A May 2002 trip
to Eastern Caribbean by melissa_bel
Quote: A short summary of my Cruise through the beautiful Eastern Caribbean.
Justin and I have chitchat with the lifeguard on duty and I go for a little walk around at the end of the beach to have another perspective. We swim some more and as I get thirsty, I decide to go to the snack stand and have a drink. This adds more to the intense feeling of bliss: a book in my hand, a cold drink, in the shade, surrounded by colourful flowers, with the soothing sound of the sea. But unfortunately, after a couple of hours, we have to go. If we want to have a chance to explore some more of the island, we have to head back to Charlotte Amalie, the island's capital.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on June 16, 2004
Attraction | "Orient Beach, St-Martin"
You can parasail, windsail... Snorkeling is not the best here though.
What can I say, I could spend the rest of my life here!
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on June 24, 2004
St. Maarten, St. Maarten/St. Martin
Needless to say we were exited once we arrived at Fort Lauderdale. The taxi ride from the airport is not expensive, the harbor being so close. If you have a car, know that parking doesn't’ come cheap ($12/day) so you might as well find some kind of arrangement if possible.
We bought our ticket online at the price of the lowest level inside cabin, having a guaranteed reservation but we didn’t choose our room yet in the hope we might be upgraded. And surprise, when we received our ticket, we were indeed upgraded to an outside stateroom with a partially obstructed room. So that is a thing to remember when you book a cruise. Once you arrive at the terminal, there are employees who are taking charge of the luggage you’ll be checking in (don’t forget the tip).
The embarkation is quite similar to what happens at the airport. You show your ID, your ticket and you receive your cruise card, which you must have at ALL INSTANT. It will be your embarkation card, your credit card on the ship (and on Princess Cays) and, of course, the key-card to your room. You go through the metal detector thing and you are on your way. Despite the number of passengers the ship was sold out which means they had to process 2600 passengers), we didn’t wait too long and everything went smoothly. Just before the gangway, a photographer is already there, prompt to immortalize the smiles on all those happy faces. My heart raced as I climbed on the gangway then stepped down on the boat for the first time. I could already feel a gentle rocking. And how beautiful! You access the ship via the Atrium, which is quite "Grand" with lovely tones of beige. The first thing you do is of course, go to your room and drop your stuff. We were quite in a hurry and exited. We took the glass elevator to our stateroom located on the Emerald deck (deck 8), approximately mid-ship. Since the atrium is in front of the ship, the corridor was quite long and it was quite impressive to see.
The room was just the right size, not too small but not big either (actually bigger than I expected) with two beds put together and forming a queen size bed, a mini-fridge, a desk on the right of the bed with a chair and a big mirror above (the old trick of the mirror to make a room loom bigger. And of course, a TV (which broadcast CNN, Discovery Channel, TNT, a Movie Channel (with movies that have not been released in video yet), the Princess Channel (which gives you information about what‘s happening on the ship), ESPN... We also had a big enough closet (in which there is a little safe) and a smaller one for T-shirts and underwear. The bathroom is small but that didn’t bother us. However, if you’re tall and/or large, fitting in the shower may be a little tricky. The ship has its own water-recycling unit and the water is probably one of the best I have ever tasted. Our window was partially obstructed indeed but, of course, it didn’t matter and we were not there to spend the day in our stateroom. Shortly after we entered our room, our stewardess came to greet us. Her name was Ana-Maria and it was her first time on the Grand Princess. She explained to us some of the basics of our cabin and the ship, showed us how the safe was working and asked us if we had any special request. Nice lady but I was able to notice a hint of authoritarian character. But she was impeccable during our entire trip. The great thing for those who like to eat is, as soon you embark, you can go straight to the buffet. Having had one of those deli-style bag on the plane from Chicago, we were quite hungry and headed for the Horizon Court.
Hopefully, one of the first thing you notice in the large room is a little plan of the ship you can carry in your pocket because it is quite easy to get lost in the first couple of days. The Horizon court is located on the Lido Deck (or deck 13) on the aft side of the ship. It was really crowded as a lot of people have the same idea as soon as they embark: eat! The buffet line was ornate with watermelon and ice sculpture and everything looked REALLY appetizing (especially the dessert). We sooned discover they were the best part of the buffet. I tried not to stuff myself already because I really wanted to enjoy my dinner in the main dining room.
