All posts by travelswithanthony

Hello world, this is Anthony's travel blog. I've done more than a hundred and thirty cruises and transatlantic crossings, with more to come. If you have a taste for style, beauty and elegance, welcome aboard. If you have a sense of wonder about the world around you, welcome also. We'll be looking at the very best in land, sea and air travel- both past and present. Together, we'll be going to some pretty damned peachy places. The small, off-the-beaten-track paradises, and the big, bustling cities. Kick off your shoes, grab a margarita, and enjoy the ride!

SOVEREIGN HITS THE BIG 3-O

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Sovereign of the Seas. Photo credit: http://www.cruisereviews.com

Thirty years ago today, a ship unlike any other was preparing to leave the Penhoet shipyard at St. Nazaire, France. She was nothing less than the world’s first purpose built mega cruise ship, Royal Caribbean’s awe inspiring Sovereign of the Seas.

Having successfully completed a series of strenuous sea trials, the 74,000 ton ship was making ready to leave Saint Nazaire on a direct crossing to her new home port of Miami. Under the command of Captain Tor Stangeland, the huge, still not quite complete ship would carry a small complement of passengers, and a full roster of skilled tradesmen who would be working flat out to complete the ship before her scheduled Caribbean debut in January of 1988.

Of course, the famed French shipyard had form when it came to building classic, almost heartbreaking beauties; Ile De France, Normandie and, of course, the Norway ex-France had all emerged from this hallowed cradle of fabulous maritime creations. Long before her proud, graceful prow ever cut salt water at all, Sovereign of the Seas could claim a rightful place in one of the most illustrious seagoing lineages of all time.

That heritage showed, too; the stern was a curved, knuckled masterpiece that perfectly echoed the magnificent Normandie of 1935. The bow, though sharper, had the same stance and vast, soaring flanks of her soon to be great rival, the SS. Norway. Indeed, those same two ships would soon be engaged in a game of maritime bragging rights on a scale unseen since the Normandie and Queen Mary in the 1930’s.

But while Norway was classic sixties luxe re-imagined in shimmering Art Deco, the Sovereign was almost relentlessly modern; a twenty five year leap forward in thinking and tastes. Unlike her adored rival, she was a ship created from scratch, tailor made to suit and, indeed, anticipate the tastes of a new age. Everything about her stressed a confident, dominant intent.

Externally, Sovereign of the Seas was a super sized version of the 1982, Wartsila built Song of America. Both ships had the same graceful, dramatic poise and stance. And, like the earlier ship, Sovereign continued the idea of having all the passenger cabins in the forward part of the ship, while the public rooms were piled up aft like a layered cake.

Again, there was the vast, open pool deck set in a sun bowl, with two pools and a pair of bars. Above it all, the imperious Viking Crown lounge sat, high and proud, wrapped around the single funnel. The similarities between the two ships were immediately obvious; they still are to this day.

But, while the earlier ship had no single outstanding internal focal point, Sovereign of the Seas flaunted a spectacular, five storey high atrium lobby that separated the cabins from the public areas. Writ large in brass, steel, marble and vast, sweeping staircases, it featured the first pair of panoramic lifts ever put into a ship. This swaggering, still impressive piece of architecture was such a stunning success that it became the benchmark for nearly all new cruise ships to this day.

The cabins were another matter; small, modular and functional, there was little real difference in size between inside and outside rooms. In those days, Royal Caribbean’s motto was ‘Get Out There’; by which they meant, into the bars, lounges, shops and casino, rather than crouching in your cabin.

Later- and in another ironic echo of the SS Norway– a string of balcony cabins would be added along the ship’s upper decks, although there was no massive structural alteration. Indeed, the ship’s proud, impressive silhouette remains almost exactly the same today as it was when new; a tribute to a truly well thought out and executed design concept.

This vast, vivacious ship was so stunningly successful that she was followed by a pair of near identical sister ships from the same French yard; the 1991 built Monarch of the Seas, and 1992’s Majesty of the Seas. All three are still sailing to this day.

Sovereign of the Seas sailed the prestige, seven night Eastern and Western Caribbean cruise itineraries out of Miami for many years, but as newer ships came on line in the mid 1990’s the great ship was relegated to the three and four night Bahamas cruise runs, mainly from Port Canaveral.

