Celebrity Cruise Day 5 – St. Thomas

St. Thomas in the morning

Day 5 of the recap of my recent Celebrity Cruise aboard the Solstice with my husband to the Eastern Caribbean for our honeymoon.

Today our ship was arriving bright and early in St. Thomas, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Shockingly for those reading this post, we had breakfast on our balcony. And to confirm, we had breakfast in our room each and every morning on this cruise that it was available. Unfortunately there is no option to have room service on the last morning. The choices were just awesome. We truly enjoyed our breakfast in our room each morning.

Our ship was scheduled to arrive in St. Thomas USVI at 7 a.m. I watched us pull in around 6 am, but we weren’t cleared through customs until 8 a.m.  Behind us came two other ships. We were docked at Havensight.

Great things about the port of St. Thomas in no real order:  1.) use US Currency, 2.) those with national service can use their cell phones in port, 3.) it’s easy to get around.

I am not typically a gal who does many shore excursions. I am a big fan of scuba diving, and the Eastern Caribbean is not known for their diving… I typically go on cruises to relax, not to be running from port to port doing activities. However, this was our honeymoon and I was bound to do something different than I typically would on a cruise.  I searched for a shore excursion prior to the trip, and found one that appealed to both of us.  It was a day trip (6 hours) on a sailboat.

To spend our day on the sailboat, we were told to taxi to Sapphire Beach Marina. This is the part that is always an adventure. Trying to get to your shore excursion at the time required. We got off the ship and asked someone in charge of taxi’s for a taxi to the beach. We were put on a taxi that was already leaving the port area. $10 per person and half hour drive in an open air taxi we arrived at the beach.

We spent the day on the New Horizon sailboat. The crew today consisted of a captain and a 1st mate.  There were about 12 people on board with us today- apparently there is typically more. They increase the crew if there are more passengers. The boat was set to make two stops on our day at sea. We boarded and were given a couple of bread options to choose from – chocolate and banana nut. We were also given a choice of juice/water.  We sailed to Honeymoon Beach– on St. John. We were left to snorkel or hang out on the boat. The water was very inviting. We jumped in for a swim and quick snorkel. The water was a bit more fun to swim in than to snorkel, but it was fine. The snorkeling does not compare to that in the Western Caribbean, but it was still fun.  After snorkeling they started serving drinks- mixed drinks, blended drinks, beer and pop.  The crew also set up lunch for us – pasta with meatballs, italian bread, green beans, fruit and brownies. It was a nice spread especially for being served on a sailboat!  We sailed on to Christmas Cove, on Great St. James. More snorkeling and more drinks. It really was a fun fun day!  [Email me if you are interested in booking this shore excursion for your upcoming cruise. christy@packyourpixiedust.com]

As an experienced cruiser, I felt comfortable booking a shore excursion on my own. With that comes the added responsibility of making sure you work out all the details – ship time vs. local time, the logistics of the transportation to the excursion, etc. The one advantage to booking the excursion with the cruise line is they figure all of that out, and just tell you where to meet – typically on the pier or in a lounge on the ship and at what time. Easy.  But some advantages of doing your own excursion are: you usually save money and you can try something different.

We had a couple of hours before the ship departed when we were dropped back off on the ship. We had the choice to do some shopping or head back to the cabin. I had never been to this pier before. The port I am used to has shopping in a normal city. This pier is in a small industrial area has the same shops as usual, but in small stores in rows of strip mall like buildings.  It would make shopping more convenient, because everything is close together. But it was just not inviting.

So, to our cabin we went – up the 10 flights of stairs from floor 2 up to 11. We snacked on cookies and snacks from our butler. If you were not in a suite or concierge class cabin, you could go up to floor 5 and have a snack from Cafe al Bacio (there is not a charge to eat the snacks here, only if you want specialty coffees). The other snack options in the late afternoon can be found at the Mast Grill or the Oceanview Cafe.

So, we had our snacks. And dealt with the sale of my husband’s house. (Which had to be done this week. Another reason to make sure you have valid Power’s of Attorney in place before you leave town. With the POA’s, my mother was allowed to sign on our behalf for the sale of his house.)