I was so excited, I caught myself dancing on the island beat that filled the restrooms and the corridors. At 4pm, there is a mandatory Safety Drill. You won’t escape it since the stewards are checking every room.
You will have to carry with you your life jacket. On our way to our muster station, we already had our jackets on, playing sumos in the hall. After the drill (you will be pleased to know that there is enough lifeboats to fit all passengers in the improbable case you’d have to abandon ship), we decided to carry on visiting the ship.
Plaza Deck (5): The Plaza deck is the first thing you see when entering the ship. The atrium is three decks high and topped with a beautiful stained glass. A piano player is entertaining the guests at cocktail times and you can find many cozy chairs. There is also a lobby bar. You'll also find one of two Purser's desk. Just on the right of the purser's desk, you can find a nicely (although small) furbished library. I recommend going as early as possible if you don't have a clue of what to see on your trip, because the travel books are leaving fast. Just beside, you have Players, the card room that features also games like Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit), for those afternoons at sea, in case you really wouldn’t know what to do. There is also a writing room. On the back of the ship, you'll also find the Michelangelo, one of the main dining rooms.
The Fiesta deck (6): is the host of the Botticelli (which is only accessible by a rear stairs, which is weird) and Leonardo main dining rooms, princess boutiques, the casino (not too tacky and features some cool holographic sea life pictures) and the fabulous Princess Theatre which is two decks high.
The Promenade deck (7): Features well… the wraparound promenade which will become one of our favorite place, the Painted Desert, the Tex-Mex alternative dining option ($8 cover charge, margarita included), the Heart and Minds chapel where the captain can tie the lovers’ knot should you decide to get married. The Explorer Lounge has an Egyptian-Indian feel and is a venue for art auctions during the day shows and becomes a dance-hall and karaoke performance stage (passengers can also become performers on the last night of the cruise with the passenger’s talent contest).
The Wheelhouse bar has a gentlemen club feel. Here, the nautical theme is dominant and it’s very cozy. You will also find Sabatinni's, the Italian upscale dining option (6 course meal, $20 cover charge), and last but not least: the Vista Show lounge, one of the busiest places on the ship. During the day, you can watch movies, play bingo, attend lectures and at night, you can… also watch movies and see performances like stand-up comedians. A piece of advice, be early on performance night or you will be stuck behind a pillar that blocks your view. And going from the boutiques to the Vista Lounge, you have a big alley were the photo-service is installed. You will find your ship pictures on display and for you to purchase.
The Lido deck (12) is the second busiest deck on ship with two pools: the Poseidon Pool where all the action is and the Calypso Pool with its retractable roof (great for bad weather or cool sea breeze). By the way, you will find the Poseidon Grill by the pool that serves you the usual fast-food things (burgers’n fries) and the Pizzeria (go have a try, they’re delicious and there is a special pizza everyday). There is also Scoops, the ice-cream parlor, but you have to pay, it’s a Haagen-Dazs concession. Words of advice: if you come to the Horizon Court between 3:30pm and 5:30pm, vanilla and chocolate ice cream is available (with the indispensable fudges and cream). Further back, the Horizon Court that has 24 hours buffet and is Justin's favorite place. The aft Terrace is a very nice place to have your breakfast if you don't wake up too late (the heat sets it quickly) with the adult-only terrace pool down on the Aloha deck.
The main attraction of the Sun Deck (14) is the Plantation Spa. If you don’t feel like it (or can’t afford, it doesn’t come cheap) to have a massage, you can use the Lap Pool, the sauna and the gym. If you are thinking about having a spa treatment, it is better you go right away there and make your appointment as it gets all booked up very quickly. It’s also the area where kids are kings which the Fun Zone for the young ones and Off-Limits, a teenagers’ only nook. For the kids and kids at heart, there is also Voyage of Discovery, an arcade heaven but it’s not cheap! The Conservatory is a relaxing place, overlooking the calypso pool. Ideal for your afternoon tea.
The Sport deck (15) has a tennis court-volley-ball-basket ball court and a jogging track that runs all along the ship. There is a golf simulator as well, Princess Links.
