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Caribbean Holiday Cruise

Author: arubalisa
Date of Trip: December 2006

We are a family of 10 spanning 4 generations — 3 adults (early 40’s), 2 adults (mid 60’s), 1 great grandmother 90+ and 4 children (girls ages 10, 13, 17 and a boy age 12). Family cruise history: HAL, Renaissance, Cunard, Princess, NCL, NCL America, Carnival, RCI, Celebrity, Costa, Chandris/Fantasy, Majesty, Delta Queen Steamboat, American Hawaii Cruises. My grandmother is in her 90s and has cruised for over 60 years. For obvious reasons, I won’t list all the lines she has been on…

Overview

This being a cruise over Christmas and New Years, there were mostly families aboard. Many of them, like ours, spanned generations. As a matter of fact, we were at late seating dinner at a table for ten. The adjacent table was also a family of ten traveling together and of the same age groups and generations as our own. Overall amongst the families, there was a wide variety of age groups and, I can happily report well-behaved children. On this particular voyage we observed more ill-mannered adults than children.

Just my personal preference, but with 7 ports and 3 days at sea on an 11-night cruise, this was an exhausting trip. Then even the days at sea, you could not sleep late, otherwise you would not be able to obtain a chaise lounge anywhere on deck. The itinerary would have been perfect as a 13 or 14 night sailing with 3 or 4 extra days at sea. The Galaxy is doing a 13-night holiday sailing next year with 8 ports and 4 days at sea so not sure if that is better or worse?

Transportation to San Juan

Due to a sailing right before Christmas and anticipating being unable to obtain affordable airfare, the 10 of us were booked through “Celebrity Air” from our 3 respective home cities. All flights were on the same airline, Delta, and were routed in each direction, through Delta’s hub in Atlanta. This included 3 people who lived in Florida and departed from Fort Lauderdale only to have to fly north to go south. Weather up and down the entire eastern US was terribly rainy on the day we sailed and there were numerous flight delays. Luckily everyone in our party made their connection in Atlanta.

Arrival in San Juan was about 30 to 40 minutes late. Celebrity representatives were waiting for our flight at the baggage claim. After claiming luggage, it was outside to deposit it all at the luggage truck and then across the street to the waiting motor coach. Porters were readily available to assist people out to the awaiting trucks. With families traveling for 11 nights, believe me when I tell you there was tons of luggage EVERYWHERE. My brother with 2 teenage girls opted to pay the excess weight limit charge and limited them to one suitcase each. IMHO, in his case, a porter would have been less expensive.

Embarkation

Upon arrival at the terminal, everyone entered the terminal and was greeted with juice or water and, even if you had completed your paperwork and completed your online check-in, there was yet another form to fill out for Tortola immigrations. So close yet so far and not aboard just yet.

Lines for check-in and security were not long if existent at all. Cruise line agents were efficient, pleasant and plentiful. It was at this time that my brother realized he had left his jacket, brand new and a Christmas present, on Celebrity’s bus which transported us over from the airport. Needless to say, by the time he ran outside, that bus was long gone. Celebrity, to their credit said they would try to track it down and sure enough they did and the jacket was delivered to his cabin 2 days later in St. Martin!

Our daughter was issued an ID bracelet with her lifeboat muster station in the event there was an emergency and she was separated from us. Ship staff could then easily take her to where she was supposed to be. As a parent this was very reassuring.

The ship was due to sail at 8 pm and it was just before 4 pm. Eventually due to the heavy rain up and down the entire east coast of the US, the ship delayed departure as well as the muster drill. First stop was Tortola, being a quick hop from San Juan it was not a big deal. Upon boarding we were greeted by some of the ship’s staff, offered juice or champagne and pointed in the direction of our cabins. Finally! We begin our voyage!

The Ship

The Galaxy has a great layout. Our cabins were on deck 9, the swimming pool and Oasis Cafe are on deck 11 and the dining room for us was on deck 6. With a cabin located closest to the elevator, this was a very easy arrangement for my elderly grandmother to walk around the ship without having to walk a “mile” to get anywhere. Her cruise on the Golden Princess nearly killed her with the mileage she had to walk to get around.

The condition of the Galaxy was fine. Maybe a tad more worn than last year, but I hardly say anything which would “ruin” a cruise. That is, unless as we all know, you are someone who is sailing her for the first time and expecting gleaming, shiny, newness all around you. With the exception of some rust needing paint touch up, the ship is clean. One night I was walking across the pool deck to get to the spa and they were out pressure washing and scrubbing the pool deck which many complain is so old and worn, and thought to myself perhaps that is one reason why it is so worn! And no they have not replaced the windows in the Stratosphere! Yes, they do look like hell from the outside, but for me personally, I never go up there so they do not bother me 🙂

The Crew

As was the case last year, everyone we encountered on the ship was extremely pleasant and helpful. There were plenty of smiles all around and many many familiar faces. There were many times in the Oasis Cafe when someone would offer to carry my tray and I had to politely and with a smile, ask one of the waiters or waitresses to carry the tray of someone else “who REALLY needed the help.”

Our wine steward, waiter and waiter’s assistant and dining room cocktail waiter from last year’s cruise are all still on the Galaxy, along with many, many other familiar faces, so I guess that has to say something in of itself. The Galaxy’s crew has some amazing camaraderie and takes great pride in their ship.

