There will probably be a lot of info that people who have cruised many times who will think a lot of this is irrelevant but it is all stuff that I was wondering about before we left.
I would also like to state that although I am a college graduate I can not spell and my punctuation is horrible.
The Players: Myself (Erica, 30) and my partner (Eleanor, 28) Pictures
Cruise: Picasa Web Albums - Erica Tunison - Cruise
Old San Juan: Picasa Web Albums - Erica Tunison - Old San Juan Cruise: 8-15-10 Serenade of the Seas Itinerary
8/15 San Juan
8/16 Sea Day
8/18 St. Lucia
8/20 St. Maarten
8/21 St. Croix
8/22 San Juan
We flew into San Juan on 8/15 at about noon. We went directly to baggage to collect our bags. On your way out of baggage there is a person checking your baggage slips to make sure it matches the bags you are taking (so make sure you have these slips in an easy to reach place).
After that we went out the doors to get a taxi to the boat. The taxi line was directly outside the doors to baggage and there was a person who gives you a sheet of paper to let you know how much the taxi fare should be from zone to zone with a map that shows the different zones (there is also a sticker on the window of the taxi that gives the same info).
Once at the cruise terminal the taxi will drop you off right in front of the terminal building where the line to get in is. If you have a suite like we did you give your bags to the people at the diamond sign and they will direct you where to go from there (it is a separate and much faster line than the other line)this was confusing because we didn't see a sign for suite guests so I hope we did this correctly. Make sure you have your paper work with you because they will check to make sure you are in the correct line. From there you go directly into the building and fill out a short form that basically states that you are not sick. Then you go up to the counter and they give you your sea pass card, I think if you were using a credit card for your onboard account you give it to them here but I'm not sure because we didn't use one. You then take this card to a person waiting to take your photo (it is not a normal camera so don't look for photo equipment) it is just a box that they stick your card into and then take your picture through a camera in the box. After this you go up the stairs to get on the boat. At the top of the stairs there will be the first of many photo opportunities you will have while onboard the ship. If this is your 1st cruise I suggest you get the photo taken (you don't have to buy it but you can go to the photo purchasing place on deck 5 later to see if you want to or not). After this you are home free! Explore the ship, get a drink, go to your room, set up your MTD, whatever you want, you are now officially on VACA!
We went to guest relations to put cash on our account. We did it this way because we only wanted to spend a certain amount on the ship and didn't want it to go on a credit card. We put $700 dollars on our account and by the end of the trip we still had about $100 left.
After taking care of that we went to our room Grand Suite 1050 it was awsome! After we looked around the room a bit we decided that we wanted to go explore! I decided that I didn't want the temptation of the soda and candy in the fridge so I left a note for the room attandant saying hello, asking if we could get the fridge cleared out, and asking if we could get the beds put together.
I then called the dinning room and asked if we could get a table for 2 with our My Time Dinning. They said that it shouldn't be a problem and that if we wanted to come down right then and commit to a dinning time each night we could pick out our own table. Note: there are no 2 person tables along the windows to the outside of the ship in my time dinning only along the balcony looking down on the dinning room (good for people watching, not so good for sea watching).
We picked a table and went to explore the ship.
After setting up our table for dinning each night we decided to go to the Windjammer (deck 11) to grab a quick bite before exploring anymore of the ship. Note on Windjammer: as you walk in directly infront of you will be the food, if you go to your right past the pizza station there will be a set of glass double doors, go through these and you will be in a covered outdoor seating section (with very comfortable chairs). While outside in this area you could contiue walking and there was seating that was not covered and if you kept walking you end up on the other side of the ship where there was a smoking section.
After lunch we went to check out the concierge lounge (with the white key cards that were in our room). There was no one there but it was great. It is on a hump and has one whole wall of windows to look out to the ocean. After this we just generally explored the ship.
At about 5 we went back to the concierge lounge and met our concierge Francois and both got a drink. I got a taqueray and tonic and my partner Eleanor got a diet coke (out of a can , the fountain soda tastes very strange). After this we went to dinner (casual).
At 8pm there was an Assembly Drill where everyone went to their designated area (meet on deck 5 or 6, the area will be printed on your seapass. They have a crew member at each station who will check you off a list so you do have to show up). Our location was on deck 5 so when it was all over we decided not to follow the herd back into the boat. Instead we walked toward the front of the boat climbed a set of stairs and came out on the helicopter pad to watch the sail away.