And finally, the Sky Deck (17) which has perhaps the neatest feature of the ship: the Skywalker Lounge, a nightclub hanging above the rest of the ship and which gives the Grand class ships that distinctive look. To access the lounge, there is a glass walkway (that is all lit up with neon at night). The Lounge has floor-to-ceiling windows with a superb view during the day. If you go during the day, you won’t find anyone there and you can spend a quiet time.
And yes, you're not dreaming, there is no deck 13, 13 being an unlucky number, it's not mentionned. You go from 12 to 14 .
But the time to sail away was near and quick, we ran to the lido deck to see our departure. Justin and I thought we’d have the Love boat theme. Alas! I guess since they’ve been bought by P&O… But, with a Love Boat cocktail on my hand (with the colors of Princess: blue, green and white), sun in my eyes, music in my ears… Anchors off! We saluted Fort Lauderdale as we left and waved at people at the parking lot that was watching us … thinking that only six months ago, we were the ones standing in the parking lot!
The ship slowly backed up in channel and we were gone, everybody gathered at the back of the ship to see Fort Lauderdale disappearing with the setting sun.
On Princess, you have the choice for your dining option: fixed seating (at 6pm or 8pm) or Personal Choice Dining (you can come anytime you want). At first, we had chosen to have fixed seating at the 6pm service, just to try, knowing that you can change your mind afterwards. Because we would miss the sunsets if we carried on with the 6pm dining, we decided to go on Personal choice. But for our first dinner, we went ahead with the fixed seating. It’s always a gamble because you never know with what kind of dining companions you will end up. Ours were pleasant enough but that didn’t stop us from choosing PCD. Anyway, the question you are probably asking is: how is the food?
First, you have to know that the menu is changing everyday: French, Italian, the Captain’s Gala Dinner… and if really, you really don’t like what you see on the menu, you can always order from the permanent menu. The food is very tasty and well-presented although not exceptional. Each time we were there, the service was impeccable but if you come at a busy time, you might wait longer than you’d want for your food and drink (although it’s part of the experience of dining in any fine restaurants).
The Maitre D’ (they are all Italians in the three different dining rooms) are all great, using that Italian charm (especially with the ladies, but it’s part of the game) to put you at ease. So, no complains from that point of view.
We spent our first night aboard watching Ocean’s Eleven in the Vista Lounge and after that, we went to take a look at what was going on in the Princess Theater, we just arrived in the middle of a stand-up comedian‘s act. Unfortunately, I can‘t remember his name but he was really good. Not being a fanatic of Las Vegas style shows, we haven’t seen any but the comments I heard were very positive, I even heard "dazzling".
We also went to the Skywalker Lounge, which is really great at night, lots of people, nice light work, good music (we were just there for a "disco-mix, they have theme-parties too).
Finally, exhausted, we decided it was time to go to bed.
First thing’s first: breakfast. You can either go in the main dining room or at the Horizon court for a buffet-style breakfast. Then, it’s off to the pool. You’re not supposed to hog a lounger (if a lounger is unattended for more than 30 minutes, the staff can free it but I’ve never seen anyone doing it).
In the middle of the morning, it’s quite difficult to find a place around the Poseidon Pool. You have been warned. Hopefully, people come and go…
I tried the gym also; it is small but has the essential to keep you in shape. I shamefully have to admit that I gave up on the gym; the appeal of the pool and sun was too strong. Another advice, although it seems obvious: don’t forget the sunscreen and choose a high level SPF. Being from Mediterranean origins, I never needed any sunscreen that was over SFP 4. After spending an hour in the sun with an SFP 4, I was burnt. Yes, that tropical sun is harsh!
In the early afternoon, a band will come to entertain you with island beats music (for my cruise, it was Deep Blue from Trinidad and Tobago). The cruise director also organizes poolside games… Yes, I’ll admit it, I took part in one of them. My only reward was a medal (I thought they’d give us some shipboard credits. Cheap!). But there are lots of things to do during those days at sea: catching up on that book you wanted to finish, go see an after-lunch movie, take part to a trivia game, attend an "How to make your complexion brighter" lecture, play a game of Monopoly, be pampered at the spa or just bake in the sun.