She was periodically updated and always well maintained; like her sisters, she had a rock climbing wall grafted onto the rear of the funnel. Royal Caribbean also added a branch of Johnny Rockets, the popular retro Fifties style diner. And, of course, the new balcony cabins gave her some very profitable real estate to offer prospective passengers.

Still, it was not enough. The tsunami of new buildings that her success had triggered, ultimately threatened to swamp her. Again, like the Norway before her, the Sovereign found herself unable to compete with all the bells and whistles that a whole new generation of ships were flaunting. Only so much could be shoehorned into a hull whose parameters had been decided back in 1985.

Renamed Sovereign, the still magnificent ship was transferred to Pullmantur, the Spanish satellite of Royal Caribbean, and sent to a new home in Europe. The Spanish operator offered mass market cruises to a mainly Spanish clientele, and still does to this day.

Now sporting a beautiful, dark blue hull (yet another apt Norway echo), the Sovereign sails on seven night Western Mediterranean cruises for most of the year, and allows passengers to embark in either Barcelona, or at Rome’s port of Civitavecchia. Each autumn, she crosses the Atlantic to South America to operate a series of dazzling, three and four night party cruises from Santos to Rio De Janeiro. In spring, she re- crosses the Atlantic to Barcelona, to resume her Mediterranean season.

Just prior to her current anniversary, the Sovereign received an extensive dry docking that refreshed many of her public areas, as well as performing both essential and routine maintenance. Thus re-powdered, the proud old dame crossed the Atlantic, en route to South America.

I sailed on her back in March for a long weekend, and simply fell head over heels back in love with her. With her all inclusive prices and great range of children’s facilities, the ship is a big hit with her predominantly Spanish passengers. And, while the names of the public rooms have been changed, Royal Caribbean sentimentalists will find much on board that is instantly familiar.

The former Schooner Bar is almost completely as it was, ditto the Viking Crown lounge. The atrium seems frozen in a time warp, too, and is all the more appealing for it. The long, outdoor promenade decks, still lined with their original, plastic slatted, sit up and beg chairs, are the best kept secrets on the ship.

Thirty years on, it is nothing short of magical to see this gracious, still graceful ship sailing calmly on her way. Even after all these years, the Sovereign is still quietly doing what she was always built to do; providing thrilling, exhilarating seaborne travel to a whole new generation of fans.

I for one, hope that she sails on forever.

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ADVENTURE OF THE SEAS PART SIX- ARUBA

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Pastel pink waterfront buildings are typical of Oranjestad, in Aruba @antnich

Next in line, the Adventure of the Seas rocked up in Aruba’s pretty capital of Oranjestad. The local motto here is ‘One Happy Island’ and, after a few hours here, it’s not too difficult to understand just why.

It’s a chocolate box pretty kind of place, with fussy, flamingo pink buildings overlooking a waterfront strewn with yachts. To the north, the lush, expansive sands of Eagle and Palm Beaches invite para gliders, scuba divers, and those simply in need of some weapons grade relaxation.

Me? I just strolled, took pictures on the afternoon, and then dropped into my favourite waterfront bar- The Paddock- for a couple of ice cold Heinekens. Dutch beer in a Dutch bar; it just makes sense, especially on such a muggy, overcast day as this one. Make no mistake; this really is Holland in the Caribbean and yes, you do hear quite a lot of the mother tongue spoken out here, too.

Late afternoon, and I’m aboard a smart, snow white catamaran for a sunset cruise around the harbour. The sails go aloft, and we bumble out onto the sparkling blue briny. There’s free rum and other similar stuff for our crew of apprentice pirates and, once clear of the pier, we’re given our leave to wander around the boat at will.

I’m quite surprised at how many people simply remained glued to their seats, to be honest. It’s almost as if they are afraid of any actual contact with the elements all around us. For a full two hours, I lapped up the sensation of the warm breeze in my hair, and the gentle rise and fall of the ‘cat’ as she bucked the briny head on.

There’s something intense, truly elemental, about being this close to the water. I can never get enough of it. Also close to water- very close, in fact- was the rum, which was as weak as the water sloshing around on the floor of the men’s toilet. But the rum wasn’t the point; it was the sights on offer that I had hoped would be far more visually intoxicating.

Sadly, Mother Nature declined to play ball, gifting us only jagged, crimson smears that slashed the horizon as the sun set at the end of what had been an all day haze. But, as darkness fell, she instead gifted us a curve ball that drew gasps of awe and admiration right across the boat.

