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soonernstlouis

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  1. One place I would not waste 20-30 minutes of my time walking is Barbados. Well worth the $5/pp we spent on the taxi to the Boatyard last month. We were so spoiled by being the only ship in port that day & 78 degree high (water was still warm). Best beach by far on our trip.
  2. How expensive was flying into Barbados? I’d love to do that if taking the Southern route again, but I’m sure it’s even more than to Puerto Rico from the mainland US. Barbados was my favorite. @TNcruising02 when we booked our September Fascination trip back in January, I was ready to bite the bullet on airfare cost. But when SWA opened their September airfare (a full month later in February) I was surprised & scooped up round trip airfare from STL for $306/pp. Quite a deal since that includes 2 checked & 2 carry ons pp. You will also need to plan (at least 1 night) hotel in San Juan. I was not willing to splurge the appx $300/night rate to stay right at port at the Sheraton OSJ. Paid half that in Condado but there are as cheap options in small non-chain hotels throughout the area.
  3. @Joe817 Joe, first thanks for your kind words on my Fascination review. I think the review process is the most important function of Cruise Critic. 2nd, you are very right in your opinion that tipping is emotional. We loved our room steward, saw him daily in the halls and always addressed him by name as he did us. In the end we tipped him $50 additional to the prepaid grats (not a lot but a lot in our finances) because he always did little things to make our cruise more enjoyable. We found out his duties included cleaning 33 rooms each day and worked a 12 shift but would stop us to ask if we needed anything or how our excursion was on our way back to our room. As I mentioned in my cruise review, we went to the MDR once in 7 days. I’m not saying our waiter was lacking but certainly not memorable. Without regret we never made it back after day 2 to tip him additionally. If had a do-over, it would be to tip the folks (obviously many) who cleaned dining tables we sat at a few $$ each time. I doubt those folks get much recognition or addl compensation but they kept the buffet-area tables spotless.
  4. What is the common OBC offering for lower level cabins (obviously can vary)? The “Future Cruise Offer” rate under our VIPF account had a $50 OBC for Havana interior on Horizon but was priced $40 more ($20/pp) than a non-bounce back code. So basically a wash in my book. We are just under 2 weeks since sailing.
  5. Just wrapping up my review with review of the ship, final disembarkment, short morning stop in OSJ and airport. For the 7 days on the ship, we never at lunch or dinner at the buffet. This is probably not unusual but we also only found our way to the MDR 1 time due to getting back to port tired & not connecting well on the 1-night to our table mates. The lunch (couple times we past it) and dinner buffet had long lines & frankly looked awful. I saw one night a sign saying Italian. Great, I thought I love Italian. Theirs only consisted of 2 Italian dishes-a penne pasta & another vegetarian option. Would have stopped for lasagna, Alfredo or maybe even spaghetti. So breakfast was always omelette station which also had pancake/French toast/various meat sides or Blue Iguana breakfast tacos. Both very good. Lunch/dinner was any of Guys Burgers, Blue Iguana, pizza (my wife’s favorite but not much of a meal to me) and the deli. Mix in soft serve ice cream, buffet desert table and occasional lunch cakes (were good) and you can see why it became boring. Only pay options on Fascination are Captains Table and the MDR steak option. Went to 2 fairly forgettable shows-Motown review Tuesday and some pop show on final night we walked out of. Went to the casino 1 night (no luck) and bought the minimum bingo cards one night. Always got good chairs for sail away from each port (only areas near pool/hot tubs were overrun). Learned my lesson on needing to be a chair hog. One empty lounger between us & next couple on Serenity deck. Teenage kid walks up & asks if it is taken. I said no. Suddenly 8 teenage kids dump their stuff off & head to the nearby hot tub. Towel guy questioned one but she said she was 21 (an obvious lie & he left them alone). Loud but they didn’t stay long. Our room was an ocean view/5th floor/near midship. Great for combating sea sickness, pretty far to each elevator and 2-twins converted to king was adequate. Our attendant Yusuf was great. Always brought ice buckets, kept the room spotless and took care of the sub-par toilet flushing problems....No discolored sink/shower water so we trusted it for brushing teeth, etc. Final disembarkment probably could have been better had their been more announcements. We actually got into port a little early (6:30) but self-disembarkment started at 7:30 (lowest levels first). Checked disembarkment started at 8:30 & when our tag group was called, we had to work our way around people waiting by the front elevator (only one accessing gangway). Once in the luggage area you have 2 choices-tip the local guys & they get you a priority customs line or wait with the masses in the other line. Best 5 bucks ever spent to save 20 minutes as we walked right up to customs. Once outside it it was sprinkling, so we headed under a pop-up tent they’d setup and scheduled Uber. We wanted to go left towards Barachinas so most of the 7-8 minutes the driver took to pick us us was passing & turning around with street traffic. I previously mentioned that not much is open on Sundays in OSJ before 11am. Worth repeating if you’ve already done the forts and aren’t hungry. Uber took us to drop our luggage off at 9 & we scheduled her for a 11:45 pickup to the airport. She thought less than 2 hours was not early enough. 30 minutes would have been plenty even with ag inspections. Took a brief stroll to the open vendors near Fortaleza and a few were open including a man who custom-made leather wristbands, necklaces, etc. Wife bought a few & had names engraved. If you haven’t been to San Juan airport, they sell a ton of duty-free liquor inside the security area. Not sure of prices but my wife bought a couple liters & a carry bag. Pictures below: •Rainbow as we entered OSJ on return to port •Rainbow from prior Sunday in OSJ before we departed (forgot to post earlier) •Favorite sunrise (over Barbados)
  6. Dominica was a replacement stop on our cruise since St Thomas had bad weather. I know they were badly affected by Maria 2 years ago & have had a harder time recovering than Puerto Rico. So I would not discourage visiting there, just research & find a good tour (lots of rivers which are rare for a small island) if you go.
