So Jennifer and I took a cruise on Royal Caribbean last week. We went from San Juan to Aruba to Curacao to St. Martin to St. Thomas and finally back to San Juan. It was our first cruise experience and we were nervous of going and hopeful that we would like it.
Sunday found us flying to San Juan. We left Baltimore just as the snow was beginning to fall in minor amounts and landed in a lovely 80 degree day. From San Juan Airport we took a shuttle over to the dock and got through the boat boarding with no trouble except that we almost missed the boat, but made it in the nick of time. Obviously our stateroom on board the boat was tiny, but Jennifer’s sister gave us some good advice to make sure to unpack instead of trying to live out of your suitcase. We did this and it was really the way to go. I’m much more of a live out of the suitcase type of person, but for a tiny room like on a cruise you almost have to unpack to maintain your sanity. We had dinner that night and met our dining companions, a very nice family from Puerto Rico: Irving, Elise, and Paulette. They were a very friendly family and really made dining the entire cruise a fun experience.
Monday we spent the day sailing and contemplating calling everyone back at home and taunting them about the snow.. For us that meant exploring the ship, hitting the pool, trying some classes out. We went to the Cha-Cha lesson given by the dancing instructors which was really just a chance for them to pimp out the opportunity for us to pay for private lessons, but we learned a bit of cha-cha and it was all fun. That night we had dinner in the “exclusive” restaurant on board the ship that costs a little extra, but it’s supposed to be more fancy. I did not find it to be anything over and above the main dining room experience though, so I’m not really sure it was worth the extra cash. After dinner we checked out the on board entertainment, an acapella group called Mosaic who were surprisingly good. All in all it was a delightful night.
Tuesday found us at our first port, Aruba. We got up early and went on our first shore excursion: Horseback riding. Now, I’m scared of horses because there big and unpredictable, but we did this so I could embrace my fear and try something neither of us have much experience in. The ranch we were taken too was a little run down, a little dirty, a little in need of a fresh coat of paint, but it was ultimately fine. The horses were old and seemed destine for the glue factory, but I was okay with that. The ride took us from the ranch down to the island shore, along the shore and then back to the ranch. We got to ride in the water a bit, across the beach a bit, but mostly just through some random neighborhood. It was fine and the tour guides did a good job. We both had fun. After the ride we were taken back to the ship, had some lunch and then decided to find the beach in Aruba by ourselves. We got off the boat, asked at the information desk how to get to the big beach, and followed their directions. It was really quite a piece of cake and in about 20 minutes we had found the beach. Aruba has just this massively long beautiful beach and we just took off our shoes and strolled down along the waters edge. It was absolutely delightful and probably my second favorite thing we did the entire vacation. Aruba’s beach is amazingly beautiful and I’d totally go visit it again.
Wednesday we spent at our second port, Curacao. For Curacao we didn’t have any shore excursions planned, so we just slept in a little. After breakfast we got off the boat and wandered into the main town. It was pretty and all, but neither Jennifer or I are much for shopping, so we just wandered about for a bit. Once we got hungry for lunch we headed back to the boat. We then spent the rest of the day doing things on the boat that were usually quite crowded when the boat wasn’t in port. We went to the jacuzzi and the pool, went ice skating, played mini golf, things like that. My favorite activity was that both Jennifer and I climbed the rock wall on board the ship. Apparently I climbed the easy part of the wall so fast Jennifer didn’t even have time to take pictures. So I did the medium difficulty part while Jennifer suited up to try the wall herself. Now, Jennifer is both afraid of heights and not one for taking risks, so I was quite proud that she not only tried the rock wall, but made it up to the top. Two steps way out of her comfort zone.
Thursday we were at sea again, like Monday, so we basically took it easy. We did some ballroom dancing including putting our cha-cha lessons to good use, saw a movie, hit the pool, and slept in. We took a nap or two. It was really quite a nice day and very relaxing.
Friday we hit St. Martin and, well, St. Martin hit back. Our excursion for the day was a tour of Marigot, the capital of French St. Martin then a few hours at the beach. The tour was okay and Marigot was nice, but as we got on the tour bus to head to the beach, the rain started. For most of the day it rained off and on, but the real issue was the 50 mph wind gusts. Try sitting on the beach relaxing when the sand is attempting to flay the skin off your body. Not so much fun. All in all it wasn’t a terrible outing, but it wasn’t to bad. The beach was nice and we did get a change to stroll down it’s length and see people wandering about without clothing. All in all St. Martin was our least favorite stop, but only because of the weather, which we do not blame St. Martin for.
Saturday was our adventure day on St. Thomas. We had planned an excursion called “Kayak, Hike and Snorkel on Cas Cay.” This involved one thing I have never tried before (Kayaking) and two things Jennifer had never done before (Kayaking and Snorkeling). It was AWESOME. The tour people were really fun and very knowledgeable. They did a great job discussing the Mangrove forest we kayaked in and it was fun to learn all about mangroves. After kayaking to the island (Cas Cay) we got a little hiking tour that ended with a cool sea scape view complete with a natural blow hole where the water coming in from the waves creates a cool sea spray. Jennifer thought it was the coolest thing every and we got a bunch of pictures of her in front of it getting splashed. Also during this they picked up a sea urchin and let us hold it. Cool as all get out because you can feel it walking in your hand and all. Cool for us northern folks whom have never done such. We hiked back to the boats and grabbed our snorkeling gear for the last leg. Snorkeling was fun. Jennifer was very wary at first and really nervous, but once she got the hang of it she seemed to settle in to enjoy it. Because we were moving slower than the rest of the group we ended it bring up the rear with one of the tour guides who stayed with us and pointed out lots of cool things: small barracudas, a southern sting ray, various fishes, bottom living jelly fishes that were bad to step on, and the big dad of them all an adult barracuda nicknamed “barry” who was over 4 feet long. Big, underwater, and only 4 feet way can be a little scary, but in a totally good way. I’m scared of Sting rays in the ocean, so seeing one for real was cool. It let me approach my fear, but stay a good distance away from it. All in all, the entire excursion was hands down the best thing we did the entire trip. We both had a crazy amount of fun doing things we would never normally get to do at home, which in my book is exactly what a vacation is all about.
Sunday we returned to San Juan and flew home. While traveling is usual very stressful I found the trip home to be easy as pie. Jennifer and I are now professionals at the cruise trip and nothing the San Juan airport could do would bother us.
All in all we loved our cruise vacation. Initially we were worried about sea sickness, lame excursions, over scheduling, crowding, and general traveling concerns, but they all proved to be completely unfounded. We will totally go on a cruise again, and probably very soon.
Picture will be up on flickr soon and I’ll link some into this post.