Our group of ten, escorted by a cruise counsellor from the cruise travel agency we deal with, left Winnipeg, Manitoba (Canada) on the Saturday before embarkation, about 12:30 p.m. After a two-hour layover, clearing U.S. Customs and transferring planes in Toronto, we landed in Miami about 10:45 p.m. EST. The change in weather from -20F to 75F was quite startling for snowbirds from Canada. Royal Caribbean staff met us at the arrival gate, ensured our luggage was loaded, escorted us onto buses and got us to our hotel, the Miami Airport Hilton and Towers, by 11:30 p.m. We had been travelling about 11 hours by that time and were very tired. Our check-in was handled very quickly and courteously. The Hilton is a beautiful hotel with spacious rooms, comfortable beds and lots of amenities, located west of the Port of Miami. We received a basic package of information from RCI about the registration and boarding procedures the next day, got together with other group members for a nightcap and then turned in; it was difficult to sleep, tired as we were, as we were quite excited about the week to come.
Sunday morning was hot and sunny - perfect after leaving the cold and blustery Canadian winter; we had to keep reminding ourselves where we were. We checked with the hotel on the registration location and went to the appropriate floor about 8:15; a sign indicated that non-U.S. passengers had a specific room to go to for registration. After waiting some twenty minutes or so and some discussion, we parted company with our passports (an uneasy feeling), ticket contracts and immigration cards, in exchange for the famous blue Cruise Cards which would be our charge cards onboard (no cash used), and some basic information about the ship. We were told to be ready for boarding the buses at 11:30. We joined other members of our group for a continental breakfast in the hotel restaurant.
Two electronic room keys were provided. A small glass and brass table and one sitting chair were furnished. Our luggage arrived about 1:30 and we spent a good deal of time trying to find enough storage for all the clothing. We definitely did bring too much - I don't know what we were thinking of. We ended up using our suitcases and the window ledge as well for storage. Our cabin steward, Marc, a Haitian, introduced himself shortly after we found our room, and briefed us on his routine, beverage policy (e.g. bottled water and soft drinks are supplied at a charge if used), special requests, bed preference, etc. He seemed to know his stuff and we were not disappointed during the cruise; he was always there but he wasn't, so to speak. Every request was handled promptly and courteously.
While eating in the Windjammer, we filled out our shore excursion order forms and dropped them off at the desk. At 4:15 p.m. there was a compulsory mustering for lifeboat drill; we managed to find our muster station and were lined up, ladies in front and men in the rear. We sounded off by cabin number. As we stood patiently, the Carnival Destiny sailed slowly by with several hundred passengers gawking at us - talk about feeling like fish in a bowl!
Out to Sea
After muster, we got ready for dinner and proceeded to the Mikado Dining Room promptly at 6:15 p.m. We were escorted to our table by one of the headwaiters and were seated just inside the main entrance, port side. We were introduced to other members of our group, consisting of a young couple, in their late twenties, both family physicians, another young couple in their early thirties, and the sister and eight and ten-year-old daughters of our escorting agent, Marion; she alternated between our table and the next table which included additional members of our group from Winnipeg and western Canada. We were so engrossed in the conversation, being introduced to our service staff, etc. that we completely missed the movement of the ship through the Port channel and departure from Miami. It was incredible that we felt absolutely no movement until we were well away from land and the ship increased speed.
The first night was unremarkable except for the entertainment provided by the service staff and commentary by the Maitre d'. We were all stuffed by the end of the meal and decided to go for a walk. Another couple in our group who was also celebrating their 25th accompanied us and we went out onto the promenade deck to a warm and humid moonlit night. There was a stiff breeze but for Canucks who had just escaped from a cold winter, in the company of our sweethearts, it could not have been more romantic! We walked, it seemed, for hours (actually just minutes) and then attended the first evening's show in the Chorus Line lounge.
The entertainment consisted of a warm up talk from the Cruise Director, Paul Rutter, a floor show by the ship's entertainment staff and a medley show from Bobby Arvon, of "Happy Days" fame. The entertainment was very good. My spouse and I also took in some big band dancing with Charlie's Dance Band which played a variety of ballroom and Latin dances in the Blue Skies Lounge; the Lounge had a nice wooden dance floor, but it was very small for the number of dancers.
