WARNING - There are a lot of pictures on this site, over 500. I optimized them the best I could. But on a slow connection it may take a while to download. It is worth the wait though, especially if you want to really see what the places look like. This is an in depth review, I don't sugar coat things, so be warned about that too.
The Index is at the bottom of each page.
This site only allows 20megs of download per day. Bookmark the following pages - they are the mirrors:
This first main page lists everything we done before the trip, I'm not on the trip at all at this point. The review is written by me for anyone with a lot of questions. Some background, I never cruised before, but have done plenty of research on the topic. The cruise is a gift from my Grandmother. We are only paying for luggage, excursions, and a few other small things. Our normal ideal vacation is 3-4 days, usually a local car trip. Anywhere where we can take lot's of pictures. As that's what we do. We don't like flying; and boats are totally new. I live in New Jersey. The farthest I've been is Florida. This trip is farther then that. I'm not a people person, so I don't plan on hanging out with anyone. And I'm not a person who can sit still in one place for very long. Nor am I a swimmer, beach person, or a sport's player. Our vacations are actually a lot of hard work. We never relax, we're always moving around.
Also be very aware that I'm quite wordy, as you'll see when reading all of this, I'm a very detail oriented person.
I have a ton of pictures here. Slow connections will take a while to download. I optimized the graphics the best I could. Everything is about 30% of original size. I'm figuring on each monitor being about 17" across, at 800x600. The pictures are small to me, but should be the right size for the most of you.
We were right, 3-4 days is the right amount of time. After that we got tired very fast. And it was hard to walk as you start to develop your sea legs, your land legs wobble.
We did a TON of research for this vacation. We like to know where we are going, what we will be doing, when will we be doing these things, and everything in between. We don't like surprises, everything is searched out on the web, news groups and forums. I've been to places like Rec.Travel.Cruises, the news group. Some people there are helpful, but some are not. Some of the people there cruise a lot, so much so that anything you ask them becomes irrelevant. So when you ask a simple question, you often get a snotty remark. It made it very hard to gather information that wasn't listed anywhere online. There are many that come forward to help, but it often takes a while, as you have to wade through the nonsense to get to the gold. Very often the reply I would get after asking basic (to me) questions would be: "you're worrying too much, relax this is your vacation, don't worry about the details". I can hear some of you right now, shaking your heads in agreement. However I feel many of you can see my point of view and understand this. As you are now reading this page you must be looking for information yourself.
I think I covered just about everything. There's too much information to actually remember. It took at least a week for the information to decompress and compile in my head. When I'm done with this review, my mind can focus on new tasks again. I promised myself that I would make the best review this boat has ever gotten. And to place everything one would need to get the most out of their vacation.
This review, will be long, this I know for a fact. I tend to be very detailed and verbose when describing things. For the most part this review will cover every aspect of ship. Starting with the rooms, onto the food, then the islands, excursions we went to, and so on. The first few pages will cover the boat itself (note that I say boat and not ship, as there is no difference as far as I'm concerned, and if your insulted by this, then too bad, there are better things to concern yourself with). The rest will cover it day by day.
I was right, this will be long. I have nearly 600 files that make up this site. Most of them photo's.
I'm a hobbyist photographer. This is what I plan to bring (in case your interested):
I have a Domke Nea pouch that I'll be using as a dress bag (for dinner). It will look nicer and be easier to keep track of. But I have to transfer everything before dinner, so I don't know how well that will go. A Tenba for the camera, Domke Ratpack, fit's the flash and pod perfectly. And a few other small pouches that fit on my belt. I kind of look like Bat-Man on vacation. I also have a Camelback HAWG backpack. 100oz of water, enough room for the basics. I'll store my flash in here when we're in the bus on an excursion.
The Domke bad did not work. It didn't fit in the suitcase. And didn't hold all my gear outside. I had to instead use a Samsonite bag that I bought when I first got the camera. I used this as the main camera bag to get on the plane. I'm glad I had this, as I'm not sure what I would have used to transfer the camera and chargers. However it was too much of a pain to transfer all my stuff from bag to bag for dinner. First night, yes, the rest, no.
The other bags worked great. The only real downside was the fact that we had to go through a metal detector and x-ray every single time we got back on the boat. Which meant un-clipping, un-buckling, un-strapping myself every time.
The backpack worked OK. Ideally it would have been better if I had a simple bottle of water. Something I can quickly fill, fill with ice when I have it, and something easy to grab. Even when it rained I didn't use the umbrella. Next time around, I'll have to figure something out.
We didn't have luggage, nothing that can hold onto 7 days worth of stuff anyway. We bought Atlantic Carrea 3150 bags, on a close out for about $119 a piece I think. Got it at Luggage Man, it was a great price. This bag just barely fit's within the Airlines restrictions. Provided that the luggage isn't puffy it will pass. Hopefully everything will be ok, I heard somewhere that the airlines are thinking of changing the weight limit to 50 pounds (it's 70 right now, and the bags are 14 pounds empty). They'll charge for anything extra, over that certain weight, and it can get very, very expensive.
