Jubilee 11 Night Exotic Southern Caribbean Cruise January 1999
The mere mention of cruising always brings back memories, most of them fond, a few of them downright wierd. For instance, I remember the morning that the Federico C (now Premier's SS Seabreeze) attempted a shortcut to Port Everglades by steaming down Sunrise Boulevard. Fortunately, she got held up at the stop light at Sunrise and Rt. A1A, but that's another story. I can also remember when the brochure price for a seven day NCL cruise was $440, and that's what you paid; brochure price! In those days there were no discounts, upgrades, or air add-ons. Price was one of the deciding factors in choosing this cruise because our per diem cost for cruise only came out below $100 per person, and our value received was definitely more than that!
The cast of characters in this tale includes myself, my lovely wife Helen, our friends Dave and Sharon, and of course, the MS Jubilee. Dave and Sharon's first cruise experience was last November when we invited them to join us on the (then) MS Windward for a southern Caribbean jaunt. They quickly came to realize the fun and value involved in cruising.
We purchased an air package through Carnival, and also the cruise insurance, of which you will hear more later. We arrived at Miami International after an uneventful flight, and were met by Carnival representatives, claimed our luggage, boarded the bus and headed to Dodge island. Once at the pier, all luggage is unloaded, and passengers are asked to verify that all their luggage is accounted for before being loaded onto the ship. The porters employed by the Port of Miami are as surly as ever, and take advantage of this to make it quite clear that they expect a tip of $1.00 per bag if you ever want to see your bags again. At this point Sharon discovered that she was missing a suitcase, and distinctly remembered that she had forgotten to pick it up from the baggage claim carousel. I told her not to worry, that was one of the reasons Carnival had so many employees at the airport. After entering the terminal, we quickly located a uniformed Carnival Representative who took her name, luggage description, and other information and basically said, 'Don't worry, it happens all the time. We will take care of it.' Naturally, that suitcase was the first one delivered to her cabin. Score one for Carnival.
The line for check in was quite long, but it took only 15 minutes to reach the counter, and actual check in took less than two minutes. As a word of advice, please fill out your embarkation cards and other paperwork BEFORE you get to the terminal. That is why the cruise line sends the forms to you ahead of time! Fortunately, Carnival had employees walking up and down the line verifying that this was done before the passengers reached the actual check-in counter. After picking up our cabin keys and posing for the obligatory photo, we boarded and headed for our cabins.
The Jubilee entered service in the summer of 1986 as the second ship in Carnival's Holiday class of liners. The design and layout are very functional and passenger friendly. The basic design was so good, in fact, that it was continued in the Fantasy class of vessels, which began in 1990 and progressed on through to the Paradise, which entered service last year. The only real difference in Jubilee and her Fantasy class successors in that the latter are a little longer and have an atrium. One can tell that Jubilee is not a brand new ship, but she wears her age well and maintenance has not been neglected. The only 'dated' area is the Funnel Bar and Grill on Lido Deck, and that is scheduled for a complete makeover when the ship enters drydock this spring.
The four lower passenger decks (decks four through seven) are generally reserved for passenger cabins, and the upper decks (eight through twelve) are dedicated to public spaces such as restaurants, lounges, and the like. There are two regular swimming pools and one children's pool, and lots of open deck space for sunning. If space to stretch out your lounge chair gets tight, just go to Sun Deck forward. Here you will find almost a quarter acre of open deck that very few people seem to know about. Cameras and children are not permitted on this deck, however, as it is billed as 'adults only, tops optional.'
We found the ship to have adequate public areas to handle the number of passengers aboard. On some nights the show lounge would approach capacity, or the casino would draw a big crowd, but we could always find areas that were almost deserted when we wanted to. If we wanted to be with a crowd, we could. If we wanted to be alone, we could do that, too.
