Our first cruise was a seven-day Southern Caribbean cruise on Royal Caribbean's Monarch of the Seas. Talk about impressed! Not only were their people there to great us at the airport in San Juan, but they also ushered us onto air-conditioned buses to take us to the terminal. The bus driver was extremely nice and gave us a lot of useful information about San Juan. My friends and I were very nervous about the check-in, but they had separate lines corresponding with the first letter of your last name, and you were in and on your way in no time flat.
You are greeted by the staff the moment you step aboard and directed to where you are to go. Of course, for a moment we just stood there in awe of our surroundings. The first thing that you will become aware of is the ship's massive size. But don't be intimidated by this fact - after you get settled in your room, do a little exploring. The centrum reminded us of a mall, and believe me you'll find some real bargains in the shops. This ship has eveything, from an exercise room to a spa, even a beauty shop. Everyone is so friendly you'll soon feel right at home.
What's nice is coming back to your room and finding the bed turned down, and mints on your pillow. And if you leave your p.j.'s out, you'll find them in the shape of a ship, an anchor, or even a seahorse. And watch your pillows, too: the stewards can get very creative with them. Our steward, Sonny, did an excellent job overall.
We had a category I outside cabin, on B deck and I was amazed to find that the room was larger than I had imagined. One thing to note here is if you want to change before dinner the first night, you'd better have a change of clothes in your carry-on as they have an awful lot of luggage to go through, and it may be quite awhile before you get all of yours.
We chose the first sitting because we had heard rumors about how great the midnight buffet was, and we all love to eat! We dined in the Flower Drum dining room. Our waiter Rungsee Pong (from Thailand) and assistant waiter Luis (from Spain) were A #1 first class the whole trip. If you're lucky, you'll get them -- believe me, they made our dining experience a most enjoyable event. And the food! Oh, the food! The best we ever put in our mouths -- you'd better diet BEFORE your trip, because it's a pretty sure bet you're going to gain some weight on this ship. Well, let's just say I gained 7 pounds, and my husband gained 6.
When we arrived in St. Thomas, we decided to do some shopping first, and then went back and changed. Instead of going on a ship's excursion, we rented a cab to take us to Magen's Bay beach. Talk about a wild ride!! We arrived in one piece and spent a wonderful afternoon swimming and sunning. The taxi driver that took us there wasn't at all talkative, but on the way back we were fortunate enough to ride with "The King": he was very friendly and told us all about the island, and even stopped at points of interest to let us take pictures. The charge for the taxi ride there and back cost us about $16.00 a person. We had a wonderful time.
The next island we went to was Martinique, and I was NOT impressed. The people were rude and unfriendly, and when one of the taxi drivers goes over to the water's edge in full view of everybody and urinates, it doesn't leave you with a good impression. So we didn't stay long. We went back to the ship and relaxed in the jacuzzi. After dinner, we took in one of the shows. We were impressed with the Wave Revue; there are a lot of talented people onstage.
Our next island was Barbados. There we went to Harrison's Cave, and took in the view at St. Johns Church. We had a wonderful driver who told us all about the island. This is definitely one island I want to return to.
Next was Antigua -- what a beautiful island! We went on the "Antigua Beach Break" excursion; the water is the most incredible shade of aqua. You're given a free beach chair, lunch, and a free rum punch (or just plain punch, if you prefer). Everyone is so friendly, I never felt more relaxed. One word of warning: be sure you wear a good sun block. We didn't, and got a little "crispy fried." Fortunately, they sell aloe lotion on the ship.
I think my favorite island was our next one: St. Maarten (and not because my last name just happens to be Martin). Here we went to the butterfly farm, and the bus ride there and back takes you around the whole island. The butterfly farm was quite interesting and the man who took us through it was very informative; you could tell he loved his job. We stopped at the open air market in Marigot, where we purchased a few things to take home.
While in St. Maarten, we had the blue topaz stones we had purchased on the ship for $10.00 a carat mounted into earrings, and my sweet husband of 25 years (yes this was a 25th anniversary cruise) bought me a beautiful one-carat total weight anniversary band for $700.00, which we found out when we got home would have cost us about $1,200 here. So this is the place to shop for jewelry.
The next day we were at sea, so we slept in, and explored the ship some more, played the slots in the casino, and just relaxed. There were many activities onboard that we missed out on, but we had a ball. One thing I was really impressed with was how quickly the staff responded to the two medical emergencies they had. It's nice to know that help will arrive quickly if you ever need it.
Having to Leave
We arrived back in San Juan to a rainy overcast day, which matched our mood, because we didn't want to leave. We had gone to the disembarkation talk the day before, so we knew kind of what to expect. Another thing I was impressed with was how helpful they are in answering all your questions. Going through Customs was also a breeze.
And let me tell you, it's well worth letting the people there help you find your bags and loading them for you. (Another word of warning here: DO NOT put anything breakable in your suitcase, because they are all thrown in the back of a truck to take to the airport.)
We're Going Again!
All in all, it was a wonderful experience. We went in April, and the temperatures were in the 80's, so it was just the right time to go. Would we cruise with Royal Caribbean again? Well, let's just say we got home on Sunday, and on Monday we were booked again for the same time next year! Thanks again for everyone's helpful tips -- that made our first cruise one we will never forget.
Mary Martin lives with her husband and nearly-grown son in Lebanon, TN, where Mary works for a computer company. This was the Martin's first cruise and they are now hooked! Mary may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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