This past summer my family and I celebrated my Mother’s birthday on our very first family cruise. It was my Mother’s first Caribbean experience which made it the perfect choice. Our seven-day cruise was on the Freedom of the Seas by Royal Caribbean. It began from Port Canaveral, Florida to Coco Cay Bahamas, then to St. Thomas, U.S Virgin Island and lastly St. Maarten/St. Martin (the Dutch Antilles).
If you have never been to the Caribbean and not sure which island to explore, a cruise may be a good way to sample this region of the world.
Amenities galore! From the multiple pools on board (some adult only), whirlpools, dinning options, mini-golf, live entertainment, ice-skating rink, kids club, casino, wave-runner, climbing wall and karaoke. Talk about sensory overload! My favorite was the running track on deck 11. The panoramic views of the ocean, from sun up to sun down were simply spectacular. Watching rainstorms from a distance was pretty mesmerizing. Experiencing the difference in temperament between Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Ocean was plainly magic. My only regret is discovering the helicopter pad on the last night of the cruise. It’s not ideal for reading but a great place to sit and be still.
The ship housed around 4,000 people from all corners of the world. The process of embarkation to your suite was flawless and the service personalized. With 4,000 people it comes with no surprise that you find yourself waiting for elevators, so I highly suggest using the stairs during feeding times.
A Couple Onboard Tips & Tricks:
a. Dining options are amazing and flexible. There were two formal nights and the rest were causal dinning. Our dinning package did not include beverages. There are multiple beverage packages, however, I would highly suggest that you bring your own sodas, fruit juices and coffee/tea packets. The beverage packages are sold individually and ridiculously priced. We opted to buy one for regular beverages with Starbucks included and another package for liquor. According to my receipt; per day we drank 8 to 12 frozen coffee drinks, 10-12 virgin drinks and a whole lot of juice for breakfast. For $300 bucks we got our money’s worth.
b. Here is how to get the most for your money on a cruise ship: After getting settled in your cabin, run, don’t walk, to the onboard presentations. Not many people attend those and that increases your chances to win free excursions or gifts. Booking excursions on board is not the way to go. Now, if you must book, please compare between ship offerings versus the Internet. I found that the same excursions, on the non Royal Caribbean owned islands, were cheaper via Viator. Viator is a great traveling app featuring tours, day trips, and sightseeing from any destination around the world. I probably saved $100 or more using the app versus concierge.
Coco Cay (once called Little Stirrup Cay) is a Royal Caribbean private island that is situated in a collection of cays and small islands called the Berry Islands and is about 50 miles North of Nassau. a little less than a mile long, the blue clear warm waters and sea gulls of Coco Cay make it spectacular. While this was a gorgeous Island, I wasn’t fond of this experience because it was just an extension of the ship. The merchandise wasn’t local nor was the essence. It is all manufactured by the cruise line and lacked local flavor. There were passengers, however, who seemingly enjoyed it.
Upon docking in Charlotte Amerlie, St. Thomas USVI we opted to spend the day in St. John. St. Thomas is great for exploring on land but if you want to snorkel, head to St. John which is also home to magnificent hills, almost mountains, that provide astounding views of the area.
St. Maarten/St. Martin was a hit with the whole family. We all experienced it for the first time and it was the best by far. At my suggestion we hired a cab to give us a tour and land us on the best place to experience local culture. Perla, our driver, didn’t disappoint. She took us from the Dutch side to the French and explained the dynamics of this unique island, gave us the history and introduced us to THE BEST BEACHES EVER, Mullet Bay and Maho Beach. Maho beach is featured on “Ripley’s believe or not”. YOUTUBE it now! Mullet Bay is where post card pictures are taken. You must go.
Thanks to cruising, my family uncovered our favorite Caribbean destination. St. Maarten/St. Martin is definitely a place we will visit again in the near future.
– Taxi from the Cruise Port to Mullet Bay Beach for six people was around $60.00
– The trip included a mini-tour of the island.