Sudden, ragged displays of lightning flickered across our bows as darkness encroached, coming and going for a few minutes on end. It looked as if some random deity was casually flicking a light switch on and off, just for the fun of it. Deep and intense, this stunning, totally unexpected visual feast rolled right across our horizon. I’m pretty sure that it seared itself into the memory of most of us lucky enough to get to see it.

Once the boat had bumbled to a halt along the floodlit waterfront, I wandered back down to The Paddock for a couple of quiet farewell beers. Pools of light shimmered on the ink black water; the evening air was as warm as toast, with just the hint of a cool breeze floating around the town.

We were in port until 2230, so there was ample time for those last beers ashore. And that’s what I love about cruising the Caribbean to this day; those special little moments where you can simply kick back, meet and talk to strangers, and form new bonds.

I’m all for that, personally. There’s more than enough negative, destructive rhetoric out there as things currently stand. Me, I’m all for talking to people from wherever, whoever they are. Because, if humanity is sometimes depressing, more often than not it is still damn fascinating. And, in the Caribbean, there truly are no strangers; only drinking partners that you haven’t met yet.

Sweet, soulful stuff, and so life affirming. Special memories made anew in a special place. Fine times in a fine style. What’s not to love?

ADVENTURE OF THE SEAS PART FIVE- BONAIRE

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Salt deposits, Bonaire, Dutch Caribbean. Photo: @antnich

Well, here we are on the one of the famous Dutch ‘ABC’ islands that I’ve never been to before; pretty little Bonaire.

Bonaire is the ‘B’ (Obviously, Aruba is the ‘A’ and Curacao the ‘C’). Physically, Bonaire is something like twenty seven miles long and five across. The northern end has some higher hills and vegetation, but the much larger southern half is mostly flat, arid, and yet utterly mesmerising.

The plains closest to the coast are still studded with the mountains of salt that are still produced here. Alongside the cool, crystal clear waters they give the place an almost stark, Arctic white quality, one that the average daily temperature of thirty degrees centigrade is quick to dispel on first contact.

Yet, further down that same coast, you’ll find clusters of dense, dark mangrove swamps. Clumps of cactus and gnarled, wizened Divi Divi trees bend in the breeze for which these islands are famous. Ospreys wheel and swoop in the skies above those salt lakes. In the distance, a herd of slender, long necked Flamingos preen like a posse of supermodels. Their bright, vibrant pink plumage- the result of a lifetime’s diet of the local shrimp- makes for a vivid burst of colour; an all too briefly viewed counterpoint to the dried coral and bracken scenery that so enchants us. Goats and donkeys dot this arid expanse, foraging for both food and shelter alike.

A gaggle of diminutive slave huts stand huddled near the surging, ice blue Caribbean rollers that drum the acres of pristine sand that flank Bonaire’s coast. The breeze makes the entire island a paradise for para gliders and windsurfers; the underwater coral, and the bright, vivid sea life is a full on nautical wonderland for born divers. Three different kinds of sea turtle breed and give birth here. The beach scene is as idyllic as on any of the more famous Caribbean islands. In short, Bonaire is a very pretty girl, indeed.

But it’s those stark little huts that entrance you, and turn the warmest day just a little bit colder. Like the rest of the great, ancient European trading nations, the Dutch were great believers in the ‘benefits’ of slavery. over the centuries, they exported a torrent of cowed, petrified humanity from the Azores to the Caribbean, mainly to work those self same salt mines.

In 1850, a few small settlements were built by the coast to house these slaves. They consisted of gaggles of tiny huts- each one smaller than a modern caravan-that were used to ‘house’ up to four people each. They came with no facilities; each has a sloping roof, two small windows, and an open door. That’s literally it.

Today, still clad in shades of terracotta and canary yellow, they litter the shoreline like so many small, silent clusters of molars. Sad, simple and sobering, they are stark milestones in a past that many would simply prefer to forget. For that reason alone, I hope that they stay there forever.

Back in the pretty waterfront capital of Kralendijk, and I’m in a happier frame of mind. Pretty, vibrant houses and cafes in a riot of pastel shades sit serenely on a sedate, palm splayed waterfront where the calm, nigh well indolent Caribbean laps at the sleepy shore.  The Adventure of the Seas looms above all of this like some benevolent Matriach. In fact, the island is so flat for the most part that we could see the ship from almost anywhere on it.

