This past February, I spent a glorious week in the sunny Caribbean, far from the snow and frigid winter weather back home. This was my first trip to the Caribbean and also my first time going on a cruise!
Beforehand, I honestly wasn’t sure whether I’d enjoy the whole cruise experience. There was the prospect of a crowded ship, seasickness, Americanized food, and limited time in port to visit the destinations. Days at sea sounded like a waste to me, almost like staying in a hotel all day instead of getting out to explore. Despite the potential negatives, I was still eager to give cruising a try. For one, it seemed like a convenient way to travel (no changing hotels or arranging transportation between locations, after all), and it also offered the chance to get a taste of several destinations within a short period of time. As much as I love researching and planning, there are times when it’s nice to have the bulk of it taken care of for you.
This particular trip was also a family vacation, so cruising was a great way to get everyone together in the same place, while still offering a wide array of options and activities to suit everyone’s interests. The trip sparked a nice balance between busier sightseeing and relaxing downtime.
Our cruise was with Celebrity Cruises on the Celebrity Summit ship and sailed round trip from San Juan, Puerto Rico. We visited five ports of call (Tortola, Martinique, Dominica, St. Kitts, and St. Thomas) and had one full day at sea. To create a buffer against any possible flight delays, we arrived in San Juan two days before the cruise departed. I’m so glad we did! San Juan was simply beautiful and we throughly enjoyed our time there.
When cruise departure day arrived, we eagerly boarded the ship early in the afternoon. We heard tips from other cruisers that it’s best to check in early and get on the ship before everyone else arrives. This gives you some time to explore the ship, eat lunch before the dining room gets busy, and stake out a place by the pool.
The boarding process went smoothly and quickly. Employees took our suitcases (which were delivered to our room later), and we went through security, filled out some brief paperwork, and received our room key. The next thing we knew, we were welcomed onboard with a glass of champagne in hand!
Right away, we went to check out our room. It was more spacious than I had expected, and I was impressed at how the room was designed to maximize storage space. There was a closet and drawers for our clothes and shoes, as well as a couple of shelves for toiletries in the bathroom. Our suitcases could fit under the bed, and the nightstands next to our bed had drawers for items too. We had a comfortable lounge chair next to the window and a small desk.
Indoor rooms are the least expensive on cruise ships, but we paid a little extra to have the window. With this being our first cruise, I didn’t know what to expect from an indoor room and wasn’t sure if it would make me feel claustrophobic. I really enjoyed the window, but in the future, I would definitely be willing to book an indoor room if it was considerably cheaper. There were a lot of places on the ship that offered great views (and better views than that from our little window). However, the two times I really appreciated having a window were in the mornings when we woke up (it was fun to look out and catch our first glimpse of the new port) and at times when the ship felt rocky. Looking out at the waves and seeing how small they looked in comparison to the ship was comforting to me.
Once we settled into our room that first day, we went upstairs to the Oceanview Cafe (the casual buffet-style dining room) for lunch. We were completely and utterly overwhelmed by the choice of food. There was just so much! Literally something for everyone. There was pizza, pasta, sandwiches, burgers, salads, carved meats, international foods, homestyle entrees, side dishes, desserts, and much, much more. And the food was pretty tasty overall too. To top off the dining experience, the Oceanview Cafe featured panoramic windows with fantastic views in every direction. I always enjoyed eating up there. During the course of the trip, we usually ate at the Oceanview Cafe for breakfast, lunch, and afternoon tea (yes, there is a light afternoon tea offered daily that is delicious! I fell in love with the scones topped with strawberry jam and fresh whipped cream). We ate in the main, more formal, dining room each night for dinner. The food in the main dining room was good too (the menu changed each night) and the service was excellent. We chose to do “select dining” instead of “traditional dining”, meaning that we weren’t assigned to any particular eating time or table. We could show up to the main dining room at any time we wished (though we usually made reservations to avoid a wait).
In the evening that first night, you could feel the excitement in the air as the ship got ready to finally depart. We enjoyed a drink up on the pool deck, which was packed with many of our fellow cruisers who were also eager to watch the ship leave port. Another large cruise ship was parked next to us, and as we pulled away, everyone on that ship excitedly waved at us and cheered. As we moved alongside that other ship and saw the faces of hundreds of other cruisers, it put into perspective just how huge these cruise ships really are. It was a cool experience!
At first, the sailing was smooth, but once we hit open ocean, I suddenly noticed the rocking movement of the ship. It was a really weird feeling, and I wasn’t sure that I liked it too much. Throughout the trip, I got more accustomed to the rocking of the ship, but there were times when I felt some minor seasickness. Nothing that had me stuck in bed, but I did have a lack of appetite and some queasiness on a few occasions. Ginger capsules seemed to help with that.
After being on the ship for a couple of days, we fell into a natural rhythm. We would wake up around 7:30 a.m., have breakfast on the ship, go on a shore excursion, and then return to the ship for a later lunch. In the afternoon, we would either relax on the ship or go back out and explore the port independently for a bit. In the late afternoon, we’d have afternoon tea in the Oceanview Cafe and then go up on the pool deck to watch the ship sail out of port, followed by the sunset. The early evening was also a great time for swimming or soaking in the hot tub since most other cruisers were already eating or back in their rooms getting ready for dinner. We ate a late dinner at 8:30 p.m. each night and liked this schedule. Before dinner, we’d swing by a cafe to listen to some live music and have a glass of wine. After dinner, we’d usually watch a show in the auditorium (the shows ranged from comedians to game shows to song and dance productions). We had full days!
We stopped at several ports during the week. Here is what our itinerary looked like:
- SATURDAY: Depart San Juan
- SUNDAY: Tortola
- MONDAY: At Sea
- TUESDAY: Martinique
- WEDNESDAY: Dominica
- THURSDAY: St. Kitts
- FRIDAY: St. Thomas
- SATURDAY: Return to San Juan
While I had fun at each destination, my favorite island was St. Kitts. It had some breathtaking views and interesting places to see. However, the hands-down best beach of our trip was in St. Thomas. Pure, calm, turquoise waters with other islands to view in the distance — the quintessential Caribbean beach. I’ll be sharing more about each port we visited in future posts!
Overall, we were very impressed with our cruise. I have no other cruise experience to compare it to, but everything seemed great to me. The staff were above-and-beyond friendly, the ship was incredibly clean (in fact, every day I noticed someone wiping down the railings in the stairwell and dusting off the statues), and the food was good. There were plenty of shore excursions to choose from, and we enjoyed all of the ones we booked through the ship (the excursions were pricey though, but that’s the case with all cruises from what I understand).
In the end, it turned out that I like cruising and would totally do it again. Is it the only way I’d travel? No, definitely not. Was it fun? For sure! I’m particularly interested in taking cruises to places that are harder to reach by land, where traveling by boat ultimately makes more sense (like cruising around Cape Horn in South America or cruising the Norwegian Fjords in Europe).
Thinking about going on your first cruise? Not sure whether you’ll like it? Why not pick a short one and give it a try? You might be pleasantly surprised.
Next up: How I spent two days in San Juan, Puerto Rico before the cruise