Tag Archives: caribbean cruising

ENCHANTMENT OF THE SEAS EXCELS IN SHORT 2019 CRUISE SEASON

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The enigmatic Enchantment of the Seas

While many of the ships in the Royal Caribbean fleet continue to garner headlines for their great size, amenities and range of dining options, other ships in the fleet simply carry on with their own, often unremarked on schedules.

Yet some of these vessels are among the mainstays of the Royal Caribbean portfolio, and perhaps none has been so overlooked, or as persistently passed over as the Enchantment of the Seas.

Originally built as one of the six ship Vision class of siblings, the 74,000 ton ship first entered service in 1997.

However, in 2005 the Enchantment was expanded by the addition of a brand new, purpose built, seventy two foot mid section. The work was carried out at a shipyard in Rotterdam, and it had the effect of raising the ship’s tonnage to it’s current figure of 82, 910 GRT. As it currently stands, the Enchantment of the Seas has a passenger capacity of 2,446, based on double occupancy.

The actual lengthening was regarded as a great success at the time, and it was the company’s intention back then to repeat the process with all five of her siblings, beginning with near twin sister ship, Grandeur of the Seas. However, the prohibitive cost of such a massive, multi vessel project, together with the entry into service of several successive classes of new, purpose built cruise ships at Royal Caribbean, meant that only the Enchantment of the Seas was thus remodelled.

The ship subsequently returned to Florida. Unlike her sisters and fleet mates, there has never been a subsequent deployment of Enchantment of the Seas to Europe, Asia, or even Alaska.

Instead, this beautiful ship currently operates out of Miami, sailing three and four night cruises to the Bahamas each week. The three night, mostly weekend cruises typically visit Nassau, Grand Bahama Island, and the company’s recently remodelled ‘private island’ at Coco Cay.

The four night sailings (and you really do need four nights to get the true feel of such a large, amenity laden ship) typically take in Coco Cay, Nassau, and Key West.

Unless some major policy change dictates otherwise, these cruises will continue on through to 2019.

This still very glamorous, under the radar ship is celebrating her twenty-first year of successful service with Royal Caribbean in 2018. I, for one, have always felt that she deserves somewhat more of a starring role in the company line up than has thus far proved the case.

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MONARCH EMERGES FROM $10 MILLION REFURBISHMENT

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Pullantur’s Monarch in her current livery

Pullmantur’s Monarch has just emerged from a 21 day, $10 million refurbishment at Freeport’s Grand Bahama shipyard. The ship is probably best remembered as Royal Caribbean’s monolithic, 1991 built Monarch of The Seas.

Pullmantur- itself at one time part of the Royal Caribbean portfolio- has invested significantly in the 74,000 ton ship.

Much of the work carried out was internal in nature, and involved new carpeting, fixtures and fittings in cabins and public areas right across the 2,300 passenger ship, together with some external work across the pool deck, and other outdoor areas of the ship. In all, something like fifteen thousand square metres of  carpeting was replaced, together with around a thousand metres of furniture upholstery fabric.

Deck Twelve has been outfitted with a new solarium area, and the indoor spa and shopping complexes have also been refreshed. There has also been a change for all signage in food and public area outlets, with the intention of making it more user friendly for the ship’s predominantly Latino clientele.

On the technical side, Pullmantur says that enhancements were made to make the vessel more ‘environmentally friendly’, but actual details on these are non existent at the time of writing.

After completing this period of overhaul and updating, the Monarch resumed her programme of year round, seven day, all inclusive Caribbean cruises. These destination intensive cruises allow foe embarkation in either Curacao, Aruba, or at Panama City’s port of Colon.

Meanwhile, the Sovereign- twin sister ship of the Monarch- has returned to Europe after her usual seasonal winter programme in Brazil. The ship- formerly the Sovereign of The Seas- is now operating seven night round trip cruises in the Western Mediterranean that allows for embarkation from any of six ports of call en route.

As ever, stay tuned for updates.

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 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 BLOG PART ONE

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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…..