  7. Final port-St Kitts. Even when St Kitts was scheduled as a 2nd day port, I really wanted this stop to be a relaxing one & not go with the crowds. We definitely found a quiet place at Palm Court Gardens. But first the port & port shops. Yes, you will be inundated with dozens of tour operators, taxi drivers and men holding monkeys to con you into paying for pictures. But don’t let them bother you and certainly don’t go right back to the ship. They generally won’t touch you and are long-gone by mid-morning. OMG the shops, more than 100 and cheap stuff. They also have a food court area with an actual swimming pool. As for taxi drivers, I ignored the throngs & walked up to the group sitting quietly to the right by the casino. Asked rates for my destination & worked out return time. One reason we chose Palm Court Gardens is that Fascination has 1 small/always overcrowded pool. Even the 2 serenity hot tubs are generally packed. It costs only $12 for pool access/chairs/umbrellas at Palm Court ($3 towel rental but you can use ship towels). Very European/laid back feel (a couple of guys in bikini trunks, very few kids). Drinks were good but food was on the lighter-side & a little pricey. They do have some nice tropical foliage and great views of the port bay. We we headed back to the ship around 1:30 & my wife spent the rest of the time before all aboard shopping. I joked to the St Kitts customs guy that we were taking half of St Kitts back with us. Oh well. This was a great Itinerary. 5 ports in 6 full days. Normally at least 8 hours in each port. Sailing in the off-season led to less crowded beaches and tours. Would definitely recommend based on that. I’ll have a final review post tomorrow about the ship, food and overall experience. Pictures below: •Gardens at Palm Court •Infinity pool •View of harbor •Pool at St Kitts port shops! •pictures sailing away from St Kitts including Nevis and evening view of mysterious St Eustatious. Great views since they sailed more parallel than away.
  8. Okay, sorry for the pause. On to Barbados, but one last itinerary change. Since we had previously missed St Kitts due to bad weather-we got a surprise notification on Thursday that the time in Barbados was to be lessened (originally 8am-9pm) to only 4pm in order for us to sail North and go to St Kitts on Saturday rather than a sea day. As it turns out Barbados was my favorite island. We exited the ship around 8:30 and took a taxi (about $5/pp) to the Boatyard ($25/pp). It is a very popular spot & I’m sure any of the beaches along Carlisle Bay are wonderful. Part of what made that day special for me was the high temperature-78 degrees that day. Not a normal one, but with the me already having a nice sunburn & warm beach water it felt perfect. We followed recommendations & signed up for the included snorkeling as soon as possible; no problem getting next boat out either. They first took us to the “shipwreck” which is an old boat they capsized to create an artificial reef. Was pretty far offshore so I was a little nervous heading out. As soon as I went into the water, all the worries of the world were forgotten. 100% clear visibility to the wreck and clean/sandy bottom about 25-30 feet down. As we got closer to the wreck area, our guide spread fish food our and hundreds of small fish surrounded us. They offer 2-piece snorkel equipment rental for free but I brought a full face mask I got off of Amazon for less than $20 which worked great for keeping my head down and much as possible & the air intake valve does not allow water to be sucked in (thus a slight risk to those who panic). 30 minutes later we were back aboard to head closer to shore to look for sea turtles. I did see 1 very large turtle but we only stayed about 15 minutes here do to the high volume of boats coming/going near the swim area. Back on the beach, I enjoyed to water toys (especially the rope swing from the pier). Since we were the only cruise ship in port, I’d say maybe 1/10th of the chairs were occupied and no problem having quiet time in the very still waters. We ordered lunch (fish and chicken) which was ready in about 15 minutes (they call your name over the speaker). We headed back to port around 2:00 (all aboard 3:30). My wife wanted to walk to some of the shops that extend out of the security area (very safe) but quickly realized the 2 free rum drinks she had at the Boatyard we’re kicking in. We met a wonderful lady operating a small roadside stand who offered her water, a chair and talked to us about her island and family. We headed back to port but made sure to buy a couple of her nice items. Last port will be St Kitts Pictures below: •Morning sun at sea •Quiet morning near Boatyard •Snorkel group near shipwreck •Video of me playing Tarzan •Sailing away with “peace dove cloud” sunset DED7FCCB-28B7-43E4-92D7-89B06F0C335E.MOV
