When our 25th Wedding Anniversary approached, my wife and I wanted to do something special. Our neighbors had just returned from a 4 night Carnival Cruise they won as the Grand Prize in a contest given by a local Gas Station during it's Grand Opening. They had spoken so highly of it, we had decided to take a cruise as well. As their 25th Anniversary was within 9 months of ours, we had planned on taking the cruise together, somewhere between the two anniversaries.
As time drew near our anniversaries, our neighbors had found a new job and moved out of state. But we had stayed in close contact with them as they were also our frends, although we were having some difficulty in pinning down any cruise planning. Then out of the blue, we got word they were going through a divorce - so much for cruise planning. We still wanted to go on a cruise, so we decided to go it alone for our 25th Anniversary.
After looking at brochures for awhile, we had decided to give Royal Caribbean a try - mostly because I wanted to visit Key West (Jimmy Buffett and all of that stuff). The only cruise line st the time offering 4 night cruises out of Florida that included Key West was Royal Caribbean's Majesty of the Seas, so that is how we came to choose Royal Caribbean.
Our first order of business was selecting a travel agent. Although our Anniversary was in May, we decided to go in Oct, as that was my wife's birthday, and it was the best time for us to leave work. I ended up having a day off in early Feb 2000, and on a whim, I stopped into our local travel agancy. I talked in-depth with the agent, got some pricing, and I almost picked up the wife at lunch time and surprise her with the booking. But for some reason, I prograstinated on doing so, and 3 weeks later, the travel agency went out of business and took all of the deposit money with them.
So Tip #1 - we decided to go to a reputable travel agency and booked the cruise.
Throughout my reviews, I offer cruising tips I have discovered. The tips are cronological in order, from the first cruise review to the last (so you'll have to read all of the reviews).
As the day approached, we were beginning to get excited. I travelled at work occasionally so I had a suitcase, but we went out and bought my wife a new suitcase, a new formal gown, and a few extras. We also bought a nice new Sony Hi-8MM Video Camera. I already had a Nikon 6006 35mm SLR, so we were all set for camera gear.
I think we must have packed all of our luggage at least 3 weeks ahead of time. I also did some research on-line and found that the recommendation was to take a backpack for a carry-on for a change of clothing, as well as valuables and medication.
After the agonizing wait of counting the days, we received a phone call from our travel agent that our cruise documentation, airline tickets, and luggage tags were ready. This was about a month before departure. I Think I must have read that documentation a dozen times.
The Cruise. Finally, the big day arrived. We got up about 4AM in the morning, hopped in the car, and drove about 60 miles to the Airport. This was before 9/11, so getting through the airport was pretty easy. Our flight was around 6am out of Grand Rapids, MI, with a layover in Cincinnati to switch flights, then on to Miami. We booked the airfare with the cruise line in an all-inclusive package, and we were kind of surprised the route we had to take to get there.
We left in early Oct, where the high temperature of the day was in the 50s. As soon as we got to Miami, we were hit with the humid mid-80s. Sure felt nice. Anyway, we picked up our bags and were met by a bus chartered by the cruise line to take us to the ship. We were the only ones on the bus, as we didn't arrive until about 3PM. When we arrived at the dock, it started raining, and raining, and raining. It rained for the rest of the day.
After check-in and boarding the ship - we were beat. We had already been up almost 12 hours, drove to the airport, two plane flights, and the trip to the ship and going through check-in was a lot of stuff to do in a short period of time. We decided right then and there that the next time, we would leave home the day before. Especially from Michigan, at certain times of the year the weather is awful, and it didn't make sense to risk missing the ship due to bad weather.
Tip #2 - book a day prior.
We booked an inside cabin, and we were a bit amazed at how small it was. We also ordered the Romance Package, and a nice chilled bottle of Champagne was waiting for us in our stateroom - how nice! We are early risers, as we normally get up at 5AM for work, so dining at early seating at 6PM seemed late to us as it was. And in those days, the cruise ships offered 5 course meals; an Appitizer, Soup, Pasta, Entree, and Dessert. By the time we got to the 9PM show, and the lights went down in the theater, I promptly fell asleep.
Nassau. This was the first time either my wife or I stepped on foreign soil (other than Canada). We were one of 5 different ships in port that day, so there were quite a few folks walking around town. We had an excursion later in the day, so the first thing we did was to walk into town for awhile. It was certainly a festive atmosphere with a local band playing on the dock. We looked through the shops in town and bought a couple of T-Shirts and other souvenirs. Our excursion was a glass-bottom boat, as we were not all that aware of what Atlantis was. The excursion was OK for our first one. The ship didn't leave until nearly 11PM that night, but we were back on board by 6PM dinner.
Coco Cay. A day at the beach. There are no docks at Coco Cay, and the ship anchors out, and tenders bring you ashore. Unfortunately our new 8MM camera died on the tender on the approach to the island. Seems it didn't like the humidity of the Caribbean all that well, and the tape jambed into the mechanism and stripped a gear. Luckily I had my 35mm SLR so we didn't lose our vacation photos. But that didn't ruin our vacation, and we had a nice day at the beach with a swim or two, and walking along the shoreline.
We quickly discovered that our 6PM dining prevented us from watching the island departures, other than at Nassau the night before, we would be in the dining room every night during departure. So we decided to eat in the Windjammer that evening. The Windjammer is a buffet-style dining facility, and on the Majesty, it's at the front of the ship. During our evening meal, a thunderstorm approached and we were treated to nature's lightning show in the distance.
Key West. The first thing we did was to run off to Duval St. and we had lunch at Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville. We both had "Cheeseburgers in Paradise". We later stopped into "Sloppy Joe's" for a beer, just to say we had been there. We didn't do an excursion here, we just walked around town for the day. Although the ship was docked adjacent to Mallory Square, we left just before sunset. Mallory Square is known for the great sunsets, and everyone in town goes there to watch (well, at least the tourists). There are many street acts you can watch, but they were just setting up for the evening when we left.
Returning to Miami. What? The cruise seemed to be over before it began. A four night cruise was definately not long enough. You just about waste the first day getting there, and when you add air fare, we spent nearly as much on air as we did the cruise. If you are flying, it only makes economic sense to go 7 days at a minimum.
Tip #3 - take at least a 7 day cruise, especially when you are paying for air fare.
We decided we would certainly go on another cruise, and we had the time of the lives. Leaving the ship was fairly straightforward, but they changed the air flights on us. We were to go to Ft. Lauderdale to fly home. Since we booked air with the cruise line, they arranged transportation to Ft. Lauderdale (about 30 miles north), and we got to leave the ship so that we could get to the airport on time. On our trip home, we went via another airline, and had a layover Pittsburg on the way to Grand Rapids.