It had been 3 years since our last cruise. In the mean time, we bought a boat; a Four Winns Vista 268 that we had on Lake Michigan and we had been spending our vacations on the boat rather than on a cruise ship. But also since our last cruise, my youngest son graduated from college and found a job in Central Florida.
So when it came time to visit him, we figured - since we were going to be in Florida anyway... why not take a cruise while we were there.
Since we were spending a few days to visit him, we figured we'd drive rather than fly. The cost of doing so is debatable, but I hate flying as I am 6'3" tall, and I am always uncomfortable in an airplane. Besides, the cost of obtaining a rental car in Florida (if we flew) pretty much made it a wash - given gas prices at the time were $2.20 or so. We had driven to Florida the year prior, so we knew what to expect.
So we again went back to our favorite travel agent and booked an inside Promenade room on the Mariner out of Port Canaveral. Port Canaveral is about 45 miles from where my son lives, so we figured it would be the best place to depart.
It took us two days to drive from Michigan to Florida, but we did it at a leisurly pace. If we wanted to switch drivers, my wife and I could have driven straight through in about 18 hours. But we had a couple of weeks off from work, so we were not in that much of a rush. We figured if we had to drive straight through, it'd be better done on the trip home.
The ship departed on a Sunday, and my son and his girlfriend were gracious enough to drop us off at the cruise terminal. But I let my son drive our Grand Prix, which at the time was a relatively new car. And it was a treat for him as his primary vehicle was an old beat up Dodge Dakota. And since it saved me $100 in parking at the terminal, it was a good plan.
When we arrived at the terminal, we discovered that the ship had been delayed in it's arrival, and we were prevented from even parking at the facility. Normally the ship gets there around 5AM, but there was a medical emergency on the return trip and the ship dropped the sick passenger off in Miami. That took some time, and we eventually were able to board around 3PM, and the ship left around 6PM.
As it had been three years since our last cruise, some changes had occured. Gone were the drink cards, as well as the midnight buffet, although the midnight topside party buffet was still done.
During the off time, I purchased my first Digital SLR, a Nikon D70, and so we took that camera with us.
Nassau. Since this was the third time we had been in Nassau, we just stayed aboard and enjoyed the ship to ourselves when everyone else went on shore. There is really not a lot to do there once you have been there a few times. We could have gone over to Atlantis, but we enjoyed the time to ourselves on board instead.
St. Thomas. The 2005 hurricane season was especially active, and when we were on our cruise, hurricane Wilma was causeing havoc in the Western Caribbean. As a result, the cruise lines diverted many of their ships to the Eastern Caribbean, inlcuding St. Thomas and St. Maarten. As a result there were 4 to 6 ships in port, and the islands were a bit crowded.
We did two things in St. Thomas. First and foremost, I bought my wife that reversing ring at Cardow Jewelers. If you read my Explorer of the Seas (Sep 22, 2001) review, you know the story. The second thing we did was to take the tram to Paradise Point. At Paradise Point we partake in a Bushwacker - the local favorite spirit. The legend goes that if you drink too many Bushwackers, you'll at some point be waving goodby to your cruise ship as you watch it leave from the deck of the lounge at Paradise Point. I am sure that happens. Well, if you limit yourself to one drink, you won't have that problem.
Also for 6 bucks, you can have your photos taken with a couple of parrots at Paradise Point, which we did. You can even have them use your camera, which we also did. One of the parrots seemed to take a liking to my wife's earrings, but at least didn't try to grab them from her.
St. Maarten. This was the first visit to this port, and again we took an Island tour excursion. The tour took us to both Dutch and French sides, with a stop over in Marigot on the French side for some shopping and a light lunch. We immediately fell in love with St. Maarten, and this day, it remains as our favorite island in the Caribbean.
While in port, we learned that hurricane activity might result in us not being able to return to Florida on time, and that we might need to delay by a day or more. Darn! You mean I might not be able to return to work on time? As a percaution, the ship took on extra fuel while in St. Maartin in case it had to stay out at sea longer than planned.
Tip #14. If you travel in the Sep-Oct time frame, be aware hurricanes can occur, which may change your itinerary.
Return. On the return trip to Florida, the hurricane slowed down, so we were not required to stay out an extra day and we returned on time. However, the Mariner was on an alternating Eastern/Western schedule then and while the ship was scheduled to go to the Western Caribbean the next week, it was repeating the Eastern schedule due to hurricane activity. Our dining room ship-mates were on a back-to-back cruise (same ship two weeks in a row), and they were disappointed when learning they would be repeating the Eastern route.
When it came time to pick up our luggage, we were able to find one out of our three bags. The other two bags were nowhere to be found. The luggage is normally removed by the crew the night before after you place luggage tags on it. Unfortunately our luggage was not were it was supposed to be. Fortunately, there are cruise line workers in the area to help find your luggage, and when we checked the lost and found area, we found our other two pieces of luggage. Apparently the tags had fallen off those two pieces of luggage.
After our son picked us up in Port Canaveral, we learned the hurricane was scheduled to hit Florida later in the week, so we left that same evening for home. I can still remember going north and seeing literally hundreds of power company and tree trimming trucks headed south. The hurricane did eventually hit Florida, but it was not a major disaster. I guess Florida at least knows how to cope with hurricanes.