Caribbean 2008

Miami • Aruba • Panama Canal • Limón, Costa Rica • Grand Cayman


Friday, March 14, 2008

Since Dani was sick for most of our 2005 spring break trip, we decided to repeat much of that itinerary on a different ship. Besides, it was the only cruise that fit into our schedule and didn’t go to all the usual places. And Aruba will be new for us.

We rose early and drove to Miami, arriving before noon. Dani wanted to get a copy of Margaret Atwood’s The Robber Bride, so after ascertaining that no one in downtown Miami can read (therefore no bookstores) we drove to a Barnes Noble in Coral Gables which happened to be around the corner from a French place we like, Brasserie Halles. A few books and some cheese later we headed for the port where boarding Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas was quick and easy.

The ship is more or less the same size as the Coral Princess, it’s width — PanaMax — being defined by the Panama Canal. It’s much smaller than the other Royal Caribbean ships we’ve been on, so we’ll have to make do without the ice skating rink.

We booked two cabins this time, a junior suite for me, and a hovel in the bowels of the ship for Dani. At least it’s an outside hovel. Because Dani is too young to have her own cabin, Linda is theoretically staying there with her. I’m trying to imagine it. . . !

I like the more intimate size of this ship, and it has an interesting asymmetry to it, with glass elevators on one side and a single sided promenade in front of the specialty restaurants, much like on the Coral Princess. The passenger makeup is surprisingly old. I guess all the kids were on the larger Royal Caribbean ship that left port before us.

Susie and Rusty — those traditional Philippine names — were really friendly in the champagne bar, and the food seemed a bit better than on previous Royal Caribbean ships, whose cuisine I’ve rated at the bottom of all the lines we’ve traveled.

Royal Caribbean still uses assigned seating in the main dining room. Out table is shared with a family from Mexico, who seem quite nice. We have a lot of reservations in the specialty restaurants, so we might not see too much of them.

At Sea

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Brilliance of the Seas is the first cruise ship we’ve been on where passengers can get to the prow. It was very neat leaning over the railing and watching the azure sea vanish beneath the ship.

Dani spotted something skimming over the surface of the waves below us. At first we thought it was a bird, but then we realized it was a flying fish. I had never realized that they really do fly. As long as they’re headed into the wind, it seems they can stay aloft for a half minute or more, and they could easily out pace the ship. Their silver green bodies looked somewhat alien, and their “wings” reminded me of hang gliders.

It was formal night, We had a lovely dinner with our friends from Mexico and then went to a ‘contemporary’ Broadway show. Funny, I’d never regarded Cole Porter as a contemporary. It was actually fascinating to watch the slightly talented cast struggle to stay with the slightly talented musicians as they performed a show designed by a wholly untalented director. As Dani said, “If they’d tried harder, the couldn’t have sucked more emotion out of each number.”

At Sea

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A lazy day at sea. Although the ship is the same size as the Coral Princess, it seems there’s less to do on board, since they don’t have the ceramics studio or the ScholarShip at Sea educational programs. But it was a good day for reading, writing and relaxing.

Oranjestad, Aruba

Monday, March 17, 2008

Aruba was very different than we were expecting, much more like a desert than a tropical island. An advantage is that it doesn’t get hurricanes, but on the other hand it doesn’t get much rain, either, as a result, there is a lot of sand and cactus, and — incongruously — some really large boulders.

I think this is the farthest south we’ve been in the Caribbean, as we’re only 17 miles off the coast of Venezuela. The island of Aruba is a Dutch colony with an independent government the past few years. The people are descended from natives and Spanish, and speak Dutch, English, Spanish and their own Creole. Despite Dutch being the official language, there was little evidence of it except in street names. Of course, the major industry is tourism, and 75% of the tourists are from the US, so we were well insulated .

To get an overview of the place, we took The Best of Aruba tour, which seemed to be the choice of the old and infirm. Our first stop was at the Casibari rock formations, where a short set of stone steps — and a bit of a crawl through a hole between the rocks– brought us to the top of a really big boulder. The view from there encompassed three fourths of this nineteen by six mile island, but was mostly of sand and Oregon pipe cactus. It was cool crawling through the crack, though.

The next stop was at the natural bridge, which, in quite a natural way, fell down in 2005. There is a smaller one still standing nearby, with a big danger sign next to the giant crack. Most of the tourists seemed to ignore this, though, and stepped right over onto the crumbling outcrop. I mean, it’s too big to fall down, right?