You will barely realize it’s almost time for dinner. This means more activities! A country-dance lesson? Ballroom dancing? Magic? Casino? Shows? Movies? It’s your pick! The first complete day at sea was "formal night" which Justin doesn’t like much. I, on the opposite, couldn’t wait to put on one of my gowns. Unfortunately, with my burnt shoulder, I had to cover up a little with a shawl…
Uncle Albert describe us the main points of interest along the way, like that park dedicated to the Slaves freedom and were you can see sculptures of important people of the island. Then, we’re driving up towards the other side of the island to Magens Bay, as the car climbs up, we have a great view of the harbour and the city below and you can have a clear idea of how big the Grand is. May being the start of low-season, we are fortunately the only cruise ship here and Magens bay will probably be empty. We can get a glimpse of it through the dense tropical foliage and it looks promising.
Finally, here we are. Magens Bay is a park but It’ll only take you one dollar to get in. The view is stunning. Imagine, a crescent shape beach of powdery sand, a sea of intense blue, further away, an inhabited islet, coconut and palm trees, flamboyant and mountains surrounding the beach. It would be hard to find a beach that can fulfill one’s Caribbean fantasy. Magens Bay is being protected from harsh current and is very safe to swim. But Justin and me like waves but what the heck? *lol* The water is warm, fishes are swimming all around. It’s a dream. Justin and I have a chitchat with the lifeguard on duty, I go for a little walk around at the end of the beach to have another perspective. Swim some more… As I get thirsty, I decide to go to the snack stand and have a drink. This adds more to the intense feeling of bliss: a book in my hand, a cold drink, in the shade, surrounded by colourful flowers, with the soothing sound of the sea… But unfortunately, after a couple of hours, we have to go. If we want to have a chance to explore some more of the island… We head back to Charlotte Amalie.
As I said, Charlotte Amalie is a city of white and red: white for the walls, red for the roofs. It is a cute town which sometimes reminds me of Italy. It used to be a Danish possession and the streets bears 2 name (their Danish and English names). It also have some very distinctive architecture (like the clock tower). At a pub, I have my first taste of Caribbean brew… let’s say maybe I didn’t choose a good one. Charlotte Amalie is shopping heavens but Justin and I, not being really interested by jewelry, made-in-China pareos… skip it and walk through the city streets, past the tourist area. As soon as you live that little shopping area, the town changes, it is poorer but it is real life. People walk at a slow pace, a police woman in front of a school is controlling traffic, sheltered from the sun by an umbrella. It’s indeed time to get out of school for these kids.
A group of majorettes, twirling their batons and babbling walk past us, another little girl on her way back home has to climb stairs that doesn’t seem to have an end. Further away, a market is folding. A shame we weren’t here earlier. We have a little talk with a man who who was sitting here. Aah… the legendary Caribbean outgoingness! But it’s time to go back to the ship. Unfortunately, the only drawback of a cruise is that there is not enough time for discovery ashore. One our way back, we’ll bring some rum bottles, that is mandatory when you go to the Western Indies! As the sun goes down and the evening settles down, leaving the beautiful bay and Charlotte Amalie behind, I hope it’s not a farewell.
In short: St-Thomas is very pretty. Those amongst you who don’t feel comfortable with a lot of exoticness, be reassured: this is the US Virgin Islands. They even have a baseball park. It is probably too touristy for my taste but Magens Bay really blew my mind. Would I go back? Yes, but I’ll take a ferry to St-John this time although I really wouldn’t mind staying there a few days.