Monday - At Sea
This was a day just to kick back and explore the ship. We spent it attending a Shore Excursion talk (interesting for first-timers), checking out the Pool Deck amenities, listening to the Reggae band playing poolside, catching a lot of sun (and burn despite the sunscreen - I would recommend a high PF as the sun's intensity is very strong in this part of the world), sampling various drinks, and, what we came for, relaxing! At mid-afternoon, our Headwaiter arranged an area in the Windjammer Cafe to share an anniversary cake we (and the other couple in our party) had received with other members of our group; we had a wonderful informal luncheon which was supplemented by wine, courtesy of our escorting agent. Then it was back to more sun and fun, including pool games organized by the Cruise staff.
Tuesday - Labadee, Haiti
Labadee, on the north coast of Haiti, is one of RCI's two private beaches in the Caribbean. Passengers must be tendered into the shore area. A limited number of excursions are offered, including various coastal cruise and snorkel options, as well as various watercraft rentals, parasailing, floating mat rentals and underwater camera purchases. We opted for the snorkeling. A local band played on our arrival and another band was playing opposite our beach location. We found a spot on the end of the peninsula called Barefoot Beach and located some lounge chairs with the help of the local staff. After getting settled, I went to the dive shack to get the snorkeling gear.
A major communication problem surfaced here, however, in attempting to get the equipment and T-shirts we had ordered. The Haitian attendant did not or could not speak English very well and did not seem to understand what I wanted. I tried both English and French to no avail. Finally, an RCI employee, who had been observing the exchange, stepped in and straightened things out. This is one gaffe that should not have happened. Other than this snafu, our friends and my spouse and I enjoyed a wonderful relaxing day swimming, snorkeling (although there was very little sea life or anything interesting, for that matter, to see) and enjoying a good but not outstanding lunch. As we lined up for the tenders to return to the ship, every vendor imaginable showed up to sell something. It was a curious sight at first which became annoying after a while.
Wednesday - Ocho Rios, Jamaica
Ocho Rios came into view with a splendid backdrop of lush green mountains. As we maneuvered in the harbour, beside the Carnival Tropicale, the dock looked remarkably familiar; we learned later that day that it was the scene for the filming of part of the James Bond movie, Doctor No, in 1961. We had chosen the Dunn's River Falls, Shopping Centre and Prospect Plantation Tour and were herded into several queues dockside about 8:30 a.m. to board waiting buses; the tour guides were very courteous and knowledgeable, and the buses were clean and air conditioned.
We enjoyed viewing and photographing the falls; there is an option to walk up the falls on another tour and we observed several tourists, cruise and non-cruise, doing this - some dropped out, however, due to the arduous climb. On our exit from the Falls, we had to pass through a vendor stall area. We were bombarded by scores of vendors as we walked through this area; a polite "no" just did not seem to work. Enroute to downtown Ocho Rios, we stopped briefly to view a villa that had been used in the James Bond film Thunderball, in 1964.
The Taj Mahal and Soni's shopping centres were terrible tourist traps, guarded by young men with big pistols stuck in their belts; they were also overrun by locals dressed in hideous costumes who wanted their photo taken with you (at a price, of course). [In May 1998, the Government of Jamaica approved amendments to the Town and Communities Act which provides for stiff fines against residents who harass tourists]. The highlight of the day, however, was the Prospect Plantation - we really enjoyed our guide's explanation of the past use of the facility as well as his sidekick's lecture on the benefits of coconut milk to one's sex life. As a city, Ocho Rios seemed to be a contrast of squalor and affluence when one compares the areas around the docks and downtown with the gated resorts and villas in the hills surrounding the city.
Upon our return to the ship, we found Jamaican Customs or Police (I was not sure which) waiting on the dock; they searched everyone's bags, camera cases, etc. for contraband. We found the experience insulting and degrading, not to mention disconcerting; much has been written about the trouble tourists have gotten into in Caribbean, Central American and Southeast Asian countries over simple matters. Farewell to this part of Jamaica; we couldn't wait to leave.