After watching from the helicopter pad for awhile (difinately worth while) we decided that the crowds were probably gone and went back in and up to our room. Once there we found that the beds had been moved together and that the fridge had been cleared out. for anyone who is interested they did change out the Tv in this room to flat screens, but they had to get an adapter for the dvd player cable to fit into the new tvs (this was completed on thursday in our room. I don't know if it has happened in all rooms that have dvd players yet).
At 9pm they had a "learn to play table games" in the casino which we had wanted to go to but never made it. The casino opened for real play at 9:30pm. We loved us some casino on our trip! As I stated above we had a cash account on our seapasses which allowed us to get up to $100 in cash a day at the cage in the casino free of charge. Anything more than that and we had to pay a 3% fee. I'm not sure how it works when you have a credit card account. We won a few times on the slots ($200 on a small progressive one cent machine playing all lines one cent per line, and $200 on a video poker quarter machine playing one quarter per hand). We played about $50 a night and if we won we just rolled the winnings over to the next night. We did not go expecting to win big and neither should you, we just used it as entertainment.
We just relaxed, walked around, ate, and ate some more! We also took advantage of thee $30 in chips for $20 which came with instructions on how to play craps, blackjack, and roulette. They give you $30 in marked chips which you can not cash in for cash. You use these to play and when you win they give you real chips as your payout. We would take the wins off the table and then kept playing with the marked chips until they were all gone. We ended up making about $40 dollars this is including the original $20.
We also decided to eat dinner on our balcony for the remainder of our cruise so we called MTD to cancel our reservation. We had a big enough table out there to fit all courses for 2 people. Note on Room Service: We brought about $60 in $2 bills. We gave a $2 tip for breakfast (the suite guest french toast was great), and then $4 for dinner because there were so many plates.
I thought it was great to have this sea day the first day of the cruise. It was great to have a chance to really look around the ship and relax before the action packed port days to come. One more note on the casino and then I will stop I promise. On the sea day the casino had a slot tounament which Eleanor signed up for. To sign up you just go to the cashier cage in the casino and pay $25 dollars, they will give you a special card with a number on it and tell you where to meet for the tournament. In order to move on to the next round you had 5 min to hit the spin button on the machine and accumulate as much money as you could. I forget how many people move on to the next round (because Eleanor got last place). But it was fun and I think she would do it again if we go on another cruise (which we will).
What can I say about Barbados?? It was different.... We went on the Turtle Catamaran and Snorkel excursion through RCI. I liked that we had the experience of seeing the sea turtles and getting to touch them, but there were just too many people on our boat. If I were to do it again i would have done this excursion through a private company who could assure me of the number of people going. The staff on board the Catamaran were also not the nicest, well thats not fair I guess, I'm sure they were overwhelmed by the number of people on board.
We did not go into town after the excursion. I think if we would have had more people than just the 2 of us we would have, but for 2 women alone it just wasn't very inviting or safe looking. So we just got dropped off at the cruise terminal. We walked around at the shops in here for a few min., bought a 10 count box of $15 tampons (ladies remember to pack these! They are not cheap anywhere.) Then we went back onto the ship, ate lunch in the Windjammer and took a nap.
In St. Lucia we went on the Whale and Dolphin Watching trip though RCI. We met outside the boat and then walked through the building and got on our tour boad right there (no driving). The tour was run by Hackshaws. Once on the boat you were offered reg soda (no diet), rum punch (kinda horrible), or water. They also offered pringles as a snack). We didn't see any whales or dolphins but we did get to see the Pitons which is what I was really intersted in anyway. If Eleanor wasn't prone to getting car sick I would have loved to do one of the land tours that go to the Pitons or the Land and Sea to Soufriere (the beach there looked great from the boat). When we got back to the cruise ship I was feeling a little sea sick from the rough ride so we decided to go back on the boat instead of taking the water taxi to town.
After waking up from a short nap and feeling much better we got back off the ship (by the way this takes a matter on minutes you just go down the elevator and they scan your seapass card and you are off the boat) and walked around the port area (tiled roofed area in the pictures). There were a lot of little shops there right outside the ship. Most of these were selling the same touristy stuff as the other islands (but with a different island name on them) but it was fun to just walk around and look at stuff. There was also food (we didn't get anything to eat) and a good deal on Piton Beer 2 for $3 I think. Although we didn't go into town I felt like we had a full and enjoyable day.
