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To cruise or to stay on island? - My impressions...

To cruise or to stay on island? - My impressions...

Old Jan 27th, 2005, 04:50 AM
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To cruise or to stay on island? - My impressions...

My mother in law has been after us to take her on a cruise for years, and although it did not sound like something we would prefer in a vacation, she is getting along in years, so we relented.

We have been traveling to the Caribbean a few times a year since getting addicted to the region in 1991, but had never considered a cruise for various reasons.

After doing a lot of research, I chose Celebrity's Southern itinerary due to that line's reputation for good food and fewer children, as well as to revisit islands we had enjoyed in the past and seeing two we had not been to.

The ports of call were: San Juan, Dominican Republic, Barbados, Grenada, Antigua and St Thomas.

We stayed the day/night before in San Juan, the embarkation port, (see I learned all kinds of neat terminology!) and it is a very good thing we did as they lost all of our luggage and did not get it to us until after midnight. My husband joked that he was going to have to attend formal night dinners in a Bob Marley T shirt and a jock strap. (SOOOO glad they found it.)

San Juan was delightful, and we enjoyed our short stay at the new Sheraton San Juan (was the Wyndham but has been remodeled and is nice). We had a super dinner at Baru, and walked around after dinner and the next morning. We plan to return for a few days. There are all kinds of things to do and see there - especially if you like history and architecture - as we do. If you are bored by old buildings and walking tours, don't bother with Old San Juan.

The boarding process (2,000 people over the course of a few hours) was not bad at all and soon we were receiving a welcome champagne and beginning the exploration of the ship.

I compare the ship itself to a VERY nice large hotel in a big American or European city. (Constellation launched in 2002.) We found our cabin - which I had chosen for its low deck and mid-ship position because mil gets motion-sick easily. Cabin as expected - small but pleasant, with enough room for two comfortably with a nice window about 3' in diameter.

Since this is a Caribbean forum and not a cruise forum, I'll end my description of the ship here, and move on to the islands and my overall impression of the cruise.

Dominican Republic - We did a countryside tour here that encompassed a sugar cane plantation: fascinating! They harvest the cane by hand and use oxen pulling wagons to transport the raw cane to train cars - wow! Next was a cockfighting farm, a cigar-rolling factory, through downtown Santo Domingo, and a shopping stop. We picked up some local coffees and rum. I would return to DR as either a last-minute trip with amazing rates or for just a few days, but not for a longer trip.

The next day was at sea as we traveled to Barbados, and it was pretty much a non-stop party by the pool with live music and lots o' booze.

On Barbados, we did the Harrison Cave's tour, Mount Gay Rum distillery tour, had lunch on the beach, and went to downtown Bridgetown for shopping. I liked Barbados a lot, but don't know that I'd return as it is pretty far to fly and we like the smaller islands. I found the people very friendly - even downtown - and a simple "no thank you" and a smile worked fine for taxi drivers and vendors.

Grenada - One of our favorite islands! We had made arrangements ahead of time with the Red Cross and the SPCA to visit, so we left the Aunt and MIL on the ship and boarded the local bus to the Red Cross with a 50lb duffel and five plastic bags of clothing. Everyone was very nice about accommodating the bulk and helped us load and unload it. A policeman at the pier offered to let me use his cell phone when I asked him where a pay phone was - how sweet!

On the way, the devastation to the island from Ivan was very apparent, but I can tell you that they have made HUGE strides in recovery, and we will not hesitate to go back for two weeks later this year. Both the Red Cross and the SPCA had major damage to their facilities, and were very grateful for donations. (grenadaspca.org & [email protected])

Lunch at Nutmeg on the waterfront was great. Rotis! Yum!

Antigua was the next day, and for some reason, Antigua is the only island we have been to that we found the people a little cool when we went in 1994. Here, we went downtown to St Georges and wandered around for awhile popping into shops (got a great cotton gauze cover-up) having some local rum and buying the obligatory reggae and dancehall CD's from a street vendor.

