|If it's Wednesday, it must be St. Lucia! This island is famous for its natural beauty and the world's only drive-in volcano. We had booked with St Lucia Reps for a private tour, and our driver Dennis was wonderful and showed us a great time.
As we drove around the island, up and down ridges and through banana plantations, we began to catch glimpses of the famous "pitons" rising out of the sea. These two beautiful peaks are a signature of the island.
A stop at the beautiful waterfall is cooling and refreshing.
However, the big attraction of St Lucia is the "drive in" volcano. As one entire wall has collapsed, it is possible to drive right into the crater and up to the sulphur pots.
|Then we stopped at a cocoa plantation for a lesson in growing chocolate beans, and a very good buffet lunch, accompanied naturally by rum punch.
Of course, on the way back to the ship, Renée found time to visit the market square. The wonderful variety of fruits and fish available on this island speak of the good life the Caribbean can furnish to those who know how to use it.
Back aboard the ship it was time to visit the Thermal Suite again! This became our favorite place to relax on the ship. It is hidden away in the spa, and a week long pass for unlimited use is $75 per couple. We never missed a day. Beautiful tiled couches overlooking the sea are heated from inside. After relaxing on them, you can go into the sauna as we are here. Again there is a wonderful view of the sea going by. Being co-ed makes it fun to share with a cuddle (but you DO have to keep your swim suits on!) Coming out you can splash yourself with ice. Then you can stop in the aromatic suite, and on into the steam room. It all finishes off with a shower which can be set for "tropical rain" or "icy mist". It is marvelously relaxing and refreshing.
|Barbados was the last stop on this busy intinerary. We had booked privately with Westwater Adventures for a combination tour and a very busy day! There are many attractions on Barbados, and the ship's excursions did not put all of them together in the way we wanted. We were met by our driver in the rather hectic and chaotic tourist center at the dock. There were many drivers shouting and trying to attract passengers so we were glad that our ride with Ruschelle had been pre-arranged. After a ride around the island, our first stop was the beautiful Harrison's Cave. This cave has some beautiful underground waterfalls as well as the usual stalagmites and stalagtites. Remember the ballet dancer who sat on an anthill: "When the mites come up, the tights come down!"
||The next stop was the Barbados Wildlife reserve where we met
And the big attraction of the reserve, the green monkies! (The monkey is on the right!)
|Then we stopped at the Fisherman's Pub for a local lunch, which featured flying fish, fried with hot pepper sauce, and stewed with coocoos, sort of a dumpling made of mashed okra and cornmeal.
Then we were off for the big attraction of Barbados, the wonderful snorkeling! Hiking across the beach we boarded the glass bottom boat for a beautiful cruise across the bay.
|Although I satisfied myself with a quick splash in the water, Renée
and the others of our group had a wonderful time snorkeling among the leatherback turtles, attracted by the squid the pilot was throwing in the water.
|As I have warned many people, when you book an independent tour you are on your own. Promptness and efficiency do not seem to be a high priority on Barbados. Although we did get to do all the many attractions we looked forward to, it began to get a bit dicey at the end as we rushed through the afternoon traffic back to the boat! Fortunately we made it back 10 minutes before they raised the gangplank. That is the chance we take when we choose to book on our own.|
Dressing quickly for formal night, it was a delightful time to relax in the champagne bar with a serving of Sevruga caviar! This led up to a marvelous dinner including a great lobster and shrimp combination plate, although the interesting combination of lobster with garlic butter was a bit new to me.
|Finally we got our day at sea. This was a wonderful time to lounge about the ship and rest from all those shore tours. There was a big demand for chairs in the sun, and the pool deck was crowded all day, as well as the sun deck above. However, the wonderful Solarium was still lightly used, which is a big surprise to me as the pool is delightfully beautiful and filled with cool salt water.
||We also had a chance to take the backstage tour. The many fabulous costumes are a sight in themselves. Two of the performers filled us in on the life of a dancer at sea, and the arduous audition process they go through. Out of 3000 people at an audition call, only 24 make it to Hollywood for the training for the ship's company.
|This final day featured the Platinum passengers brunch with the Captain and Hotel Manager. The Captain is a handsome Greek who truly impressed my DW! We had a great brunch with eggs benedict, cheeses, shrimp and lots of caviar. RCI does know how to treat its repeat passengers right. Then we had time to join DD (who is only a Gold member) on deck and snitch a bit of her BBQ ribs!