St. Lucia Night on the boat
St. lucia was our Mystery Dinner night I believe. We went down to deck 6 for the mystery theater part (which was entertaining although if you plan on having a drink make sure you get it before you go in because it was a tight squeeze and you really can't get up and get one in the middle of the show). It seemed to us that there were way too many people signed up for this show, I think it would be better if they had two during the cruise or if they just limited the number (it was just not that comfortable to sit thigh to thigh with someone you don't know). The safari club was so full that some people had to just sit in chairs that were placed in rows instead of around the tables where the rest of their group had been seated. The seas were also a little rough that night so this may have added to my uncomfortable and claustrophobic feeling. Eleanor got sea sick during the show so we did not go to the dinner part. I am not writing any of this to dissuade anyone from going to this show (I have heard many possitive reviews) I just wanted you to know our experience which may very well have been tainted by the close quarters and the rough sea.
The Ultimate Adventure was our favorite thing on the whole trip! The first thing you do is the zipline which consists of zipping on 8 or 9 zip lines from tree to tree then you stop at the last tree and they attach you to a line that is out from the tree and you jump (or step) off the platform. It is a slow descent so it was not as scary as I thought it would be (thank god). This was the first place I had ever been ziplining but I thought it was great! I was pretty scared before the first line but after that I was fine. They don't allow you to take your camera but they take a picture of you on the first line that you can purchase when you are done.
It was raining pretty hard by the time we were done on the ziplines so our group skipped the hike and instead took a van down to the water to meet the catamaran. We were actually happy about this because we were told that the hike was like 2 hours long or something and we would have been exhausted by the time we got to the catamaran. Our guide told us that they sometimes spilt the group and allow half to go to the beach in a van and wait while the other half do the hike.
We wore our suits under a t shirt and quick dry shorts. Also bring a backpack w/ towels and possibly an extra t shirt if it looks like rain. Also if you plan on doing the hike I would wear shoes suitable for that long of a hike (you have to take your shoes off when you get on the catamaran anyway so its no big deal) And if you go on the 2 hour hike bring a granola bar or something small to snack on. You start the ziplining at the zipline gift shop and you end at the same gift shop. They provide a locker to put your bag in while you zip. They also sell water, sports drinks, beer and some snacks at the gift shop along with pictures, t shirts and other things with their name on it. There are also restrooms that are very clean so you could probably change here if you didn't want to wear your suit on the zipline.
Second part of the Ultimate Adventure: Catamaran and Snorkel
The catamaran was awsome. It didn't have a net like other ones we went on but there was plenty of room because of the small number of people who actually go on this excursion (10 of us total). There was also free soda, rum punch, and beer on board (our guide, I can't remember her name, had a pretty cool trick of opening everyones beer with the ring on her finger). We went to cades reef (i think??) and some of the crew got in the water with us but we didn't have to stay in a tight group. We saw lots of fish, a reef shark, and the guides would bring stuff up from the bottom to show us from time to time (which was pretty cool). Then we just cruised along the coast and ate the chiken, fish, rice and beans and mac and cheese. I thought the food was pretty good but I was starved from ziplining and snorkeling!
The Ultimate Adventure ended a little early because we got on the catamaran so early, but this was fine with us. They dropped us off right by the boat (you can actually see our catamaran in one of the pictures I took of the port from our balcony). Once off the boat we just walked directly into town, its right there at the pier. There were a lot of tourist traps (which can be kinda fun) and one open air market that was selling everything under the sun. We walked around for about an hour and a half and then went back to the ship with about 30 min to spare.
Note about getting on the ship: we always brought our passport cards with us but they never checked them, only our seapasses. Even though they never checked I think I would still bring mine every time just in case something happened.
I am going to write this next part because I am truly concerned about what happened. If you dont want to read about something morbid stop here.
When we got back on the ship we went up to our balcony to watch the sail away. Once everyone was on the ship we thought it would be a good picture taking opportunity of the port. While taking pictures I looked down to see a body bag being taken off the ship (I'm not proud of it but I may have taken a picture). I was just wondering if anyone knew what happened.