We had booked outside cabins on Riviera Deck, the lowest regular passenger deck. With the exception of suites, most cabins throughout Carnival's fleet are the same, the only major difference being a window for outside cabins, and a fake window for inside cabins. The cabins are spacious, at 185 square feet, with everything being laid out in a logical manner. The bathrooms are large, with real medicine cabinets, lots of water pressure, and many hooks and shelves for storage. The shower is quite large, and one can bathe without fear of becoming intimate with the shower curtain. As usual, we had seriously overpacked, but found more than adequate hanging space, shelves, and drawers, even for an eleven day trip. Newer Carnival ships have an in-cabin safe which is activated with ones' 'Sail and Sign' credit card, but Jubilee's safes use regular keys which must be obtained from your cabin steward after paying a $10 (refundable) deposit. Sleeping arrangements consisted of two twin beds which can be pushed together to form a (sort of) king size bed. Unfortunately, you still end up with - two twin beds. The beds are not made up as one, and that leaves sheets in the way, and a crack between the beds. Our beds also tended to slide around on the carpet and at least twice we ended up in a pile on the floor between beds.
Our cabin steward was David Davis, from Jamaica, and we believe him to be the best steward we have ever had. He was exceptionally fast in making up the cabin as soon as we had departed, and we could never catch him in the act. We even intentionally tried to leave for 10 or 15 minutes and beat feet back to see if he had made his visit. Somehow he had magically entered, done his work, and disappeared.
All the other crew members we encountered seemed to be genuinely friendly and helpful. I think this is the first cruise where I did not encounter even one crew member with an attitude. No one tried to be overly familiar and, as tip night and evaluations approached, there was not even a hint of hard luck stories or dire consequences from poor evaluations.
One week prior to this cruise I had read a review of Jubilee which mentioned a problem with severe vibration in the stern when transiting at lower speeds. This concerned me enough that I spent several hours prowling the passageways near the stern. I investigated when the ship was at full speed, half speed, and maneuvering in and out of ports. I even queried the ship's doctor and a nurse about the situation, as the infirmary is located on the third deck aft, which is about as close to the propeller shafts as a passenger can get. They, and other crew members that I asked, had no knowledge of this problem.
FOOD AND DINING
We were assigned to a six person booth in the Burgundy Dining Room for second seating. Since the ship was not completely full, the four of us had the booth to ourselves. It would have held six people comfortably, but with only four, it was spacious. The dining room could be described as 'understated elegance.' There was none of the glitz and neon for which Carnival is famous, but it certainly was not boring. We had a very competent waiter, headwaiter, and maitre d'. Our busboy was fairly new and a little slow at times, but he made up for it by trying very hard and exhibiting a great attitude.
There are some changes in the works! The first thing we noticed was that the menu was presented in a nice leather book instead of just being printed on a piece of cardboard. OK, that's no big deal, but it gets better. Then our waiter announced, "Please forgive us, but service may be a little slow the first few nights. Carnival has instituted all new food procedures starting tonight, and it will take us a little time to get used to them." That seemed pretty interesting, so after dinner I visited the maitre d' and head waiter for more information. It seems that Carnival is totally changing everything having to do with food service and menus, one ship at a time. It just happened that the January 11th cruise of the Jubilee was picked for the first 'makeover.' The Tropicale was scheduled to be next on January 22nd, and this is to continue, one ship per week, until all thirteen ships in the fleet have been 'converted.'
So what results do the passengers get from this? Well, the reason for the slower service was that all food pickup stations and kitchen traffic patterns had been changed. There had been some complaints that hot foods weren't hot enough, and cold foods were becoming warm, so this was an effort to combat that problem. It must be working because our cold soups were noticeably colder, steaks were quite hot, and so on. The next thing we noticed (and this will be heresy to some folks) was that there are NO theme nights! The new menus presented a well balanced choice each evening, but one might find egg rolls, frog legs, lasagna and Beef Wellington on the same menu. And yes, they still have lobster. We had lobster twice in the first five nights; the first time as broiled tails, the second as thermidor. We never saw a menu item repeated, and this was an eleven day cruise! (I know, that is to be expected on Silversea or Radiisson, but remember, this is Carnival.)