All day we sailed past many different Caribbean islands. The Captain always made announcements as we passed them and gave us lots of navigational information. On our way up to enjoy the Thermal Suite again, Andréa and I had a chance to see Montserrat again. The band of land devastated by the mud flow runs down to the sea from the smoking peak.
|Here are some general comments on the cruise:
The food was wonderful everywhere. The buffet was lavish and always had something for everyone. There has been no decline in the great dining room food. Here are some meals I had in the dining room:
Service all over the ship was wonderful. Our room steward never missed a chance to make up the room. We got nice bathrobes in the room on request. The shower was very comfortable and the controls were very easy to use (they aren't always!)
The guest relations desk was staffed by a pack of idiots and cretins as usual, but at least this time they were polite and courteous rather than supercillious as they tried THREE times to straighten out the mess they had made of our accounts. Eventually they got it right.
Our cabin, a standard outside on deck 3, was very cozy when made up as a triple, of course. It pretty much meant taking turns sitting quietly on the sofa and not moving as the others took their turn at showering and dressing. When I had a chance I got out of the room as the ladies dressed!
We signed up for the cybercabin package, which gave us a 56K modem connection on our laptop in the cabin for $100 for the week. It was a very stable connection, but of course not fast. The staff at the guest relations desk had no clue how to configure a Mac to use it, but it really wasn't very hard to figure out. The regular connection in the cybercafe was faster, and was 30 cents a minute, but really wasn't very stable from reports we heard.
Many pax were delayed by bad weather in the Northeast. We were over two hours late in sailing as we waited for a plane from New Jersey delayed by repeated de-icing. People were joining the ship as late as day 3 in St. Maarten. Once again this illustrates the wisdom of coming in a day early.
Since a lot of people say that drinks are expensive on the ship that I thought I would go ahead and post a Bar Menu to show the reasonable prices we paid for drinks the entire cruise.
So many people ask about the soda card that I checked on it specifically. It is $4 per day for kids, $6 per day for adults, and is good at the bars only for soda or juice from the gun. Regular price is $1.50 for soda and $1.95 for juice. You do the math. I saw many people using it, and the bar staff were always prompt and polite in filling their cups. I asked and was told that all the bar tips, including those on the soda card, are pooled so it does not matter to them as far as their tip is concerned.
Tippping was by envelope the last night. It was possible to put your tips on your Seapass card, but only in advance (day 5 was the last day) and only for the "recommended" amount. It came to $68.25 per person, and everybody certainly deserved it, with the notable exception of the headwaiter whom I never even saw. I gave his tip to the waiter and said "If you know who this guy is, you can give him this." It seems a very strange way to handle tips but it works OK. I did slip a bit extra to our assistant server who did such a marvelous job.
Disembarkation was a bit unusual, but seemed to work very well. Although we received colored luggage tags, they had nothing to do with disembarkation. Instead we were given a list of airline departures by flight number, divided into groups. Passengers with the ship's transfers were told their transfer would not be available before that group was called. However, those of us with independent air arrangements could simply walk off the ship anytime if we wanted to, as nobody was checking anything at the gangplank.
We were in group one, so we went up to the dining room at 7 for one last nice breakfast. Our group was called just after 8:00. After showing our passports, we walked into the baggage area, which was not crowded, and got a porter to snag our bags and zip right through customs. We saw an airport checkin line at the port, but elected to go on out to the airport. At the curb, the taxi dispatcher wrote up a voucher for us and put us in a cab. The trip to the airport from the Pan American pier is a flat rate of $16 plus $3.50 for our five bags. The drive was an easy 15 minutes. Our taxi driver called a porter for us, who led us right up to the self serve checkin and we were all set right away. Security was not busy at all, the line was very short, and we were sitting at the gate for our flight at 9:30 AM!
However, in our case every single thing went absolutely perfectly. Any little glitch anywhere along the line could have held us up considerably. Although we would up with a long wait at the airport, I really felt our 12:55 PM departure time was the earliest that would have made me comfortable.
Here are some things we scanned in to answer specific questions that are often asked:
Kids Programs were wonderful on this ship. We often saw the kids with their counselors, such as when they paraded through the dining room dressed as pirates, or lining up for the waterslide!
The premium dining rooms are Chops and Portofino's. They are both beautiful venues and charge $20 service charge.
Bar prices on board ship are very reasonable, but you have to watch yourself or they can mount up by the end of the trip!
The daily Cruise Compass lists all the activities and entertainment available. There is plenty to keep everyone busy!
So all in all this was a perfectly wondeful cruise and we were very happy with RCI and the Serenade of the Seas!