Norovirus

There was none as far as we were aware. No mention of it by anyone we were in contact with. The crew was very diligent in making sure everyone is aware of and takes precautions against norovirus. I was a little nervous pre-cruise about that. I know I wash my hands frequently and at all of the “appropriate” times, but don’t know that about my fellow passengers. At the entrance to the dining room and Oasis Cafe you were always greeted by someone with “the bag” of hand sanitizer who would splash some onto your hands. There was also someone left holding the bag when re-boarding the ship after a day in port. The dispensers are also still in all the usual spots in the buffet lines and entrances to dining venues. Never ever did I encounter one which was empty.

Aquaspa

Last year I had an outrageously priced manicure. This year for $17 I had a very nice “polish change” done by a very pleasant young lady from South Africa. Cannot help but mention, but always try to make your spa appointments as soon as you board the ship. The best spots, like the formal nights, vanish in a heartbeat.

Shows/Entertainment

Having a little one, we did not attend any shows. Family members who did, said they were “pretty good.” During pre-dinner cocktails, we regularly listened to Class Duo in Rendez-Vous Square. They were much better than the duo last year. Strange thing was some nights the place was packed and other nights deserted. Even more noticeable after dinner. The place was either packed or empty, no in-between.

Tammy Rafferty who plays at Michael’s Piano Bar (former Cigar Bar) is supposed to be excellent. Sorry we missed her. The Allegro Quartet was aboard again this year and the ladies are still fabulous. IMHO, the “party band” Changez was not nearly as good as Quintessence last year. Way too loud even at the pool on sea days, and way too heavy on the bass. We’ll leave out the part about playing the same songs for 11 days straight…

According to my brother who is single and a night owl, for the most part, after the last show, the ship grew fairly quiet. He never complained though that there was no one to hang out with. Mostly, you could find people in the casino or the Stratosphere. New Year’s Eve was the latest night and busiest, at the Stratosphere… from what I understand they went until about 4 am.

Cabin Accommodations

Our family had four balcony cabins-Cat. 2A- on deck 9, Vista deck, cabins 9155, 9157 & 9151, 9149.

For two people the cabins would be just fine. For families, a 172 sq. ft. cabin is cramped. It is even smaller than it sounds and I thought I was mentally prepared. With 2 adults and 1 child on an 11 night sailing, we “just” fit our clothes in every available space. Is taking a shower sideways in a stall shower while being attacked by a shower curtain sticking to parts of your body what cruising is all about? We will not even get into the contortions a woman suffers in attempting to shave ones legs in this particular situation.

Last year a sky suite with 246 sq. ft. was much more spacious in regards to living and storage space and the bath with a “real” tub is a luxury worth paying for if you can afford it. If you can live without a balcony and are more than two people, a family oceanview stateroom at 210 sq. ft. would be a better choice than 172 sq. ft. box they call a 2A.

The cabin offered a plain “old” TV with VCR. No flashy flat screens or DVD players. My nieces and nephews picked up a few videos for viewing on the VCR. I do not know if they were obtained through the library or guest relations. The TV is interactive so you can view your bill on screen and such. My husband loved (not) going on to find out how much money he had just wasted trying to get some emails through to his place of work. After the first $75 in internet connection charges, he finally threw in the towel and considered it a lost cause. Fortunately for him there were no work emergencies.

Our 4 cabins had the same cabin steward and assistant. They did just fine in keeping the cabins kept and orderly. No toilet paper shortages or the like and the cabins were always made up in a timely manner. If you want me to nit pick, they could have dusted a bit better, but most people would never have noticed.

I thought our cabin steward spoke English just fine. Well at least I thought so. That was until I ordered a bottle of wine, 3 bottles of beer and 6 cans of sodas to be delivered to our cabin along with a cheese and fruit platter for Christmas Eve about 10:30 pm. When I approached the steward when he came on duty late afternoon, he asked me to put in writing whatever we wished to order. A few minutes later I handed him the list along with a $10 tip which I thought would insure a smooth delivery. The steward knew we would be at dinner, to deliver the order I told him he could just let himself into the specified cabin where our family would be later opening our Christmas presents before he went off duty.

When we arrived back at the cabin, there was everything placed on the desk. One warm bottle of wine – no ice bucket, 3 warm bottles of beer and 6 cans of warm soda. I had forgotten that the gratuity was still added onto the bill automatically. If I had known we would receive warm beverages after specifically explaining we would be drinking them when we returned to the cabin after dinner, I would not have wasted the $10. I could not have been more specific in explaining that this was all for our consumption later on that night. Not wanting to have to wait for the bottles to be switched out, we drank our Pouilly Fuisse with ice in it. It doesn’t take more than that to ruin a great wine. None of us were impressed by this less than outstanding service. The worst service experience of the cruise and it did not come close to ruining it.

Out of the four cabins our family had, the only maintenance problems were with our cabin. The air conditioning even when turned down all the way to 60 degrees was non-existent. The first night we got into bed and said there was no way we could live like that for 11 nights. Guest relations has an extremely bad habit of not answering their telephone. This was at 11:30 pm so my husband had to get dressed all over again and trod down to guest relations to explain the problem. To their credit, there was someone at our cabin within 5 minutes.

The gentleman came in, politely inquired whether it was okay to step on our bed — picture me in night clothes under the sheets 🙂 The cabin is small enough but with the couch opened up into a sleeper for our daughter, the only place for me to go would have been in to the bathroom. I preferred the bed. So he removed the panel plate from the vent above our bed, twisted something or other and within a half hour things had cooled off nicely. The cabin was never an ice box, but as long as we kept the drapes closed when the sun was on our side of the ship there were no further problems with temperatures inside our cabin.

