Hopping on a really big boat, part 1

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Cane sugar Beach, Tortola

wpid20666-2013-12-16-Caribbean-1160046.jpgCruising isn’t for everyone, but we like being able to unpack just once when we get on a ship and then check out several locations in a short amount of time.  We take cruises to find places we’d like to return to for a longer stay, and it’s nice to not worry about cooking, doing dishes or making our bed for a few days!

Between the two of us, Steve is definitely the cruise lover (although I don’t mind tagging along!).  This was our sixth cruise since 2000, and our second since we’ve been full-timing on the road.  Some things we’ve learned that might help if you’re booking your first cruise with Royal Caribbean:

If possible, be sure to get a balcony room.  Inside rooms, and even outside rooms with windows can be claustrophobic, and there’s nothing like being able to sit out on your balcony to read or enjoy your favorite beverage at the end of the day.

Consider the “early seating” for dinner, to maximize the entertainment options available on the ship in the evening.  You’ll also have more time to digest all of that amazing food before going to bed.

Shore excursions taken during the stops can get expensive.  You may find that catching a taxi to see an area is more affordable than what the cruise line offers.  Be careful to get a reputable ride, though; talk to the cruise travel person on the ship to learn how to avoid getting ripped off.  They are usually very helpful in this regard.  But if there’s an excursion that looks fun, take it!  Although they can sometimes be a bit rushed, they usually do a good job and the cruise line sanctions them.

Steve is partial to the beautiful islands of the caribbean, so this time he booked a 7-day southern caribbean cruise on board Royal Caribbean’s Jewel of the Seas.  Our ports of call were Tortola, British Virgin Islands; Basseterre, St Kitts;  Philipsburg, St Maarten;  Roseau, Dominica and Bridgetown, Barbados.  Following our three days of fun in San Juan, we boarded our ship and were off.

Southern Caribbean Cruise

Before the ship departs, a mandatory emergency drill takes place.  Every passenger must report to their muster area to learn the procedures.  It’s easy and fast, then the partying begins!

Muster Area, Jewel of the Seas

Muster area where the huge lifeboats hang, ready to go

It takes a day or two just to learn where everything is on these massive ships – this one had 12 decks total.  Although there are many elevators, we always take the stairs so we can burn some of the calories gained when we eat the wonderful meals.  During this cruise, Steve put on 7 pounds, and I hate to admit I put on 4. Oh my goodness, we have some serious exercising to do!

Jewel of the Seas

If you get lost, just refer to this map on each deck

Jewel of the seas

The fabulous atrium on Jewel of the Seas

Jewel of the Seas

I won a drawing at the spa and got some goodies!

San Juan Puerto Rico

Departing San Juan, Puerto Rico

Our first port of call was Tortola, British Virgin Islands.  Since we didn’t see any shore excursions that appealed to us, we went to Cane Garden Bay Beach to hang out and swim in the beautiful clear warm water.  Since it was on the far side of the island we got to ride over the mountain on the twisty road, driving on the left side of the road.  It was a bit hairy, but we had some great views of nearby islands.

Tortola, British Virgin Island

A rainbow greeted us as we arrived at Tortola – good times ahead!

Cane Garden Beach, Tortola

The beach was loaded with bars and restaurants – love it!

Our next stop was at St. Maarten, which Steve had been looking forward to for years.  Why?  Well, he had seen the Youtube videos of airliners coming in right over the beach to land at the airport there and he had dreamed of experiencing it firsthand.  So, we caught a taxi just off the ship and went straight there.

St Maarten

Someone is happy to arrive at St. Maarten!

We were fortunate to arrive at Maho Bay Beach early, because it turns out this is a very popular attraction.  We found ourselves a good table at the Sunset Restaurant and began partying at 9:30am as we waited for the first airliner to arrive. 

Maho Beach, St Maarten

We liked this “arrival board” for airliners

Most of the beach goers were here just to watch the planes coming in right over their heads.  This spot has become so popular that the restaurant aptly named their pizzas after airlines, and the entrepreneurs charged $20 for a beach chair!

Sunset Grill, Maho Beach

Pizzas were listed by “airline”, and very yummy

Maho Beach, St Maarten

This is so cool, you have to be here to experience it!

It’s not just the landings that people come to see, the takeoffs are pretty interesting too.  A large jet engine at full power can flip a car over, and we were amazed to see people blown across the beach as an airliner powered up for takeoff.  Fortunately, Steve had no desire to stand behind that one!

Maho Beach, St Maarten

Planes taking off can actually blow people off the beach and into the water

Click on the video below that I took of an airliner coming in right over Steve on the beach.  Believe me when I tell you he was in heaven!  This takes one off his bucket list.

The island has a simple way of directing traffic.

Why not stop for one of the island’s famous GuavaBerry drinks on the way back to the ship?

St Maarten

Back on the ship, we ogled our neighbors from France on the cruise ship Riviera next door.

Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship

Checking out the neighbors

Royal Caribbean Cruise

Cruise ship commute hour

St Maarten Sunset

Cruise sunsets – you only get one at each stop!

On several nights, our room steward put a smile on our faces by creating “towel animals” for us. 

Jewel of the Seas

Next up:  The other islands we loved in the caribbean sun!