First of all, we had to buy some supplies for the day. On our way to find a supermarket, we cannot help but notice the KFC’s, Burger King and McDonald’s… sad. We come in contact with out first foreign money: the Netherlands Antilles Guilders. Euro is the official currency of the French side and US Dollars are accepted everywhere. We only had a glimpse of Philipsburg but, nothing spectacular stood out. After figuring out which way was were, we ended up going counter-clock wise. Passing the Simpson’s Lagoon that was full of boat, You barely notice you go through the French-side (only a monument and a sign tells you you’re in another country). Soon, here is Marigot, the French Capital, which looks very pleasant. We will have to come and visit. Then, the road goes up with lots of twist and turns and beautiful scenery, passing by Savane (Savanna) which looks like a little corner of Africa, I was expecting to see a lion coming out. Then its Grand Case with its restaurants and… here, signs for Orient Bay, the place we wanted to go. After a drive through the beautifully laid out gardens of the holidays villas that are filling Orient Bay, here we are. How can I describe the color of the water? I have never seen a blue so intense it was literally glowing, like a fluorescent blue. The sea was much ore agitated than at Magens Bay, which definitely made our day. The beach is probably a mile long, soft on the feet (so soft that while in the water, my feet were buried up to the ankles in a few seconds) and dotted by cool beach clubs. A change from the secluded atmosphere from Magens Bay. We rented loungers and an umbrella (15$) and off we go to the sea. The temperature of the water was probably in the higher 70‘s, lower '80's (never had experienced such a warm sea water). Now, Orient Bay, besides being one of the Caribbean’s most beautiful beach, is also renowned for its clothes optional area. Yep, naked people casually strolling around the beach, even out of Club Orient, the nudist part of the beach (after all, anybody can take a walk, no?). As a European, it’s not a big deal to me but for some fellow passengers, their reaction was either a big laugh (mix of unease and surprise) or a consternated look. We had a great time there but once again, it was time to leave after a few hours. We decide to carry on toward Philips burg to complete the circle around the island and go back to Marigot. The first impression of Marigot is… to really be in a small provincial French Town. Knowing France quite well, the impression is even stronger: the street signs, the stores, the cars (lots of Renault). Marina Port-La-Royale is a lovely yachts heaven with cafes and restaurants overlooking the boats. The market square (financed the European Union) is empty but seems convivial, above the harbour, on a cliff, stands Fort-St-Louis, which was constructed to defend the island from aggressions. The houses are along the water are really pretty and gives a cachet to the town. Upscale boutiques are all around, beautiful houses with lush front yards… After more than an hour walk, we decide it is time to go check out Philipsburg and those famous "sweet deals" this duty-free part is supposed to offer you. Well… if you are not into alcohol, cigarettes or jewels, you might find it hard to find something worth bringing back. The prices are similar to the US, sometimes even more expansive but you don’t pay any taxes. One thing I did bring back was my favourite brand of Belgian chocolate which is impossible to find in the US so, I’m not complaining *s*. Apart from the Courthouse and an old church, Philipsburg is quite a bland town, sorry to say but strangely, the population is more mixed than the French side with Arabs, Indians, Blacks, Dutch, Americans, Latinos living there. The French side is more "white". The Dutch side is livelier too and I wish I could’ve remained longer to see the stretch Along Simpson Lagoon coming alive at sunset. After our little walk, it was time to drop the car back and go back to the ship.
In short: I loved St-Martin, especially the French side and I definitely recommend it. This island has a lot of things for everyone: beautiful beaches, fine dining, good entertainment… And every time I’m looking at Orient Bay picture, I am still amazed at the colour of the sea. It has two very different flavors: the sophistication of the French-side and the laid-back attitude of the Dutch side. I would definitely come back.
St-Martin/St-Maarten has another advantage: it is close from a lot of islands like Anguilla, St-Eustatius, Saba, St-Kitt's ans Nevis and St-Barths and boat trips (sometimes taking only a few hours which is great for a day trip) can be easily arranged. I cannot wait to swim in those waters again.
Want a quieter place (and have a better chance to find a lounger with a palm tree that shades it? It’s better to go to South Beach. The water, once again, is a different shade here: a bright turquoise-green colour. Nautical activities are a big thing here. But so is beach volley (I probably spent more than 2 hours playing). At midday, a barbecue style buffet is organized and if there is something I like, it’s eating by the sea, especially after some physical exercises… Only problem? The sand in your food *lol*. Doing nothing is also something you might want to try. Unfortunately, the ship stays here only 5 hours and in the middle afternoon, it is time to go… we embark for the last aboard the ship and we’re off for Port Everglades. You might want to know that the last night is somewhat depressing, it seems like a lot of people is in their cabins. It was also the night of the passenger talent search *lol*. Princess requires you have your luggage ready before 11pm so they can be ready for disembarkation.
In short: Princess Cays is really a relaxing spot and it is really an enjoyable conclusion to the trip. No walk longer than a mile to do, if you like action, you can rent a sail boat, or play sports, you can also sleep in the shade of coconut trees (God knows how that sea sound is soothing).