We stopped at Aruba Aloe, a surprisingly tiny factory where they make a wide range of products using — you guessed it — aloe. These products are mostly packages the same two ways, do to the fact that the factory has only two small bottling devices. We learned that aloe is good for cuts, sunburn, dry skin, hair conditioning, stomach ailments, losing weight, age reversal and reducing the national debt — of Aruba, anyway.

Our final stop was a the California lighthouse, so named because it was erected on the spot where a ship named the California wouldn’t have run aground if there had already been a California lighthouse there.

Then about half the group was dropped off at a mall, and the rest of us were dropped off near the cruise ship. This area is called “downtown” although it’s really just a street of tourist shops and government offices, with a lot of noisy traffic. We had a tasty lunch upstairs in an open air restaurant named Iguana Joe’s, and then retreated to the ship.

Overall I was disappointed in Aruba, because I was hoping it would be less the touristy Caribbean port and have more of its Dutch heritage in evidence. I suppose it’s great for beach lovers, but otherwise a three hour visit seemed plenty.

At Sea

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A quiet day at sea. The cruising was surprisingly smooth, considering the 7-10 foot seas, but they were coming from the stern, and just seemed to hurry us on.

In the evening we attended the Murder Mystery Dinner Theater, held in the Colony Club and Portofino Restaurant. Six members of the entertainment cast acted out parts in a comedy murder mystery. During dinner we had a chance to interview each character for clues, and then a prize was awarded to one of the guests who had the correct solution. The acting was quite good, and the characters were very entertaining. It was probably the highlight of the onboard experience.

Panama Canal

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

We began our approach to the canal about 6:30 AM. Although it turned out we could have taken either side since they were both running the same direction this morning, my selection of a Starboard cabin proved to be the correct choice, and we had a great view of the locks from our balcony. An added bonus was that a US Navy submarine made the transit in the adjacent locks, complete with armed escorts. Pretty cool.

The Internet was down most of the day, which was a bit aggravating since it’s the first day of new ed2go classes, but it came back up in the late afternoon. We docked briefly to pick up passengers on shore excursions, but I skipped the two hour visit to the flea market that’s operated by half naked natives. Linda and Dani bought traditional native goods: carved wood, painted feathers and a bent license plate.

We had a nice dinner at Chops Steakhouse, the nicest restaurant on board.

Limón, Costa Rica

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Today we more or less retraced our steps from a tour three years ago, visiting the aerial tram in the rainforest that’s about two hours west of Limón. This time we stopped for a boat ride along the way. Our 17 passenger flat bottomed boat navigated a mile of twisty canal through jungle, where we saw a sloth, a small crocodile called a caiman, a sloth, monkeys, and a Jesus Christ lizard, so-named because it runs on two legs across water while waving it’s front legs like a girl, just like Jesus.

The rainforest was, indeed, rainy when we arrived, but held off for our glide through the treetops. We had a traditional Costa Rican lunch — rice and beans, of course — before taking a nature walk.

Our guide for the walk was extremely interesting, and pointed out dozens of things we would have missed, accompanied by fascinating explanations. The most interestering were the leaf cutter ants, who carry chunks of leaves back to their nest where they use them to grow a fungus that they eat. On top of some of the leaves are smaller guard ants, whose job is to keep a fly from laying an egg on the leaf. The eggs turn into worms that eat their fungus.

After the walk we boarded the bus for the 90 minute drive back to the port. Even though Limón itself is pretty much a dump, I really like Costa Rica. The people take great pride in their stability, health care and educational systems, and lack of an army. And it’s neat being in a place where anything that falls on the ground grows.

One interesting aspect of Costa Rica is the way addresses work. A typical address might read: “From the church go 400 meters north and turn right. After 200 meteres turn left at the store and it’s the third house on the right with the yellow door. ” Needless to say, mail delivery in Costa Rica takes a long time.

Linda and I had dinner at Portofino, where everyone wanted to know what happened to Dani, who decided to relax and have room service in her cabin.

At Sea

Friday, March 21, 2008

We went on a very interesting backstage tour of the ship’s theatre today. It gave us a chance to visit the lighting booth, sound booth, stage, and dressing areas, and listen to presentations by technical personnel, stage hands, and performers. I was nice to see Alcorn McBride IO64s in the lighting booth, although the lighting technician didn’t really seem to know what they did. There was also a Richmond Stageman system and two lighting boards. The 52-channel mixer is large, analog, and unautomated.