There are warm smiles everywhere from the locals, and an ice cold Amstel Bright beer to hand as I sag back into the old routine with almost pathetic gratitude. Truly, leisure is only sweet after work well done. But, unlike those poor people whose past I had encountered earlier, I at least had the option of leaving here once I’m done. Worth remembering, methinks, in this increasingly selfish day and age.

ADVENTURE OF THE SEAS PART FOUR: DANCING IN THE STREET

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Warming up for the show @antnich

They said it would be a party. Specifically, a Seventies themed party. A tinsel coated, glitter spangled tribute to the most gloriously tacky age that modern music has ever given itself over so shamelessly to.

Whisper it- the Adventure of the Seas is going totally D-I-S-C-O. Tell only who you must…..

Naturally, the venue has to be totally over the top, with more than just a hint of swagger and bravado. And, as Royal Caribbean are expecting around 3300 guests, it has to be B-I-G, too.

So, naturally, the Royal Promenade gets ready to get jiggy. More than six hundred feet long and four storeys high, bisected by a trio of overhead bridges and lined with bars and cafes, plus dance space aplenty, only something so truly, magnificently over the top could play apt host to the ghosts of Disco past.

The DJ is poised aloft, like the master of ceremonies that he surely is. The first six notes of Boogie Wonderland burst like a series of musical star shells in that vast chamber; the adrenaline begins to flow with the vodka. It’s wheels up, and most definitely time to get down.

Afro sporting dancers appear on the bridges, and the crowd down below begins to move, sway and sing as if gripped helplessly by some unspoken, ancient power. Earth, Wind and Fire give way to a blistering KC and the Sunshine band medley. Arms begin to wave; the crowd begins to sing along. The vibe begins to build into one gloriously tacky tsunami that overwhelms the throng down below, as over three thousand people begin to dance all ways, waves and styles, right down there in the street.

The DJ plays the crowd like a baby grand piano; Chic’s Good Times elicits one almighty surge forward from the crowd as Nile Rodger’s classic guitar riffs cut through the ether like a light sabre; by the time that the DJ gets to the inevitable Bee Gees stuff, most reserve has long since been cast to the winds. Even the coolest and most nonchalant dude on the ship- a young Swedish guy who looks like a pocket version of Alexander Skarsgard- tips his hat to Mother Disco as Le Freak floods the air, and he bops helplessly along to something at once both primal, and yet utterly decadent. When the funk is this strong, resistance is futile.

And then- they appear….

Yes folks, it’s time for the Village People!

The famous five appear on the centre bridge, arms aloft, as the first bars of In The Navy roll down the street like a tidal wave. Cameras flash; arms wave in the air, but that’s enough about me. Because everybody else is right up for the whole show, too. Even the oldest folks are by now getting up to get down. And, by the time they segue seamlessly into the inevitable YMCA, more than three thousand people- most of them perfectly rational- have abandoned all sense of sanity, propriety, or decorum. The Village People will tolerate no nonsense; decadence truly rules the roost once more. Any approaching pirate ship confronted by this happy, howling mob would probably have struck its colours at once.

The O’Jay’s sublime Love Train triggers a vast, snaking conga that grows bigger by the second. Black, white, every damned shade in between, they all get on board; it’s one nation under a groove- a seagoing nation-getting down just for the funk of it (with apologies to Funkadelic for that), riding a wave of fun that it took hours to surf down from.

So, that was the start of our night. How was yours?

ADVENTURE OF THE SEAS CARIBBEAN BLOG PART THREE

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Curacao waterfront. Photo is copyright of the author

Day three found the Adventure of the Seas in the sunny, spectacular setting of Willemstad, the capital of Curacao. I had planned to do a sunset catamaran cruise here, but that tour was cancelled. So, with ample free time to myself, I sauntered back into one of my favourite Caribbean capitals for some platinum chip strolling and rolling, a pastime for which Willemstad seems to have been created in the first place.

After a while I found myself at an old, wooden decked bar grill near the historic Rif Fort. It’s the sort of place I love; all ancient, distressed teak decking and wooden railings, sprinkled with similar style tables and chairs. It actually stood out over the ocean itself. There were a few bits of flapping muslin canvas, affording some scant shade from a mercilessly hot sun. In the background, they were playing Christmas carols. It was eighty three degrees in the shade, and that sun was taking no prisoners. ‘Incongruous’ barely cut it here: I had to smile.