Thursday - Georgetown, Grand Cayman
We entered George Town harbour to a very warm and blustery day, anchoring in the harbour about ¼ mile from the Carnival Destiny. We were booked onto the Grand Cayman Highlights Tour. (TIP: we had requested an 8:30 tour, but we were placed on the 11:30 a.m. tour - book shore excursions a early as possible on embarkation day). We decided to have breakfast in the dining room for a change; it was nice enjoying personal service from our waiter, especially when we were the only ones from our table at breakfast that day.
We were tendered into the port for the tour which left from the North Pier; unfortunately, this tour was late in departing and the wait in the 86F sun was tiring. Undoubtedly the situation was made worse by a like number of passengers from the Carnival Destiny and other cruise ships as well, all wanting to take tours. Our journey consisted of a quick tour of the central area of George Town and its large concentration of banking and insurance companies (several Canadian, we noted), Seven Mile Beach (famous from the movie The Firm, starring Tom Cruise), the Grand Cayman Turtle Farm and the town of Hell, where unusual coral formations seem to erupt from the normal landscape. We thoroughly enjoyed the tour although it was shortened a bit because of the late departure; our guide was knowledgeable and very proud of his island.
One major problem we encountered returning to the ship was the queue on the south pier for the tenders. Thousands of passengers were lined up, even spilling out onto the busy main street. There was no effort by RCI staff to maintain order and the local police were not pleased at all with this spectacle. Several passengers became impatient with the process and started cutting in line; this led to arguments but there was still no intervention by the Cruise Staff.
Friday - Playa Del Carmen/Cozumel
We arrived on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico at the seaside resort of Playa del Carmen about 8:00 a.m. Central Standard Time. Passengers (including us) who booked the tour of the Mayan ruins at Tulum were tendered ashore about 8:45 a.m. to board buses for the 60-minute trip to Tulum. After a 30-minute wait, we boarded large, comfortable, air-conditioned buses and were introduced to our guide, Diego, who was very fluent in English, as well as a Mayan dialect. He explained what we would be doing during the day, the itinerary and additional items such as the 35-peso (about US$5) tax for taking video cameras into the ruins site (still cameras were not taxed - don't ask me why).
Enroute to Tulum, we stopped at a roadside "comfort station" for a (much-needed) washroom break. Several passengers purchased souvenirs from the many assembled vendors; the washrooms were crude but functional. We arrived at Tulum later that morning and walked about one mile to the ruins site; our guide explained that we could take a people mover for about US$1. Although it was very hot (about 90F) and humid, we opted to walk after the longish bus ride.
The Tulum ruins are fascinating; the history, architecture and location, swept by the azure sea and humid breeze, was breathtaking. However, we were not prepared for the crush of tourists from cruise ships and nearby resorts; the only way in and out of the ruins is a narrow portal and it was daunting, waiting in the hot sun. On the way back to the services area, local Mayan Indians demonstrated a kind of game they play by strapping ropes to their legs and jumping off a tall pole, slowly descending to the ground; it was absolutely fascinating. Like Dunn's River Falls, we had to exit through a large vendor area but there was not as much hard sell here. Anyone who had to use a washroom was obligated to pay $.25.
We boarded the buses about 1:00 p.m. and had a boxed lunch, complete with all the beer or Coke one could drink. Most of us fell asleep on the way back to Playa del Carmen, where we boarded a sea ferry for the trip to the island of Cozumel. The crossing was somewhat rough and by the end of the trip, several passengers had requested anti-nausea medication. We disembarked at the pier in San Miguel, the major city on the island, did some shopping, and then took a taxi about 4 miles south to the International Pier where the Majesty was docked.
Back to Miami
This day was the return to Miami portion of the voyage. We travelled north-east from Cozumel past the west end of Cuba. We spent the day tying up loose ends, picking up photos, and using this last opportunity to enjoy the ship's amenities and the excellent weather. We also attended a Grandparents' Get-Together where we were presented with "bragging" certificates. We had another excellent dinner and tearful good-bye with our dining room staff. We skipped the farewell show and packed for the mandatory luggage placement outside our rooms by midnight. It was kind of a sad evening as it was our last on board and the end of one of the most exciting weeks we had spent together.