The toilet flushing took a little more persistence. It was never clogged or stuck, it just did absolutely nothing, zero, and zilch. First time, my husband phoned guest relations and again no one answered the phone so he trudged on down to pay them a visit. Maintenance came by and waved their magic wand and we were back in business. The next morning we were back to the same situation. As my husband left the cabin he bumped into our cabin steward who said he would take care of it. A couple of minutes later we were in our cabin and from the bathroom we hear that oh so lovely “whoosh”!!! Later on in the week it happened one more. This time maintenance came up and outside in the hallway removed a panel and reset some sort of button. We were back in business once more with no further issues. My parents were in the cabin right next door to ours and had no such problems ever with their toilet.

The only other maintenance problem with our cabin was the inexplicable “cut wires”. All of a sudden, our 2 key cards were not working. We got a hold of our daughter to open the cabin door before going down to have new cards made. Her key was around her neck on a lanyard, so unlikely it could have been demagnetized. Her key card did not work either.

Maintenance sent our friendly toilet repair man to check things out. “Jack of all trades”, he tried a couple of things none of which worked. The result was that he had to take the entire lock apart. In doing so he found the wires inside the lock were “cut” and the part which contained the wires would have to be replaced. So he goes off to wherever on the ship such parts are stored and returns promptly with a new part. Everything was quickly put back together and all the key cards were working again. No one ever explained to us how the wires got they way they were. The maintenance man would only say it was extremely rare. Had someone tried to get into our cabin? We will never know.

Oasis Cafe

Hours were generally as follows: Breakfast Buffet 6:30 a.m. — 9:30 a.m. (Port days) Breakfast Buffet 7:30 a.m. — 10:00 a.m. (Sea days) Waffles & Pancakes 6:30 a.m. – 9:30 a.m. (Port days) Waffles & Pancakes 7:30 a.m. — 10:00 a.m. (Sea days) Late Breakfast 9:30 a.m. – 11:45 a.m. (Port days) Late Breakfast 10:00 a.m. – 11:45 a.m. (Sea days) Lunch Buffet 12 Noon – 2:30 p.m. Soup, Sandwiches & Salad 12 Noon – 3 p.m. Ice Cream 12 Noon – 10:00 p.m. Pizza & Pasta Corner 12 Noon – 1 a.m. Casual Afternoon Tea 4:00 p.m. – 5 p.m. Ocean Grill 12 Noon – 7 pm Hamburgers and hot dogs Tastings (Cova) 8:30 a.m.- 11 a.m. Croissant & Danish Tastings (Cova) 3:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. Pastries Late Night Gourmet Bites 11:30 p.m. – 12:30 a.m. Sushi Cafe 5:30 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. Casual Dining in the Oasis Cafe 6:00 p.m. – 10 p.m. by reservation with suggested gratuity of $2 per person

Quality of the food at the Oasis Cafe was good and the selection was for the most part pretty good. Mornings in the Oasis, coffee service was spotty. They start out fine with the rolling cart, but seems the later into breakfast they get and the busier they are just keeping up with clearing and cleaning tables. For people who requested a waiter to go get a cup of coffee for you there was never a problem. You just might not get it quick enough as when you went and got it yourself.

In the morning at breakfast in the Oasis Cafe, I never had a problem finding someone from who I could request a glass of tomato juice and purchase two cups of cappuccino. Trying to get someone to serve you a soda with a soda card at lunch was a whole ‘nother story. We just found it easier to order our sodas at the Oasis pool bar and carry them in ourselves on our way in for lunch. At least it was convenient in finding out what the pizza and pastas of the day were. I personally found some days the pizza was the pits and then on other days it was fabulous.

The ice cream bar with hand dipped flavors rotated daily and soft serve ice cream, was extremely popular the children in our family. There were always an assortment of toppings which they seemed to rotate but these were rarely refilled. If you were not there for say the sprinkles, chocolate sauce or chocolate chips before they ran out, your loss. Maybe the ice cream server needs an assistant to refill the toppings?

Though we did not have dinner in the Oasis, tables at night were set with linen tablecloths. A condensed version of the evening’s menu is offered. The one night formal night I viewed the casual dining dinner menu, it was missing the top two items from the dining room’s menu, one of which was Beef Wellington. The message here I suppose is if you would like to eat the really “good” stuff, you needed to get dressed up and head to the dining room in order to eat it.

Orion Dining Room — Food and Service

Orion dining room hours for the most part followed the schedule below, on days in port, sometimes there was an open seating for lunch and other times the dining room was closed for lunch Days in port open seating breakfast 7 a.m. – 9 a.m. Days at sea open seating breakfast 8:00 a.m. – 9:30 a.m. Days in port open seating lunch 12 Noon – 2 p.m. Days at sea open seating lunch 12 Noon – 2 p.m.

Our family booked this cruise in April and the only seating available was the early seating at 6 p.m. Upon booking, we were waitlisted for the late seating at 8:30 p.m. Sometime during the summer, individuals in our family group were gradually been switched over to late seating. My brother and his son in one cabin seemed to be the two who were never switched. A couple of phone calls back and forth between our travel agent and Celebrity and things were finally straightened out.

Overall, our entire family’s experience with the dining room on the Galaxy both last year and this year, was excellent. The food was terrific, maybe even a little better than last year. We were a family of 10 so there were usually some extra orders of appetizers and entrees of pasta to be shared as side orders. The first night we requested a plate of cheese and crackers to nibble on while we were waiting for our appetizers and wine to be served. The request was very quickly filled and every night there after, when we arrived for dinner there was cheese, fruit and crackers already placed on the table. There were never any issues with undercooked meat being returned and special requests were always greeted by a smile. My husband and I were especially surprised by the size of the portions of all of the entrees. They were huge!