  9. For St Lucia, we had pre-booked our only non-Carnival tour thru COSOL. I’m a little torn on my review since this was my wife’s favorite port and she loved the tour. I can say that it is a great value for the money ($75pp), you will be taken to many sights throughout the island and guides such as our “Yellow Bird” go above & beyond to provide a great experience. For me, it was very rushed. While I didn’t get car sick, spending about 4 1/2 hours of a 6 1/2 hour tour on winding road going faster than they should was not relaxing & took a little away from the things I did enjoy -boat ride to Sugar Beach, view of pitons from there and above Soufriere, the waterfall and even the hot mud pool (which I did not plan to do). Yellow Bird even helps apply the finger painting to your face. Comments about specific things we did: •The part of Sugar Beach where you snorkel is very rocky & I wouldn’t do without water shoes (saw many who painfully did). You also want to take care where you walk to avoid destroying developing coral/sea life. The guy with the conoe full of fruit-a cool experience getting a fresh smoothie right on the beach. He even had a portable generator to operate the smoothie blender. The chairs you are allowed to use are in disrepair & probably get crowded at most times. We were ok other than constantly keeping an eye on our stuff when we went in for a swim. •Mud baths were very warm but I got in (see below pic). •Waterfall was great but a little crowded compared to one in Dominica. No deep parts on the pool. •Food offered at the COSOL building was good (especially the sugar cane and fresh mango). They have several dogs hanging around in case you didn’t like some of the food & for general entertainment. Free drinks throughout were plentiful & they told you to take extra for the Sugar Beach stop. •You do go thru parts of the island that are poor or not pretty. Vendor stops are numerous and pretty aggressive but you are let known in advance. We returned to port around 3:30-4:00 with a 4:30 all aboard. We never felt we were at risk missing the boat. Next stop-Barbados Pictures below: •A piton peeking over other distant mountains •A US Red Cross ship proving services to St Lucians •Me adjusting to the 100 degree mud bath •Sugar Beach’s version of Smoothie King •Pitons above Soufriere •Waterfall stop
  10. Wednesday was the replacement stop for St Thomas (Dominica). Dominica is a very beautiful island from sea...very green with nearly 5,000ft mountains. The port of Roseau is very industrial & little tourist activities exist in the area....no taxi stand that I could see, nearby beach was rocky & deserted, no real shops near port. Luckily we (along with everyone else who exited the ship) had booked a Carnival excursion earlier. The Carnival app is a great alternative to visiting shore excursions & it’s limited hours. Each group lined up at the pier next to a warehouse. Our tour “Emerald Pool and rainforest” was about 3 1/2 hours and cost $50pp. Overall was worth it as we’ll probably never go to Dominica again & there is a lot of interior beauty there. They warned us that the 99 steps down to get to the falls would be more challenging coming back but wasn’t too bad. After returning to the ship we made the mistake of walking outside the security area. No shops, 1 sketchy bar and several locals trying to sell you weed, asking for money and just staring at you. Next stop: St Lucia Pictures below: •Dominica from the sea •”volcanic” sunrise •crushed schoolbus under fallen tree (obviously no injuries) •Being pelted by Emerald Fall. You do have to swim a little as the water near the falls is over 6ft deep.