Dani and I discovered that the best lunch onboard is a the Seaview Cafe, a very small table service restaurant at the back of deck 12. It looks like it was designed to be counter service pizza, but now it has about half a dozen tables. Its obscure location and the fact that it doesn’t open until afternoon keep it from being crowded.

We rejoined our dinner companions in the main dining room for the traditional formal night lobster dinner.

Grand Cayman

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Today we had the best Caribbean shore excursion ever. Dani and I took the tender to the island and then a van to the far sight, where about forty of use boarded a dive boat. After a 45 minute trip we arrived at Stingray City, a sandbar that is home to hundreds of stingrays. Wading around in the waist deep water, we fed, petted, held and kissed(!) the stingrays for close to an hour. The stingrays really seem to enjoy being held, at least once they’ve been fed.

We learned that the large dark ones are females, and the smaller gray ones are males. The males have a unique characteristic: two “willies,” as our guide put it. I’m not sure why this is useful, but it conjures up some interesting possibilities.

Our second stop was nearby, at the barrier reef, where the coral and fish varieties rivaled those of Australia. The snorkeling was easy in the three to ten foot deep water. Our guide coaxed a moray eel from its hideout, which was pretty exciting. I’d never seen both ends of a moray eel at the same time!

This was the same trip I took three years ago when Dani was too sick to go, but what a difference the guides made! There was so much hand-on time with the stingrays on this outing. The trip was also very professionally photography and videotaped. The photographer made CDs right on the boat, and the videographer edited in music and delivered professional DVDs to the ship before we sailed. If I could only do one outing in the Caribbean, this would be it.

We had dinner in the main dining room. Our friends from Mexico didn’t join us because the grandmother — who has Alzheimer’s — wasn’t feeling well. They didn’t miss much, as almost everything on the menu tonight was fairly awful.

At Sea

Easter Sunday , March 23, 2008

After several rocky days at sea due to up to 40 knot cross winds, today was very smooth because we had a 5 knot tail wind. We’re averaging over 20 knots to make the 600 miles back to Miami by early tomorrow morning.

This afternoon we attended an interesting presentation by the Captain and Chief Engineer about the operation of the ship. It’s powered by dual turbines spinning at 7500 rpm, which generate many Megawatts of power to drive the two azipod outboard propellers, which can each rotate 360 degrees. The high speed of the turbines explains why there is absolutely no engine vibration on this ship.

The Captain indicated he didn’t think any more cruise ships would be built this way, because although the small size of the turbines allowed them to add 50 cabins, they require fuel that is now more than twice the cost of regular diesel sludge. In fact, the ship is going into dry dock in two months to have a hole cut in the side and a diesel generator added for times when power requirements are low, such as when they are in port.


Monday, March 24, 2008

We arrived in Miami before dawn. Total distance sailed: 3,200 nautical miles.

We disembarked at 8:30 and made great time on the drive home, and were back before 2pm, including a stop for lunch. .

Things to remember for next time

Royal Caribbean food is a rung below NCL and Princess. It also seems like there aren’t a lot of food venues. It’s mostly concentrated in the Windjammer buffet. They seem to be reaching to appear to additional venues: The Solarium Cafe is six saran-covered plates of pre-made sandwiches and a thermos of coffee!

Internet access of this class of ship is poor. The cabin jacks don’t work, and expensive wireless is available only in a few areas.

There’s not a lot to do on the Brilliance of the Seas class if you’re an adult who doesn’t want to lie by the pool or gamble. I miss the Princess art and education programs. The larger Royal Caribbean ships also offer more variety, with their interior main street. .

The entertainment on this ship was mediocre at best, except for the Mystery Dinner Theatre, which was wonderful.

Aft on deck 10 turned out to be a less than optimal cabin location on the Brilliance of the Seas, not because it was aft, but because it was under the Windjammer, with its constantly moving chairs and carts of dishes and dropped silverware. Earplugs were a definite must at night.

Panama, Limon and Grand Cayman are all interesting ports. Aruba is not. It’s a poor exchange for Belize’s cave tubing, which was on our previous itinerary in its place.

Stingray City in Grand Cayman is the best shore excursion in the Caribbean.

