Come Sail Away

Cruises really are wonderful vacations. I just returned from one, so, in an effort to induce massive jealosy in my readers, I figured I'd give a rundown of all the glorious events which occurred during the past week. I went on a cruise to Bermuda on the Celebrity line a few years back, so I'll be using that as a comparison. This time, I went to the Southern Caribbean on the Royal Caribbean line.

Getting There: The ship sails out of San Juan on Sunday, so you'll need to arrange a flight (uh, unless you're Puerto Rican, I guess), with all the shiny happy security details that implies in the post 9/11 airline world (it also jacks up the price of the overall vacation a little - my cruise to Bermuda left out of New York and so I didn't need to fly). We decided to go early and spend Saturday in San Juan. Given that we were staying at the Ritz-Carlton, this was a most pleasant experience and an excellent start to the vacation. I would highly recommend looking into this option as it was surprisingly inexpensive, and it really is a top notch resort with a fantastic private beach, a huge pool (which was great way to wash off sand), a nice little spa (which I didn't use, but looked great) and some good dining options (I had some Sushi, and was much pleased).

The Ship: Our ship was called the Adventure of the Seas and it was truly awesome (in every sense of that word). All the standard cruise-ship amenities are there: shuffleboard, food and drinks around every corner, pools, showrooms etc... but there are also quite a few uncruise-like activities such as a roller blading track, miniature golf course, ice skating rink, and rock climbing wall. There is this thing called the Royal Promenade, which is a sort of main-street of the ship, with a bunch of shops, bars and cafes (some of which are thankfully open all night). There's a Johnny Rocket's on board as well, just in case you were in the mood for a retro burger joint.

Food: The food was excellent. The main dining room was modeled after the Titanic's dining room, with extravagent settings and twisty staircases. For those who have never been on a cruise its difficult to explain just how great the dinners are. There is a different menu every night (each one has a healthy choice and a vegetarian choice as well, in case you were worried:P) and if you are ever torn between ordering two appetizers or entrees or deserts, they'll gladly bring them both out for you. Generally, we only ate dinner there (though I did manage a few lunches, which were surprisingly good), breakfast and lunch were had at the Windjammer Cafe and Caribbean Grill, a buffet that is usually open and provides a low-key alternative to the formality of the main dining room (I never did that though, as I enjoyed the main dining room). Celebrity is known for its superb dining, and Royal Caribbean did a good job but came up just a little bit short (still excellent though).

Entertainment: There is always something to do on a cruise ship. Always. Every day, you get an itinerary of all the things that are going on that day, and you've usually got a lot of options. Every night there is a show in the theater (some nights, there is an Ice Show, which is especially interesting when the ship is moving). Generally, though, I found myself in the Duck and the Dog British pub, doing stuff like this (for the uninitiated, that thing we're drinking is what's known as an Irish Carbomb). There was a guy playing guitar there every night, and he was awesome (his name was Mark O'Bitz, I can't find anything about him on the net though...). He played all week, and pretty much the same people came every night, so by the end of the week we were all having a blast. A couple of the passengers even got up and sang a song or two. The song that ended up being the cruise's theme was Come Sail Away - one of the passengers always got up and sang it, and he was absolutely marvelous. The whole bar got into it. It was great!

Ports: We docked at 5 ports during the week:
  • St. Thomas: Nice island, good beaches, and cheap booze. It was raining a little bit on this day, but it was still a good time.
  • St. Martin: One of the supposed great things about a cruise is shopping. Generally, you can get certain items down there much cheaper than you could back home, and St. Martin is apparently known for great shopping. The big items that everyone seemed to be looking for were cameras and watches, both of which were "cheap" (I guess it would be better to say severely discounted, as a $600 Movado watch that normally sells for $1400 is a great deal, but still way too much for a watch imho). Nice beaches too (as if that's a surprise).
  • Antigua: Another staple of Caribbean islands is the amount of harassment you encounter just walking around town. You can't walk two inches without being asked if you need a cab (this was the same in St. Martin as well, but it was worse in Antigua). We ended up getting one good driver, who was funny as hell. He had these custom horns on his car, so when he was driving along he would press them and it would say "MOVE OVER!" really loud. Pedestrians would turn and look quizzically, and some even moved out of the way. It was funny. At the beach, some guy with aloe plants started harassing a lady friend of ours and some random cab driver tried to act like he worked for the beach and charged us for chairs (which were free). We also did a snorkeling thing here, which was nice... I met an Air-Force guy who had just gotten back from Iraq there, and I promised to buy him a drink later. He was very grateful and he said I was one of many who had offered. I've heard a lot of good things about Antigua, and it really was a great island, but I think we just hit a bit of bad luck with the locals...
  • St. Lucia: It was raining a lot when we got there, so I ended up not doing a lot. A few friends took a bus tour, and they said it was a beautiful island, but they really need to build some tunnels and straight roads. Apparently, they filmed one of the Superman movies here, though I couldn't figure out which one or what scenes...
  • Barbados: This ended up being our favorite of the islands. Its a beautiful island, and the locals weren't nearly as annoying as they were in other places. We went to Malibu (a beach where they make the infamous rum) which was awesome (despite a run in with the Barbadon Coast Guard), and we also went on the Jolly Roger Pirate Cruise. The Jolly Roger excursion is what is called a "booze cruise" as they immediately start serving rum punch, and by the end, I was feeling pretty darn good. The Jolly Roger is a fairly common excursion, as it was on several of the islands we visited. If that's your bag, I recommend it (it seemed to be a lot more crowded on Antigua, but I liked that our ship wasn't bursting with drunk people)
Again, Barbados was almost everyone's favorite island, but they were all a lot of fun. The only bad thing about the ports was that we were only at each one for one day; there is so much to do down there, but you had to be back on the boat by 5 pm. The Bermuda cruise was nice because you stayed at port for at least a day and a half, so you could get off the boat at night or even see the sunset at the beach (rather than at sea, which is still beautiful).

BINGO and Degenerate Gambling: Another cruise staple: BINGO! Alas, despite playing several sessions of BINGO, I did not win. I did, however, win a raffle! I got my choice of 6 paintings. I ended up choosing a painting by Anatole Krasnyansky. Its called Venice Yellow Sunset.

I like to gamble, and I finished almost every night on the cruise at the Casino. I ended up doing surprisingly well, though I think I might be developing a problem (just kidding, I was shocked at my restraint during the week. Whenever I was up by a certain amount, I walked, which is only way you can win at gambling in a Casino). I played a lot of blackjack, but my game of choice ended up being Roulette, which I had never played before. It was a lot of fun, but it is way too easy to drop lots of money...

Returning Home: Not much to say about the return, other than the airport security in Puerto Rico was very impressive. They were quick, efficient, and thourough (I even had to run my shoes through the x-ray machine with my carry-on).

So there you have it. I could probably go on and on and on about other things I loved about this cruise, but I'm not that cruel. If you have a vacation coming up, check out the cruise option (unless you get sea-sick).

Update 11.23.03 - Added a link to the painting. Also check out the comments for the profound effect Mark O'Bitz has had on many people's lives!