Cruise: Well, I may not be a cruise type of person. I was a little disappointed as the information I was given by the travel agent was that everything was included for the price that we paid, except for shore excursions and alcohol. Since I don't drink, that was not a problem for me. However, when we got to the cruise, it seemed that every thing had a charge. The only "free" items were the three meals a day and the work out room. Do note that soda is NOT included (I was assured that it was), nor are tips. Also, the staff will try to push drinks or other items into your hand. If anything gets into your hands you are expected to pay for the item. Very little is free; be sure to ask about price first. (Hint: Look for the drink dispensers. Lemonade and iced tea, coffee and hot tea, are free).
Things to note: The first day, everyone must undergo a safety drill known as a muster. Everyone is expected to wear life vests and go to the life boat stations. It is required to do this before departure and they will check your name off a list..
This crusie line, Royal Carribbean, has a no cash system. Everyone HAS to go to guest services to get money put on their room key. Accounts have to be opened with a minimum of $50. The cards can be linked to credit cards, but I do NOT recommend that. The cards are used for everything from opening the door to paying for drinks (which I, again, tell you they will PUSH. I remember "beer here!" and shot glasses and fruity drinks almost everywhere the eye alighted. It seems that "Party, party, party" is synonomous with "drink, drink, drink!" However, these drinks are NOT cheap and they will add up. I am also a firm believer that one does NOT have to drink to have fun). At the end of the cruise, any money not spent will be refunded. I recommend going the night before the cruise ends to get everything checked out and cash refunded.
Bring a small handbag onto the cruise with you. No one told us, but the last night of the cruise, they collect baggage at midnight. There is no access to luggage on the morning of check out, as it has been tagged and sent to customs. You will need a bag to carry any toiletries, medicine, and clothes for the day, and as a place to put your night clothes. (The cruise director did allude to a woman who slept, in his words, "commando style." She did not realize that she would not have access to her luggage he said that it was not a comfortable situation for her to try to check out in a bath towel, especially as security kept trying to take it away from her. ;)
Much to my disappointment, they did not stamp my passport. It was needed to get back into the country and to use as picture ID getting on and off the ship, however.
I was glad that the cruise line pushed for "Save Our Seas" -- a program to keep people from throwing garbage into the water. Their slogan was to keep the ocean beautiful for the next generation.
Room: We got a junior suite, which is probably the way to go. The rooms tend to be pretty small overall; this gave us room to move around and was actually pretty nice. It contained a small couch, tv, two "Ginnyland-style" beds (like mine at home!), nice closet space, bathroom, and a porch. It did cost around $600 each; for 3 nights it's a little more than I think the price should be, but seeing the other rooms on the ship, I think the space was worth it. Also, be careful where your room is situated. The travel agent we used tried to get us mid-ship as we worried about seasickness. Yet, she also stationed us directly under the pool, which meant we could hear some of the parties going on, and the occassional pounding of feet running all over the place. It caused the most trouble the second night of the cruise.
Customer Service: Customer service was quite good, I must say, for the most part. Very attentive staff and very friendly. I don't think we ever ran into the cleaning crew -- the room almost seemed to clean itself. The beds were beautiful, the mirrors streak free, the bathrooms great. (One note: The service didn't put the shower head in properly on the second day. When I turned on the shower, I got a face-full of cold water. Be sure to check the shower head, which is removable from its holding to be a hand-held device). Staff always smiled and asked how we were doing.
Even Homer, my surrogate pug doll who has travelled with me for the past 9 years to various assundry places, got good treatment. It is a personal tradition for me to take a picture with Homer in every place that I go. I got a great photo opportunity Saturday. When we got back to the cabin, we discovered Homer sitting on the bed with a towel bunny! It was too funny. (Mom got a swan the next night). So, Homer got some friends to cruise with. Any time he wasn't with his friends, staff were careful to put him up on the pillows. He got royal treatment.
I learned that the staff work 7 days a week. They go from one cruise to the next -- and there are two a week. They work for 6 months at a time with breaks in between contracts. The staff numbered over 800, and they came from 50 countries. I felt for them -- I don't think that I could deal with tourists all of the time and remain polite. We spoke to the head of one of the service sectors who said that often staff were forgotten as "human". Yet, despite all of this, I was amazed at the genteel nature displayed.
Meals: I am suprised that people keep saying how much food they serve here. There are the standard meals (they do have veggie foods, and lower cal foods, which makes me happy) but I thought there would be food everywhere. In between meal snacks have to be bought (and I refuse to do that); otherwise, the meals are standard sizes. I noted that they were big into puree fruit "soups" it seems. I've had strawberry Friday, pear on Saturday, and Forest Fruit on Sunday. The food was of good quality. We have the opportunity to order as much as we want at the meals, which I guess is the "feeding us well" part. The buffet was also of so-so (good hotel quality) food. A variety was available, though, and I was quite able to eat without worry of meat.