Caribbean 2001

Miami, St. Thomas, San Juan


Saturday, April 7, 2001

For Spring Break, Danielle and I decided at the last minute to take a cruise aboard the newly-launched Explorer of the Seas. It’s the sister ship of the Voyager of the Seas, on which we sailed last year. Explorer sails the Easter Caribbean, while Voyager continues its Western Caribbean itinerary. We got a great last minute deal on an outside cabin. We even ended up on the port side of the ship, which proved to be the best view throughout the cruise.

Unfortunately Linda, swamped with six simultaneous projects, couldn’t get away. Never mind that Disney is laying people off right and left, she seems to be required to do the work of half a dozen of them.

So Friday Danielle and I packed up and headed down to Ft. Lauderdale for a night at the beach. That way it’s a relaxed drive to the port on Saturday.

We had a nice time at the beach at the Marriott Harbor Beach Resort. We invented a new game, “dueling towers”, where two identical towers made by inverting a plastic cup of sand must be defended against the encroaching surf by the respective players. Danielle found that a combination of walls and trenches worked best.

Saturday we headed down to the Port of Miami, stopping for lunch in a tiny Chinese restaurant on the way. It turns out you can get on the ship long before the advertised 2pm boarding time. Some people reported having lunch aboard. Still, we felt lucky to be settled in our cabin shortly after 2pm. Our luggage arrived soon thereafter.

Explorer of the Seas is extremely similar to Voyager of the Seas. As we wandered around the ship Danielle pointed out to me a wall covering here or a carpet there that is different, but on the whole it’s nearly a twin. Our cabin was about half the size of the suite we had last year, but was very nice, well-finished and comfortable.

After the obligatory lifeboat drill (which we spent mugging for the camera) we checked the seas for any signs of icebergs, and then returned our life preservers to the cabin.

Ain’t technology grand? Even halfway to the Bahamas, of course we could send and receive email in our cabin. Cybercabin turned out to be a modem connection through the phone at 45K. It worked almost 100% of the time, and cost $100 per cruise – maybe not as cheap as a few quick uses of the Internet terminals in the library at $0. 50/minute, but a whole lot more convenient.

Danielle was the social butterfly at dinner. We have people from Ft. Lauderdale, Wisconsin, New Jersey and Philadelphia at our table for 10. It’s actually one of the best tables on the ship, being in a quiet side room right next to a very large window. It’s so secluded that it even took the maitre d’ a while to find it. The food was about the same as the last cruise – good, but not great – but the service was much better.


Sunday, April 8, 2001

Well, we survived snorkeling. Linda wouldn’t have liked it. There were a lot of very colorful fish that have learned the boats bring people with fish food. There were also a zillion itty bitty jellyfish (0. 5″ size), harmless, but they would have freaked Danielle out if she’d noticed that we were swimming through them. Fortunately she didn’t. The water was very warm, and fairly clear.

Linda would have liked the ride on the catamaran. We lay on the cargo mesh and sailed back while the crew and a few of the rum-plied women danced to some pretty good reggae CDs.

We managed to lock ourselves out of the safe in our cabin (my fault, I think). It took at least 5 seconds for one of the officers to open it with an electronic device that plugs in behind the handle.

We left port at 2pm today for the long trip to St. Thomas. Danielle went to her first Adventure Ocean Voyagers group. Afterwards there was the formal dinner (which Danielle also attended, since Adventure Ocean is closed at that time).

We got dressed in our best formalwear and went to the captain’s reception, where we had our portrait snapped about a dozen times. I hope Danielle doesn’t pressure me into buying every version. I managed to hold out against buying the stupid photo with the pirate in the background.

Our dining companions all did different things in Nassau. One group went on the pseudo-sub – a boat with portholes below the water – another group went to Atlantis, and the third went on the dolphin encounter. The boy who did this was very enthusiastic about it, but frankly both his descriptions and the printed materials sounded pretty lame. It’s not like you get to swim with them.

Our captain has quite a good sense of humor. He described our day at sea tomorrow as “cruising through the middle of the Bermuda Triangle”.

At Sea

Monday, April 09, 2001

The day started with room service on the balcony. The lochs were the best food I’ve had onboard.   Throughout the day I’ll wrestled with the vagaries of C++, while Danielle joined the Voyagers.

We had a “high Italian” meal at Portofino for dinner ($20 extra, and worth it). Danielle, to her surprise, found plenty of things she liked, including a nice cheese plate, filet mignon, and chocolate mousse.

