First of all, I want to apologise to the readers who thought that I was actually blogging last week! I pre-wrote all the posts last Sunday and scheduled them for publication during the week we were off cruising. And the photos were not from the islands we visited, but my own from Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Tobago (I visited TT in 2005) to illustrate my posts.
We are back on our own island of Puerto Rico since yesterday morning and I am trying to recover from the bad cold I caught somewhere between Antigua and St Kitts, while I digest all the impressions from the 6 different islands we visited last week. I have to say that the highlights of the holiday were definitely the islands and not the cruise itself, which was expected and the whole reason why we went on this trip – to see and experience the other Caribbean islands! We only had one day at the beach, in Barbados, since we reasoned that we can visit beautiful beaches in Puerto Rico and we wanted to focus on culture, nature and history… I will write about the different islands during the week but let me start from the beginning:
I have only been on one “package-deal” / charter holiday before (to Morocco) and well, I was a bit skeptical to the whole cruise thing, even though both Annika and O told me to be open-minded. Nevertheless, I prepared for the holiday like I always do, reading up on the destinations in my favourite guide books Lonely Planet (we have had the LP for Caribbean Islands for more than two years now!) and doing research on the internet. That research was the basis for my blog posts last week 😉
The cruise company also has a forum where past and future passengers exchange experiences and tips that I read. However, the more I read the more confused and disturbed I got. It was a jungle to understand who to tip (we had pre-paid our tips, $140 for two passengers), which excursions to choose, which cabins were the best, what to pack (two formal nights on the ship) and the forum was full of Puerto Rican bashing!! So many complaints about loud, rude and annoying Puerto Ricans*, but fortunately there were also people who disagreed with the critical remarks about the “locals”.
But back to the cruise experience; the ship was big (passenger capacity 2,758, crew 1,100), launched in 2000 (you wouldn’t guess from the tacky interior but I guess that is part of the cruise design style) and has 13 decks. We had a cabin (or stateroom as the cabins are called) with balcony on deck 6 and we were very pleased with our choice – it was great to be able to open the balcony door for some fresh air, and to relax on the balcony (or to study Swedish early in the morning – not me!). The bed was extremely comfortable, much better than our bed here in San Juan, and we didn’t hear much noise from the disco right below us.
Since the departure from San Juan was not scheduled until 22 and we only had to be aboard one hour before, we took it easy on Sunday. O was actually still packing at 4 o’clock in the afternoon! We arrived by taxi to the Old San Juan where the ship was docked just before 18, and at 18.30 we were already in our cabin and the luggage had been delivered. The taxi driver had told us that it had been a complete mess around the pier earlier in the afternoon so it was probably a good idea to wait like we did.
We had chosen the “Anytime dining” option instead of having a set dinner time (two options – early or late), and the first evening was the only time we shared a table for dinner. I know that most people think that it is part of the cruise holiday to share tables, that the waiters learn your name etc but we really enjoyed having dinner on our own and not be forced to be social with strangers. For breakfast we chose a few times to share a table and it was quite interesting to talk to the other passengers and hear about their impressions.
The departure from San Juan the first evening was a beautiful experience. The ship was surprisingly quiet and we were gliding past Paseo la Princesa and El Morro – our favourite spots in the Old San Juan, where we so many times have stood to watch the ships leave in the night… It seemed like everybody was up on the top decks to take photos and celebrate that the cruise was starting.
*) And the [American] complainers should just know what most Europeans think of them when visiting Europe… Loud and annoying, anyone?