Beef was the same quality as last year. It could have been a little more tender but was certainly edible. The desserts are still “hit or miss”, but no one starved for lack of something that was appealing to them. One night our waiter urged us NOT to order a particular item. Those who had ordered it during first seating dinner, has said it was “tough”. At her age, my grandmother, does not have the best of hearing and did not hear his warning. Everyone was busy chatting when she placed her order, so none of us caught it. Well the waiter was correct, it was tough. By far the worst meal she had on the ship. Lesson learned, always listen to your waiter’s recommendations.

My only real complaint about the food, and believe me, I can survive just fine without it, was the bread. Some nights it was delicious and other nights it seemed to have been recycled or previously frozen and stale. Who knows, perhaps it was recycled from the earlier dinner seating.

To their credit, this year aboard the Galaxy, they did NOT run out of ANY food as they did last year at the end of our sailing.

My Mom taught me to be polite, and “wait for everyone to be served” before beginning to eat the course which was being served. My husband and I are attempting to do the same with our daughter. This trip made it difficult though. Our waiter had us – a table of ten, a table of two and then a table of eight. Our waiter Sergiu and his assistant Agus were excellent but they are under such pressure to push out the food that once you finish a course, you are served the next one regardless of whether or not the rest of the table is at the same place in the dinner as you are. No way at all do I blame this on the waiter. I would bet they are just doing what they are told. To their credit though, ladies were always served first and plates were served from the left and cleared from the right as is proper etiquette. Now THAT is attention to detail.

It was wonderful to have finally convinced my husband that breakfast in the dining room was not something to be feared. The breakfast buffet in the Oasis is fine, but I hate standing in line for an omelet and then being facing with the other choice of runny scrambled eggs. Omelets in the dining room were always delicious and the service was fast. My husband never wavered from eggs Benedict. We could get in and out of the dining room for breakfast about as fast as we could get in and out of the Oasis Cafe without having to serve ourselves.

Room Service

Did not use it with the exception of our debacle late Christmas Eve.

Christmas

Christmas aboard the ship was almost exactly like last year. Admittedly there were a few minor additions in the Christmas atmosphere – 3 trees instead of one in the Grand Foyer and Christmas Muzak in the Oasis Cafe. Other than that, pretty much like last year, it was sparse. If you plan on this sailing next year, arrive with Christmas in “your heart” and you will not be disappointed. In cabin music featured one channel with Country Christmas music, fine if that is to your liking.

Christmas Eve, the Cinema had 3 showings of the Miracle on 34th Street. This was the re-make with Elizabeth Perkins and Dylan McDermott, not the original with Maureen O’Hara and Natalie Wood. The Celebrity Singers and Dancers that night presented their show “Broadway Express”. We did not attend, but by the title hardly sounds like it was “Christmassy”. At Midnight there were 3 separate services for Catholics, Protestants and the Jewish faith. This evening they also offered their picturesque “Tree Trimmer Buffet”.

Christmas Day, there was a “special visitor” who was supposed to have arrived at 9:15 a.m. but evidently the sleigh was caught in some head winds so there was a lot of standing around waiting. By the time he finally did make his grand appearance high up on deck somewhere near the funnel, with his entourage of Elves and Trumpeters, there was a huge crowd gathered. Our daughter lost interest and knew there would still be a parade throughout the ship to get down to the Celebrity Theater, so opted to go to the pool instead.

Later I did find out that as the kids sat on Santa’s lap in the theater, they received the same gift as he handed out last year, which was a nice “ClubX” polar fleece throw blanket. Elsewhere, the Cinema had 3 showings of “A Christmas Story” and 2 showings of “White Christmas”. There was an afternoon Christmas concert performed by the Allegro String Quartet and the “Celebrity Family Holiday Show”. There was definitely something to appeal to everyone.

New Year’s Eve

In one word, New Year’s Eve on a cruise ship was “awesome”. I wish everyone is able to have such an experience at least once in your lifetime. This had been a long time dream for me. Not having purchased a long gown, well with the exception of my wedding dress of course, and more than a few bridesmaid dresses (you know THAT is not the same) since my high school prom, I decided I was going to go “all out” for this festive occasion.

Needless to say, I was not overdressed. Many many men wore tuxedos and the women were “dressed to the nines”. For Husband, daughter and myself, New Year’s Eve is usually a quiet celebration spent at home starting with a gourmet dinner prepared from scratch by my husband. This night started out the same with the exception of someone else was doing the cooking AND the dishes!!!

As we were seated in the dining room our waiter and his assistant handed us our noisemakers and party hats. Ironically, Beef Wellington which Husband more than likely would have cooked at home if had not been cruising for the New Year, was on the Galaxy’s menu that evening. We had just enough time after our delicious dinner to “freshen up” before heading up to the pool deck for the countdown celebration.

There was a huge ice carving, or should I say carvings, one each of the numbers “2” “0” “0” “6”. The party band played, people danced, but it was windy up on that deck. Part of the entertainment was waiting and watching to see which number would blow over first. Admittedly they were melting pretty darn quick also. In the end, every worked out perfectly, none of the numbers melted down or blew over.

About 20 minutes before Midnight waiters began coming around with glasses of complimentary champagne. There were stations set up offering a variety of bottles of champagne for sale as well. If you were hungry there were waiters circulating with “gourmet bites” as well as tables off to the side with a chef serving what appeared to be a steamship roast.

In the end, how did we now what time it was to count down? Well, the captain controls the ship and evidently he controls the time also! He kept us updated over the public address system and lead the countdown. “Baby New Year” and “Father Time” saw to the destruction of the “6” and the raising of the number “7” to complete our entry into the New Year. Husband and I retired to our cabin with our 10 year old, but my brother told me that the Stratosphere Lounge was going until 4 a.m.

