Last week, the Wife & I took our annual summer vacation and headed down south to escape Seattle’s liquid sunshine. We spent a day at Orlando’s Sea World (where Shamu sprayed salt water all over my camera – but that’s another story) and then drove down to Port Canaveral to board Royal Caribbean‘s Sovereign of the Seas for our 4 night Bahamas cruise. This was our first cruise and our first vacation since Napa Valley/SF last September (and no – India trips don’t count as vacations!) – so we were super excited and had been counting down to this trip since we booked it 4 months back!
We reached the port at 11am on Monday and after dropping our car off at the rental company, took a shuttle to the terminal. They had just started boarding the ship and there weren’t many people at the terminal yet – so we checked our bags in and passed through security checks and immigration in around 30 minutes. We boarded the ship around noon and decided to head up to the Windjammer (the ship’s buffet restaurant) for lunch.
Friends who had cruised before had told me that the first thing that strikes you is how huge the ship is – maybe it was because I had heard this many times already, but I really didn’t feel it to be all that big. Most of the time, it just felt as if we were in a large hotel. Anyway, I learnt later, thanks to Wikipedia, that the Sovereign of the Seas was once (between 1988 and 1990) the largest cruise ship in the world. What did surprise me about cruise ships, however, is that they travel only at ~20 knots (~35 km/h). Wikipedia tells me that it’s around the standard speed for ships – even naval ones – but it was surprising nevertheless given the speeds for other land and air vehicles.
Back to our day 1 experience: Lunch at the Windjammer was average – nothing spectacular other than the variety and quantity. After lunch, we headed down to our stateroom on deck 2. I have to admit that I didn’t do enough research at the time of booking – so I didn’t know that deck 2 was a level below where most of this ship’s entertainment and other facilities started – so we had to use the stairs or the elevator to get to just about anything on the ship. Next time, I’ll probably book on a higher deck. The room itself was better than I expected – the forums on cruisecritic had prepared me for the size and amenities in the room – so I knew it was going to be smaller than a small hotel room. Anyway, given that we weren’t going to spend much time in our room over the next few days, it didn’t matter. Our checked in luggage hadn’t reached the rooms yet, so we took our swimsuits from our hand baggage and headed up to the pool on deck 11. Even though most people hadn’t boarded the ship yet, the pool area was already packed! Only one of the pools were open – they were still cleaning the second one but that didn’t seem to stop everyone from lounging around, reading and drinking. So, we did the same – lounged around for a while, read a book, had a couple of drinks while the ships slowly set sail and departed from Port Canaveral. The departure was fun – Caribbean music playing live at the pool, people waving from the beach and the warm sun and strong breeze making for a wonderful atmosphere.
We had dinner that night (and the next two nights) at the Mirage dining room on deck 4. The food in the dining room was awesome all three nights and service was excellent too. I felt that the wine by the glass was a bit of a rip off, especially since alcohol on board the ship was in general priced like a regular restaurant or bar. We had a good table with a view and were seated with a nice couple from Pennsylvania whose flight into Orlando was delayed and managed to board the ship just as it was about to set sail after driving the 55 miles between Orlando and Port Canaveral in 35 minutes! They seemed rather shaken by that and took about a day to relax 🙂
After dinner every night, we attended the shows in the Follies Theater – the first night there was a dance show (‘Dancing through the Movies’) put on by the ship’s entertainers and the next two nights there were Headliner shows by guest artists, including Mario and Jenny(?) from Vegas and Sean O’Shea. The Cruise Director & MC Mike Swakowzki was incredibly funny and he usually followed the dinner shows with a game show of some sort or the other. The Quest and the ‘Love & Marriage show’ on nights 2 and 3 were a lot of fun to partake in – the former involved performing some rather umm…. embarassing stunts in front of everyone in the Voltage lounge with most of the stunts involving underwear in some form or the other. Rather funny when you’re drunk 🙂
On Day 2, the ship was supposed to tender at Coco Cay and we were planning to do the Jetski tour that day. However, strong winds made tendering at the Island impossible and they decided to swap days 2 & 4 and spend a day at sea instead. On Day 4, the winds were worse and we ended up not going to the Island altogether. This seems to happen every now and then due to the Island’s location and lack of a harbor, so the ship’s crew is well prepared with back up entertainment and activities when this happens. So, though we were a little disappointed we couldn’t go Jet Skiing, we had enough to do on board to not miss it. That day was also formal dinner night, so we dressed up in our suit and dress and headed up to the Dining room for dinner, the captain’s welcome and to get our formal portraits taken.