Mine was the closest at 62 pounds. I had my Sobakawa pillow inside. They weighed it, and that's it. They didn't look at the size at all.
The luggage is black. Pure carbon black. We need to be able to see it, and find it from all the other black luggage. I don't want to paint my bag, as it would look dumb with big flowers on it, as some people suggested we do. Good for theft protection I suppose, but I may want to be able use this outside of an airport and not look like a total freak. We bought Samsonite luggage straps. A Red and a Green. Each piece of luggage will get each color. On my own bag, I painted my brass, keyed, luggage locks bright orange. And added 3M reflective tape onto the locks, keys, luggage, straps, etc. Good for night, and anywhere else, that stuff works great, I have it on everything.
The straps were a great idea. But not as we thought. My mother's strap fell off the bag. It wasn't tight enough. But it was weaved in the handle, so we didn't lose it. I explained it and show it later in the review. But at the end, all you will see is black luggage when you pick out your bags on the last day. And we were able to see those stripes from a 100 feet away.
I never used the locks. I was convinced that they were going to search my bag. And I worked so hard on those little locks. So we used cable ties, cut it on the other end with a nail clipper. That worked fine. Our bags were not searched on either side.
We also bought new carry on bags, I happen to collect bags from garage sales but everything I had might not have passed. We didn't want to take the chance of having to check these, as the camera, etc will be in them. As it happened we lucked out, 3 bags (the amount we needed), on sale for about $20 at Marshall's, it retail's for $60. Heavy duty, with a lockable main zipper. To be able to lock a zipper is a nice security, it should prevent someone from rifling through the bag. But more so, to prevent someone from putting something into the bag. I plan to carry everything I may need for one night, just in case my luggage is lost. My backpack will be with me, as we intend to see as much as San Juan as possible when we get there. A set of new clothes, tooth brush/paste, medical stuff. Camera and most importantly, all the wires, outlet strip, chargers. Without them I can't function, as everything will be dead. All of that goes with me. I think it's 40 pounds per carry on, plus one extra small bag like a purse, lap top, camera bag, etc. Something that you will note, and I'll probably repeat later, make sure your stuff works and has batteries in it. As they may ask to have you turn on your lap top, portable TV, cell phone, beeper, Gameboy, MP3 player, camera, and any other unknown device that you have. Some people even had their camera's opened to make sure there's no bomb inside of that. Also be very aware that the new Xray's, for carry on, may destroy your film, even low ISO. According to a friend of mine who is a trainer for the TSA, if the security guy refuses to hand inspect the film, demand to see their TSA supervisor. Make sure your film is easy to grab, put it all in a clear zip lock back. And it may be a good idea to remove it from the plastic cans. He also told me, that you only have to take your shoes off only if you set off the metal detector, after removing all metal items. I plan to stick all of my stuff in my carry on, including my belt.
Having everything with me helped a bunch. I was able to change when I got there. We were out the door in about 20-30 minutes. The airport did not search my luggage. I did not have to turn on my camera, cell phone, etc. I did not have to take off my shoes (going). They inspected our film, only after we told them we have ISO800 in the bag. Everything was in cans, everything had to be removed and checked by hand. Good insurance would be: to bring one roll of a High ISO film, throw it in the bag. However this won't be the only x-ray you have to pass through, so be warned.
Interesting facts: - Something to note, when you speak to your travel agent, or where ever you book your cruise. The cruise will assign you the worst possible airline arrangements. We live 30mins from a major hub. They wanted us to get on a flight at 8am, fly to Atlanta Georgia (from Newark NJ). Then get onto another plane, and fly to San Juan. I don't like planes, I avoid them whenever possible. Being that it's winter, it can be snowy here in New Jersey, even ice is possible down south. We asked our TA, if anything can be done to change these plans. She said nothing can be done, what's set is set. We had to do our own research - the plane had seats on a direct flight. We called her back and said - "what about this plane?". She had no idea at all this existed. She stated that there will be a $50 per person, per time charge to change the flight to a better one, she called it a penalty charge. This actually is not true, as we looked it up at the Royal Caribbean site. The $50 is a one time charge to switch to a better plane. In actuality RCCL, puts you on a bad flight, charges you the full price, and then some. Then puts you on the cheapest possible flight. Then a golden gift comes up, just for an extra $50 you can get a better flight. A real rip off, and it shows what I've read, a hand out in every direction, and we haven't even gotten to the boat yet! It also just shows that the TA may not know everything, you will still have to double check everything just to be safe. It may actually be easier to fly in a day earlier, on a discount flight, stay at a motel for a night, then get to the boat with plenty of time to spare. You'll have time to see the local area, see the sunset's, etc, and be refreshed for the next day. Plus there is no guarantee that the boat will stay docked if your plane is late. I think the max time is 30min. But as this was a package deal, and we weren't paying, this wasn't an option for us.
