booked a day-prior package with the cruise line.
Call it good or bad timing, our flight was just 16 days after that awful day on Sep 11, 2001. Chaos is really simplifying our experience with getting to Miami and back. For some reason, this time we flew from Kalamazoo, MI through a layover in Chicago, then Miami. Again, we got up at around 4AM to get to the airport. We needed plenty of time as there was general confusion at the airports as they had been back in operation only for a few days.
However, the flight was uneventful, and the cruise line picked us up at the airport and shuttled us to the hotel around 4PM. They booked us at the Miami Downtown Hyatt Regency. Unfortunately there was not a lot of places to eat dinner in the immediate area, and while we could have taken a hotel shuttle downtown, we found there was a resturant at the hotel. And it was raining in Miami - again.
On the day of the cruise, it was still raining. We found that the hotel's resturant had a "Cruise-Away" breakfast buffet for just a few dollars, so we took advantage of it. About 11:30AM, the bus from the cruise line picked us up for the short hop to the ship. We found that if you book the day-ahead with the cruise line, you get special boarding (we were new members of the Crown & Anchor Society, and had not racked up enough points for priority boarding). And then the chaos began...
Remember, this was just after Sep 11, 2001. When we arrived at the ship, folks were just beginning to depart from the previous cruise. Apparently there were delays in the exit process due to a change of policy or security measures; we never did find out for sure. But we were held on the bus for at least an hour before we were allowed into the terminal.
When we finally made it into the terminal, we were escorted into a separate room where our documents were processed, and we were among the first to board the ship. Great little idea, this day-prior package.
Departure. Since on our last cruise, all of the port departures were around 6PM, we didn't want to miss out in the departures. So we booked late seating at the dining room (8:30PM). Although we normally have an early schedule at work, we figured with a 7 night cruise, we'd adapt to the later time soon enough. So the first evening we were top-side during departure out of Miami... did it mention it was raining? I then noticed a few folks in the hot tub, and figured, next time, that is for me.
Tip #4 - pack a swimsuit in your carry-on luggage so you can relax as soon as you get on board the ship.
On this cruise, we booked an inside Promenade cabin. They are only a few dollars more than a regular inside cabin, and they at least have a view of the Royal Promenade. The inside cabins are also a bit larger than what we found on the Majesty, with a nice seating area under the window. We again ordered a bottle of Champagne for our stateroom when we arrived on board, and again, it was waiting for us on ice.
Drink cards. During this time period, the ship offered drink cards. For around $45, you could get a punch card good for 12 drinks. We used them for a nice glass of wine during dinner. Unfortunately, these cards are no longer offered. And we also noticed that the dining room no longer offered a 5 course meal - it was now down to 3 courses (appetizer, entree, and dessert).
I am not sure if it was the personality of our waiter or due to late dining, but they really pushed the food. For example, if you are not quite sure about which dessert you wanted, the waiter would bring both. And if you ordered it, be prepaired for two lobsters to be brought to your table (without even asking for the second).
In those days, there was both a midnight buffet in the main dining room and a midnight dance party topside with another buffet. The midnight buffet was more of a display of the chef's cullinary expertise, with ice sculptures and exquisite table decorations made out of food. The dining room buffet opened for awhile for viewing and photos, then opened for eating an hour or so later. This spread was truly a photogenic event. Sadly, the cruise lines don't do this anymore - at least to the extent we saw then.
Nassau. This was our second time to Nassau, and there is really not a lot to do there if you have been there before. Also it was on a Sunday so that there was not a lot going on. We walked downtown and found a jewelry store that was open, and my wife and I bought his-and-hers Swiss Army watches. Yea, we could probably have bought them for less on Amazon, but it was the idea of the moment to buy them in Nassau. We came back to the ship early and found it nearly deserted, so we had the swim pool to ourselves.
Tip #5 - you can relax in the pool area almost by yourself on port days.
Labadee. This was our first time here, and like CocoCay, it was a tender operation. But a nice day at the beach, a picnic, and it ended up being very relaxing. One thing though is that the sun at Labadee is HOT! Especially for someone from the MidWestern US, you can get a severe sunburn on this beach. Before leaving, we visited the straw market on the premises where the locals sell their wares. We bought a pair of home-made Maracas from a local vendor for a few dollars. While the locals will bargain with you for their goods, and you can often get a lower price for an item , remember that these folk are awfully poor, and this might be their only income, so pay them what their time and effort is worth.
Tip #6 - pack and use a good sunblocking lotion.
St. Thomas. There are two cruise ship docks in St. Thomas. One to the south of Charlotte Amalie in the main harbor, and one to the West called Crown Point. Cruise ships typically dock at one or the other. We docked at the South Port. One thing we like to do the first time we visit a new island is to take an "Island Tour" excursion. It can be a bit boring, and it normally consists of a bus ride around the island with a couple of stops. But you get a good idea of the layout of the island for any subsequent visits you may make. Stops we made included the St. Peter Greathouse (a popular wedding spot), and Mountain Top, an open air lounge. I understand that Mountain Top burned down in 2009, and that it was rebuilt.
One item of interest, and remember this was right after Sep 11, 2001, is that being a US Territory, everyone had to go through customs. US Customs boarded the ship, and everyone had to show their passport or other identification prior to the ship being cleared.
After our excursion, we took a taxi to downtown Charlotte Amalie. While it is only about a mile from the Cruise Port, and although some people walk, I never like to risk that kind of thing on my first visit as I don't know the high crime areas. Even though St. Thomas is US territory, you always have to have your own personal safety in mind.
There are three shopping areas in St. Thomas; downtown Charlotte Amalie, Havensight Mall at the South Cruise Port, and another shopping area at the West Cruise Port. Many of the major stores have satellite operations at Havensight, so you can save yourself a trip downtown if you want.
One store we stopped in was Cardow Jewelers. My wife spotted their signature Reversable Ring, but decided not to purchase it as it was around $400~500. I left that up to her.
Fast forward to 15 minutes before we were to leave St. Thomas, she decided she wanted the ring. But it was too late as we were about to sail, so I told her that if we ever made it to St. Thomas again, I'd buy the ring for her (which eventually happened in 2005).
Cardow Reversable Ring
Puerto Rico. Our last port-of-call was San Juan, Puerto Rico. For this port, we just decided to walk around Old San Juan awhile. At this time, there were not yet a lot of Casinos near the Cruise Port. We walked around the immediate area for awhile, and purchased a few more souvenirs. I didn't get the feeling that there was a lot to do in this port, but we did not make the walk to the fortress at el Morro.
The remainder of the cruise was uneventful, and we returned to Miami on time.
Return. We were in for bit of a shocker as we arrived at the airport. In the time we had been gone, the government decided to put the National Guard in the airports for security. It was a bit unusual to see the military with M-16 in hand walking around the airport. I was in the Air National Guard earlier in my life, so I wasn't exactly uncomfortable with the idea; it just seemed odd to see fully armed troops at the airport.