Day 3 was our day in Nassau – the capital of the Bahamas. We docked at the island early and headed out after breakfast on board. We had booked a snorkeling tour at the Rainbow Reef, so we met the tour guide and headed out of the port and into nearby dock where the tour boat was anchored. Nassau was a colorful little town and the area around the cruise dock was clean and well maintained unlike the rest of Island. The tour boat took us across the harbor between Nassau and Paradise Island. Paradise Island is of course, home to the famous Atlantis Resort and dozens of celebrity mansions. A piece of trivia – the Bridge Suite at the Atlantis is the third most expensive hotel room in the world at $25000 a night and still have a five year waiting list.
The tour boat took us to Rainbow Reef – which was probably around 10 miles from Nassau and was only around 10 feet deep. The winds were still pretty strong and so were the waves. This was my first time snorkeling or for that matter, even swimming in the open sea so I had a pretty hard time staying afloat and maintaining control and direction. The instructors were pretty helpful and led us through most of the reef where we got to see a few different kinds of fish and a couple of star fish. We had bought some fish food on board the tour boat and it was fun tossing some of it into the water and watching the fish surround you and follow you around. After an hour and a half of swimming around, we got back on the tour boat and headed back to the dock.
After freshening up on board, we headed back into Nassau for lunch. We ate at this little place called Conch Fritters which was just behind Nassau’s flea market, the Straw Market. The food at this place was just passable and we wished we had eaten on the ship instead. The straw market was pretty cool and had tons of souvenirs at good prices. Bargaining was also the norm here and you could bargain everything down to 30-50% of the original price. We bought a few souvenirs from here and then headed over the Pirates of Nassau exhibit. The Museum had a lot of interesting exhibits and was probably extra popular given that Pirates of the Caribbean 3 was releasing that week.
Later that evening, we took the cab over to Atlantis and spent a few hours there – walking through the casino, looking at the fish in the aquarium and chilling out for sometime on one of their beaches. Atlantis was beautiful, in a Vegas casino kind of way, and the beach was absolutely delightful with turquoise water and white sands. On the way back from Atlantis, Deepti got her hair braided at one of the streetside vendors. That reminds me – there were a large number of streetside hawkers in Nassau who approach you the moment you get out of the port – trying to sell you tshirts, taxi rides, beads for the lady’s hair and even weed! Reminds me of landing at the Bombay airport.. except for the weed 🙂
Day 4 was supposed to be our day at Coco Cay, but that was cancelled again due to high winds – so we chilled out of board the ship for most of the day and had lunch at the dining room for the first time. There were some fun games at the pool that evening and I had a go at the Mr Sexy Legs contest (don’t ask…) after which we just lay in the pool and headed down for dinner again. That night, the winds were pretty strong and this was the first time I could actually feel the ship sway from one side to another.
The next morning, we docked at Port Canaveral and after breakfast, headed down to get through customs and immigration. We had an awesome time on the cruise and were brainstorming all the places we could hide so that we don’t have to disembark 🙂
I didn’t get too many good photos of the cruise since my digital camera suffered from a salt-water incident at Sea World, so I’ve posted all my cameraphone pics at http://www.flickr.com/photos/umeshunni/sets/72157600272803191/.