Yes, based purely on economic grounds, we chose to sail on a BIG cruise liner through the Caribbean rather than a more boutique intimate gourmet ship (as widely recommended). We were definitely being brave. It’s cheap. If you want to travel a lot, such a compromise is often necessary.
This boat is an imposing 15 stories high (just with passenger floors and facilities) plus four more crew floors below level one. There are many pools and spas, many theatres and bars, a gym and running track, perhaps 8 restaurants, 14 elevators, 3500 passengers and another 1500 crew. She’s a big ship of 136,000 tonnes. Very big and one of the many that are invading the world, including several which now call Melbourne and Sydney ‘home’.
Parts of it feel strangely like the ship from Poseidon Adventure.
So what’s it like?
Well, most of the travellers are regulars. Very few are novices like us. They have grown up cruising with their parents and now they take their own kids. It’s a very family experience. It is enhanced by access to limitless food and beverages, the quality of which depends on the value of the expensive “drinks package” that most people buy. Most kids (and adults) walk around with giant Coke cups and fill all day on the soda fountains. It’s heaven for the sugar lovers! It shows.
One couple from Connecticut (medicos) that we talked to are gunning for Diamond plus, the highest and lifetime status across the fleet that gives them little extra perks like free drinks, their own lounge and no queues. They were most proud that they finally managed to also give their children Diamond status before they left home as adults. They would have this for life! What a gift!
It’s a little bit like Club Med or as one (out of place) American passenger put it, it’s like Wal-Mart on water. There is something for everybody. Almost everyone is from Central or North America and Spanish is spoken as commonly as English. There is so much entertainment provided but we haven’t engaged in any of it. It’s just not our style. We wanted rest and relaxation on this part of our trip.
Being so big and based in the calm Caribbean, you hardly notice the boat move. No rocking and rolling, no crashing of waves against the sides of the ship and absolutely no engine noise. It’s an engineering marvel that cost $500 million around 14 years ago. And the Caribbean is a peaceful sea.
We have a huge cabin with a balcony (we leave the door wide open and air-conditioning off as it’s 28 degrees every day and 27 every night. Humidity is acceptable and the gentle sound of the bow waves as we plough through the water is ever so lovely) and we could easily spend all day in our “Stateroom” and read our books if we chose. And enjoy free room service. But we haven’t really done this.
Well not after 10.00 am at least.
We have avoided the ship run tours and adventures in port and we have simply wandered around the small towns we arrived in … St Croix (pronounced St Croy and a US territory), St Kits (a British territory), St Martins (one half Dutch and the other half French territories), today independent Dominica (formally English) and tomorrow Barbados (formally English). All cricket crazy countries that come together to loosely form the once mighty West Indies Cricket team.
Most have been Spanish, English as well as US controlled over the past 500+ years of their recent histories, most had big slave populations, contain large stone forts and old cannon emplacements and now are at varying levels of independence from their older colonial masters. Rastafarians are very common. The locals are always smiling, genuinely friendly and seem really happy and proud. Some of these places are quite poor. Some are clean, tidy and pretty. Others are less so.
All well worth visiting.
The ship crew is very hard working and very friendly. They have to be. Most are selected from all around the world and work for years on the cruise ships hoping to eventually get a green card to work in the US. A bad report or poor guest rating sends them home. They work the 7-day cycle from (in this case) Saturday-to-Saturday, and then leave again that night. They work without a day off for 6 to 8 months straight. That’s a tough life.
So by picking and choosing the parts of the boat we wish to be involved with (and there are so many bars to hide away in … some with stunning views like the one we are in now … looks way down over the spires of the churches in the town as we pull away into the beautiful harbour), by carefully selecting the restaurants and the food choices (believe it or not, I can’t eat any more delicious crayfish for a while now … the food aboard can be really good … or really bad if you want) and by doing what we want when we want, we have enjoyed our relaxing voyage very much.
Would we do it all again?
Well, it’s not a tiny Gillett with 10 passengers cruising the islands of Croatia. That remains one of the greatest things we have ever done. The food is good and for a price, you can enjoy the premium offering. But they are still not like Trip Adviser selected restaurants. The accommodation is fine but I figure that by the 7th day, we will have had enough … and probably enough of the Caribbean too. Ship-life is fun but it’s not like a hire car with the freedom and photo opportunities that brings. But it is very relaxing.
So, glad we did it, but once for us is enough. But we can understand why many people come back again and again.