{Trip Report} Southern Caribbean Cruise

Warning: This trip report is rather long! It’s nearly 6400 words, in fact! I mostly detail my experiences in the ports of call rather than the cruise ship experience. I’ve cruised numerous times to the Caribbean and even to Alaska and the Mediterranean. I now have diamond status on Royal Caribbean, so for me, the ship is a means of transportation. It is not the destination. I do love food, so I will take note of that in my report. The purpose of trip reports, in my mind, is to help future travelers and to document the vacation experience so the memories are never forgotten. We traveled with our neighbors: Sal, Meow and their two little kiddos.

Day 1: PRECRUISE

The Sleep Inn of Buffalo, NY is where I laid my head the night prior to our trip. We had enough points to book two free flights to San Juan (a 400-odd dollar per ticket in savings), but we had to fly out of Buffalo, a two hour drive from home, at the crack of dawn. We like the Sleep Inn because they offer modernized rooms and an excellent sleep and park package (my opinion changed later… more on that at the end). My alarm went off at 3:45 a.m., announcing the beginning of our vacation. Xander popped up exclaiming, “See, I’m not cranky!” We had a quick breakfast, before meeting the shuttle. We texted our travel partners (who were flying out of a differ airport) with a pic of our exhausted, yet excited faces, and they returned the favor. Our uneventful Southwest flight took off at 6:15 and landed on time in San Juan, Puerto Rico at noon.

Ahh, hello San Juan. It’s been 10 years since I’ve seen you last! And how I have missed you!

San Juan is a bustling city. Its kinda like Miami’s cousin who lives on the other side of the railroad tracks. The beaches and people aren’t as fancy, the water isn’t as turquoise, and the buildings lining the ocean aren’t as well-maintained. Just like Miami, Spanish is widely spoken here, but so is English. If you hop into a cab, your driver may not speak much English, so be sure you know the address or building name. Just like Miami, drinks will cost you a small fortune. Two drinks for a couple will cost $30 at a resort. Unlike Miami, uniformed and armed police post themselves on the corners of intersections. We weren’t sure if this made us feel safe or worried. That being said, the history and the food of San Juan trumps Miami. Old San Juan is a gold mine of architecture, old-in-the-wall cafes, and rich Spanish history.

The medium-sized airport was buzzing with travelers. Our luggage made an appearance after 20 minutes. We noticed a couple of drug-sniffing shepherds and police in this area. After collecting our bags we went outside and got into the cab line. We were quoted $17 plus $1 per suitcase to take us to the Marriott. Within 10 or so minutes we arrived at the hotel and were welcomed by the bell hop. He helped us out of the cab, looked in the cab to be sure we didn’t leave anything, told us where to go, and told us he’d keep our luggage safe if our room wasn’t ready. That’s service!

The line to check in was a little bit long, but we were served free rum drinks. We struck up a conversation with a friendly young couple from Columbus; they  were on their honeymoon. Shortly thereafter, we were checked in and were told that they would call us when our room was ready. So, we grabbed our swimsuits from our suitcase, gave the bags to the bell hop and walked across the street to Buns for our first meal. I had a chili dog and the boys had burgers. The condiment counter had dozens of various hot sauces, so we took the liberty to sample a few.

We got back to the hotel, changed into our swimsuits, met up with our friends who had just arrived and headed down to the pool area for an afternoon of swimming, sun worshiping, and celebrating the beginning of a fun vacation.

Later in the day, we got our room keys and went to check out our room. We quickly realized we had been upgraded to an ocean view room. I had originally purchased a city view room. Plus, our room was larger because they gave us a handicapped room. Thus, we had more space and a shower and a separate tub in the bathroom. We were very pleased. After showering and lounging on the balcony for a bit, we ventured out. One block away is a Walgreens that has wine and an extended grocery section. We stocked up on drinks and sunscreen, the necessities of a Caribbean vacation. We dropped off the purchases at the hotel and then walked down the street to Tijuanas, a Mexican restaurant that I found via TripAdvisor. Our meal was scrumptious. We all fell in love with our food, and Nick is still talking out how perfect his meal was. For a starter we ordered the cheese fondue to accompany our chips. It was served in a small crock pot and was made up of Monterrey Jack cheese, sliced jalapeños, and diced Spanish sausage. For our entrees we all ordered something different. I had the chicken quesadillas that was stuffed with a variety of cheeses. I asked the waiter for hot sauce, and he went in the back and concocted a spicy pico de gallo that was out of this world! After a post dinner drink in our room, we called it a night; the kids and adults were exhausted. Nick and Sal mustered up some energy, though, and hit the lobby casino for an hour. They both walked away losers.

