We're newly retired, and it's been 4 years since our last cruise, so it's time for a retirement-celebration cruise. Our youngest son still lives in Florida, and we have upgraded our boat to a Carver 325 MotorYacht, so we have been spending our vacations on Lake Michigan rather than crusing. While our son has traveled to visit us for the last 3 years, it was now time for us to visit him in Florida again.
The original travel agent we had used on our previous cruises had retired, and we booked through the agent taking her place. My wife and I were both disappointed in the new agent. She seemed to only do the minimum, never checked for discounts, and never followed up on anything. This will be the last time we use this agent. Besides, we are now knowledgeable enough to do these things ourselves.
Again we drove to Florida, visited with our son for a few days, then on to Tampa for the cruise. Tampa is about 80 miles from where our son lives, so it was just a short hop on the day the cruise left. We parked at the Port of Tampa parking facility adjacent to Terminal 2. The cost of parking was $15 per day, so it was a bit steep. However, it's my understanding that the parking terminal is secured and locked the days the ship is not in port.
For the fifth consecuitive cruise, we booked an inside room, and had a nice bottle of Champagne waiting for us upon arrival. Inside rooms do not really bother us as we don't stay in the room often, only using it to change, bathe, and sleep. The minor convenience of not being able to see what is going on outside is mitigated somewhat by watching the bridge channel on the room TV.
I again brought my Nikon D70 DSLR, but this time with the addition of a Nikon S220 Point & Shoot and Canon FS20 flash-drive CamCorder.
Departure. As is normal for us, we reserved 6PM dining, and as also typical, dining occurs right when exciting things are happening. One event we missed was crossing under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Tampa Bay. But it was in December, so it was dark out when we crossed under the bridge, so I am not sure how much we missed. It takes a good 2 hours from leaving the port to reach the bridge.
Puerto Rico. This was our second time in San Juan, and this time we took an excursion city tour. This is a bit of a departure as we normally take this kind of tour the first time we visit an island - to get an idea of it's layout. The tour guide was absolutely great. We visited the Capital building in Old San Juan, then a side trip to other areas of the city with $2M homes, then back to Old San Juan where we visited el Morro.
The tour guide took us off the beaten path somewhat and spent a good hour extra with us. He figured if we paid for a tour, we were going to see a tour. We did however see quite a bit of poverty, and it sure makes you be thankful for what you have.
St. Maarten. In St. Maarten we took the America's Cup 12 Metre Challenge sailboat race. This has to be one of the best excursions we have been on, and if you like boating or sailing at all, you need to take this excursion.
The race consists of crewing actual America's Cup craft, of the late '80s vintage. The sailboats have only been slightly modified; the boom has been raised so it doesn't knock passengers off-board, and the sails are not raised quite all the way (to slow them down a bit). Other than that, you are under real-life race conditions. This excursion does take some physical effort, as you will be manning the winches or grinding on one of the sails. There is a "professional" crew of 3 or 4, including the Captain, that help you in your tasks.
If you do not wish to participate in the physical deeds, you can become a "beer-babe", and pass out beer on the down-wind legs of the race. The race consists of several laps, and you race against one boat. The boats can come quite close to each other during the tacking operations in the race, and often you get the chance to jeer at the other boat you are racing against.
When we were there, the "Christmas Winds" were up, and we really got going pretty fast. We were on the Canadian boat "True North", and were racing against the US boat "Stars & Stripes". Unfortunately, we lost the race by just inches; but that's OK, we had a lot of fun anyway.
One word of caution, this excursion sells out, so if you really want to go on this excursion, book it early via the cruise line's website.
On this excursion, I left my DSLR in the cabin and took my S220 Point & Shoot as it fit into my pocket. The DSLR would have been just too bulky, and could have been damaged from the banging around and water spray that you can experience on board the sailboat.
St Kitts. One of the Leeward, or Northern Islands in the Caribbean, it is a rather small island. Historically, St. Kitts chief industry was sugar cane, but that industry has all but shut down. Today, tourism is a chief industry, however, they do have a couple of factories that produce auto parts for the US market. There are also several medical universities on the island.
One point of interest, St. Kitts used to have a snake problem, and I can imaging for those working in the sugar cane fields, this was quite serious. However, the Mongoose was imported, which took care of the snake problem, but now they have a Moongoose problem. The Moongoose I am told are now feeding on some of the birds on the island.
The flora and fauna are quite beautiful, especially the Poinsettas that seem to grow wild on the island. The pier is fairly small, so it may be difficult for the larger mega-ships to dock here.
Yep, we took an island tour, including Romney Manor where we saw Batik artisans perform their craft. I did buy my wife a Batik cover-up for her swimsuit that she still takes with her on cruises. We also purchased several other souveniers and T-Shirts in town as well.
Antigua. Antigua was another Island tour, and we took in Admiral Nelson's Dockyard, and they just happened to have a Yacht Show in progress. Not a Boat Show, a Yacht Show with multi-million dollar yachts on display. We also went to a couple of other locations on the island that had nice views at the top of the mountains. At one stop there were restrooms, and one of the female passengers managed to lock herself in the restroom stall. We were 20 minutes overdue to leave the stop, and no one knew how to get her out. Then our tour driver managed to get her out.
My wife bought some jewelry in port, but at one shop, she dropped and broke a spoon off some kind of a coffee cup nic-nac. Luckly it was only $5, and we had to pay for it (she legitimately broke it, and I was not going to argue the point in a foreign country). We now have a spoon-less coffee cup from Antigua on display at home.
Tortola. When we arrived in Tortola, we skipped taking an excursion as we were tired after five days of port visits. We're thinking that when you get to cruises with five ports-of-call, a sea day in between the port visits would be desireable. We bought a few trinkets.
Tip #15. Learn to pace yourself on port days.
Arrival. With Tampa as the departure port on the Gulf Coast of Florida, it takes a full two days cruise to get there from the Eastern Caribbean. In that regard, a 10 day cruise would have likely been a 9 day event had the ship departed from Miami or Ft. Lauderdale. But an extra day at sea can still be relaxing. We used part of the time to book our next cruise on board. You can do this through the Crown & Anchor society, and there are some benefits for doing so, ranging from on board credit for your next cruise to a lower deposit. We booked our Mar 2010 cruise on the Freedom on board. And your travel agent gets credit for the booking - and more importantly, they have to service the cruise should you require the services of a travel agent.
Tip #16. If you book your next cruise while on board, you may get additional credit.
When you have the ship take your luggage off for you, you are given either numbered or colored tags. There must be 10,000 pieces of luggage in the holding room, and they are separated by either tag color or number. After arriving in port and getting off the ship, we went to the luggage room to pick up our three pieces of checked luggage. We found two pieces immediately, but could not locate the third piece anywhere. We finally got one of the cruise line workers to help locate our luggage - we found it in the wrong pile. Even though the luggage tag was still on it, it was a RED tag in a sea of GREEN tags.
Tip #17. If you cannot find your luggage in the area it is supposed to be in, look in the other areas as well.