For those times when we only wanted a snack we dropped by the Funnel Bar and Grill on the Lido Deck. Here we could pick up burgers, hot dogs, fries, pizza, and the like just about any time of day. The pizza grill is one of only three ship's services that are open 24 hours a day! (The other two are the Purser's Desk, and room service.) The decor in the Funnel Bar is somewhat dated and the pick up line for hot foods passes through an area that is dark and dreary. As I stated previously, this area will receive major attention in drydock this spring.
So how was the food? Well, it's not gourmet food like one would find at Maxim's, but it is definitely better than 'high quality banquet food' as I've heard it described. What is more amazing is that it could be so good when one considers that the galley prepares over 9,000 meals per day!
We were highly satisfied in this area, especially with the production shows in the main lounge. Now, Broadway this ain't, but the cast on Jubilee did a remarkable job, especially considering we weren't paying $75.00 each to watch! Seriously though, I always thought NCL did a good job with their Sea Legs Revue and I consider this to be in the same class. The other entertainers (magicians, singers,etc.) were quality acts, and well suited to the passengers aboard.
We attended several midnight 'adults only' shows in the Terraces In The Grove Lounge. Prior to each show the emcee announced several times that the shows featured coarse language, adult situations, and lots of sex, and for people to please leave if they thought they would be insulted. Of course everyone stayed. About twenty minutes into each show there would always be people who would stand up and announce that they were insulted and were going to walk out. DUH! At times they provided almost as much entertainment as the comedian.
And there were art auctions. Apparently this has become standard on many ships now. Park West Galleries had a representative on board who, with his (very young) wife assisting, held art auctions almost every day. If that's your thing, I guess it's fine. The auctions were held in an unused lounge during the day, and they didn't try to impose their art on anyone. I didn't see any art worth dying for, and I strongly suspect most of the male attendees were there to see the assistant.
THE ITINERARY AND PORTS
This was a somewhat unusual itinerary, being eleven days out of Miami. I suspect that Carnival was just trying to find something useful to do with the Jubilee until they send her back to Alaska this summer. The first two days were at sea, making the passage to St.Thomas. This was really nice, as it gave everyone time to unwind and get used to the ship before arriving at the first port.
We arrived at St. Thomas early on the third morning and docked at Havensight. This is a 'been there, done that' port for us, and any shopping we want to do is done right at Havensight Mall, about 200 feet from the ship. If you do want to go into Charlotte Amalie, it's about 2 miles away, and the taxi fare is $2.50 per person. I was a little under the weather this particular day, so I sent Helen and our two companions to Magen's Bay for some snorkeling and swimming. The cab fare was $4.00 per person each way, and admission to the beach was $1.00 each. For $9.00 per person, they got as much time as they wanted, where they wanted. We rarely purchase ship-sponsored shore excursions as we have found we can do the same things for a lot less money on our own. Meanwhile, I popped over to the supermarket(?) just past Havensight and purchased a case of Pepsi and a styrofoam cooler. It was my plan, as usual, to keep my own soft drinks on ice at much less than the cost of ship-purchased drinks, and to have them available when I wanted them.
When reboarding the ship, I noticed an amusing situation. Carnival proclaims very loudly and often that no liquor is permitted to be brought aboard, and any liquor purchased in ports will be taken to storage and returned to you at the end of the cruise. Well, there were several passengers lined up to board, and most were carrying their cases of liquor from Sparky's, A.H. Rise, and other liquor stores. Now these cases are rather hard to disguise, and the passengers were just trying to cooperate with Carnival's policy, even though they may not have liked it. The security guard at the gangway was actually refusing to take their liquor! He finally stood at the top of the gangway and said in a loud voice, "Now folks, we have better things to do than take your liquor. Take it to your cabins and drink it up and nobody is going to bother you!" That was the end of that. No passengers were ever checked for liquor at any further ports. (another point for Carnival) I would advise, however, that you not try this when boarding in Miami or any other initial port of embarkation.