We witnessed a mini-riot among the taxi drivers. (They are trying to organize the method by which they assign cabs and the drivers were angry.) As usual in the Caribbean, there was a lot of shouting and arm-waving and then the whole thing was over in about 5 minutes. Took a taxi to Dickenson Beach - really lovely - and had lunch at Coconut Grove. Again noted that people were not quite as warm as on the other islands. We DID get to see a great guy we had bought woodcarvings from 10 years before though. Neat. He recognized us immediately.

St Thomas - I had very grand plans for St Thomas as we have not gotten to see much of it on our other stops there except for downtown, but things did not pan out as we got hung up on shopping in Charlotte Amalie. (The Aunt and mil's preferences.)

Best to go early in the morning as town gets unbearably HOT. First stop was Zora's for another pair of sandals. She makes sandals by hand ans has been there for over 30 years. I was so thrilled with my first pair, that I had to have another. They are pricey, but I wear them so much that they pay for themselves. Treat yourself!

After lunch at Gladys' (good, but out of oxtail - darn!) I had planned to go to St Thomas dairies for an alcoholic milkshake on our way to Magen's Bay, but the other ladies did not want to go the beach. The ship left at 4:30, so we really did not have time anyway, so we did more shopping. I like AH Riise. We missed seeing our Rasta friend Watusi by only two days (he was in Jamaica recording), but we did get to see his friend One Love and his donkey Oprah - which wears lipstick and red hoof polish and walks around with him to take photos with tourists. Hilarious!

Back to San Juan and the end of the cruise.

Summary:

Cruising is GREAT for:

Getting a taste of different islands to determine if you'd like to return

Dressing up in your finery and enjoying good food in a beautiful atmosphere

Gambling - ship had a very nice casino

Entertainment - ship had good to excellent shows and acts

Partying - pretty much non-stop with various "themes"

Excitement - the whole experience was so new and different, and being on board this huge ship with all kinds of places to see and things to do was fun

NOT GREAT if:

You really want to experience the people, food and culture of an island. There simply is not enough time to even scratch the surface.

You want privacy and seclusion. There are 2,000 people in a space the size of a large hotel. We never felt packed in, but we travel in off-season for fewer people, and this is definitely not a "fewer people" situation.

You are bothered by people who make silly, ridiculous, prejudicial, uninformed comments about a region you may be familiar with. This one was annoying, but not a major problem. Many of the people on the ship never got off, yet consider themselves to be seasoned Caribbean travelers, and say the most amusing - sometimes offensive - things.

You get seasick. Was not a problem for me, but mil had one bad evening when we got way out into the open sea on the way to St Thomas.

You are expecting authentic Caribbean food and entertainment. The music played by the party band was standard stuff like "Hot Hot Hot" and "Yellow Bird." The fresh fish was very good, but there was no attempt at local food at all. (This crowd would probably not like it, but at least they could have had one local food item on the menu.)

My overall impressions...

My favorite things: Getting back to islands I love, seeing new islands, meeting new people on each island, "dressing" for dinner, being able to go dancing without having to worry about getting a taxi there/back, seeing the sea rush by my cabin window only a few feet away, the international staff on the ship - great folks, packed a lot into a short time.

Things I didn't like: spending such little time in each port, too many people around - some very supercilious, food uneven.

So... would I do it again? Yes, but only if I could get some kind of super deal. Our bar bill for one week for 4 people was $2,000. (YES! $2,000.) $500 of that was champagne because my mil wanted that almost every day and it was $68 per bottle. Drinks were expensive and you're not permitted to bring alcohol on board. One or two bottles of wine every night with dinner, etc. None of us are what I would call big drinkers - 2 glasses of wine each with dinner, and a few cocktails during the day, but it adds up fast.

My impression of cruising has changed a lot, but we hated to leave each island so soon and we missed the local bars and food and parties and meeting people on the islands to lime with.

Cruising will NEVER replace island travel for us, and I am already planning trips for later this year.