Dinner tonight was again in the Grand Epernay Restaurant (the main dining room). On the menu were the famous meatballs and short ribs. Since we had meatballs with lunch that day, neither of us ordered those. My husband ordered and enjoyed the short ribs. I had the NY strip steak from the ‘everyday’ menu. It was good. For dessert they served chocolate souffle, which wasn’t on the menu, but was offered.

That night the show was a husband and wife team of comedy and impersonations (Karen and Don Grainger). We did not attend as we were tired from being out in the sun all day.

Stay tuned for the next post – the final days at sea. Until then – Happy Travels!

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Celebrity Solstice Cruise Day 4

Rainbow on our approach to St. Maarten

This is my continued post about my recent Eastern Caribbean cruise aboard the Celebrity Solstice.  Click to start from the beginning.

We were mid-trip at this point, and really getting into the swing of things. Our fourth day started as always with breakfast in our cabin. We had to get an early start to the day because we had an excursion planned.  The Solstice was tendered in port in St. Maarten during our cruise which we found out about a month or so before the cruise. Tendering of course meant that you could be delayed in getting off the ship. On tender days, there are 3 ways to get off the ship. 1) have a suite, or be a frequent Celebrity cruiser and receive a priority tender ticket; 2) go stand in line the morning that you will be arriving in port and receive a tender ticket with a number to follow; or 3) wait until the ship announces opening tendering. We had a suite, so we received a priority tender ticket.

We were off the ship by about 9 a.m. ship’s time. This is something to note- Celebrity typically changes its time during the week to the local time throughout the week of the cruise. In the Caribbean, that time would be Atlantic time, one hour later than Eastern time. In fact, I was worried about arriving to my privately booked shore excursion because of the time change situation. But I was assured that the ship would be acting on local time. The first day of this cruise, they advised us that the ship’s time would not be changing for the week. So, local time was 10 a.m. when we arrived on the island of St. Maarten.

Our first impression of St. Maarten was not that great. The pushy people trying to sell us a beach chair on the cruise pier were not impressive. Every 20 seconds we had to contend with saying no to someone that we were not interested in their wifi, or their beach chair, or cheap beer, etc.  If you are interested in that sort of thing- know that it is readily available for you every 10 yeards.

I had a one p.m. scuba diving tour with Ocean Explorers Dive Center at Simpson Bay. The logistics of figuring out the transportation was a bit confusing. Since our ship was tendered, we did not take a water taxi into the port. This means that we were not where our directions told us we would be. We borrowed some local people’s cell phones and called the transportation company (numerous times throughout the morning.) Eventually we were picked up and driven to Simpson Bay. The view was beautiful during the drive. Ocean Explorers is on the beach, adjacent to a little bar called La Bamba. Apparently there was quite the wild party the night before as the place was a bit trashed. We were like 2 hours early for the dive so we went for a walk on the beach- there was a kayaking excursion occurring at this bay. After we just hung out at a table at La Bamba. This must be the norm because no one minded. Dave and I split a lunch consisting of a wrap and fries for about $10.  The food was tasty.  The dive was great. And we returned via the transportation company set up by the dive shop to pier to pick up the tender. A short wait and a bumpy tender ride and we were back on board. The water was CHOPPY all day today.

Back on the ship we headed up to the buffet for some snacks. A portion of the buffet was open since it was a non-traditional dining times. It was not crowded, but I am always amazed by the rude people who tend to appear at buffets. I was waiting in a small line for some cheese and bread. I was the last person in the line. The others got their cheese and off they went. I walked up to make my selection and some older guy came out of the side and just cut right in. And this was not one of those occurrences where he was in and out and I was not to his area. I had to wait to have access to the cheese. And to make things worse, he didn’t even use the tongs. While I am on the subject of buffet etiquette. People- please stop licking your fingers while in the buffet line and then touching the next set of tongs. No wonder noro-virus is so prevalent.  We use anti-bacterial after going through the lines to cut down on the transfer of other people’s grossness on to us.

Dinner was again in the dining room. It was nice to catch up with our table mates to see what they had been up to the last 2 days. It makes the meals so much more enjoyable. By the way- we had a table size of 6, and this to me is just perfect. You can interact with the whole table without having to be too loud. For me, it is the perfect sized table.