Weather

In 12+ Caribbean cruises during this very time of the year, late December or early January, this was by far the rainiest Caribbean cruise I have ever taken. But, on the bright side, this is liquid sunshine and we still had sunshine every single day. The other bonus was being able to see rainbows over 3 separate islands. Never have I seen so many rainbows in such a short period of time, but then again, that is what liquid sunshine does.

Itinerary

The itinerary was terrific and our reason for sailing aboard the Galaxy for a second Christmas in a row. 3 of the 4 kids had been to some of the islands already. Those were the islands we chose to spend the day at the beach. Grenada and St. Lucia were the 2 islands that 7 of the 10 of us had never visited so those were both places to tour and explore rather than lounge.

Tortola

My husband and brother took the four kids via ferry over to the Baths for a few hours. This was the second time for my brother and his family and they loved it just as much as the first time. The rest of the family played “make believe it is a day at sea” and lazily stayed aboard the ship to enjoy our first day of vacation.

St. Martin

My husband and I decided to relax poolside. Nice and quiet and no trouble finding a lounge chair as there were on most other days. My parents celebrated their 46th wedding anniversary this year and my Mom had lost a stone in her wedding ring. What better way to spend Christmas Eve than for my parents, along with my grandmother and their 3 grandchildren in tow, to head off to their favorite jeweler, Ballerina, for a replacement stone as well as a gemstone ring for each of the girls. My grandmother would never leave without a little trinket for herself, so just for the “heck of it” purchased for herself a diamond circle pendant. The store invited them to stay for lunch but they opted to venture back to the ship and spend the rest of the day at pool.

St. Lucia

I had never been to St. Lucia and was not sure what to expect. Everyone beforehand kept “warning” me that the people here were very very poor. Well, aren’t just about all the Caribbean islands like that? So I went with an open mind, it could not be poorer than the Dominican Republic and as a matter of fact, I thought it was better.

For this day, for our family of 10, we had booked a private tour with Cosol Tours. Excellent value for the money and a tour delivering everything which was promised. Cosol is young and lively and showed us all the highlights: a drive through the capital Castries, a view of the Governor’s House and stop for pictures of the harbor, a Banana Plantation, Marigot Bay, and the fishing villages of Anse La Raye and Canaries. We also drove through the rain forest and on to Soufrière and a view of the Pitons, as well as a stop at Toraille Water Fall and Botanical Garden.

Cosol stopped for sample of local island favorites: fish cakes, Johnny cakes, bananas direct from the tree in front of you, and cassava bread. He was also generous in stopping for photo opportunities and they are many. The island was not entirely great mountain peaks as I had pictured in my mind. Spots such as the Pitons and Anse La Raye are some of the most picturesque I have seen in the entire Caribbean.

None of us “kids” have ever been to Hawaii nor seen an active volcano before so taking a tour of the “drive in” Volcano, Soufrière, was quite impressive for us novices. There are hot springs, fumaroles and mud pots. The only thing missing is lava and pyroclastic flows. This was fine by me. The kids of course whined about the ever present smell of sulphur. Gee, guess that is why this area is also considered a “sulphur spring”.

Oh and did I mention that Cosol also keeps a cooler in the back of the bus/mini-van filled with refreshments?

Grenada

The kids I think were a little grouchy to start out on this tour. Yes, a day at the beach might have been nicer. This was just the same old being driven around in a mini-bus with someone talking at you. Wow though, Sunsation Tours definitely delivered what they promised on their website, “we choose driver / guides who are communicative”. You could not help BUT be interested. This was one of the most thorough tours I have ever taken.

Our driver gave us a running commentary on the economy, geography, history, flora and fauna, politics …you name it we most likely talked about it. St. Lucia was nice and picturesque, but Grenada somehow had more allure for me. First off you can not but sympathize with these people who survive mainly on agriculture and tourism. Both came to a screeching halt when Hurricane Ivan struck in September 2004 as a category four hurricane with sustained winds of 130 miles per hour. The island suffered destruction of 90 percent of her agricultural crops as well as the same percentage of loss of roofs to structures. Considering the tiny island nation of Grenada, pre-hurricane Ivan, produced 20% of the world’s supply of nutmeg and it will take the new nutmeg trees 7 – 12 years to begin reproducing, things on the island are very tough for her people. BUT the attitudes of everyone is unbelievable. The Grenadians were proud, upbeat, friendly, enthusiastic and gracious.

The Nutmeg Processing Stations are cooperatives and the majority are still closed. We took a guided tour of the Gouyave Nutmeg Processing Station. The guide has worked there since 1965, he is one of only 6 employees still working at the station. Pre-hurricane Ivan there were 150 employees working here. While we were at the station an older woman came in with her nutmeg to sell to the cooperative. She offered a plastic shopping bag such as the ones we acquire at the grocery stores here in the states. The growers were selling their nutmeg (these are actually the seed off the trees) to the cooperative at about $4 for the best quality grade. At that rate she is going to need a lot more nutmeg to make a living.

The tour showed the processing steps of sorting by grade/quality, cleaning and aging. After aging, 3 months I believe, the seeds are then packed whole into 50 pound sacks and sold to companies (some in the US) who take the whole product and break it down for the mace, oil, etc. and spice itself.

We stopped on the roadside on many occasions, if only for our driver to call out to someone walking by to pick something off a nearby tree so 9 people did not have to go tumbling out of the van to view it. His requests were always fulfilled with a smile. We saw besides bananas, plantain, cocoa, citrus, fruits of all varieties, avocados, root crops, sugarcane, corn, flowers and more flowers and of course nutmeg trees.