Happy travels - by WHATEVER method you choose!
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Old Jan 27th, 2005, 05:47 AM
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Great trip report, Diana! You are a saint to put up with a, let's say, challenging MIL. My husband and I are alot like you and yours, much prefer the island local experience over the canned cruiseship. However, cruises really are tailor-made for groups with different ages/preferences. Did you book your own excursions or go with the cruiseline? We find that booking on your own saves money and lends itself to a more intimate experience. I can still remember being on a day sail in Nassau, on a beautiful wooden ship with 15 people, watching the "cattlemarans" motor by with 100 people packed like sardines - their captain not even bothering to raise the sails.

Sorry to hear about your cool reception on Antigua. The island with 365 beaches was on my short list before this...

I can just picture you guys hauling all those bags on board the cruiseship - that must have been kinda funny - matching luggage, I'm sure the porter thought? Very kind of you to support the island folk!=D>
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Old Jan 27th, 2005, 06:06 AM
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Hi joan! The only excursion I booked through the ship was the one on DR because we had not been there before and I have heard there can be safety issues.

I agree totally with you though on the ship-sponsored tours. For one, they are ungodly expensive, and they just pack people in as you mentioned. "cattlemarans" - that's hilarious. I have seen them so many times from shore where I sat with a fruity drink in hand and remarked on how NOT fun that looked!

I'd hate for you to miss out on Antigua if you think you'd really like it. We were there for a week in 1994 and just one day this trip, so it really isn't like we spent a lot of time there. Many people really love it, so don't mark it off your list just based on a couple of impressions.

Actually, we had all of the clothing to donate in one HUGE dive bag, but we knew it was too big to get that thing in the local bus (which we love to take for the experience alone, not to mention the cost), so we broke it down into the duffel which hubby carried, and plastic shopping bags which I carried.

The people at Red Cross told me that some children were abandoned after the storm, and so they really need kid's clothes.

I don't have children, so I went to the store and got kids undies in bright colors to add to my clothes and shoes I was giving. Made us feel so good to help and plan to do so again when we return in fall.

We saw quite a few multi-generational family groups on board, and that is definitely the way to go for family trips/reunions - something for everyone!
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Old Jan 27th, 2005, 06:23 AM
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Thanks for your post, Diana. My husband and I have been reluctant to cruise for the very same reasons you mentioned, but we have friends who have been trying to persuade us for a couple of years now. The only cruises that look appealing to me are the smaller ones, like Windjammer where the price is right, or the Windstar or Seabourne lines that must be populated by people from another tax bracket. I don't know if we'll ever give in, but if the price were an incentive we just might...

I'm very sorry that you didn't enjoy Antigua more. It and now Jamaica are the two islands where we received the warmest welcome and were befriended by several locals.

Bless your sweet soul for putting your money where your mouth is by taking time out from your vacation to pitch in and help out in Grenada. I'm glad to hear the island is recovering. I'd love to hear more about places you recommend there, either villas or hotels, as it has been a place on my wishlist for a long time. I had narrowed my trip in November down to Nevis and Grenada and Nevis won out. Maybe Grenada late this year or sometime next...
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Old Jan 27th, 2005, 06:47 AM
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ejcrowe,

I know just what you mean. I liked the looks of Windstar and Seabourne myself, but my husband was paying for all four of us - gulp - and something had to give. I read Windjammer gets a little wild these days for our tastes.

On Antigua, I think that our problem was that it was only the second island that we had ever been to, and we spent a lot of time at the resort and it was an AI to boot. I really don't think we gave it a fair chance, and that's why I tried to encourage joan to continue to check it out if she thought she'd like to go there. Glad to hear you had such a good experience.

On Grenada, we stayed at Spice Island, but it was heavily damaged and not open at this time or soon. La Luna looks REALLY nice and that's at the top of our list for this trip. We plan to spend two to three weeks there divided with at least a week on Carriacou.

Thanks for the kudos... quot;> I had all those summer clothes and shoes just lying around. It was so funny, once I decided to do it, a lot of things I came across became "unwearable."