The deck itself is built on pylons, kept in place on the sea bed by a cocoon of old oil drums. One night back in January of 1942, a German U boat surfaced near here, lobbed a quick volley of shells at the oil refineries located nearby, and then slipped away back under the ink black Caribbean. Human nature being what it was I pondered that any one of those same German sailors would have loved the taste of the ice cold bottle of Amstel Bright that I was cradling in the here and now.

The view was sublime. Curacao is an island washed by warm, temperate winds, and so the sea spray here can kick up quite a bit. Sheets of it leaped at the shoreline like waterborne shrapnel. It’s an exciting and dramatic spectacle, one a million miles removed from the usual Caribbean images of supine waves lapping gently at a swathe of pristine sand. Curacao has a bit of an edge, and that’s part of its continuing appeal for me, I guess.

Walking back along the waterfront, I admired the pretty, pastel hued swathe of shops, bars and restaurants that often draws comparisons with ‘old’ Amsterdam. Rows of umbrella shaded tables flank a waterfront thronged with grimy trawlers, bustling local ferries, and the occasional passing tanker. Like an asthmatic old woman. the venerable, steam powered Queen Emma pontoon bridge swings open and shut, folding itself against the shore to allow ships to pass upstream. Once done, it chugs back into place to allow pedestrians to cross to either side. It’s a quirky, amusing sight that still gets me after all these years.

Hunkering back down in a welcome bit of shade, I stumbled on an old town square that could have been lifted intact from any medieval city in Europe. With a trio of gnarled, wizened old trees as a centre piece, it had bars, cafes and restaurants that looked totally out of place and time in this most beautiful of sea cities.

Centre stage, an enterprising local paraded his captive Iguana for the presumed amusement of locals and tourists alike. And, of course, to collar a dollar or twenty for the ‘privilege’ of a photo taken with the hapless creature. Bubonic green, with bulging eyes and a flickering, snake like tongue, he eyeballed the crowds all around him. By contrast, the Iguana he was carrying just sat there like an old ham. The poor thing was probably long since bored beyond caring. I guess one load of cruise ship passengers looks much the same as another one when you’re an Iguana.

I enjoyed a nice cold Belgian Leffe beer at the Copacabana (yes, really) but, alas, there was no sign of either Tony, Lola, or indeed, Bazza himself. Whether the Iguana or the strange, flickering creature that was his familiar were even acquainted with such platinum chip musical folklore is something that I’ll sadly never know.

Musing the strange ups and downs of travel, and encounters in general, I wandered slowly back to the Adventure of the Seas. The rosy glow of a slowly setting sun caught her vast, pristine white flank, turning it into a subtle shade of magic that not even Rembrandt’s brush could have replicated. Walking back on board, the air conditioning felt like so much healing balm.

ADVENTURE OF THE SEAS CARIBBEAN BLOG PART TWO

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Striking up the band aboard the Adventure of the Seas. Photo; author’s own

Today finds the Adventure of the Seas in the pretty Dutch port of Willemstad, Curacao. There’s a warm breeze whipping across an otherwise cloudless sky. In front of us is P&O Cruises’ Britannia. From both ships a torrent of passengers is pouring ashore like a stream of maddened ants.

I’m thinking back to last night right now, and remembering one of the most spectacular welcome aboard cocktail parties that I’ve ever seen on any ship in over three and a half decades of cruise travel. As events go, it was- like the rest of this enormous ship- spectacular, and well over the top.

The venue was the vast, four deck high Royal Promenade, a huge open space that bisects the middle of the ship over a length of around six hundred feet or so. It’s done up like a European main street, and is lined with bars, shops and cafes that run right along the length of both sides. There’s an English pub here, a sports bar there, and a French style sidewalk cafe for good measure. Tables and chairs spill out along the paved ‘street’; a trio of viewing bridges span the middle levels of the complex while, on both sides, three rows of atrium cabins have huge bay windows that look down on all the fun below.

So you have a grand, truly glamorous venue that buzzes and hums with foot traffic at all hours of the day and night. This being formal night, most people put on their glad rags, and really dressed up to the nines.

The large Puerto Rican contingent on board looked every bit as smart and snappy as you might expect. They promenaded up and down the huge expanse of space in large, expansive family groups, from Grandparents right down to tiny tots. It was a wonderful sight to behold.

One young couple even paraded their baby dog. Naturally, the little doggy was carried, proudly sporting a bright new red bib that it had been bought for it’s prom stroll. It got almost as much love and attention as the cutest of the kids. You couldn’t help but smile.