Day 2: PRECRUISE

We slept in this morning; we all needed to catch up on our beauty rest. We dined on pastries and coffee from the lobby coffee cafe before starting out our day. The dad’s took over child care duties, so my gal pal Meow and I could take a foodie walking tour in Old San Juan with Victor of Flavors of San Juan. We hopped in a cab, and I practiced my rusty Spanish. The cabbie took us to Plaza de Armas for $20. We had some time to kill before meeting Victor, so we strolled around the area for a half hour, snapping pictures with our Canons. The private tour, in short, was a walking tour of the area with an emphasis on architecture and history and an introduction to locals dishes. The three of us stopped at three local restaurants (not touristy stops) so we could sample things like fried plantains and mofongo.

Chicharrones

Leche Flan from Hotel El Convento

We raved about everything we ate. Meow sweet talked to the honey eggplant, and I marveled at garlic aioli and freshly baked bread at Rosa de Triana. The pina colada at Aromas was sweet, smooth, and slurped down instantly.

After parting ways with Victor, we headed down to a local brewery to meet up with the boys. From there, we walked to the lawns of the El Morro fort. We, of course, pointed out various buildings along the way to emphasize our vast, newly acquired knowledge of the area. Enroute, we paused to hydrate the kiddos with some shaved ice from a local vendor.  Xander opted for a traditional flavor instead of something crazy like the sesame seed. Blech!

Once at El Morro, we unpacked the kites I had brought from New York. I’m not sure why we had three unused kites in our garage, but I’m glad we did. Flying a kite in Old San Juan is a must. You won’t be the only one doing it either! The kids loved this activity, especially since it was an effortless task to get the kites to sore high above.

After an hour or so of flying kites and marveling at the azure sea at our doorstep, we departed, sweaty and ready for a refreshment. We headed back to the hotel for some relaxation before dinner. That evening we opted to try a restaurant recommend by Victor called YERBABUENA. It was conveniently located near our hotel. The patio seating was full, so we opted to eat indoors. I noticed that a large portion of the patrons were not American. It took us forever to figure out what to order. The menu was a bit daunting, but our waiter, wearing a fedora and not in any rush, didn’t mind our slowness. We were all hungry, as it was already dark outside, so we ordered a variety of appetizers to complement our entrees.

I didn’t try it…

As we dined on various foods that evening, including baby squid and mofongo, we were entertained by a live music. We had front row seats, and Xander spent most of the meal on his feet dancing. The songs were sung in Spanish, but he didn’t care. Although he did exclaim at one point, “It sounds like he’s singing nonsense words!” After dinner, we strolled back to the Marriott and called it an early evening after listening to some live music in the lobby.

Day 3: SET SAIL DAY!

The boys slept in while I woke up early and sat on the balcony reading for a couple hours. A rainstorm rolled in at one point and soaked the Marriott. Soon it stopped, the clouds dissipated, and the sun hurried to dry the puddles. I was feeling hungry, so I woke the boys: we went in search of breakfast. We decided on Orozoco for eggs and pancakes. The service was friendly, and the food hit the spot.  En route to the Marriott, we stopped at Walgreens again to buy some water, more sunscreen, and soda. We ran into Sal , Meow et al, so apparently they had the same idea! After packing our bags and handing them over to the bellhop, we hit the pool with everyone. Xander wanted to go down the slide a few more times before heading to the cruise ship. The sun was blazing, but the breeze and shade of the pool were perfect. I truly liked this hotel!

After 12pm, we changed, got in a cab, and headed to the port. The port was madness. Long lines snaked outside of the terminal, cabs squeezed into tight spots, and porters were helping those who forgot their luggage tags. There was little direction on where to go, but I scouted out a small line for guests in Suites and Crown & Anchor members with a certain status. Since I was an Emerald member at the time, I was allowed to check my bags here; consequently, we were able to usher the LoMedicos in, too. A RCI employee then walked us to the front of the line. Sweet! We passed through security without any problems (we were carrying two bottles of wine) and were directed to another VIP line. Within 10 minutes we had our sea pass cards and were walking toward the ship. The process was quick and uneventful.