As that day progressed, I became quite ill, and paid a visit to the Ship's Doctor. He diagnosed me with a bacterial infection, gave me some antibiotics and charged me a total of $65.96, billable to my Sail and Sign Card. Since we had purchased the Cruise Protection Plan, I wasn't worried. Later that night Helen started feeling ill, but since we had purchased the Cruise Protection Plan, we weren't worried. At 6:00 that afternoon we backed away from the dock to begin the short overnight passage to St. Kitts.
We were really looking forward to St. Kitts because neither of us had ever been there, and we especially wanted to see Brimstone Hill Fortress, and had even purchased shore excursion tickets for it. Naturally, we were both so sick we could barely stand up and, naturally the shore excursion tickets were not refundable on the day of the trip. We sent Dave and Sharon off to see Brimstone Hill, and Helen off to see the nice doctor. Helen was diagnosed with the same infection as me, and the doctor increased the strength of my antibiotic. Her charge was $128.36, but since we had purchased the Cruise Protection Plan, we weren't worried. Yet. Helen stopped by the Purser's Desk and asked if there was anything she could do with the (now worthless) shore excursion tickets, since the excursion had already left, and we were both sick anyway. The lady at the desk said, "Yep, give them to me and I'll give you a refund." A nice touch. By the way, Dave and Sharon reported that Brimstone Hill fortress was impressive.
We arrived in Bridgetown, Barbados at about 10:00 the next morning. At that point I had not eaten anything in 48 hours, and had slept most of that time. I was really feeling good. After getting a little food down, I felt I could do a little touring as long as it was not strenuous. We found Dave and Sharon and took the free shuttle over to the cruise terminal and did a little window shopping. Since all of the ship's tours had departed and there were still taxis hanging around looking for customers I felt it was a good time to arrange for an island tour. We were able to negotiate a four hour tour with just the four of us in a spacious minivan for $25.00 each. Our driver was very personable, and took us wherever we wanted to go and stopped whenever we wanted a break. Even though we had been to Barbados before, I don't remember much about the tour, other than it was very refreshing to get out of the cabin and into the fresh air again.
Early the next morning we docked in Port of Spain, Trinidad. We were really looking forward to this port because we had never been before, and it was not a heavily visited cruise ship port. Unfortunately, it was a Sunday, and there was not much going on, and downtown was quite deserted. We had to settle for a shore excursion, so we opted for the tour to Caroni Bird Sanctuary. Caroni is home the the Scarlet Ibis, the national bird of Trinidad and Tobago. After a half hour ride we arrived at Caroni Swamp, a 40 square mile tidal mangrove swamp with hundreds of meandering canals and waterways. We all piled into a small wooden boat with a guide and driver. The driver stands in the stern and operates (on) a 1947 Evinrude outboard motor that sometimes runs. The guide's job is to stand in the bow and hurl curses at the driver. We spent about four hours wandering through an incredible beautiful natural area, observing native flora and fauna. Now, I am not what you would call much of an environmentalist or naturalist, but I was impressed. I think everybody in the boat almost had a heart attack when we rounded a point and encountered the first Scarlet Ibis. This bird is absolutely incredible! I have never seen such a rich scarlet color in nature, and to see it actually fly is breathtaking. Our guide informed us that, "the best time to see them is at sunset, when thousands come to the swamp to roost, but this is a daytime tour. So sorry!" Between the driver, the guide, and the wildlife, this was a most entertaining tour!
After a relaxing Monday at sea, we arrived in Aruba on Tuesday morning. The ship was offering a snorkeling tour on a catamaran. Sharon and Helen wanted to go snorkeling, and I was feeling much better, so we purchased the tickets and met the boat at the end of our pier. We pulled out of the harbor and sailed about 49 minutes to the northwest, up in the direction of California Lighthouse. We pulled into a little cove and dropped anchor about 100 feet from the beach. Everybody jumped in and enjoyed an hour of snorkeling in crystal clear waters, among literally thousands of tropical fish. After a while I nudged Helen and asked, "Anything look familiar?" She said there was something, but couldn't quite say what. It turns out that two years previous we had rented a car and toured the island. In the afternoon we had looked for a place to snorkel and had picked this very same beach! After everyone had enjoyed the water, we raised anchor and headed back to the ship, accompanied by the usual cups of red stuff mixed liberally with the local rum. After a quick lunch on Lido Deck, we walked into Oranjestad to browse and basically waste time until the 6:00 p.m. departure.