Al and Rich
Thanks for reading my review. This was our first cruise as well and I had so many questions before leaving. I wrote this review hoping that some first time cruisers would get some helpful info from it. There is still a little more to come but I am working this weekend so I have to find some time to write it.
St. Maarten was great for just walking around. We didn't get up until about 10 am on this morning because we were so tired from the activites the day before. When we got off the ship we walked straight down the pier and to the left and we were at the water taxi (there were signs and people directing you to it). I can't remember how much it was but I want to say $6 pp got you an unlimited ticket (well wristband).
It will drop you off at the pier (I believe on a map it is called Captian Hodge Pier) directly next to a beach with chairs for rent, and about 1 block infront of the courthouse (pictured with a pineapple on top).
We took at right at Front St. and stopped in a few shop but didn't find much to buy. Off of Front St. we turned left to go down an alley called Old St. (pictured with the old taxi parked there). On the left hand side of that taxi there is a Begian Chocolate Shop (we thought the chocolate was great and they will deliver to the ship). While we were in this store many locals stopped in to purchase chocolate for themselves and their buisnesses, which should say something.
If you get back on Front St. and keep going you will come to the Guavaberry Emporium. They had all sorts of things made from guavaberry all in handpainted bottles. They also have tastings of the rums for sale. We purchased a bottle of Guavaberry Rum eventhough we both thought it tasted like cough syrup. We also purchased a hand painted bottle of guavaberry honey (Eleanors mom is a beekeeper).
After the guavaberry shop we walked down to the boardwalk area (like one block). Here there were a few stands selling your usual trinkets and a few other stores. There is a marina here and at the side over by the Candy Shop there are some more stores and a stop for the ferry (if you don't feel like walking back to where the ferry dropped you off). We decided to stop and get a drink at one of the drink stands and sit by the marina and relax in the shade (In pictures the one with the pastel tables and chairs). Once we finished we just strolled along the boardwalk back towards Captain Hodges Pier. Along the boardwalk there were mostly restaurants, bars and drink stands. In town this is where we were asked to buy stuff the most. We just said no thanks and moved on. No one asked twice. Then we got back on our ferry and headed back to the ship. At the pier when you get back to the ship there were some shops but we didn't stop in so I can't say much about them except that they are there and very close to the ship.
Getting back on the ship:
Like I said before it is really easy to get back on the ship. You just have them scan your seapass and then send your stuff through an xray and you walk through a metal detector. I had purchased rum while I was on this island so I just told the people at the xray that I had alcohol in my bag and needed to check it. Once your bag goes through the x-ray you take it over to a table and fill out a little form and they take it for you to hold until the end of your trip.
After this we just relaxed on the ship for the rest of the day.
If you plan on walking around Philipsburg it is not that large (probably about 4 blocks wide by 9 Blocks long. We didn't go any further than Front St. and Back St. and the boardwalk but these all seemed safe and friendly).
This is the port I was least excited about (from what I had read in posts) but it turned out to be a nice relaxing place with lots of very nice people. I won't lie Frederiksted is not the most exciting place and I may have been more disappointed if this port were earlier in the trip, but it was a nice note to end on.
Not having any real interest in this island we got off the ship at about noon and went directly into Frederiksted (right at the end of the pier). There wasn't much to town but we walked around just the same. There was a nice sandwich shop/ Coffee Shop called Pollys where we got some drinks and just people watched for a little while. Then we just walked around and looked in some shops, and looked at some street vendors. We were the only ship in port so it was pretty low key.
After this we went to the clock tower (Directly infront of the pier) and listened to some music (pictured).
Although the shopping wasn't great here I thought it was a nice relaxing last stop of our cruise. I think if we ever come here again we will go to Christiansted on the other side of the island and check it out. I know this sounds tacky and horrible but I also would have liked to see the "beer drinking pigs" at the Mt. Pellier Domino Club. I really wanted to do this but we just didn't get up in time.
After this we went back on the ship and enjoyed our last day and night on the Serenade.
Last Night on the Ship
On the last night they will bring all your alcohol to your room so you can pack it. They also leave you your tags for your bags. We packed our large bags (the ones we were going to leave in the hall) with everything that wasn't breakable. All of our alcohol and breakables got packed in our carry ons. Once we were finished we put the tags on our bags and left them in the hallway. Just a note for anyone concerned with filling out the customs forms. On one of the tv channels they will play a show all day about how to fill out the forms and how to get off the ship.