  11. Thank you. Things do get better for us later on the trip!
  12. Tuesday was scheduled to port at St Kitts. I noticed the weather was rainy/overcast as we were approaching port. After about a 30 minute standstill (I thought they were being cautious with the pilot captain transfer), the announcement came that the port was closed due to rough weather (basically outer bands of TS Karen) & we had an added sea day. We were somewhat disappointed but preferred losing St Kitts to any remaining ports except Dominica. The ship had a rough travel day to Dominica. My seasickness kicked in early in the afternoon when the ship’s listing became noticeable. Went back to our lower deck room for a few hours. Went to a MoTown show that evening which they did not do dancing due to the high seas. Tomorrow is Dominica Pictures below: •Most outside decks were closed •Headwind of 50kts taking the “fun” out of the Fun Day at Sea •View of the dark clouds/rough seas from our room D110ED54-686C-47E2-A09D-2E7B016C93C8.MOV
  13. Just a brief review of St Maarten. We are morning people, so being up at 6, breakfast at 7 and off the ship at first call is what we like to do. We were the 2nd couple off the ship & after pictures in front of the iconic St Maarten sign, we went past the closed port shops to the taxi stand. This port has very organized taxi service where the person writes down your destination, tells you the rate & seats you in groups or leads you to the taxi until full. We talked to the other “first couple off the ship” and agreed to combine since our destination (Mullet Bay Beach) was just past theirs (Maho Beach). I hinted to the other couple that Maho had less planes landing in the morning and was not as nice for swimming as Mullet Bay. So they agreed to go to Mullet Bay first. Our first hour & 1/2 at Mullet Bay turned out to be a private beach for the 4 of us! It was a beautiful, calm wave beach where you could see planes approaching but not quite landing. The other couple decided to walk to Maho around noon (takes about 15 minutes thru town). We stayed until 1:30 & were taken back to port by same driver we had scheduled with. Driver was nice by only charging the per person rate we started with ($10) than the one we should have ($20). A forewarning about Mullet Bay-chairs/umbrellas are abundant but the food service stand doesn’t start until 11, I never saw the promised port-a-potties being dropped off and no place to wash off sand. So we had a lot of San to wash off back of the ship. When we left Mullet Bay, their was about 100 folks on a half-mile long beach so not crowded at all. Back off the ship around 2 (4:30 all aboard) to the port shops and specifically Amsterdam Cheese Store. Was really looking forward to the latter to get a 7lb wheel of Gouda for about $21. They do still give free samples but were more stingy than previous reviews indicated. Tried the almond cookies (about $1 each) which were good. Tuesday will be surprise sea day. pictures below: •”Private” Mullet Bay Beach. We were only ship in port at all 5 stops. Nice reward to offset traveling at the height of hurricane season. •View of port on opposite side of Great Bay. •Sailing out of Phillipsburg
  14. The next morning we went early to breakfast in Condado at Pannes. Opens at 6am for breakfast & is well reviewed for the variety (American, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Caribbean) as well as food presentation. Checked out of the hotel around 9am & scheduled an Uber. Was very impressed with how the app works (viewing your driver route approaching) as well as speed in San Juan from request to pickup (never more than 5 minutes). Cost was $3.40 for appx 15 minute trip to Barachinas in OSJ. I always gave a $5 cash tip. Barachinas restaurant (aka birthplace of the Pina Colada) offers free luggage service daily from 9am-5pm (tips welcome). It is only a 12 minute walk to the OSJ port but we had several suitcases, so we elected transportation to/from the port before & after the cruise (late flight). Most shops in OSJ opens on Sunday at 11am, so we headed first to Morro fort. Only posting one picture below from the fort as it is well documented elsewhere. There were 4 Park rangers at the entrance when we arrived (still there at the front when we left) and none providing scheduled tours/info inside. We eventually got a little lost due to the several levels of the fort but made it back to the entrance before noon. We saw one of those free golf carts OSJ now uses in replacement of the trolleys but the driver had set places he would go (we wanted San Juan Bautista Cathedral). We walked back in the general direction of Barachinas. Stopped at Chocobar Cotez for a snack & the Coach store for my wife. Our scheduled ship check in time (12:30-1:00) had passed but I was more pressed on not spending too much time doing things we could at home. Made it back to Barachinas, gathered The luggage and requested Uber. 10 minutes later dropped off in front of pier 4. Time from exiting Uber to in our cabin room was about 30 minutes. We were handed a letter stating the ship’s itinerary may change (more later on this) due to TS Karen heading north from the Southern Caribbean. We took our S&S cards & exited the ship about 2pm (all aboard is 4:30). Stores like CVS, Walgreens, Foot Locker, Marshall’s are all within walking distance as well as several food and product street vendors (I got fake Ray Bans for $8). Came back onboard about 4pm. Sail away in San Juan is at 6 which took precedence over our Early Dining that night. It was overcast but still a great sight. It was later announced that Monday’s scheduled stop in St Thomas was to be replaced on Wednesday in Dominica with St Maarten and St Kitts moving up a day on the schedule (pic below). More soon! Pictures below: •Pannes French toast with Nutella, Cafe Latte •Pannes breakfast tacos (too much eggs but good) •The restrooms at Morro fort had a view of the Pacific •Churros and chocolate hazelnut filled croissant at Chocobar •Choco shakes at Chocobar (it was too hot that day to be drinking their famous hot chocolate) •The only plug outlet in our stateroom. Notice one side is actually 220 so the dual plug adapter we brought did not work. Luckily our stateroom attendant Yusuf brought us an extension cord! •New itinerary schedule (will be changed again).
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