You will love Grenada. It is just the most amazing place, and I can't wait to go back. Two short highlights I didn't mention...

We got off the local bus coming back from the Red Cross at the "bus station" back in town and decided to stop in one of the little rum shops to see if anyone recognized the guys in a picture we took of an impromptu beach party we had last visit.

At our beach party, there was a Rasta in a straw hat, a guy with a guitar, and two brothers. We sang Bob Marley songs, talked and had a great time all day, and took a few pictures.

The place we stopped, they did know the fellows, and we all then had a great time limin' and listening to music. We had two copies of the photo, so they took one to give to the guys, and put the other up on the wall where they said it will still be when we come back this fall. One word of caution, DON'T try the local rum. Whoo. I didn't have any, but my husband did and I thought he was going to stay and open a vegetable farm on Grenada with one of the other guys.

We were standing there talking to them and my mil and DH's aunt happened along. We walked around town for awhile - bustling with activity and the sounds of hammers and saws and repair underway - and we found a little local place to get a beverage and sit out in front and watch the world go by.

The elderly proprietress was cooking lunch, and the place smelled heavenly with fresh spices and simmering meat and vegetables.

Everyone who walked by spoke pleasantly to us all, and the two ladies with us were so amazed at how friendly everyone was.

I know you will love Grenada if you go, and I sure hope you have better weather than you did for Nevis.

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Old Jan 27th, 2005, 06:50 AM
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Thanks for the report Diana. We have always said we thought cruising would be too limiting. And, like you, we love getting to really know an island. However, we chose to throw in an extra vaction in 2004 and try one. We chose the Radisson Seven Seas. We enjoyed that there were few children. Dinner includes an open bar and there were several parties that were open bar. They have small ships and we met the nicest people ever on vacation. The ship we were on was an all suite, so it was large. If we cruise asgain in the future, this wil be the line we stay with.
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Old Jan 27th, 2005, 06:50 AM
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There is so much more to Barbados. Don't let the perceived distance fool you into not going. There are non-stops from N.Y. and Miami which get you in only an hour or so longer than the northern islands, and faster than if you had to change planes along the way.
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Old Jan 27th, 2005, 09:06 AM
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Diana
Enjoyed your trip report very much. Sounds like you had a nice time and it was interesting to get your perspective. I think I'll stick to going to an island exploring and day tripping to other islands. Next stop for me St John and sailing in the BVI. While I agree it is a great way to see if you would want to go back to an island, it also seems like cramming a lot into one day. You did however see and do alot. I like things a little more relaxed. Loved joans comment about "cattlemarans" LOL. I have never heard that one before but sure is fitting! As for the bar bill, wow! That is lame that they won't let you take alcohol on the ship. We like to have a drink in our room before dinner. More money for them I guess.
That was wonderful what you did in Grenada and I'm sure they will appreciate everything very much.

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Old Jan 27th, 2005, 09:55 AM
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Great trip report. Sums up things nicely about cruising vs. staying on an island. We finally did a cruise in 2002 and we enjoyed ourselves.....if just for the novelty alone. Would we do another cruise.....probably sometime in the future, but not before we do more island exploring. We also chose Celebrity.
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Old Jan 27th, 2005, 10:12 AM
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Thanks for the additional stories--I love tales like that! I agree that LaLuna looks very nice and we have friends who honeymooned there shortly after it opened, but I want to go down for around 10 nights and it would be too much money for the whole time. I'd love to spend 2-3 nights there or possibly Calabash (which doesn't get mentioned much on this board, for some reason) and then some time at La Sagesse. Now I'm reading lots of wonderful things about Bel Air. Do you have a take on any of those?

And while I'm picking your brain, can you tell me a little bit more about the Lighthouse Villas on Tortola? Specifically, what kind of walk was it from the beach up to the room--more of a hike than a walk? And you said once that it was a little pricey for what you get--could you elaborate? Many thanks!
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Old Jan 27th, 2005, 10:33 AM
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Diana, you touched on the very reasons that my husband and I have yet to take a cruise. We always want to spend much more than a few hours in any one place in the world in order to really get to see everything and experience the local culture.

