Jeff usually tends to write posts because I have a hard time coming up with something to write about. He suggested that I write a post to summarize our latest trip so I sat down to write and it just kept on comin’! I wrote so much I had to separate it into multiple posts, so what you’ll find in this post is a little about what we did each day of our cruise and the adventures we went on.
Welcome to the port of San Juan & Serenade of the Seas
Upon our arrival in San Juan we caught a taxi from the airport and headed directly to the ship. This was our original plan although it was confirmed by Ann – the woman I sat next to on the way there – who also mentioned her sister cruises a lot and recommended us to arrive early…her reason “they can’t deny you entry and the food is available right away”…hehe, she was so much fun to talk to on the flight there.
TIP: If you’ve never cruised before definitely arrive earlier than you’re told for the fact that the earlier you arrive the less people you’ll have to stand in line with. This gets you on the ship faster and once you’re on the ship you’re allowed access to the pool, food and everything right away.
We used that early time to unpack, settle in and look around to see what the ship had to offer. We figured out what was where, checked out the watermelon art in the buffet where we then had lunch and just took in the views of San Juan from the cruise ship. The excellent thing about having just our backpacks is the fact that we didn’t have to hand over our luggage to be carried to our room by the porters, we were able to walk right in with all our things (and right out on the last day).
If you’re unaware of how the cruise handles luggage, prior to going through the check-in process and immediatly upon your arrival at the ship docks you provide all your luggage to the porters who then procede to take your luggage from the dock to the hallway right outside your door at some time on the first day. You’re warned to take out whatever you may need for that first day because there’s no deadline given for when you can expect your things to be delivered. (There’s one more reason to arrive early if you’re carrying large luggage with you and don’t want to deal with the porters.)
Now I’m not sure about you, but to me, this just seems like an easy way to gain access to other people’s things and with my non-trust in the good of all people, I’m especially thankful for traveling lightly and being able to take our bags directly on board. Funny thing was half way through the week an announcement was made that a couple was still missing their luggage in case anyone found it. I just wonder how often that happens?
St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
Our first stop was to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands on the morning after boarding in San Juan. St. Thomas isn’t too far from San Juan so the ship was cruising at somewhere around 7mph to get there. We were actually up pretty early that morning, after an early night to sleep, and were one of the first off the ship. We hopped in the front seat of a taxi with around 10 other people and after reading about St. Thomas in the Fodor’s book I decided we should hit up Magen’s Bay for a little while.
The plan was to check it out for a little while then head back to the dock to take a ferry to Water Island and check out Honeymoon Beach, where I read a scene from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button had been filmed. We arrived at Magen’s Bay around 9am and laid out for a few hours, ate lunch at a little restaurant on the beach, then after watching people do it all day we searched for where the paddle board rentals were. I spent an hour on the paddle board and absolutely LOVED it!! I had recently read an article about the activity in Women’s Health magazine and how it was gaining popularity and how it was a good work out for your core and arms and legs and I can totally vouch for it being fun and a great work out too. I would have definitely gone longer but we had only paid for one hour. By the time we were ready to leave Magen’s Bay we didn’t have enough time to make it to Honeymoon Beach and back before we would miss the ship so we just headed back to the Serenade.
That night was our first formal dinner so we got all cleaned up, realized we got a little burned with all the glorious time on the beach and met our table mates for the week. We sat with three other couples the first night; one couple who lived in San Juan, another married couple from Idaho and a third aunt & niece duo from Michigan. We met our head waiter, who was a nut! He introduced himself as Big Daddy since his name was Dedhi. Our assistant waiter was Rochelle. Dedhi was from Indonesia and Rochelle from Jamaica. All of the staff on the Serenade (and all other Royal Caribbean ships) are from all over the world.
All week we had interesting discussions around the table about everyone’s experiences each day & night and the musings of Big Daddy & Rochelle. Funny enough Julie’s aunt was a retired high school English teacher and Tina owned a florist shop, so I seemed to have a lot to talk about with those ladies through our common interests. :) Also Tina’s husband & Julie were each in the car dealership business (new & used) so they had a common work interest as well. The San Juan couple was really nice, but they didn’t come to dinner except for the first night so we really didn’t get to chat with them too much although we did see them about every other day.