Our driver stopped at a small roadside store where we were given a demonstration on nutmeg and all of its parts and end products and then we were free to make purchases of our spices. Very very low key and no pressure to buy whatsoever. Other highlights of the day included: Annandale Waterfall and Garden, the view of Carib’s Leap, Grand Etang National Park & Crater Lake, plantations, a few fishing villages, the coastline, the rainforest and a short stop at the beach.

There were some Grenadians at most of our stops along the way selling whatever they could offer up. Two women outside the Annandale Waterfall offered to pose for a photo with their mighty baskets of fruit perched a top their heads. Once we reached the waterfall there were two men who said that in order to “make a living”, for a small donation of an amount of your choosing, they would climb up and jump from the top of the waterfall. For a couple of bucks the guy was probably going to be able to eat that night, the kids got a kick out of seeing it and it was a good photo opportunity for yours truly. Were we suckers? Maybe, but the way I look at it, putting myself in their shoes and with such limited opportunities you gotta do what you gotta do to support yourself and your family. It beats picking my pockets or slashing my bag to get to my wallet, any day.

In the course of our day, there was a man who allowed you to pose with his monkey, there was more than one musician…you get the picture. Our driver had advised us of all of this beforehand and we were under no obligation at all.

One of our last stops was a short guided tour of Fort Frederick given by a young fellow who gave a very detailed history of the US invasion of the island in 1983 and made us all very aware of the fact that, though not all Grenadians necessarily felt that way, he for one was extremely happy with the outcome. You even have a perfect view of the prison below where those who incited the coup and survived the invasion are now being held in prison for life.

The tour started at 8:30 a.m. and was about 5 hours. Afterwards there was still time in the afternoon to take a taxi from the pier to Grand Anse Beach for some swimming before the ship departed.

Curacao

With 7 out of the 10 of us having previously been to Curacao and spending the day touring, it was easy to decide that this day would be spent at the beach. We really wanted to try one of the fabulous looking beaches which were furthest from the cruise terminal and thus “less touristy”.

Furthest north on the west side of the island are beaches Grote and Kleine Knip and Playa Kalki. It would be very expensive to get there via taxi so we attempted to rent a vehicle for the day. A 10 passenger van would have been perfect. Well, turns out that because it was Christmas week, there were no agencies on the island who would rent a vehicle for less than 3 nights (more were 7 nights). So we had to come up with “plan b”.

We spent the day at Playa Porto Mari. Walked off the ship to the waiting taxis found two drivers who were willing to split us between the two of them and drive us to Porto Mari. They said it would be a 45 minute ride, but it ended up being only about a half hour tops. Not a cheap ride at about $30 each way, but without a car, we had no choice.

The money was well spent. It was nearly perfect. Our entire family can highly recommend it. The only thing it is lacking is clean soft white sand. The sand contains coral fragments, some of which are large chunks, and walking can be painful. Once you reached the water, the sandy bottom here was much much better. IF you are prepared beforehand, you will have a pair of water shoes with you.

There are facilities: umbrellas, chaise lounges, restrooms, open air restaurant and even a dive shop. Beware that prices at the restaurant and bar are posted in guilders (also called, as in Aruba, the florin), abbreviated NAFl. or ANG. It is pegged to the US dollar at a stable rate of US$ 1 = NAFl. 1.77. So as you can see, the prices when converted to US dollars are going to be much less. At the bar, when in the ABC islands, I always highly recommend an Amstel Bright!

We were a little confused when we arrived because their website states they charge Naf. 3.50 p.p. (Naf. 4.00 on Sundays/Public Holidays). When we arrived I guess we kind of expected someone at the entrance collecting the fee. A man appeared at least an hour after we had arrived and just walked from chaise to chaise down the beach collecting the money. We arrived at the beach just about a short while after they opened and were glad we got there when we did. If you require shade I would imagine ESPECIALLY on a weekend since there were many locals there, arrive when they open. According to their website they open at 9:30 am.

Three of us had two chaise lounges and an umbrella for the bargain price of $8 USD. My brother rented snorkel gear for himself and his son and paid about $6 or $8 each. Once they had their masks and snorkel they were off exploring. They finally came out of the water raving on and on about how fabulous the reef was, they had never seen so many “cool fish”…My husband and I are both divers, and though we knew there was great snorkeling AND a dive shop on the premises, had never even considered diving. It did seem thought that no matter where you looked there were people walking around with tanks on their backs.

Hmm…were we missing something here? We decided to take a little stroll down to the dive shop. I figured if the price was right, I could at least convince my husband into taking a dive. He had his wallet with his certification card on him, I did not. It was uselessly sitting in my wallet, in the mini-safe on the ship. Gee, maybe a lesson to be learned here?

We asked the nice man behind the counter how much to rent gear for a shore dive and it was ONLY $23 for all equipment including weights and the tank. Now THAT was a bargain. I don’t know if my husband’s eyes lit up, but mine surely did. My husband then explained to the gentleman that I did not have my C-card, by any chance would he be able to look up my certification on the computer? “Surely” he replied. Wow how cool was that?

Oh no, I suddenly remembered I did not have my prescription dive mask with me! Again, another item left back on the ship, this one inside the luggage underneath our bed. I am blind without my glasses so there was no considering diving for me, no way would I be able to see anything- zero, zilch, nada. In saying this out loud, the gentleman asked if I knew what my prescription was. I did not, but my husband did. Well the chances are probably one in a million, but he had a mask with my prescription in it! Wow, I would never have dreamed of being that lucky in my life.