I mentioned this somewhere else, but it bears repeating. The airplane thing is a total scam. Setup by the TA and the cruise. A patient of my father's used to work for a travel agent, and this was done all the time. The boat will not hold up for you, and they will not arrange for you to get to the next island. Always read the fine print. The boat leaves at 10:00pm so you should have enough time to get on no matter what happens.
It did snow, it snowed about 6" about 3 days before we left, and poured rain on the friday (the day before we got back). A winter cruise is not the best idea.
Don't book for New Years Eve. You miss an entire island, as it's closed. You miss the grand buffet, I still don't know why they didn't have it. The dinner isn't that special, but the desert was good (listed in the food section). We did get a free cooler picnic bag. And we also got to see Montserrat.
The plan for excursions goes as follows: Each day, in the mornings at each port, we will do and see our own things. Eat breakfast, bring down the gear and camera; sunscreen already applied. Leaving the boat as soon as possible, as it docks at 9am. We will mostly be looking at the near by buildings and sites, along with local flora and fauna. The morning is a good time to photograph, the sun is low in the sky (not magic sunrise light, but better then mid afternoon light). So the light should be pretty good. Buildings should have nice shadows, and it the light shouldn't be too harsh. We plan to get back to the boat by 11:00-11:30am. Go back to the room, rest, recharge all the batteries, clean off the camera (for dust or salt spray which can kill a lens). Eat lunch (eating breakfast and lunch at the Wind Jammer Cafe by the way). Next is the afternoon excursion. The excursions are expensive, I think in total we paid about $500. We chose the afternoon for this, because they guarantee that they will get you back to the boat on time and they won't leave without you. If you go on your own, the boat will leave without you as they have a schedule to keep, and don't care about you at all. In researching this trip, people have seen others jumping off a moving boat onto the platform. Handing their children up to the people aboard. I hope to see this happen. Our room is on the same side, I should have a good view of it.
The plan worked well except I got seasick, then got the flu (due to low immune system, due to seasickness). It was hard to get out of the boat, hard to move. Once on land I was ok. And the Bonine helped. The light was pretty good. The sun is much higher in the sky then it is around here. So the shadow play wasn't as good as it could be.
Most of the excursion buses knew what time to bring us back. One did not. I did not witness any late people getting on board.
For identification: We plan to bring our passports, and as a backup a birth certificate. Color copies of the passports will be in each bag. The luggage will have the address of the place where my mother works. As my father owns his own business and it's too easy to track us down. The thieves will know your not home, all they have to do is jot down the info. We also will be placing our room number and itinerary behind the name card, and place this in all the luggage, inside and out. Better to be safe then sorry.
The passports worked out really well. It was easy to hand them over. We left the birth certificates home.
Medical stuff: We checked the insurance, and it does cover out of service things. As the doctor is not included in the over priced cruise. If you break your leg, it will be very expensive, make sure you are covered. I personally plan to bring a small amount of medical supplies, as I don't really want to run to the doctor for every small thing. We are also bringing nausea medicines, as well as cold relief stuff, just in case. And the very important, Tums, Maloxx, Pepto, Imodium, etc.
The doctor is only open at certain times. I know he's opened in the morning at 9:00am, and again at 5:00pm. But I don't know the closing times. The doctor is only good for band-aids, and Bonine. I saw one guy, he twisted something. It looked minor, maybe a bandage. The doctor wanted to charge him $200. I saw the guy limp away.
I started a list about 2 months prior, just to make sure that I don't miss anything. I am packing about a week before going anywhere. The list is very important, on it I counted up all the clothes I had. I needed enough shorts, shirts, and pants for 7 days. As it happened I didn't have enough stuff, I had to buy more, so for all you guy's with 3 pairs of pants (like me), count it up, and buy more if needed. And if your reading this, and it's the summer, and your cruise is in the winter, buy shorts now. It's winter as I write this, and there are no shorts sold now.
Packing takes so much longer then I thought. So many things I need, and need to find. I'm starting this all a week before we go. I'm putting the bulk of stuff into the bags, and after Christmas, pack the bulk of the clothes. And the day before, the rest of the stuff I'll need. The day we go, I plan to bring my pillows (Sobakawa) as I like those better. And any other item that is last minute. Now is the time to triple check my camera gear.
I packed more then I needed. I brought things like a fold up comb and brush, the drying rack for my water bottle thing. None of that is needed. Waste of space and time.
I am labeling everything I have. Not just for security in the airport. Last vacation, I plugged my chargers in and they didn't work. I found out that I plugged the wrong wire into the wrong charger. This time around everything is labeled. I'm using 3m Reflective tape and a Sharpie marker. All wires have a label on both ends, the transformer as one, the end another - no more confusion. I also put that tape my bags so I'm more readily scene. That stuff makes a pretty decent white card as well. I keep some on the inside of my lens cap. Which by the way is a bonus tip. All of my lens caps have reflective tape on the inside and out. So incase I drop it, I should be able to see it easily.