Although we did not venture into the interior of Aruba on this trip, I would strongly advise doing so if you have not done so previously. The easy and economical thing to do is rent a small air conditioned car and strike out on your own. Don't get a jeep because the sun will cook you in 30 minutes, and a car will cover just about any terrain on the island. Maps are easily available at any car rental agency (some are right on the dock), and it is impossible to get truly lost. Aruba is only about 12 miles long and 6 miles wide, and the divi-divi trees always point in the direction of Oranjestad. You will be truly amazed at the stark difference between the populated area around the town, and the absolutely barren desert just a mile away.
THE RETURN HOME
After leaving Aruba we were looking forward to the lazy two day transit back to Miami. It was not without excitement, though, as on the afternoon of the next day one of the passengers experienced a heart attack. We were off the southwest coast of Haiti and a helicopter evacuation for the patient was arranged with the U. S. Coast Guard station in Guantanamo, Cuba. The helicopter arrived presently, and hovered about 15 feet over the Veranda Deck as a litter was lowered, preparations were made, and the patient winched aboard. This is the third medical evacuation we have witnessed while cruising, two by helicopter and one by launch. This is also the reason we purchase cruise insurance. Many people seem to forget that they are out of the United States while cruising, and that their medical insurance is invalid if they become sick or injured while out of the country. They also seem to think that medical evacuation would be free should they require it, or that the Tooth Fairy would pay their hospital bill in St.Lucia. And we especially were not worried about our small $200 medical bill because we had purchased the Cruise Protection Plan.
The arrival in Miami and the thought of the debarkation is never pleasant, but things seem to get slightly better each year. I remember our first cruise and the thorough baggage search by the customs agent in the hot Florida sun. Things progressed to where a cursory interview was all that was required, and now most people never even see an agent. The actual debarkation began at 9:00 and we (in the last group to be called) were off the ship at 10:00. We found our bags in the appropriate color coded area, secured a porter, and just tossed our customs form in the basket on the way out. Buses were waiting outside the terminal so we loaded up and were delivered uneventfully to Miami International Airport and the special check in area for cruise passengers.
After returning home, we weren't worried about our small medical bill and started the claim process. The Berkeley Group, of Garden City, New York, is the actual claim agent for Carnival's Cruise Protection Plan, as well as a host of other cruise lines' plans. After initial contact, Berkeley stated they had no record that we had purchased the protection plan. We provided them with copies of our tickets and other documents which proved otherwise. Their next communication was that, yes, we were indeed covered, but they had no proof that we had actually taken the cruise. Following that, we were asked to provide credit card statement to show that we had actually paid for the cruise that we had supposedly taken. Berkeley's latest letter asks us to submit the claim to our primary insurance carrier. If our carrier provides proof that they will not cover it, Berkeley states that they will consider the claim. I suspect this will continue until such time as Berkeley can claim the statute of limitations.
Except for being sick as a dog for two days and the ensuing insurance hassle, this was a very satisfying cruise. I know there are lots of 'Carnival bashers' out there, but Carnival didn't get to be the most popular cruise line in the world by offering a poor product. Every cruise line and every ship has something that they do better than the others, be it food, service, decor, entertainment, or ice cream. Every line and every ship also has areas that are weaker than some of their competitors. I can honestly say that I have never experienced a bad cruise and, when considering the total package, I really don't see much difference in the major cruise lines. I would definitely sail this ship and this line again. (And just about any other ship, too.)
Helen & Dale Stevens can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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