Once on-board we checked out our rooms and went to the Windjammer for lunch. Within an hour and a half our suitcases arrived, so we unpacked and got settled.  We loved our room for the most part. It was a superior balcony on the hump; it’s an insider secret that hump balconies are better bang for your buck because the balcony is humongous! The muster drill occurred at 5pm and was over within 15 minutes. Afterward, we checked out all the decks of the ship, bar crawled, and took a dip in the main pool before our 8:45pm dinner seating. It was an awesome first day on the Jewel of the Seas!

IMG_5814BL

For our first night in the dining room, we meet our server for the week: Noel from India. He was prompt and well accustomed to serving kids. He had their appetizer ready when they sat down. After the first night, he knew their names, drink preferences, and realized that I brought my own crayons (so he didn’t bother with RCI’s meager set). He was an expert at timing our meals and at food service in general. No wonder because he’s been a waiter for over a decade. We later learned that his wife, an architect in the Dominican Republic, was a guest on this cruise and dined at the next table with her parents. He was extremely personable and actually reminded me of our college friend Jovan (shout out!) On the last night, he invited us to the Dominican and gave us his email address. Anyway, that first night I ordered the consommé with spinach gnocettes (the broth was on the salty side, but I love salt!), the mojo pork chop (very tender), and the blueberry and peach crumble (loved it and want to try and make it at home). After dinner (and it became the trend), we’d hit up the arcade for the kids and if we felt like it, would get a post dinner cocktail before saying goodnight around  at 10:30-11pm.

Adios San Juan!

Day 4: ST. THOMAS, US VIRGIN ISLANDS
We woke up and realized we were still moving. We opened the balcony door and our jaws dropped!. Hello, paradise!! The scenery of the Virgin Islands never disappoints. After eating a quick, lackluster breakfast courtesy of room service (we didn’t ever order room service again),  we headed down to meet Sonny, our cab driver.

Breakfast on the balcony

We were to meet him at 8:30, and we were able to get off the ship a little prior to this prearranged time. He was standing right out front holding a sign with my name. His van was waiting for us just a few feet away. Even though the steering wheel is on the left side of the cars in the USVI, they drive on the opposite side of the road. We hugged the walls of the hills and mountains and made many hairpin turns during the drive to the Red Hook marina. The drive was fantastic and often breathtaking. St. Thomas, St. John and other surrounding islands look like mountain tops, peeking out of the azure waters of the Caribbean. Homes haphazardly cling to the steep cliffs, often times looking like they are stacked in top of each other. Makes you wonder how tricky it must be to construct them.

We arrived at the marina and watched a pack of iguanas eat some lettuce and fruit a local restaurant worker had thrown to them. The kids were mesmerized by their spikes and how quickly they were eating the food.

Alex, our captain for the day, was finishing some last minute preparations. I found Alex and his company, SunSeaAVI, on TripAdvisor. I had emailed him many months in advance, and he was always very responsive about our upcoming trip. We ultimately decided to visit St. John and British Virgin Islands. We made several pit stops during our day. We stopped a a private beach in St. John and Sandy Spit Island for some swimming and beach-combing. Xander pocketed some unusual rocks and pieces of coral for “our collection at home,” and Sal and Nick destroyed Alex’s football. I guess their tight spirals were too much for the nerf ball.

Alex cleans Meow up

Sal fetches our anchor at Sandy Spit

For  lunch, Alex took us to Foxy Taboo on Diamond Cay, Jost Van Dyke.  We were able to stretch our legs, sample local cocktails (like the Friggin in da Riggin), and eat well. We sailed by the famous beach bars Soggy Dollar and Foxy’s, but opted not to stop as they were quite crowded with other beach bums. Our last stop was Turtle Cay. Alex threw down the anchor and told us the best spots to find a sea turtle. The water was somewhat deep and cold, but we could see the ocean floor. I put on a mask and snorkel and went out to find a turtle. We had seen one surface just as we drove into the area, but she dove down into the water to search for some food. It didn’t take me long to find a couple sitting on the floor eating some sea grass. I also saw a couple rays, so I swam back to the boat to see if Xander wanted to check them out. Alex got him a kid sized mask and a floating noodle and off we went. Xander was elated when we spotted the turtle, rays, and a variety of blue tropical fish. He kept sticking his face in the water to peer down at them, surfacing and exclaiming “oh my gosh! I can’t believe it!” Later on the boat ride back to the ship he thanked me profusely for swimming out with him so he could see the turtles. What a sweetheart!