On the other hand we keep saying that we want to take a cruise one day just to be able to experience that type of travel, as well. I'm just always afraid I will regret not having more time at any particular destination.

I agree that everyone has a different travel style and I can certainly appreciate the wonderful things about cruising. Thanks for your helpful and insightful report.
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Old Jan 27th, 2005, 10:35 AM
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Great trip report. First, I must say that I have never cruised for fear of getting motion sickness. I know you mentioned your Aunt. Did it ever feel like you were on water? I know that sounds silly, but did the boat rock at all?
Next, I must commend you on being so thoughtful to bring clothes to the people of Grenada. And it is so sad that some children have been abandoned. How tragic. We are so fortunate in this country (US). We all cried when we lost power for a week during Hurricane Isabel. It seems so pathetic and trivial when you see other countries devasted like Grenada or the latest tsunami victims.
Anyway, not to get all soppy here. I just think that was very nice of you.
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Old Jan 27th, 2005, 10:41 AM
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Diana and ejcrowe, I'll confess that I am a recent Seabourn addict and not in a stratospheric tax bracket either !

I have to agree with you that cruising is no way to really get to know an island but, on Seabourn, it's a heckuva way to have a good time !

Diana, the extra cost of Seabourn cruises is greatly offset by the fact that virtually everything is included in the price, and, yes, that means champagne which flows freely. $2000 worth of booze for no extra cost in your case...think about it! (Exclusions are the Spa, photos and land tours although there's always one that is included)

There are some very well priced Seabourn cruises as well as ways to ensure that you board with a $500US shipboard credit. Trust me, you can sail Seabourn without robbing the bank !

Plus the other passengers (maximum 200 or so) are really pretty seasoned travellers and not likely to let fly with some of the offensive nonsense you encountered (and that we see from time to time on this board).

It's also a line with no special facilities for children and teenagers - which means there aren't many...and that is also a plus for some.

Seabourn will get you into smaller, and less touristy, ports than the behemoths.

And then there's the service, and the excellent food, and the spacious suites, and the Moulton-Brown baths...

The Seabourn entertainment is higher quality than I have seen on other lines, but did not make any particular bows to the itinerary - I think that's a flaw.

On the other hand, the chef tries to use fresh ingredients and as much as possible (going with him to the local markets is a gas).

The seasick factor is probably about the same. The Seabourn pool is a joke but it's there. The work out facilities and classes are very good (and also free).

Anyhow, all this to say, that for your next trip with your high maintenance MIL (or just to be nice to yourselves), try Seabourn.
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Old Jan 27th, 2005, 10:43 AM
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BTW, great post Diana and all - this is a really interesting thread
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Old Jan 27th, 2005, 02:14 PM
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Knowing, I have heard really good things about the Radisson line. They have good specials sometimes as well. Glad you enjoyed it!

xkenx, WHen we go on a trip, we usually stay for two to three weeks, so I'd not be averse to going back. We loved the people, and some of the beaches look really nice. Maybe when the Crane remodeling is done...

brenandg, you will love the BVI's/USVI's. Maybe you will have the nerve to do what is necessary to get a T shirt from the Willie T. I didn't quot;>

ejcrowe, all of the places you mentioned get good reviews. I also think 12 Degrees North looks nice. I am a total (admitted) wuss when it comes to A/C for sleeping, so I have to have a place with that. It leaves some nice options out.

The walk from the beach to Lighthouse is very short - just a couple of minutes - it's really just across the street and up a little ways. Lighthouse is very nice, but I am used to staying in some of the better resorts for what they charged. I think it was $263 per night beginning November 1, and I thought that was very high for the amenities. (No pool, restaurant, bar, not oceanfront, etc.)