Things to do:
Shows: I was disappointed with the shows. We went to the "Captain's Reception" which was very boring. We went to a comedy/magic show which was also just as disappointing -- a lot of "body humor". Good for mixed crowds, but lacking the class and panashe I hoped it had. I didn't see the end of either of these. However, the "Farewell Show" was good, containing a lot of energy and showmanship. So, they get mixed reviews.
Gambling: The casino is emphasized on the cruise. Most of the devices are electronic (lacking the charm of Vegas); I only played $1 on slots and won nothing. Not sure what the odds are and really not willing to lose any more money.
Cash Bingo: We were going to try a hand, but ended up getting distracted by a very strange movie that combined magic with the old west, and starred a villian called Mr. Stark (who can resist?)
Spa: It looked like a nice service, but very expensive. If I had an endless account, maybe. The stone massage looked neat. It also had a hairdresser and other amenities available.
Computer: There is internet access, but it costs $.50 a minute. It cost me nearly $30 to check and write e-mails Saturday -- which is considerably higher than it cost me when I am in Europe at an internet cafe.
Pool: There is a small pool on the top deck. One is for the kids/families, one is for the rest. There is no lifeguard on duty. The "adult pool" did have an attractive ledge on it for folks to sit partially submerged; the "deep end" was in the center of the pool. I thought about swimming, but after watching the crowds on Sunday opted out of it. A lot of kids in the adult pool, people spitting out water, etc. I wonder if that is why there are so many viruses that spread on cruises....
Art: One thing that has really suprised me was the artwork. They hold an actual art auction here. I walked through to see the art, and to my surprise, they have a collection of Peter Max works (about 7) as part of the auction. I recognized him right away because I have a personally signed print of his that I won last year. Anyway, of the things that they are selling, at least one looks exactly like my print. There were some beautiful works present -- everything from representational to abstract. There is also an art auction, and a class on collecting art.
Classes: I only went to one seminar on the cruise. It was offered to give a history of the island, places to go and places not to go. I was a bit disappointed because it became mostly a class on where to shop and where not to shop. Several of the locations are linked to the cruise; any items sold the cruise gets a percentage. It was useful to learn of Del Sol (and their color changing nail polish), we got a certificate for a free charm bracelet from Diamonds International (cheap thing). It downplayed the Straw Market and gave no real information on the Bahamas other than to describe where the beaches were. Other classes were on collecting art, folding towels (not kidding, but I suspect they meant towel creatures) and scrap booking.
Shore Excusions: Shore excursions start at $30 and go up to over $150. We took two: One historic tour of Nasseau and Paradise Island, and one glass bottom boat tour.
Nasseau tour: We had a large number of people go on this. The tour actually broke people down into groups of 10. The tour was a mix of walking and taxi rides (cost included). The tour guide was adorable. I sat next to him in the cab, while the rest sat behind us. I was serenaded by him (Brandy to the tune of "Mandy"), kissed, hugged, and posed for a picture with me. It was a very good tour which included Ft. Charlotte and Atlantis, a view of the city, 'hood, hospitals, schools, etc. It was very informative (I will be using the information to talk about the Bahamas below).
Glass Bottom Boat Tour: This tour went around to the reefs near the private island owned by the curise line. This was not worth the expense. It featured two strips of glass a few feet wide on the bottom, a hot cabin, and more attempts to sell us things. The captain played Bahamian music for 3 hours. It was interesting at first, but the lack of variety of beat and sound, after a while, it became loud noise. The top deck was cooler than the glass boat area, and the tour was not that informative. However, of what was offered for daily activities, this was probably the best choice (not into scuba diving, parasailing, etc.)
I was a bit surprised at the groups of folks on the cruise. It was more of a party atmosphere, with a "who cares?" attitude. People of all body shapes sported a variety of fashions (I actually felt more alert to my own fashions than I felt most folks were on that cruise); the formal night ran from good casual to tuxedos and dresses. Apparently this ship/cruise held 2681 people from 40 countries, not including staff.
Photographers were everywhere. They try to get pictures coming on the ship, going off the ship, and at dinner. Pictures cost around $10 each. I ducked most of the photographers -- who wants to get caught looking like a tourista?
Departure: I must say, the cruise is VERY efficient at getting people off the boat. They have everyone (and their luggage) color-coded. Each color gets off the boat at a different time. We were scheduled for 7:50. Mom and I had a wake up call for 6; we got up, got dressed, ate breakfast, cleaned out the cabin. We walked the deck one last time, and then went to deck 5 in preparation for our departure. We were actually called at 7:30 to go. We had our passports out and got in line for customs. We did get to keep the room key as a souvenir. It was very fast and efficient – they made sure we matched our photos and we were in. Luggage was ready to go, too, when we got there. We got a porter, got to the car, and were on our way out around 8 a.m.
We made it back, but what a home coming. It was wonderful to see everyone again and the house was kept neatly. However, I had only bills in the mail, and two boxes of art returned contained a total of 4 broken works. One I can let go, as it's a rare thing to have happen and it's an experimental work. The others came from a well known art show and it was METAL SCULPTURES that were broken (or, rather, the found objects in these statues). These included other metal peices and glass that were broken. That was very much a downer.