St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
Our second stop on day three was at St. Croix, another U.S. Virgin Island. Prior to this cruise we hadn’t booked any excursions because the point of this trip, for us, was to visit with the sun, beaches & Chrissy on the last day. However after our first day out, we went from white to red, and chose to sleep in and spend day two exploring the ship (and hiding from the sun a bit). We did get off the ship and walk around at the St. Croix port but we got back on fairly quickly, as compared to the day before.
That night we attended the Crown & Anchor Society Reception, which was an event held by invite only. We were provided complimentary Champagne and hors d’oeuvres. The captain began with a speech about all the cruise ships Royal Caribbean currently has out and about & a little history behind when each ship in the Royal Caribbean fleet were created along with explaining the differences between each one. He then proceeded to mention that RC is currently working on their next venture: Project Sunrise. He said the ship would be smaller than the Oasis & the Allure but would have it’s own unique offerings, like all the RC ships seem to have. It feels like they have a little something to offer everyone; small ships, big ships, kid friendly activities, water sports, drinks, food, entertainment. Jeff always explains RC to others and refers to them as little floating cities, and what’s funny is the Oasis & Allure of the Seas are so big that they actually have neighborhoods.
Overall it was very impressive to hear the captain list all the ships, but then he passed the microphone to the on-board booking agent, and what she had to say topped the captains speech. A bottle of champaign was then presented to the Crown & Anchor member who they created a new membership class for. He’s now a Pinnacle member having cruised for 951 days! This was his 135th cruise. At that point Jeff turned to me, and like Barney Stinson on How I Met Your Mother said, “Challenge Accepted!” :)
St. John’s, Antigua
Our third stop was to Antigua, where we docked in St. John’s. The night before we stopped by the excursions desk and booked the Island Safari 4×4 Offroad Adventure Tour. No matter who you talk to in Antigua the biggest selling point anyone will mention is that they have 365 beaches on the island – One for every day of the year! The tour we booked took us through the southern & western side of the island where we were able to go through the rainforest and experience sights only available with the use of the offroad vehicle.
Our guide’s name was Ken Rick & he was born on the island. I forget the exact number but he said he was one of around 22 siblings. He was very patriotic about his home island and I feel he was the perfect person to show us around. Of course it wouldn’t have been a Caribbean tour without a little rum punch to start the trip off and he made a comment when he started the tour that “If it doesn’t endanger you, me, or the company’s truck – in that order – we’re going to do it” He would stop the truck, get out, pick some plant from the side of the road and come back and explain the significance. I took pictures of each item he showed us along the way but for the life of me now can’t remember what each of them were. He pointed out the pineapple plant growing on the side of the road and surprisingly explained that it takes 18 months for one to fully grow to maturity.
There were many little stands situated along the road we traveled on where people sold their fruit or conch shells right off the porch of their home. We stopped at a dam overflow and crossed paths with a couple of travelers who stopped for a hike in the woods, who Ken thought were locals by the confidence they displayed in their knowledge of the area. Ken gave us a great photo op on the vehicle and we headed to Crab Hill Beach (also known as Turner’s Beach for the little Restaurant available there of the same name) where we were able to relax on 1 of the 365 beaches for a quick half hour, along with stealing internet for a few minutes to check email and get a quick tweet out. While there I almost got tackled by a wave on the beach!
Then our three hour tour was up and Ken brought us back to the ship dock, but not before driving through his neighborhood and pointing out his old high school, his uncle’s house and picking up his daughter after school let out to bring her along for the end of our ride. Overall it was an excellent tour that provided a good look at the island from the interior out, and I’d highly recommend it if you’re heading to Antigua. That night at dinner we shared our experiences with our table mates & after dinner Big Daddy showed off his napkin folding skills by creating a little man made from just napkins.