Afterwards we headed for the main theater, where we saw an entertaining – if uneven – musical review called History Repeating, and watched small Spanish-speaking children attempt to commit suicide by leaning over the balcony railing.

St. Thomas, U. S. Virgin Islands

Tuesday, April 10, 2001

Today we had breakfast on the Balcony overlooking the harbor in St. Thomas – it always reminds me of the Greek islands. Then we headed for downtown Charlotte Amalie (pronounced “Am-all-yuh” aboard one of the 22-person “taxis” that take passengers – on the wrong side of the street – from the Pier, along the harbor to the shopping district. Danielle blew her wad on souvenirs, mostly from the “changes color in the sun” shop. We also checked out a few Jewelry stores and a liquor and cigar shop. They make an excellent rum here in the Virgin Islands, and it only costs about $5 a bottle, but I couldn’t be bothered trying to get it back intact. I looked briefly for Cuban cigars until it occurred to me that St. Thomas is technically part of the United States. It may be duty free, but it doesn’t appear to be free from politics. In fact our only non-U. S. -affiliated stop on this trip was Nassau, so I guess I’m out of luck.

After a snack in the ship’s Promenade Café, we caught the “Leeland Snead” oyster boat (or facsimile thereof) for the hour cruise to Trunk Bay on St. John. I never realized how many little islands, rocks and reefs there were around St. Thomas. You definitely have to know where you’re going.

The crew of the Snead proved to be quite personable, and provided a running commentary throughout the trip. They were mostly Maryland and Virginia expatriates, down for the season. The captain was from North Dakota, a place I don’t associate with seafaring. He must have spent time on the east coast, though, as he had a fuzzy little dog named Chesapeake.

The diving at Trunk Bay was good, not great, but better than Nassau. We snorkeled along the reef and right up to the beach. After some sand and surf play they hauled people back in small inflatable dinghies, but Danielle and I speed-snorkeled our way back to the boat. Some snacks and unlimited rum punch (hic) occupied the hour-long return trip.

After a much-needed shower we headed down to dinner to swap stories with our dining companions. There we watched the sun set on the Charlotte Amalie harbor as we pulled out of port. Since it is only about 80 miles from St. Thomas to Puerto Rico, once we were out to sea we “killed time”, as the captain put it, cruising at what we reckoned to be a mere three knots for most of the night. Oddly, the ship rolls much more at this speed. I sat on the balcony and smoked a (Dominican) Partagas and watched the glow of the lights of the Greater Antilles beyond the horizon.

The cabin stewardess made Danielle a sting ray out of wash clothes and hand towels.

San Juan, Puerto Rico

Wednesday, April 11, 2001

As the ship pulled into through the headlands around 6am there was a spectacular sunrise over the fort that guards the entrance to San Juan harbor. In the distance I could see rain coming down over the tropical forest in the mountains.

At 8:30 the bus left for the hour drive to our horseback ride. Our bus driver was very skilled, navigating the traffic while wielding the horn as his chief weapon.

San Juan is a city of barred windows. Destruction sites outnumber construction sites by a wide margin. We were quickly out of the city, though, following the coast on a road lined with fast food stands and factory outlet malls. In about an hour we arrived at the 600-acre Caraballi ranch, a tropical plantation that rambles over several foothills adjacent to the rainforest.

There were about thirty of us on the outing. We were divided into experienced and inexperienced groups, with experienced being defined as “having been on a horse five times”. I was surprised to find myself in the experienced section, and to discover that far more than half of the group was in the “never been on a horse” category.

We were assigned horses individually, and each indeed seemed to match its rider’s personality. Danielle, probably the best rider in the group, mounted “Sensation” a horse that always wanted to be at the front. I found myself on Marquis, who was extremely dependable and loved to eat.

The ride went over rolling terrain, sometimes crossing open hillsides but more often under the trees. The trail was muddy from the morning’s rain, but the horses didn’t seem to mind. They were extremely responsive to direction, and I found myself successfully resting most of my weight on the stirrups, which made for a comfortable ride.

These are Pasafino horses, trained a bit differently than those Danielle normally rides. They have a very quick trotting gate that Danielle called a “jog”. It’s tough for an inexperienced rider to get the horse to do it, but during the brief moments I accomplished it, it was like gliding on ice.

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After an hour we stopped for a drink by the river. Normally this is an opportunity for a swim, but we were told that they were expecting flash floods. This didn’t give me a warm feeling as we sat by the bank sipping our drinks. Frankly, I think we were just running late.