We arrived back at the ship with barely any time left. We tried to get off next to the ship, but security guards in a golf cart came roaring up yelling at us and beeping their horn. So Alex drove the boat to another spot nearby, and we hurried off just in case security saw us. We briskly walked to the ship and were most likely included in the last hundred cruisers on-board. We definitely had taken advantage of our time in the Virgin Islands. And our faces showed it. My nose looked like Rudolph’s. St. John and the BVIs are now on my short list to return to on a land vacation. They are stunning

That evening was formal night, so we all dressed the part. For our first formal meal, I selected the simple Caesar salad (small serving but quite good), the Filet Mignon (delivered medium rare instead of medium, but the flavor of the reduction sauce was divine) and the bittersweet soufflé with espresso sauce (perfection!).  Xander and Iggy looked quite dashing their black suits. Izzy was adorable in her gown. They all turned many heads and earned numerous compliments from fellow cruisers.

My handsome guy!

Day 5: ST KITTS

The mountains of St. Kitts and Nevis are dramatic, lush and a brilliant emerald green. Their shape reminds me of the voluptuous mountains of Hawaii… or at least the photos I’ve seen of Hawaii.  Maybe next summer I’ll venture west to Hawaii to double check that comparison?

Homes do not dot the steep mountains, but rather the towns are scattered at the foot of the mountains. Large fluffy clouds hang in the sky, breaking up the vast blue. It was a hot day and the sun scorched. Nick and Sal were going out to deep sea fish, and Meow and I were taking the kids on a 4×4 tour of the island. The outfitter we used was Greg’s Safari, but the tour was purchased through the cruise line. We sat in modified Land Rovers that provided open views, and cover from the wrath of the sun. As long as we kept moving, the breeze cooled us sufficiently. Joseph was our driver and guide. For the next 2 hours, he happily described the towns and fruit trees we passed. We saw avocado, almond, mango, papaya, and sour sap trees growing profusely around the island as well as sugar cane. At one point, Joseph bought some sugar cane sticks from a man on a street. To “eat” it you have to chew it on your back molars, suck on the sweet, sugarwater-like juices it releases, and then spit out the left over pulp. It’s like candy!

Iggy tries some sugarcane

Basseterre the main “city” on St Kitts seemed more like a village, an impoverished one. Most buildings looked abandoned, stray dogs lay on the sidewalks, abandoned cars took up residence in odd locations, and women sat on corners selling their fruit. Everyone waved, though, and seemed to know Joseph. Or they were happy to see us. St. Kitts’ sugarcane factory shut down in 2005, so tourism is now the island’s main industry. July is a slow month for it; we were the only ship in port.

At one point we entered into the rainforest which was quite dense. Mangoes littered the muddy floor, and millions of fruit flies swarmed. Muck lined the rocky and steep path that our Rover drove on. In short, it didn’t smell very good, and we roughly jostled around in our seats.

At the end of the rocky path, we stopped to recharge with mango and passion fruit juice. Oh, and a shot of dark for me. We hiked around for a little bit and marveled at the views below. Xander loved being at the top of the mountain.

Driving down the mountain

The last part of the excursion put as at St. Timothy beach. The kids raced down the short, black sand beach and plunged into the rough surf. Meow and I camped under an umbrella ($10 was well worth it) and sipped on rum punch that was garnished with freshly grated nutmeg. The kids attacked the waves and searched for unique shells. They didn’t seem to mind the local kids that were playing along side them with minimal clothes.

We returned to the Jewel for lunch to met up with the dads. But first we had to stop and visit with the monkeys. Their pushy handlers wanted $1 per person which we happily paid. Unfortunately, every handler after that approached us and tried to put a monkey on our backs. We had to learn to firmly say NO. Once back on-board, we found the dads and heard about their day out on the sea deep-sea fishing. They had each had luck with their poles and each had caught a barracuda.

Why not, right?

After lunch, Nick, Xander, and I shopped at the St. Kitts cruise line terminal. We walked away with some t-shirts and other small souvenirs. One employee stopped me to ask about Xander’s Nintendo DS. She had seen him snapping pictures with it and wondered what it was. She wanted to get one for her 7 year old daughter. Lastly, we stopped at the Rum Barrel and had one last cocktail before getting on board.