In talking some more we found out that in a couple of hours they were offering a guided dive of the reef. Instead of going off on our own in a relatively safe place, but one we were unfamiliar with nonetheless, why not spend the extra money for a guide. So for $36 per person 2 hours later we had one of the best and longest dives in my life. My husband has over 100+ dives (I have a little over half that) and admittedly, was not quite as impressed as I was, but I was in heaven. I will always remember not only the abundance of fish, but the gorgeous Stove-Pipe Sponges. We have dove Aruba many many times, but Curacao really put it to shame in everyway. For our next dive vacation I would not hesitate to consider Curacao, but thinking about that makes me REALLY curious about the diving in Bonaire…

Barbados

I said it the last time and I will say it again, “WOW, what a way to spend the day”! This was the second time our family has sailed aboard the Silver Moon II and believe me when I say that life does not get much better than this.

Our family made up 10, out of a total of 18 people aboard. There was plenty of space for everyone to spread out. Never did we feel crowded. There was shade, and cover from the passing shower, for my Grandmother and anyone else who wanted it and plenty of spots for sunning and relaxing. Captain and crew treated us terrific and spoiled us from the first moment we stepped on board.

Our excursion had a bit of a late start due to waiting for folks who simply never showed up. Our five hour excursion remained the full five hours though, there was no skimping on the time we were allotted. Our group was transported via mini-bus the 2 minute ride to the marina. The boat is kept clean as a whistle, so prepare to remove and leave your shoes at the dock before you step aboard. We were a little concerned about my grandmother being able to get on board, but the crew very very carefully and skillfully cajoled and assisted her. Once we were all aboard drink orders were taken: soda, beer, water, rum punch and we began our 5 hours of bliss…and the glasses were always replenished!

Our only disappointment the last time we had sailed the Silver Moon II, and certainly no fault of theirs, we were unable to swim with the turtles because there were some large swells in the area that the turtles are know to frequent. Well, this year, it was all go!

First stop though was a shallow snorkel just off shore. The crew passed out high quality and well kept, snorkel gear. At each stop one of the crew members snorkeled with the group and acted as guide. Everyone in the water was required to wear a snorkel vest.

Following this snorkel, everyone re-boarded, rinsed off with the fresh water hose and off we went to our next stop to swim with the turtles! When we arrived the simple instructions were no swim fins, and only “pet” or rub our hand across the turtle’s shell- no grabbing, no riding, and no nonsense. Easy enough, so we all got into the water and it seemed that like magic, the turtles just appeared. The crew member who was in the water with us was floating bait about in the water. My husband and I have dove with dolphins and felt that experience would be hard to beat, but these turtles were no less stunning in their grace.

When the turtles finally took their leave, it was time for lunch! There was a bountiful spread of chicken, fried flying fish, 2 kinds of salad and garlic bread. While the crew cleaned up we were free to swim or relax. Once they completed their housekeeping chores it was time to serve some banana bread and a choice of pina colada or strawberry daiquiri.

Seeing some of the other passing catamaran excursions packed to the gills, we knew no matter how much others had paid for their excursions, we had the best value for our money and it was the absolute best decision to go with Silver Moon. I would not hesitate to recommend this day to anyone.

Aruba

We spent the day on Palm Beach New Year’s Eve day. My husband, daughter and I took a taxi from the cruise terminal and had the rest our family meet us at the beach at their leisure. We knew we were going to Palm Beach and aimed for the area of De Palm Pier specifically. We asked the taxi driver to take us to De Palm Pier and he said, “okay De Palm Island” (totally opposite direction from where we were headed), so once we had him headed towards the direction of Palm Beach everything was fine.

Taxi fare from Oranjestad to the Radisson/De Palm Pier will run you $10 each way. ($13 on Sundays and holidays). That is per taxi not per person. Taxis will take up to 5 persons. Taxis will require you to have dry swim suits on your return to the ship. I made sure that I specifically told all my families members to have the taxi driver agree on a price before they got into the taxi. One driver actually wanted to charge my Mom $15 instead of the $13 (we were there on a Sunday). She and my Dad just moved along to the next driver in line. Fares are set by destination/route by the government- period- non-negotiable- period. You can also take the bus from the bus station a short walk across from the cruise terminal. The bus is much less expensive than a taxi. The fare I think is $2. So bus cheaper, taxi is quicker!

We had the taxi drop us off at the entrance to De Palm Pier. You actually walk from the street side down an alley which runs between the Radisson and Riu Resort. There are two vendors who rent chaise lounges, floats, umbrellas and such at the south end of the beach at the Radisson. They also offer banana boat, parasail, tube rides, waterskiing etc.

If you choose an umbrella on the Radisson side you should be able to receive food and beverage service right at your chaise lounge. The day that we were there the resort was packed to the limit so instead chose a shade palapa on the other side of the pier in front of the Riu Resort. The resort is closed for renovations and it being a Sunday, the worksite was quiet, so I am not sure how that would affect a visit on any other ordinary day.

My brother and his kids walked out on to the pier for lunch at Bugaloe Bar and Grill. Lunch for 4 kids and 2 beers was about $40. Considerably better bargain than the $12 I paid for my takeout Caesar Salad at the Radisson. They just renovated their beachfront restaurant so raised the menu prices to pay for it? But then again, I was able to eat my salad on the beach lounging on my chaise gazing at the ocean. For affordable soft drinks and water there is also a Dunkin Donuts on the pier.

At the end of the afternoon we walked up through the Radisson property and out through the end of the lobby. There are always taxis waiting here. Again, make sure your swim suits are dry.