Food & The Staff
Food services consisted of the two-level Windjammer Cafe on Decks 11 and 12, and two dining rooms, the Mikado and the Maytime, on decks 4 and 3 respectively. Each dining room seats 650.
The Windjammer was as good as any buffet style restaurant one would find in North America. We usually ate breakfast in this cafe; the menu consisted of a good selection of cold cereals, fresh fruit, eggs, bacon, sausages, toast and preserves, pastries, juices, skim and partly skim milk, coffee, tea and soft drinks. Unfortunately, RCI does not know how to make a good cup of coffee and the tea fared no better. Although this was primarily a buffet service, Cafe staff were present to hand out trays and cutlery, serve beverages, and bus the area after everyone was finished; service was attentive and pleasant.
We were in the early (6:30 p.m.) sitting in the Mikado Room. Our waiter was Oscar, an Italian, who quickly organized everyone and explained how he would provide service for the week; he was very attentive throughout the week and very particular about pleasing his guests. Our Assistant Waiter, Mustafa, a Turk, was so-so on service, and seemed intent on delivering the same average service, pouring the same water, soda water, etc. regardless of whether we wanted something else to drink; we heard the same complaint about some other Assistant Waiters. Our Wine Steward, Sophie, was from France, and was an absolute delight; she demonstrated her considerable skill and mastery at recommending just the right wines. Our Headwaiter, Mauritzio, an Italian-Canadian, was also superb. It was not unusual to see him supervising the Windjammer Cafe the next morning although he often looked tired.
Most meals consisted of a choice of 4-5 appetizers, 1-2 soups, 1-2 salads, 3-5 entrees, several side dishes, 3-5 desserts, and the usual beverages; a Shipshape low-fat menu was also available. Recommended wines were printed on the menus but the Wine Stewards were always available for consultation. Meals were centered around theme nights, ranging from American, Oriental, Italian, Caribbean, a Captain's Gala dinner and an International Dinner. The Dining Room staff often entertained guests, by singing national songs, or marching with flags, depending on the theme. We found the quality and presentation of the food to be on a par with better restaurants we have dined in, but it was also the product of assembly line cooking for the 1300+ guests at each sitting. Gaffes did occur: meat was sometimes not cooked properly, or the wrong entrées were served. Everything was corrected quickly, however, and it is a credit to the waiters and our Headwaiter that problems were quickly resolved.
A package of menus and recipes was available at nominal cost. Bar stewards often came around with shooters or other specialty drinks after dinner. The selection of wines seemed reasonable (although we are not experts here) and consisted of American and European whites, reds and blushes and champagne. RCI offers cruisers a "Wine and Dine" package which can be purchased on embarkation day - it gives a substantial discount for wine for the week and one can choose from among eleven or so different wines each night. Unused portions are kept by the Wine Steward for consumption the next night and any unopened bottles can be taken home. Royal Caribbean's own house brand, Vichon, in specially marked bottles, can be purchased as a take home selection in an attractive gift bag.
In addition to supervising the meal service among a number of tables, the Headwaiters prepared specialty desserts such as Cherries Jubilee and flambéed Bananas, and assisted guests with the intricacies of opening lobster tails and other shellfish. We couldn't say enough about Mauritzio; he just knew when Oscar and Mustafa were a bit behind and jumped in to lend a hand, making the dining experience very special.
We ordered breakfast from Room Service for delivery at 7:00 a.m. on the Tuesday morning but it did not show up. We contacted Room Service again as well as our Cabin Steward and we had the meal within ten minutes; we appreciated the quick resolution of the problem but wondered how it could have been missed in the first place. The breakfast, however, was hot and very good.
We made it to one midnight buffet, more out of curiosity than anything else. We were absolutely amazed by the hard work and talent that had gone into the numerous works of art in creating everything edible in a variety of formats: ice, cake, breads, fish, etc. We sampled some of the food after the tour and found it as good or better than the regular dining room meals. Several in our group went to the buffet every night and were always complimentary.