For dinner, I opted for the lamb lentil soup (delicious), the strip steak (thick, flavorless blah), and the strawberry and kiwi pavlova (pavlova was not as sweet as I normally like it).

Day 6 DAY AT SEA: I’ve never been a fan of sea days. They always seem painfully long. Although, I must admit that the weather was beautiful and Xander and the kids were quite happy with the day. They slept in, ate well, and played in the pool for hours. The slide was especially fun for Xander. I mostly read, and spent the day on my butt. Bring on Aruba and Curaçao!

Day 7 ARUBA: 

I’ve always wanted to visit this southern island. I looked into going here for our honeymoon because of the pristine beaches, lack of rain, and sprawling resorts.  Now If I had to describe Aruba in two words, they would be deserty and windy. The island is covered in yellow sand and cacti.   The winds wreck havoc on long hair. Oh, and the sun pierces you. It’s also a tourist-Mecca. There are countless time share buildings and all inclusive resorts standing proud by the light blue waters. Goat herds wander the island and we saw some in a mini mart parking lot. Apparently they know how to properly cross a street by looking both directions first. The north and east side of the island feel the roughest winds so it is sparsely populated. My hair was flying in all directions thanks to constant 25 knots worth of wind power.

For today, I had arranged two taxis to tour us around for three hours. Bully is well known as one of the best taxi drivers on the island, so I was elated to find out he was available for a morning tour. Shannon was his partner for the day. On the tour we stopped numerous times to explore some of the off the beaten-track sites like the lighthouse, the big boulder, the natural bridge, and the donkey sanctuary. The kids marveled at the abundance of the spiky cacti that cover the landscape, and the neon blue lizards that occasionally pop out from the brush.

Random herd of goats

Fresh coconut anyone?

Alto Vista Chapel

Aruban Whiptail lizard… we saw about 4

Our stack of rocks… apparently they are good luck and will ensure our return to Aruba?

Feeding a “few”

While on the tour, we saw countless organized tours; tourists were following the leader aka the tour guide, on quads, tricks, horseback, and jeeps. We saw tourists jet skiing, wind surfing, and para-sailing. In short, there were many activities for the Aruban visitor to partake in. The main strip in Palm Beach has a plethora of restaurants, some with familiar names like Señor Frogs. The menus are comprised of familiar food, too. Thus, I found Aruba to be a safe bet for a first time traveler. For a seasoned traveler, you may feel like Aruba is lacking something. For lunch, we ate at Salt and Pepper, a restaurant that displays a large eclectic collection of salt and pepper shakers. I ordered three plates of hot tapas to accompany my glass of red sangria: baked Brie with mango chutney, spicy chicken, and jalapeño poppers. The food was average, as was the service.

After lunch, we walked to the Riu Palace to check out Joy and Ploy’s room. It was identical to the room Nick and I had at the the Cancun Riu Palace (highly recommended, btw).

The hotel in Aruba was just as nice as its Cancun relative, too. We headed down to the pool to let the kids swim and to partake in some frozen cocktails (thanks Joy & Ploy!). We were constantly entertained by the dancing and pool games. One game had hotel guests holding water jugs at shoulder height for as long as possible. Before heading back to the ship, we checked out the beach and looked for shells. We only found one worth taking. At the cruise pier, we picked up some Aruba Aloe for our burned and blistered lips.

Although we were in port later, we opted to eat dinner on-board. This evening I had the corn and poblano soup (amazingly delicious), prime rib (extremely tender), and the grand mariner soufflé (always tasty). Nick had the fisherman’s plate which had a nice big lobster tail. A bartender passed by me at the start of the evening, and I told him to come by later to give us an aperitif. He didn’t disappoint; as soon as our dinner plates were cleared, he appeared with a tray of four Baileys and Kahlua shots in a Merlot hued keepsake shot glass. The Mills always need more shot glasses, haha! After dinner we sat on the balcony to watch the ship leave the brightly lit island.

Day 8 Curaçao:

Curaçao is the colorful sister island to Aruba. Here the water is a brilliant turquoise, the buildings are all colors of the rainbow,  and glow from the oil refining looms in the distance.