After dinner we retreated to the room. We were exhausted. Traveling all day, being out in the sun, plus the diving for me in some choppy choppy water, made it an exhausting day. That night on the ship the show was Ghostlight- The Spirit of Broadway. Celebrating the best music of broadway, past and present. At the end there was apparently a guest performance by the captain! It was enjoyed by those that attended. That night was also the Caribbean deck party poolside at 10:15. And before that they offered Wine & Cheese Concert on the Lawn. At 11 p.m. that night there had the Liars Club as their late night comedy show. All of those events sounded entertaining, I just did not have it in me. I was asleep by 9:30.

Thanks for continuing to read my blog. Sorry for the delay in the posts. I have a full plate with running my law office, and working as a travel agent. Life is full and busy right now!  Stay tuned for Day 5 – a day in St. Thomas.

Happy Travels!

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Solstice Day 3

This continues my review/recap of my 7 day Eastern Caribbean Cruise aboard the Celebrity Solstice. If you missed the first one, click to read it from the beginning.

Our cruise was scheduled to arrive in San Juan Puerto Rico at 3 p.m. So for most of the day it was similar to a sea day on the ship. We started our day as always with breakfast on the balcony. After breakfast we decided to take a walk on the jogging track on the 14th deck. The jogging track on this ship would be nearly impossible to jog on. First it is terribly windy while the ship is moving. But the bigger problem is that anyone moving around on this deck has to walk through the jogging track- there is no other way to get around. It is also very narrow. And then there is the issue of inconsiderate passengers putting their lounge chair on a portion of the track. So, it was fine for walking, but a bit irritating at the same time. After our walk, we stopped in the Ocean View Cafe for a snack of fresh belgium waffles- they are the best I have ever had on a cruise.

The afternoon involved reading for a bit, having lunch and then sitting out on the balcony as we approached San Juan. Once we saw land, we turned on our cell phones to check for service. We had a text from our realtor asking to call. From this call we learned that my husband’s condo was finally set to close- WHILE WE WERE ON THIS CRUISE. Apparently it could not be extended and it needed to close on that Friday. We learned that we could close by Power of Attorney (POA) which is just another reason that people should have their estate plan up to date before leaving for a week-long vacation out of the country- you never know when you will need it. Our POA’s were at my law office, and my assistant was able to get them over to the realtor.

Finally after doing a little work dealing with the sale, we debarked the ship in San Juan. The Solstice was docked at Pier 3. We headed out to the Coach store to see if there was anything worth buying (there wasn’t.)  Then stumbled into the Linen Shop that is so well-known. Finally, I was craving guacamole and chips (because apparently when I am on a cruise I want to eat every 2 hours.) We asked someone where to go and was lead to Lupis. It was not that impressive. One beer, 1 virgin daiquiri, and an order of guacamole and chips was $19 without a tip. In terms of the ports, it was the least annoying in terms of pushy island people trying to get you to buy things from them.

After walking around San Juan, and up 9 flights of stairs (our attempt to keep moving and help with the weight gain was to take the stairs) we relaxed a bit in our cabin until cleaning up for dinner.

Dinner tonight was at the Tuscan Grille around 6:45 p.m. In hindsight, I would not have ordered a guacamole snack prior to going here for dinner. There was so much amazing food and there was great service. The Tuscan Grille is one of the specialty dining restaurants on the Solstice. It is located on deck 5 (with all of the specialty dining locations) at the back of the ship. We asked for a table by the window, and were lucky to be seated at the last table. Since we were in port, we had a view nice San Juan.

Our meal started with a bread basket and some spreads, one of which was roasted carmelized garlic cloves. They had a roasted red pepper bread that was great. They then brought us an antipasta plate with prosciutto, melon, roasted veggies, mozzarella and olives. It was so good and we still hadn’t ordered yet.  Finally on to the ordering, I did not have room for an appetizer after the antipasta plate, but I was offered a choice of one. For the salad course, I ordered an arugula salad with pine nuts and fried goat cheese. It was definitely the best salad I have ever had. It was so flavorful. My husband ordered the caesar salad made table side which he really enjoyed. We each ordered the filet mignon for our main course. One of the meals offered baked mac and cheese which I asked for. This SHOULD NOT BE MISSED if you like this dish typically. It was so good, a little salty, but GET it!! We were already full, but were not about to miss dessert. We ordered gelato which was excellent of course. We also ordered the fondue, which was also good. We were just so full by the end of this meal.