Disembarkation

Disembarkation on January 2 was painless. Luggage tags handed out the previous night and there were about 12 colors total. Once off the ship you claimed the luggage by color. Some colors were assigned numbers and the number denoted what time you were getting off the ship and which lounge to proceed to wait for your color and number to be called. Times listed in the “Celebrity Today” ranged from 7:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.

Were there long lines? Yes of course, but these were not the fault of Celebrity. Everyone has to stand on line to go through US Immigrations and then US Customs.

The luggage valet was offered along with onboard check-in for passengers flying American, Continental, United and Delta. This, at least for our family, did not go quite as smoothly. Beware that you will not automatically be eligible for this program. Even if you are willing to pay the $20 per person it is at the discretion of the TSA and Homeland Security. My parents both applied and my Mom was approved and my Dad was “randomly” denied. Guest relations would only say that Homeland security randomly disallows people. Celebrity states “due to Homeland Security Regulations and Airport procedures”, we [Celebrity] cannot guarantee that all guests will be able to check-in by our remote system.” Now the biggest inconvenience with that they were not informed of this fact until they returned to their cabin at 10:30 pm following dinner. To find out only then when the luggage was due out in the hallway was a problem. Does my Mom use her “new” color tags she was issued and use the old color for my Dad? He went down to guest relations and you guessed it. They were no help at all. All of this, not to mention that my Mom paid the $20 for her valet and check-in all for nothing. She still had to wait while my Dad checked in and received a boarding pass at the airport. So no time saved for sure.

My husband, daughter and myself used the luggage valet without a problem. Do beware that you must still go through the stacks of luggage once you get off the ship. You, yourself, must “hand off” your luggage to airline personnel, after you have cleared US Customs.

Word of warning though, is that you cannot put your luggage out in the hallway until you return from dinner. The three of us were issued an entirely different color of luggage tag, so old ones had to come off and new ones went on. Boarding passes were in an envelope with the new luggage tags and we were also issued a new time for disembarkation. I believe it was earlier than what we previously had. My brother chose not to use the luggage valet for he and his 3 kids. Not certain exactly what the procedure was but he did mention at the cruise terminal, before getting on the bus to the airport, they handed off the luggage to be put on a truck. Once at the airport they had to claim their luggage from the truck. He made it sound fairly easy and stress free.

Kids Club

There is not much for me to write about in this area. The crew does a superb job at keeping these kids BUSY! This was our daughter’s third cruise in as many years and if you asked her, her reason for cruising? Very simply she loves and adores the kid’s club. Their staff is friendly and they offer a wide variety of activities. We insist that our daughter eat dinner with the family, but during the day you can usually find her in the kid’s club.

Stuff

Celebrity, you should really do something about the rust streaks on the hull of the ship. There were some around the pool also. White is white and rust is rust and rust sticks out like a sore thumb. Come on Celebrity and have a little bit of pride! Give me a paint brush and some paint and for some free board and a room, I’ll paint it for you. Fogged windows are one thing, major overhaul to remove and replace, but here we are talking about some scaffold, paint and a brush. That is a big difference which goes a long way in making an old ship look “fresh”. Believe me it in no way detracted from my trip. As a matter of fact I did not even notice it until going through some of my 4000 pictures.

Liked A Lot

1. NO announcements, still wins hands down for me on any cruise! 2. We all loved the Caesar salads at lunch and dinner and the kids especially, the all afternoon long ice cream. 3. Cappuccino on the ship is excellent whether it be in the Oasis Cafe, dining room or from Cova. 4. My husband and I enjoy sailing on Celebrity for the sushi. Not as good as the sushi restaurant near our home, but better than what we are able to conveniently purchase at the supermarket on the way home from work. 5. Soda card at about $65 a person sounds like a lot of money but at a little less than $6 is a bargain for me. Spending a lot of time at the pool as we do and drinking soda at night with dinner, we felt it is a good value for ourselves. 6. Thumbs up to our waiter Sergiu and his assistant Agus for always making sure we were well taken care of. Our cocktail waiter also took excellent care of us and quickly remembered who of the 10 of us at our table had soda cards and made sure our glasses were always filled! 7. If you have never been at sea for New Year’s Eve, do try it at least once. Very exciting and very memorable way to begin the start of a new year.

Disliked

1. Being deceived into thinking that by paying $20 our luggage would go directly to the airport, our plane and ultimately our destination when in actuality we would have to rummage through the stacks to find it to drag it through US Customs before dropping it off with the airline personnel. 2. Having to walk down to Guest Relations when there was a problem because they never answered their telephone. 3. Having to wait until after our appetizers were already served before receiving our bottle of wine not due to any fault of the wine steward, but her just having way too many tables to serve. 4. Being lied to be the assistant dining room manager regarding our table assignment. After he realized he was caught in the lie, he avoided our table for the entire cruise. We had the same assistant dining room manager last year and he visited our table incessantly to the point of being annoying. We did not like him last year and we did not like him this year.

Hated

1. Probably the same as on any other cruise ship, but days at sea were horrendous if you intended to obtain a chaise lounge anywhere on the ship. 2. I don’t drink it, but have to listen to my husband, “Coffee tasted lousy no matter where or when on the entire ship”. 3. The lack of Christmas atmosphere on a cruise ship during the holidays. 4. Each and everyone of the 4 items our family members purchased through Celebrity’s Bon Voyage department was screwed up in one way or another. My grandmother even received a note saying she received a shipboard credit from her mother who has been dead over 50 years. It was supposed to go to her granddaughter with whom she was sharing a cabin. The credit was to that child from “her” Mom.

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