We arranged a dolphin encounter tour through the cruise ship.  The actual encounter lasts only about 20 minutes and over half of that time involves taking pictures. Our trainer was by far the best, and he educated us on the dolphin anatomy during the encounter. He showed us its teeth, how fast she could swim, her fins and the three distinct sounds she can make with her blow hole. We had plenty of time to pet her; Xander said she felt like wet rubber. He loved watching her splash her back fin to soak us and when she stood out of the water to “walk on water.” Following the encounter, we bought the USB picture package, $80 for all pictures taken of our family (12 pictures) and the LoMedicos (16 pictures). Otherwise we could have chosen 4 pictures for $40. Thus, the USB package made more sense.

We decided to walk over to Hemingway’s, a beach side restaurant near the Sea Aquarium. We sat at a large wooden table under a poppadom and near the water’s edge. The landscape was breathtaking. While we waited for our food (and we had to wait a LONG, LONG time), the kids splashed in the clear water. They really wanted to get into their bathing suits again.

Chicken sandwich with a “basket” of fries

After a slow serviced, yet decently yummy meal, we spent more time at the sea aquarium. We checked out the tanks and touch/feel tanks.

It was getting hot, so we opted to head downtown for some ice cream. Our cabbie dropped us off at the moving bridge, so we were able to cross it and marvel at the Dutch architecture.

On the other side, Xander and Iggy found some shark tooth necklaces at the local market and the parents located an ice cream shop. I found a bottle shop and purchased the island’s famous liquor.

Showing off his new necklace

We casually strolled around the area before boarding the ship. A stray dog who had found us back near the the ice cream shop followed us all the way to the gangway. He even tried to get on-board with us. I kinda wanted to adopt him. Oh well!

For dinner we dressed up again in our finest for formal night. I had the antipasti (how can you not like melon wrapped in prosciutto), roasted garlic soup (you really only need 4 bites, unless you want to repel vampires), and the sage wrapped pork tenderloin (just so-so). For dessert, I sampled the tiramisu (I’ve had better). We enjoyed watching the waiters sing and perform. And Iggy enjoyed whipping his napkin in the air!

Day 9 DAY AT SEA: Today the boat was rocking, but it was sunny. I spent a large portion of the day packing and sorting through the stateroom We also enjoyed more time at the pool and slide area. We discovered that swimming in the pool was best after sunset and while many people were eating dinner or getting read for dinner.

Post-sunset dip in the pool

Xander loved wearing the robe after his nightly shower LOL

Day 10 SAN JUAN & NEW YORK:

I hate the last day of vacation. It reminds me of that feeling, as a child, that I would get after opening all my Christmas presents. The wait, the excitement, and the joy of our vacation was nearly at an end. We showered, packed our last items, and headed up to the Windjammer for breakfast. We stalled as long as we could before getting off the ship. Our luggage tag color was called around 8:00am but we didn’t get off til after 9am. We were sad to step off the Jewel… til next time!

Our flight post cruise departed at 4pm, so we had some time to kill. We opted to see more of Old San Juan, so after passing through customs, we hopped into a cab and went to Barrachina restaurant. During the research phase, I had discovered this gem. Not only are they hailed as the inventor of the pina colada, but they store luggage for free (please tip!) starting at 9am. It’s a charming restaurant in the heart of OSJ. Before setting out into town, we each sampled their legendary pina colada at the courtyard bar. It was sweet, smooth, and put some pep into our step.

During our last hours in Puerto Rico, we walked to El Morro and briefly toured the fort. Then, we stopped at the art market that was set up on the lawn. Meow bought some presents for friends back home, and I purchased a beautiful wooden mortar and pestle from an artist who didn’t speak any English.  We had managed to work up an appetite, so Meow and I recommended Rosa de Triana, the tapas restaurant we had eaten at on our Foodie tour.

We were seated in the cool, dark tunnel, a welcome relief from the humid, hot Puerto Rican weather, and we dined on mofongo, eggplant, beans with rice, and red sangria. It was the perfect end-cap for our trip.

I love this unique, little restaurant!

Our flight was at 4pm and we had to leave OSJ at 1:30pm (to ensure we had plenty of time). It took us about 25 minutes to get to the airport, but there wasn’t much traffic. The airport was insanely busy, and we had to first wait in the agriculture line, then the luggage check line, followed by the security line. All in all, the airport checkin/security portion took us over an hour. Luckily, our Southwest flight back to New York was on time.