Leaving the Ship
The suite guests went to Portofino for a light breakfast and then were called to get off the ship. We all followed the crew member assigned to us (in our case it was the Concierge). It took us about 5 min. to get off the boat and another 5 to find our bags). When you get off the ship you will walk down the same stairs you used to get on the ship. At the bottom of these stairs you will see signs directing you where to go. Your lugage will be in a huge room that has different color signs haging from the ceiling (correponding to the color you put on your bags the night before). Just go to your color and find your bags. Then go through customs (which was just a guy at a podium) who asked if we had purchased any food on the islands. That was it...we then left the terminal in a taxi headed to our hotel.
San Juan (Old San Juan)
If you have the money I would suggest that you go to Borders or Barnes and Noble book store before you leave on your cruise (I can't remember which one carries the map I bought) and purchase a "MapEasy's Guidemap to Puerto Rico" $7.95 it will be in the map display if they have one. On one side of this map there is a map of Puerto Rico and on the other there is a large map of Old San Juan.
We had our taxi drop us off at Castillo de San Filipe del Morro (pictured in the photos I posted). We didn't go in so I can't tell you about that. Instead we walked down to the Cemeterio de Santa Maria Magdalena, the cemetary that is directly to your right as you look at the fort (we didn't walk into it we just took pictures from the wall). From there we walked straight back out to the street towards an open plaza with a tall pole thing in the center (not sure what it is called) and continued until we saw Iglesia de San Jose (which is in the posted pictures, it is a white front building with an arched door).
From there we walked down Cristo St. (all the streets are marked on the corner stones of buildings so don't look for street signs). We were there at about 9:30 am on sunday and there were hardly any cars around which was great for taking pictures but a lot of the stores were not open yet. There are a lot of name brand stores on this street if you are into that (Coach, Polo, Sunglass Hut, Puma, Guess) as I said it was early so these stores were not open yet. This street ends at the gates that are posted in the pictures and to the right of the gates is a park called Parque de las Palomas (or haven for the pigeons) it was crazy! Pigeons everywhere!
After the gate on Cristo St turn around and go back up Cristo the way you came and turn right on Fortaleza St. This Street is lined with tons of shops (some worth while, others not so much). On the left at 105 Fortaleza St is Cafe el Punto. We almost walked right by it because we thought it was just a food place but it was a great little hallway filled with Puerto Rican arts and crafts made by local artists (we puchased some prints of sketches (of local landmarks) by a local artist (very cheap, like a few bucks).
Continue on Fortaleza St. and you will hit San Jose St. Now I can't remember if you turn right or left on San Jose but the store is called Mundo Taino 151 San Jose St. (I do have a picture of this one). This store had a lot of crafts and a very helpful staff (strangley helpful, but they knew something about everything you picked up). The sign on the front of the building will say "Puerto Rican Arts and Craft....Mundo Taino....Artesanias..."
After this if you go back to Fortaleza St:
On the right side of the street is 204 Fortaleza St Puerto Rican Art & Crafts. The main floor as you walk in is filled with you guessed it Puerto Rican Arts and Crafts. This store had some really cool ceramic masks, Small stained glass doors that are framed in stained wood, carved santos, handmade jewelry, prints, coffee, and packaged food. Upstairs was a space for large original paintings (way out of our price range). I don't have a picture of this place but if you look it up online they will have a picture of the front of the building. Just a warning the website doesn't do justice to this store at all so don't judge it by what you see for sale on the website.
There are many other stores on this street but these were our favorites. If you continue down Fortaleza St and turn left on Cruz St. you will see a Starbucks on your right. At the same enterance to starbucks there is another great little store (don't know the name of this store) that sells small prints of some of the streets in Old San Juan in rich night colors (hard to explain but you will know what I'm saying when you see them). There are also other arts and crafts in this store.
Other than this I can only suggest taking a look at "The Butterfly People" at 257 Cruz (just to take a look... it is pretty amazing) Again the website will not do this place justice.
After this just take a look around at all the shops Old San Juan has to offer. Have fun, this was our favorite port for shopping on the whole trip.
Another book you may want to pick up is: "Off the Beaten Path Puerto Rico" $14.95 It has a great section on Old San Juan.