The first day at sea was Val's birthday, the first of two formal nights onboard and the evening set aside for the Captain's Cocktail Party. We were introduced to the Master, Captain Tore Nervik, a Norwegian, had the customary photo taken with him and then were seated among several hundred other passengers for drinks and hors d'oeuvres. Captain Nervik talked about the ship and the cruise line, and spoke briefly about the planned itinerary; at times, it was like listening to Victor Borge (with apologies to Mr. Borge) due to his accent and sometimes hilarious command of English. We learned that there were 2,540 passengers aboard that week, that several hundred passengers (forgot the number) were repeat cruisers on RCI and that about 800 passengers were non-U.S. citizens.
The ship's orchestra played a number of big band tunes and we had an opportunity to practice our fox trot, waltz and cha-cha, from lessons we had been taking. The fox trot and waltz were performed among the safety of a couple of hundred or so other dancers but to our consternation, we were only one of perhaps eight or ten couples who attempted the cha-cha -- talk about stress under pressure! At supper, our Headwaiter, Mauritzio, arranged for a birthday cake for Val and had the waiters from nearby tables sing "Happy Birthday."
The second formal night was held on the Friday night. This night was reserved for several group photos (our Winnipeg group had grown to some 40 persons by now with friends we had made through the week -- isn't this what cruising is all about, though?!) as well as the customary couples portraits in front of various backdrops. Surprisingly, the process went very smoothly and the results were extremely pleasing.
About three weeks before departure, I had ordered the Royal Occasions package [champagne upon embarkation, champagne breakfast in the cabin, after dinner desserts one evening and a framed formal photograph], bathrobes and a decoration package as part of our anniversary celebrations. Upon embarkation, we found the robes, champagne in our room and the decorations as ordered. We made arrangements with the cabin steward for the desserts later in the week and the breakfast on the Saturday morning on our way back to Miami. This entire package, with the exception of the photograph, depended on the skill of the Cabin Steward to set in motion. Marc, our steward, was adept at handling these arrangements for us and we were not disappointed. The ship's photographer's did an excellent job of the portrait (of course, we're pretty photogenic, too!)
The Crew & Cruise Staff
The Cruise Director, Paul Rutter, was the consummate professional, congenial, humorous and talented at leading various shows and theme nights. The Assistant Cruise Director, Sarah Denbow, was also very congenial and a very talented singer and dancer; she was very willing to discuss anything guests threw at her for questions, etc. The Cruise Staff generally were very cordial and accommodating; they bent over backwards to ensure guests were having a good time.
We have commented on our dining room staff and cabin steward already. Staff in the ship's boutiques were courteous and willing to help with suggestions, etc. The staff of the Pursers Office was always professional and helpful. The Shore Excursions staff were generally helpful, although not always clear in how some of the excursions would operate, tender times and tickets, or what procedures were to be followed in picking up souvenirs that came with a particular shore excursion -- our problems with the snorkeling on Labadee, the mix up on T-shirts, and the tender lineup problem at Grand Cayman, were cases in point.
Most of the week's live entertainment took place in the two-level Chorus Line Lounge, spanning the Showtime and Promenade decks. This 1,050 seat showroom was equipped with comfortable seats, a stage and (small) dance floor. Sound and lighting were excellent and many non-entertainment activities took place here as well. Unfortunately, some seating was obscured by pillars between the decks.
Acts consisted of Bobby Arvon (who wrote and sang the theme to "Happy Days"), Scott Record (singer-impressionist), comedian Kelly Monteith (two shows - hilarious), Wild & Haines (jugglers) and the Ashton Family (acrobats). In addition, the ship's show group, the Wave Revue Singers and Dancers, performed at various times during the week but really shone on the "50's & 60's Rock 'n Roll Spectacular" on the Wednesday Night when they transformed the lounge into a Sock Hop, complete with rock 'n roll band (Chuck Roast and the Mashed Potatoes), twist and jive contests, and stellar single performances by cast members, and the Cruise Director and his staff.