In the midst of all this, a battalion of solicitous Royal Caribbean stewards circulated among the crowd, delivering glasses of complimentary chilled champagne to the milling throng. And, stage left, the ship’s eight man orchestra took it’s stand. All sporting full tuxedos, they launched into a rollicking set, with the five man brass section creating a wall of sound that reverberated off the upper level of this cavernous chamber and it’s crowd of schmoozing, boozing fun lovers.

They played it all; starting with classic Sinatra staples, then segueing smartly into sultry Brazilian samba and a medley of delicious Dixieland jazz. People began to shuffle their feet and dance as the music, mood and venue came together to create something utterly magical, and well worth getting dressed up for. To those who say that the magic has ‘gone’ from cruising, well- no. No, it hasn’t.

There then followed the usual welcome introduction from the captain and his officers, and then we all set away to indulge in our own wealth of diverse whims for the evening. All in all, it was a truly stellar beginning to a magical night at sea.

On another front, by now I was beginning to grow mildly worried about my increasing addiction to the fried dumplings served up at the on board breakfast buffet. My arteries started to whimper every time I laid eyes on the damned things, but they were just too good to resist. It’s only a week, I kept telling myself…

And so, with the sun well and truly past the yardarm on another sunny day, it was time for my daily Jacuzzi aerobics session before heading ashore. Honestly, who knew that lifting a Strawberry Daiquiri in a hot tub required such intensive practice?

ADVENTURE OF THE SEAS BLOG PART ONE

SERENADE

Well, here we are; sailing the Caribbean aboard the awesome Adventure of the Seas, cruising across what looks like a sea of glass. It’s sunny, the temperature is up in the thirties, and there’s a whole fleet of layered, fluffy white clouds drifting by above us, as if keeping the ship company.

Life on board has already settled into the timeless, indolent routine of a Caribbean cruise. The hot tubs are fuller than some of the plates I saw loaded up at the breakfast buffet, and boy, that is saying something. The pools are sparkling in the fresh, mid morning sunlight. The sun beds are full of those happy souls freshly liberated from winter’s cold, clammy embrace. The whole ship seems to be, well- smiling……

Getting out here was quite the journey; there was a short shuttle flight from Newcastle to Heathrow, and then a real lucky break. My Virgin Atlantic flight to New York’s JFK was on the new 787 Dreamliner. We had great service throughout, decent food, and plentiful drinks runs delivered up by a friendly, hard working crew. It’s an old cliché to say that time truly flew by,  but the experience of that flight really did put me in a happy place while still 36,000 feet above the Atlantic.

So, too, did the selection of some three hundred and ninety six seat back albums available to listen to, on offer for free. I got to The Kinks’ Greatest Hits, and then stopped looking; there’s something incredibly satisfying about enjoying a glass of wine at 36,000 feet, as the strains of Waterloo Sunset kiss your lugs. A great big thanks to all the staff of VS9 for a wonderful flight.

New York landfall was all frigid, frantic hustle, but I was off the plane and in my hotel room at the Crowne Plaza JFK in just under an hour. I’m normally a vocal critic of the ‘welcome’ extended by certain US airports to visitors, but credit where it’s due; huge kudos to JFK staff for a job very well done.

A quick bite to eat and a couple of glasses of wine in the Crowne Plaza’s Aviator bar were the best that I could manage before an 0430 Saturday wake up call to check in for my flight to Puerto Rico. The cold cut me like a thousand knives as I headed to the airport, but I already knew that sunshine- warm, sweet sunshine- lay not too far ahead in my immediate future. Oh boy, was I ever to be proven wrong….

My Delta flight to Puerto Rico promised a three hour, fifty minute experience. It lofted into a sky where the dawn was just breaking, soaring above a land and seascape packed with marshmallow clouds. I drifted in and out of a fitful sleep until the yelp of plane tyres on runway jolted me back into the here and now.

Royal Caribbean transfers incoming passengers directly from the airport to the ship, while luggage is checked curb side onto sealed vans for direct delivery to your cabin. It’s a smart, simple idea as it means that you don’t have to identify it at the cruise terminal.

An ominously looming thunderstorm broke like a wrathful god over the road leading to the port of San Juan. Dear God, I thought, haven’t these poor people- the all too recent victims of one of the most destructive hurricanes on record- suffered enough? The route to the port was lined with battered palm trees, many with their fronds hanging smashed and limp like so many tattered battle flags. We sloshed on through the downpour, to eventually come to a halt in the shadow of a vast, soaring white phalanx of steel that loomed some fourteen storeys above our heads, This, of course, was the Adventure of the Seas.