Also, when we started the laundry, the pipes in my bathroom backed up. I had water pouring from the toilet and shower stalls, and my floor was flooded. I was able to get plumbers within a couple of hours and it was discovered that one of the pipes (connecting all of the above) was blocked. However, in the meantime, the phone line got wet, and both my phone and the internet went down. I had to get new phone lines to get those back up, and it took me hours to get the lint-filled semi-slimy water off the floor. Mom also discovered the pugs had marked one of her favorite antiques and the resulting wetness left a dark spot (permenant) on her wooden floor. It was a mess.
Overall, the cruise was disappointing in many respects. So many talked about how much fun they were, the travel agent indicated that this would be cheaper than it actually was (she was off on several things, though), and I was disappointed with the lack of engagement that I felt with the information provided or the people on the cruise. I did manage to read a book on women in Greece, Scottish folktales (that I started in 2005, put in my closet to finish later, lost, and rediscovered when I cleaned out my closet this summer), and a book on ghosts (which had some awesome informationm).
When we gave up on the ship activities and just lounged, that seemed to work best.
I don't think I'd go back to the Bahamas. The culture has been washed away by tourism, and areas that are not tourist-oriented may be dangerous (we did venture off the main path once and ran into two unsavory characters). I felt as if I could practically feel the sensation of their mental mantra ("buy, buy, buy"). On a personal note, I normally find lucky coins everywhere I go. Nasseau and the beach were sweeped CLEAN. I found only 1 penny and 1 dime, that was it, and neither were in the indiginous coinage (another first. I found coins in Mexico, Italy, and Scotland -- several dollars worth in most -- and "native" currency as well as American). I almost felt that if anything fell to the ground that there would be people waiting in the wings to swoop down and gobble it up.
The places recommended by the ship were terribly gaudy, and it was very hard to find native works. I finally ended up with the tradtional Bahamas mask -- hand carved by a local artist -- but I found that only after we walked all over the place and had given up. I think I spent a total of $50. Mom got one gift for a friend (and she had a souvenier cup that she mistakenly had foisted upon her by one of the hawkers on the ship -- they "caught" her before she realized that it wasn't free). I got a bottle of color-changing nail polish, a mask, a keychain, and a bar of soap. I found no gifts, another first on an out-of-country trip for me.
There was very little in the way of folklore or ghost stories anywhere, even when I asked directly. I know that there has to be a rich underground lore going, but I could find nothing. It had been washed away in the wave of tourism.
For the cost of the trip, we would have had half the cost of airfare and hotel for Europe each. I'd rather save for that instead. However, I can now say that I have been on a cruise (which I really should be able to say; it's a popular enough form of travel), I did like the ship (which is known as a floating hotel, or "flotel"), didn't get sea sick, and, if I can find a more engaging place to go and bring more money with me, I might be willing to try again. (Maybe on a less tourist-y line).
The Bahamas are a series of small islands in the Carribbean. The 700 island stretch starts just 50 miles from Palm Beach, Forida, and extends over 100,000 square miles.
Nasseau is the capital of the Bahamas, with 250,000 of the 340,000 people living there. It is 21 miles long and 7 miles wide and is 150 miles from the Florida coast.
The official language is English. The money is the Bahamian dollar, though US currency is accepted as there is a 1 for 1 currency exchange rate.
Per captia income (estimate by tour guide) is $23,000, but there are major taxes on things like cars (53 - 78%), electronics, milk ($7), and even gasoline ($4.70 a gallon at present). Minimum wage starts at $5 an hour, though they are preparing to vote to raise that wage.
They do have socialized and private medicine (we drove by the hospital where Anna Nicole gave birth to Danni Lynn, and where her son died a few days later). There are only about 3 hospitals, 1 for socialized medicine and 2 for private care. The rest of the islands are served by clinics staffed with one nurse and one doctor.
Most islands (outside of the capital) have a smaller population (around 800).
They spend a large portion of the budget on education (with an adult literacy rate of 98%).
They have revamped their economy to rely heavily on tourism (as if it didn't before). They do little industry and claim that their waters are quite clean. They do have living reefs all around the islands that would attest to this.
*This is reputed to be the actual landing site of Columbus in the new world. He first encountered the Lucayan Indians. The Spanish abandoned this area when they discovered that there was no gold.
*English Puritans from Bermuda came to the island 150 years later and settled on Eleuthera.
*The island was inhabited by Blackbeard and was a notorious pirate area until the 1700s.
*Captain Woodes Rogers, a former pirate, was elected governor and initiated a pirate clean up. He offered amnesty to everyone who lowered their flags, those who refused were destroyed.
*Henry Flagler (of University of Tampa fame) wanted to make a resort on the Bahamas. He was stopped his efforts when World War I broke out as all travel in the Atlantic stopped.
*The American prohibition brought a new burst of economy to the struggling islands, as rum runners moved liquor from the island to the states.
*The first casino opened in 1929, the same year that Pan Am made it a flight destination.
Odds and Ends: It is interesting to note that drivers in Nasseau have both European and American cars (with steering wheels on both the left and the right side). They also drive in the UK style, on the left side of the road.