It's very clean and comfortable, but pretty basic. Sugar Mill is much more along the lines of what I would expect to get for that kind of $.

girlonthego, the boat we chose is one of the larger, newer ones - Constellation - and I know that makes a difference as far as if rough seas are encountered. In port, you cannot tell at all you are moving, and until you get out on the open ocean, you can't feel much movement. Even at its worst, I found it kind of interesting and not at all disturbing, but it was funny to walk on dry land and kind of wobble from one side to the other for awhile. I would say that if you are prone to motion sickness, to get Bonine and the patch to take along to be used only if needed. Out of the four of us, my MIL had problems only for a few hours one night, but that might be due to the patch she was wearing and that she may have had a bit too much to drink. She did not get sick and once she laid down she was fine. The rest of us never even got a little queasy nor did we ever take anything for motion sickness during the trip.

curiousx, I will DEFINITELY have to look into lines where liquor is included with this crowd! Seabourn appealed to me because of the ports they go to. I really want to see the Grenadines. You need to get a commission. You made it sound so wonderful!

To all, I can't tell you how glad I am that we made those small contributions while we were in Grenada, and I appreciate all your kind comments. We wanted to give something back to a region that gives us so much joy, and we are already planning to continue this type of activity during future visits. Like girlonthego, I was so sad to hear that there were actually children abandoned on the island after the storm. My heart goes out to them.

I agree, this thread has really been enjoyable, and I have especially liked hearing about others' reasons for not cruising, and those who have had great experiences cruising.
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Old Jan 27th, 2005, 04:03 PM
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It startles me to hear that Diana was told that child abandonment was a problem on Grenada after Ivan. My impression is that the Grenadians would take in any child who lost his/her parents. It's also such a small island that it seems that the parents of any "abandoned" child could be tracked down. The idea just seems to go against my idea of what the Grenadian character is like.
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Old Jan 27th, 2005, 04:49 PM
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marigold, I understand what you are saying, but I was given this information by two different Red Cross workers on Grenada.

There is a chidren's home there, and you are more than welcome to enquire if you would like to help.

I don't think anyone who has not been there could begin to imagine the scope of the devastation.

Many people lost literally everything that they own, and insurance is to a large degree non-existent.

I don't think many of us sitting warm and comfortable in our spacious homes can begin to imagine the scope of hardship these people have faced.

If people cannot feed all of their children during this time, turning them over to a children's home is their only hope for them...
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Old Jan 28th, 2005, 04:55 PM
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Diana,
Great report! Excellent rundown on the pros and cons of cruising. I've never been much for cruising myself, in the past bashed it until I took a transatlantic crossing on the QE2. But that was a different ball of wax...no port calls, just 6 days at sea and we loved it! Though it was more of an oceanliner than a cruise ship. Plan to take the QM2 over this summer. Great way to get to Europe, arrive with no jet lag
I just couldn't ever take one in the Caribbean for the reasons you mentioned. I would however love to take one to areas of the world only reached by ship, such as parts of Alaska and there's one that stops at Pitcairn in the South Pacific, for example. Again, great report...happy travels!
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Old Feb 6th, 2005, 05:22 PM
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Diana,
My mother has organized a "girls" trip to celebrate her 60th bday...We will take the same cruise that you took on the Constellation on Celebrity Cruise Lines. I have a question for your about the excursions. We would like to get off the boat at every port...but don't really want to do the ship organized trips. We are thinking about just catching cabs and going to the local beaches or shopping areas. How would you recommend finding out what local beaches or area are good and safe?

Please advise.

Thanks
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Old Feb 7th, 2005, 03:24 AM
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kleinjk,

The only port we did a ship-organized excursion in was the Dominican Republic. We did the Countryside Tour, and I highly recommend it.

That is the only port in which I would recommend you not go off on your own.

All of the other ports are quite safe and there's a lot to see. I would recommend the cruisecritic.com site for you.

Go to the Celebrity board for any ship-specific ?'s you may have, and to the port section which will give you enough info to make your head spin!

Have fun!

Traveler863, thanks. I have an interest in crusing the way you mentioned also. We were taking some elderly relatives along, and since we already knew most of the ports so well, it was a no-brainer on what to do on each island.

Enjoy your QM2 cruise!
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