Big band, Latin and ballroom dancing were available in the Blue Skies Lounge with music by Charlie's Dance Band. The music was excellent although the dance floor was very small. Karaoke was also available in this lounge, hosted by one of the senior Cruise staff; the performers ranged from get-the-hook variety (but kudos for trying) to some very talented singers. Participants were rewarded with the coveted Royal Caribbean key chain and the applause (most of the time) of the audience. A Talent Contest was held later during the week and it showcased some of the winners of the karaoke nights. The Schooner Piano Bar on Deck 5 featured Bobby Hamilton who played a lot of contemporary favourites each night.
- The Pool Deck has two salt water pools and two whirlpools located aft on the deck. For some reason, the pools and whirlpools were open only from 1 - 7 p.m. daily.
- A 400-seat cinema is located on B Deck (actually it was just around the corner from our room). It showed various movies such as Phenomenon, First Wives Club, Jack, A Time to Kill, Space Jam and Fly Away Home, from morning to the late evening. We never had any inclination or time to sit still for a movie, so we cannot comment on the cinema's features.
- Each cabin is equipped with a 17-channel closed circuit TV, offering ships announcements, shore excursion information, taped delays of ship's productions, port and shopping information, first-run movies, satellite news, ship's activities, an itinerary map, and information on the ship's casino.
- Fitness facilities, called the Shipshape Centre, are located on the Bridge Deck, aft. A variety of low and high impact aerobic, stretch, dance and senior's classes are offered. Shipshape dollars are given to all participants and ten dollars gets you a T-shirt (wow). Massage services and saunas are also located in the Shipshape Centre. A running track was available on Deck 10 (Sun Deck) although several passengers insisted on using the Promenade Deck in the early morning, causing an irritating pounding for guests in cabins on the deck below. Shuffle board, Ping-Pong and basketball facilities were located on the Sun, Compass and Bridge Decks, aft.
There are numerous bars and lounges: two pool-area bars were located on Deck 11, aft and forward of the two pools. This deck also has the Mast Bar, just outside the elevator area. The Blue Skies Lounge, seating 450, is located on the Promenade Deck and hosted the ballroom dancing and karaoke nights. The Paint Your Wagon Lounge, which seats 675, is located on the Mariner Deck, and was used for the cocktail parties and some of the live entertainment (Country and Western Night) but usually featured a live band (Midnight Oasis). The On Your Toes nightclub, on the Commodore Deck, was the scene of a nightly disco. The Schooner Bar, on Deck 5, featured light jazz. The Touch of Class Champagne Bar, located on Deck 7, holds about 50 persons and featured excellent wines, champagnes and cigars; it was also one of the few places on board where smoking was not restricted.
The Viking Crown Lounge, a standard feature on RCI ships, was located on the Compass Deck, (14) aft. It seats 275 and completely encircles the air intake/exhaust stack structure at the rear of the ship. The views are spectacular and provide a nice setting for a casual after-dinner drink, or just a place to relax before dinner, leaving port, etc. Curiously, one had to go down one deck to find any washrooms.
Gamblers were treated to an excellent (so we were told, as we do not play slots, blackjack, etc.) casino on Deck 5. Bingo was held daily with a big pay out on the final day; one lucky cruiser from England walked away with a jackpot of US$8,400.
The Photo Gallery was located on A Deck; the ship's photographers were always present, shooting everything from corny at-your-table shots with a "pirate" in the dining room, to cruisers debarking at each RCI port of call, and portraits at formal nights. Prices were a bit on the expensive side, especially on the 8 X 10's. Some photos were just not worth keeping and some could not be found among the thousands posted on the gallery walls. As mentioned previously, we opted for Royal Caribbean's Royal Occasions package which included, among other things, a silver-framed 8 X 10 portrait; I must admit it was nicely done.
Shopping is available on board in the Boutiques of the Centrum, a mini-mall located on Deck 5. There is a jeweller's, a gift shop (high-end merchandise), beauty salon, duty-free/liquors, souvenirs (t-shirts, etc.), a furrier and evening gown boutique, cruise accessories store, fashions and accessories boutique and a complete photo/camera shop where film processing can be done; we would recommend that you get your first film developed on board to ensure that your camera is working properly.