Solicitous Royal Caribbean staff covered passengers with umbrellas as, one by one, we were ushered into the warm, welcoming belly of the cavernous ship. Almost at once, all was glitter, soaring ceilings, and attentive waiters bearing drinks and trays of snacks as we boarded. Eyes on stilts, it really was something to take in the awesome scale of this jaw dropping resort on the ocean.

After a quick but welcome lunch at the busy Windjammer Marketplace, it was time to check out our cabins. I lucked out with a Superior Ocean View balcony cabin on Deck Seven. Cool and commodious, it came with twin beds that converted to a comfortable queen, a real, three seat sofa and in house TV set up, ample storage and closet space, and a full, floor to ceiling sliding glass door that led out onto the balcony.

That balcony was something else; it had an overhead covering, and a pair of expansive, mesh covered deck chairs and a proper, full height table that was ideally set up for snacks, drinks, or indeed, both. The flooring was synthetic, and there was a Perspex screen topped by a teak railing. Set inwards from the hull, it was more like a cove than some kind of external addition, and as such it offered the best of all worlds.  I had the feeling almost straight away that I’d be spending some quality time out here during the next week or so.

The bathroom was functional and somewhat sparse, but it had everything that you needed. The WC was at a right angle to a shower enclosed in a plastic, semi circular space against the wall, screened by a brace of sliding plastic doors. There was a sink, ample towels, two bars of soap, and a generic soap dispenser mounted on the shower wall. Forewarned in advance, I had brought my own, preferred toiletries. There was ample storage space for all of these.

Because Puerto Rico was still recovering slowly from the effects of Hurricane Maria, baggage at the port had to be loaded by hand. Thus, the luggage of some 3300 passengers had to be manually hand balled onto the ship, and then distributed around ten decks of passenger accommodation throughout this huge ship. And all of this in the face of a furious thunderstorm that drummed the quayside and drenched those trying to work down there. Inevitably, delays in delivery ensued. Some of our passengers got so apoplectic that at least four announcements were made over the loudspeaker situation, both explaining and apologising for it.

I got the frustration, but I also get that nobody can ‘make’ weather, either. It is what it is. And, in comparison to the ghastly ordeal that many of those on Puerto Rico had recently endured when that hurricane had scythed across the island (and many still had no electricity almost two months on), a delay in the arrival of a few cases hardly equated to the Titanic disaster in my mind. It’s disheartening how easily some people take umbrage, and rail at the slightest inconvenience. Both the dockside gang and the Royal Caribbean staff toiled manfully to sort out the backlog. My luggage rocked up at about nine that evening; it was an emotional reunion for both of us.

The rain finally cried off at about eight in the evening. Right on schedule at eight thirty, the Adventure of the Seas shrugged off her ropes, and warped out into open water. Fourteen storeys of light and music loomed out to sea, our siren booming across the widening expanse to the floodlit Malecon, where lights shimmered on ink black water and cars barrelled along the waterfront like swarms of maddened insects. From somewhere ashore, a searing, strident blast of mambo trumpet took flight in the evening air, sizzling in the muggy, humid darkness. We waved goodbye to passengers on the nearby Celebrity Summit and, with that, we were off into the briny; destination Curacao.

It was the first evening and, still somewhat tired after my two day, three flight journey to get out there, I decided to keep in simple. A couple of beers in the Schooner Bar- a popular Royal Caribbean fleet wide staple- fitted the mood perfectly, followed by a quick buffet dinner with some excellent steak and chicken. Already, I was beginning to warm through.

I was just about done, but I did manage to catch the ‘welcome aboard’ show with a rather good headline comedian. By then, I was running on fumes, and that big double bed in my room was looking more and more like a dream destination with every passing moment.

I sagged into it with almost pathetic gratitude, like a puppet with it’s strings cut, and went out only marginally less quickly than the light that clicked sweetly out above my head. Sleep cradled me like a baby, and held me in her arms all night.

Sunday morning came, sweet as slowly falling confetti. The rain had long since gone, and the Adventure of the Seas was gliding like some pristine, perfectly primped swan across what looked like a sea of immaculately polished glass. Tonight would be a formal night, with a Motown themed night to follow in the fourteenth level, glass walled disco. All things considered, the next few days were looking to shape up rather well…..