Another half hour brought us back to the barn, surprisingly free from saddle sores and with only slightly tired legs. Danielle, of course, was unaffected.

Mr. Toad’s Wild Bus Ride back to the ship got us onboard shortly before our 2pm departure time. The afternoon was a good time to relax in our cabin and catch up on journals.

Danielle again accompanied me to a formal dinner (just between you and me, I think the social experience is growing on her) and then spent the evening and late night at the kid’s pajama party.

The towel animal of the day was a lamb. Or possibly a crab.

Labadee, Hispanola

Thursday, April 12, 2001

Today we awoke in Labadee, a private cove at the northern tip of Haiti (which Royal Caribbean calls Hispanola for marketing reasons). The southern two-thirds of Hispanola is the relatively prosperous Dominican Republic, which was primarily settled by the Spanish. Haiti, on the other hand, is a colony comprised 95% of the descendants of former slaves. Two hundred years of mismanagement and deforestation have reduced it to near-total poverty. On satellite photos you can actually see the demarcation between the two countries. Royal Caribbean’s private cove remains forested, however.

After a late breakfast on the balcony we caught a tender to shore. We stopped briefly at the native marketplace, where we received the Jamaica-like hard sell from dozens of vendors selling utterly worthless native “crafts”. Danielle was out of spending money, but I gave her $10 to let her try out her negotiating skills. In mere minutes she’d negotiated a $2 pair of maracas down to only $10.

We caught the dive boat Fire Dancer for the hour ride to Amiga Island, a tiny oasis surrounded by coral reefs. The water was the clearest we’ve seen on the trip. We started by exploring the 16th century canons, pottery and giant kettles that have been sunk here since our last visit. There was also an enormous anchor. The current was stronger than on our last visit, and I was concerned that Danielle would find it a struggle to make it back to the shore if we went all the way out to the reef, so we contented ourselves with beach play for the rest of our stay.

A strong wind blew up, and the Fire Dancer had quite a fight getting back to the ship. Shortly afterward we set sail, and Explorer also found it rough going. Still, Thursday night is lobster and filet mignon in the main dining room, so even if we have to weave, we make the trip.

Danielle wanted to go to the midnight buffet, and stayed up watching “Best of Show”, which was hilarious — a spinal-tap style fake documentary about a dog show. But in the end, the spirit was willing but the flesh was weak, and we both slept through it.

They’ve been replaying the video of some of their entertainment in the cabins. The best one was the “Not So Newlywed Game”. The couples ranged from one married 45 years to one married a week. When they asked the latter “What is the most unusual place you’ve made love?” I don’t think they were expecting the answer “In one of the ship’s glass elevators”.

Today’s towel animal: a swinging monkey.

At Sea

Friday, April 13, 2001

A leisurely day at sea, the best way to end a busy cruise. I spent some time in the cabin torturing myself with C++, then caught Danielle in the talent show, where she recited Shel Silverstein’s “Christmas Dog”. Later she went ice skating, which is a neat trick when you’re six miles east of Cuba.

After a bite at the Island Grill, which affords a 180 degree view of our no-wake zone, Danielle spent the afternoon at Ocean Adventure doing improv and redeeming her Ocean Dollars.

We made a quick stop to say goodbye to our dining companions (and tip the waiters) and then it was back to the Portofino for an elegant farewell dinner.


Saturday, April 14, 2001

Our lucky color was brown. After a leisurely breakfast in the Windjammer, we were called first for debarkation. There was the usual uncomfortable backup getting to the gangway, but then we quickly cleared customs and hit the road. It felt strange to be driving again. We found that we still had our sea legs when we stopped at a service plaza on the turnpike and felt the building swaying. Even with a break for lunch we were home in under four hours.

Things to remember for future cruises:

Book a port-side balcony cabin between the elevators.

Arrive early, perhaps by noon.

Don’t buy the unlimited soft drink sticker for the charge card. It’s a complete rip-off, since it’s only good in the bars, and they’re never open when you want a soft drink. I think I got two Diet Cokes for my $33.

Book the six-person sailboat snorkel trip on St. Thomas.

Buy cigars in Nassau.

Don’t even think of shopping in San Juan.

Make sure Danielle brings shoes that can actually be worn, and don’t bother packing panty hose, slips, or 75% of her other clothes.