I honestly enjoyed every bite of food from this meal. It was all so good. I am not sure, however, if I feel it was worth the surcharge. Would I come again? I am not sure… An extra $60 ($30 each person) above what the cruise cost… But I loved the meal, so maybe it is worth it… I don’t know. We received this meal complimentary because we were in a suite. If dining without paying the surcharge, make sure you tip the staff because otherwise they are not compensated for serving you. $10 (for 2 people) appears to be customary.

The evening show was Jason Bishop. According to the Celebrity Today he performs “stunning, state of the art magic and illusions.” I wouldn’t know as I did not attend. But both my spouse and our dinner companions thought that the show was good. My lack of going is one of the things that I enjoy best about cruises- I can decide that I do not want to do something, and my travel companion can attend the event, without any ill-will on either of our parts. Instead of going to the show I returned to the cabin to relax and watch a little tv.

We made it an early night since we would have a full day in St. Maarten the next day.

Until the next post – Happy Travels.

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Solstice Cruise Day 2

This is a continued post on my late January cruise honeymoon with my husband, to see the first post, click here.  The 2nd day of our Eastern Caribbean Cruise on the Solstice was a sea day.

I was up early (woke up naturally at about 6:30) and went out to the balcony to relax and to enjoy the quiet time. It was cool (the sun was just starting to rise) so I used one of the in-room robes.

My husband started the day with room service breakfast on our balcony. I had read on Cruise Critic that ordering breakfast on the interactive tv was not the way to go- you do not have as many options for comments and requests, i.e. crispy bacon please. Instead we used the menu card provided in the room and left it on our door the night before.  The selection was the best I have ever seen on a cruise ship. I will not go into too much detail, since I discussed the choices in my previous review of the suite. One comment that I did not make on the other post was the coffee was served in a nice stainless steel carafe. It was an amazing carafe. The coffee stayed warm for hours. It was even freakishly warm for a long time after being poured into the coffee mug. It was a magic combination.

We went up after breakfast to the pool for some lounging in the sun… It was windy and warm at about 9:45 in the morning. The one advantage to it being windy is that you do not feel too hot in the sun. Sadly, they had water aerobics for a half hour around 10:30. This was unfortunate because they put the instructor on the loud-speaker to give instruction to those at the pool. I would have probably picked a different location (further from the pool) had I known about this in advance. My husband, being a light-skinned boy, sat in the shade with his book. By noon, maybe a little before, the pool area was PACKED. It was the perfect time to get out of there!

We enjoyed lunch in the main dining room (MDR). I had a visor from my sunning and was asked to take it off upon entering the MDR.  There was at least one person wearing a cap at lunch that I noticed. But I do like that they try and enforce their dress code. We were seated in a 2-top off to the side. [Breakfast and lunch for most cruise lines in the MDR have open seating.] Lunch was enjoyable. It is similar to dinner in that there is a menu that you choose your courses from. Obviously the portions are smaller and there are fewer, but still ample, choices. For dessert my husband was a big fan of the banana creme brulee! He is still talking about it.

After lunch I retreated to the cabin to sit on the balcony. My husband went to the “Beyond the Podium Enrichment Series” on Pirates.His opinion of it was that it was interesting, but the speaker confused some of the pirates. His impression was that if she was unsure about a fact, she just made it up.  After, he came up to the room to find me napping on the balcony. We spent the rest of the afternoon lazily lounging and reading on the balcony.

Dinner again was at the MDR. Tonight was formal night. I cannot recall what the dinner choices were, but I recall that I really enjoyed the dinner.  After dinner we asked to see the dinner menus for the next two nights so that we could decide which night to go to the Tuscan Grille. We decided that we would go to the specialty restaurant on the night with our least favorite dinner choices. A note regarding the dress code- people take it seriously on this line. And the dress code is requested to be followed all night long.

That night the evening entertainment in the Celebrity Theatre was Solstice – The Show. It was a Cirque du Soleil style show. Prior to the show they had the Captain’s Welcome with a champagne toast. The dress code was carried through to the show. The Celebrity Today advised that they would not allow jeans, shorts or flip-flops. I did not see anyone breaking this rule, but I didn’t look that carefully either. The show was great, the stars were so talented! We had a great evening.

Stay tuned for day 3. Check out my facebook page for pictures from the cruise. Happy Travels!

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