Unfortunately, we had a slight issue in Buffalo with our car. We’ve decided that we won’t use the Sleep Inn parking package again. After being spoken to rudely on the phone by the front desk agent (we had called to let them know we needed a pickup, we discovered a huge group outside also waiting for the shuttle.  Xander was exhausted and so were we; we had been flying all day and still had a 2 hour drive home. We were frustrated when we were told the bus was full and we would have to wait. We eventually got to our car and had to wait for 20 minutes in a line at the economy lot. When it was our turn, the agent said the Sleep Inn forgot to validate our ticket!!!!!! She then got out of the booth and had ALL the cars lined up behind us BACK UP! Nick had to back up, park, and walk over to the hotel to have them stamp the stupid ticket like they should have when we parked the car 12 days earlier. So we got back in line, and had to wait again. Now that it was stamped, we were released from the lot. What a hassle! We landed at 11:45pm and finally got on the road at 1:15am, so we didn’t get home til 3:30am. What a crazy last day.

Despite the hiccup at the end, our trip was epic. I’ll have to work hard to find a way to top this incredible vacation. Ultimately, I hope Xander had fun spending time with us and his friends, experiencing unfamiliar sights, sounds, foods, and adventures. I want to instill in him a passion, a hunger for travel and stepping outside of his comfort zone.  I hope he will forever remember this vacation as fondly as I do. 

A few final notes about the ship itself……

Computer/WIFI review: The computer area only has 6 computers, two of which never worked. The browsers are outdated and the connection was unbelievably slow. The ship offers WiFi, but you have to be in the right area to even get connected. I bought 60 minutes worth and the rate was .58 cents per minute. Most of that time was spent staring at a loading screen. Is was the worst experience with computers on a ship that I’ve ever experienced. Your best bet is to find a restaurant onshore that offers free WiFi and connect your phone or tablet that way.

Ship review: I love the Radiance class ships. They aren’t too big, yet don’t seem small because they offer many dining options and amenities. The Schooner bar and Champagne bar are excellent places to get a drink, the patio outside of the Windjammer offers comfy cushioned wicker patio furniture for you to eat your meal, and the kiddie pool has a long slide to keep the kids smiling. The Jewel shows signs of age, as do all ships eventually. However, this didn’t hinder my vacation except on three occasions. One time our toilet wouldn’t flush and another time the sink had no water. When the water was restored, it was yellow. Yuck! The third time was when our ceiling began to leak. A slow drip fell by our bathroom door and onto the top shelf of the closet. One gripe I do have about the ship is the pool size. It is way too small, and on sea days, the pool itself is packed with swimmers. I had never noticed this before as I normally don’t use cruise ship pools. Now I do, thanks to Xander and his obsession with swimming.

Room review: We stayed in room 1056, a superior balcony on the hump. Hump balconies are much larger which is why I like to snag them when they are available. Our balcony had two chairs, one table, and two loungers and was nearly the same size as our room. We used the balcony constantly. We did hear noise from the Windjammer upstairs and the running of children by the pool. Additionally, since it is the first room of the hallway, we could hear the music and parties from the Centrum every night. This usually ended by midnight and didn’t bother us, but it would not be ideal for light sleepers who tend to turn in early. One night the cheering and chanting was pretty loud, and border line annoying. The cruise director would yell “Puerto Ricooooo?” And in response, the Puerto Ricans would scream back “yeahhhh!” Overall, the room worked nicely for us. I especially loved the absence of the infamous shower curtain. The Jewel has nice shower doors that don’t attack you.

Approximate Spending:

Cruise (balcony stateroom): $3,420.96

Flights (Southwest FF miles used for two people): $392

Buffalo Hotel/Parking package: $146

San Juan Resort for 2 nights: $461

Tours: $1,200

On board spending (booze, photos, tips, gambling): $770

Off ship spending (restaurants, activities, etc.): ????? we lost count

TOTAL: at least 6,389.96

In summary, thank God I saved money! This vacation was a splurge! We cruise often, but we didn’t cut corners this time around. We haven’t cruised or vacationed anywhere other than Canada, Missouri, or Florida since we moved to NY in 2010. So I don’t felt terribly guilty, especially since I’m employed again.  As a side note, I was able to get a price reduction for the San Juan hotel because the price lowered in  April and again in June. The cruise never lowered in price. Lastly, you only live once! YOLO!

Advertisements

One thought on “{Trip Report} Southern Caribbean Cruise

  1. Once again you have made me feel like I was along with you on this trip. Your beforehand research and knack for seeking out the more unique sightseeing spots always impresses me. So glad you all had such a wonderful vaca!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s