Castries, St. Lucia
We docked in Castries, St. Lucia the next day and got off the ship bright & early for our 7.5 hour tour to Soufriere & the Volcano. We were initially thinking we’d do an Island Bike tour and experience the interior of the island again like we did in Antigua but since that was full we went with our second, and much earlier, choice. We boarded a catamaran which took us first on a slow ride toward the Gros and Petit Piton’s. We disembarked in Soufriere and were then loaded into taxis which drove us to the Sulphur Springs – St. Lucia’s own drive-in volcano. You knew when you arrived because of the pungent smell the volcano let off – it smelled like rotten eggs. The guide we were provided with said it was good you could smell that awful stench because if you couldn’t that meant we all might be in danger, so we dealt with it and were outta there quicker than I was expecting but I didn’t put up any fuss about leaving.
Our next stop was to the Morne Coubaril Estate where we were led on another tour, this time to a “working plantation”. They have a plantation mansion and examples of the shacks the slaves would have lived in. Our guide pointed out the citrus & tropical plants on the trail we walked along and we were lead through a cocoa processing demonstration. I was able to try a cocoa bean, which the local kids call Jungle Skittles, but Jeff didn’t have any interest in trying the slimy bean. It was surprising to see cocoa beans are white and slobbery, kinda like an enormous booger. Jeff then listened to the cocoa making process. I say Jeff listened because we were traveling in a fairly large group of people, all off the Serenade, and within that group were around 3-4 kids who were not being controlled by their parents and were completely distracting me with how awful they were acting.
So the cocoa process goes like this: After the seeds are pulled and separated they sit out on a fairly large cheese-grater-looking tray so the slime can separate from the beans. That slime is then used to make cocoa vinegar. The beans are then laid out to dry for 8 days. Then they are polished, I Love Lucy style. The beans are thrown in the bottom of a barrel where a guy walks up, takes off his Crocs and climbs in to step on the beans. Finally they’re roasted and are then ready for cocoa processing. We were again offered a taste of the product, and Jeff just couldn’t pull himself to try them (Jeff’s note: I didn’t want a cocoa bean with a side of foot! :P ) but I did. It definitely didn’t taste like chocolate..hehe. After we came home this video came about on Twitter where The Mast Brothers explain the next step in the process to make chocolate. They don’t get their chocolate from St. Lucia but they do have beans sent in from other islands in the Caribbean.
We then moved on to an area where a guy was husking coconuts and let us try fresh coconut milk. Our guide explained that they make coconut candies on the property and we were again given a taste (and those sneaky kids couldn’t keep their hands out of the bowl even after we left the area).
We were then lead to an area where we were provided a scrumptious Creole buffet lunch, given time to tour the gift shop and then escorted back to our catamaran. Before heading back to the Serenade of the Seas we cruised to the bay of Anse Cochon, a black sand beach and were able to jump in the Caribbean Sea for a quick swim. As we were approaching the beach we noticed little canoes of guys hovering around the catamaran already docked there. It turned out as soon as we came to a stop these guys pulled up to our boat and set up shop, literally, on the deck of our catamaran. They were trying to sell us conch shells, necklaces, and various little trinkets. I went out for a swim and while I was in the water this guy paddled his canoe over and was like “special pricing for all those in the water” and I replied, sorry no money. And what was his response? “I take credit”...hahaha…and I just cracked up.
That night on the Serenade the captain made an announcement that we may have some trouble docking the next day with the weather Grenada had been experiencing. I guess two ships had been denied access to the port that morning, and Jeff & I looked at each other and were thinking, no way! One of the main reasons we decided to take this trip was to see our friend Chrissy who’s living on the island of Grenada and now the captain was saying we may not even be able to stop there?! He then went on with his announcement saying that he had a backup plan to possibly tender if we were turned away. When we went to dinner that night it was definitely a topic of discussion at our table because everyone knew we were cruising especially to see Chrissy.