There was also a Library and Conference Centre on Deck 7, but we never saw anyone in them.
As mentioned above, the cabins do not contain safes, so one has to use the safety deposit boxes provided at the Purser's Office. Service here was efficient and professional. Lineups, for the most part, were few in our experience, in spite of the large number of passengers. It is highly recommended to get cash out (or cash a cheque if you have an American Express card) the night before a shore excursion to avoid the lineups that we did observe on the mornings before departures for shore.
Youth Activities were organized into three age groups: 3-5, 6-8 and 9-12 with several organized games such as scavenger hunts. The few teens on board were treated to their own disco on the Pool Deck, aft. Among our group were two pre-teen children who commented that the activities were well-organized and that they had a lot of fun with the Youth staff. We only saw them at supper and they were certainly tired by that time.
Other services included babysitting, the Cruise Compass (daily newsletter) in several languages, religious services, ship-to-shore telephone (although at US$9.50 per minute, one has to really question how badly one wants to phone anywhere), laundry and dry cleaning, and a medical infirmary. If medical services are required, there is a charge for the treatment and any medication prescribed by the physician.
We arrived in Miami around 6:00 a.m. Saturday morning to another glorious day. We know this because we had to get up very early in order to be interviewed by U.S. Customs and Immigration at 6:30 a.m.; it went quickly and painlessly, and our passports were returned. Our group escort, Marian, had arranged for a continental breakfast in the Paint Your Wagon Lounge; it was a final opportunity to reflect on the week's activities, say goodbye to some of our group members who were leaving on other flights or staying on in Florida, completing the RCI Cruise Survey and taking last-minute photos. Eventually our baggage "colour" was called and we were off the ship and onto the pier, where the fun began, trying to find our bags. In spite of the colour-coding, finding the bags was a bit time-consuming; fortunately, our task was made somewhat easier by tying a coloured ribbon to the handles of our bags which made them stand out. Despite the short delay, we were on a bus for our final shore excursion, the Miami Highlights Tour.
We spent two hours touring the downtown areas of Miami (including what we were told was Sylvester Stallone's and Madonna's houses, at least from a distance), Vizcaya, and Coral Gables with a brief stop at the Parrot Jungle. We eventually arrived at Miami International Airport around 12:30 p.m. where we joined an enormous crowd of Canadians, from every cruise line imaginable, all queuing up for flights back to our homes in the Great White North. We arrived back in Winnipeg about 8:00 p.m. to -25F temperatures. We almost went into shock.
We couldn't imagine a better way to celebrate our anniversary. We absolutely fell in love with the Caribbean. We feel that one never leaves a vacation area that becomes special -- one just "goes home for a while." We met some of the most incredible people; many have become good friends. We had a few reunion parties in Winnipeg to share photos and videos, and most of all, the wonderful memories.
As for the ship, the Majesty had been in service long enough that the operations ran smoothly and the crew seemed experienced and knowledgeable for the most part. We were generally pleased with RCI as a cruise line and it definitely got us hooked on cruising. It took a long time to get back to reality, especially in the cold temperatures of our Canadian prairie winter. However, we were kept warm by the memories of the cruise, the wonderful people we met, the friends we have made for life and the anticipation of more cruises to come. Little did we know that our next one was to be on the Grandeur of The Seas in 1998 -- more about that in another review . . . .
Note: the Majesty of the Seas will move to its new home port of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and start a southern Caribbean itinerary in November, 1999 as RCI's new mega-megaship, Voyager of The Seas, takes over the Western Caribbean route. The Voyager, however, is not scheduled to stop at George Town, Grand Cayman, but will stay an extra day at sea.
Bill is a senior administrator with the Canadian Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food. Val is a Program Manager with Matrixx Marketing Canada, an international customer care company. Both are active on the volunteer committee for the 1999 Pan American Games which are being held in Winnipeg Manitoba Canada this summer. Cruising will resume shortly afterwards! Bill and Val can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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