St. George’s, Grenada
The next morning I woke up, looked out the window and realized we were looking at the dock of Grenada right outside our window. I was so excited I woke Jeff up and we were again one of the first off the ship. I had emailed all the information I knew to Chrissy ahead of time so we headed out to look for her car. We made our way through all the closed shops on the dock, passed all the taxi drivers offering rides and right out to the parking lot where we found Chrissy’s car…empty! We started looking around for another exit from the building because somehow we had missed her. When we got back to the entrance, one of the taxi drivers asked us if we found who we were looking for and gave us the option to use his cell phone to call Chrissy, which was unbelievably kind of him, but we opted to walk back inside & see if she was still in there. It was funny because she had been standing right where everyone enters the mall from the boat and she had just told the person standing next to her that she was going to use her brain power to make us show up and then we appeared. It was perfect timing! :)
After finding Chrissy and giving her a nice warm welcome the first thing we did was walk across the street to Fort George. She gave us a tour of the place as the rain came pouring down. Half way through walking around this guy appeared and asked if we had paid (which we hadn’t) and directed us to go around to the other side of the building where there was another entrance, but we kept following Chrissy. We finished walking around and having her point out all the different places on the island from the top of Fort George and then headed out through the entrance where we paid our entrance fee.
Then we jumped in her car and started driving around. Chrissy took us to all her regular places; the local grocery store to show us some of the quirky things there and all around her school campus.
As we would run into people on campus she would introduce us by saying: “These are my friends!!!” It was really fun feeling like the brand new toy and especially neat to meet Chrissy’s island friends; those people who are a part of her “alternate life”.
After we walked all around the campus and saw where she spends long hours studying she drove us back to her house. As soon as we walked in the door we were greeted by a HUGE HELLO from Halo, Chrissy’s dog. It was funny because it was like she remembered us. Chrissy said Halo never reacts that way when people come in, not even when Mike (her husband) came to visit, and we were pretty excited too so Halo just joined in the enthusiasm.
Chrissy showed us around her place and then we continued our tour of the island. We drove to see her friends house, which literally stands on the edge of a cliff, we went to lunch at Umbrella’s – a restaurant right on the beach where I ordered barracuda – and then we took a drive up the mountain to the Grand Etang crater lake (which was at the same height as the clouds!) and she drove us right back down the mountain so we’d make it back onto the boat on time.
We took some time to walk around the mall together where I got a nice map of the Caribbean islands to put up at home and we sadly said goodbye and thanked Chrissy for the amazing day we got to spend with her and got back on the ship. That night we shared our day’s adventures with everyone at our table, went to the Comedy Hypnosis Show starring Dan Barnhart and headed off to sleep. It was a great day.
A Day At Sea
The last day was a day of cruising from Grenada back to San Juan so we spent all day doing activities on the Serenade of the Seas. Earlier in the week I had taken a cycling class in the fitness center with one of the two trainers on the boat so today I returned to see if the second trainer was offering the trial Kickboxing class I had been talking to him about. I wound up doing the Core Abs class as a one-on-one session since I was the only one who showed up. Right after that he offered the kickboxing class we had discussed and if one woman passing hadn’t questioned about it I would have been the only one doing that as well.
After working out a bit we found the last two chairs on the top floor of the deck and spent some time soakin’ in the sun. In the time we were laying on the chairs Jeff seemed to be the wind magnet. We were sitting near the area where the wind whipped around to form a sort of tunnel and for each person who passed us, if they didn’t have complete control of their belongings, the wind would lift them out from their grasp and send them our way. Jeff caught numerous hats, a pair of sun glasses and almost a couple slices of pizza off this girls plate while we were sitting there.
Around 3:30pm an Adult Volleyball Tournament started on the Sports Court so we headed on over in that direction, warmed up with a large group of people, formed a team and an hour later left with two Royal Caribbean bronze medals for taking third place in the tournament. That night we joined our table mates for the last night’s meal where lobster was one of the options and coincidentally that was the meal everyone chose. After dinner we headed back to our room to prepare to leave the next day.
Overall we had a great time in the sun, got to spend some time visiting with Chrissy in her island home and were able to experience some new places in our travels. And after just returning home we’re already preparing for our trip. Austin, TX for SXSW is just 2 days away!
Have you ever been to Caribbean Islands? Which is your favorite that you’ve been to and why? Let us know in the comments.