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  #1  
Old February 12th, 2010, 06:31 PM
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Thumbs up Living it Up on Independence of the Seas! 8-nt Eastern REVIEW-lots of pics & detail!

Hello and Welcome Aboard! This review will recount our recent 8-night Eastern cruise aboard Royal Caribbean Cruise Line’s fabulous ship, Independence of the Seas. We sailed January 23-31, 2010 with ports of call in St. Maarten, St. Thomas, San Juan, and Labadee.

A little bit of background: this was our first cruise with Royal Caribbean. We are a family of five, my husband and I in our mid-thirties and three children: our son is 10; our daughter 8, and our youngest daughter 20 months. Having younger children, we have sailed several times on Disney Cruise Line and we really enjoy Disney. Originally we were supposed to sail the Oasis as part of a wedding party for my cousin. Alas, that fell through and we decided to book the Independence instead. The 8 –night itinerary was really the deciding factor. As much as we would have loved to sail on Oasis, the prices were double what the Independence cruise cost. We booked a D1 balcony room in July ’09 and watched religiously for a price drop. Several months prior to sailing RCCL released GTY Balcony rooms, including quads. We were technically a quint (five of us in the room, allowed since our youngest is under 2) and when we called to change from our assigned D1 to GTY Balcony at first we were told we could not. The next day, however as promised a supervisor called us and told us not only had they adjusted our cost to reflect the lower GTY price, they also allowed us to stay in the D1 room to which we were already assigned. This was desirable to us since the room was in a good location (mid-aft, deck 9). We were very pleased with RCCL’s customer service and now we had a hefty OBC spend onboard the ship.

We live in Central Florida so on the afternoon of Friday January 22 we left for the four hour drive to Fort Lauderdale. We stopped along the way for dinner at Cracker Barrel, which is a pre-cruise tradition for us.


After dinner we arrived at the Hyatt Place hotel in Ft. Lauderdale where we would be staying that evening. We booked through Hotwire for $89/night (not including parking). The hotel was nice and was full of other cruisers departing the next day.


Our room on the fourth floor was very large and had a sitting area with sectional that pulled out to a double bed, mini-kitchen including fridge, desk area with many different computer hookups (free Wi-Fi is included for at least the first 24 hours of your stay), a large bedroom area with a king bed that was divided off from sitting area part of the room, a real closet, a large bathroom counter area and a separate toilet/shower room. Also a gigantic (at least 48 inch) flat screen TV. Some pictures of our room:


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Disney Fantasy 10-25-14
Oasis of the Seas 11-9-13
Carnival Breeze 5-5-13
Disney Fantasy 9-22-12
Allure of the Seas 9-18-11
Disney Magic 10-30-10
Independence of the Seas 1-23-10
Disney Magic 9-27-08
Disney Wonder 10-4-07
Disney Wonder 3-18-07


56 Days at sea and counting...
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  #2  
Old February 12th, 2010, 06:37 PM
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Day 1 –Saturday: Ft. Lauderdale, FL- Embarkation

On the morning of Sat. January 23, we started off with a pretty decent free continental breakfast provided by Hyatt. As we prepared to leave the hotel, the lobby and portico were swamped with cruisers checking out and catching the shuttle to the port. We loaded up the van and headed off shortly after 10 AM. The Hyatt Place was very convenient to the port; literally less than a 5-minute drive to the security checkpoint. We were excited to see this:


After a short wait to be cleared through security, we were welcomed to Port Everglades and instructed to “Go straight then take a Right”. Luckily I had researched the port pretty thoroughly and knew ahead of time which terminal we would be at and had maps and directions, etc. since the signage in the port isn’t the greatest. We eventually found our way to Terminal 25 and pulled up in a mad cluster of cars and tried to figure out where to drop off our bags. We soon discovered we were in the area that was pick-up for those departing the ship that day and had to merge back into the crazy traffic and continue on to find the drop off area. There were some Sherriff’s deputies directing traffic but we were very confused. Eventually we found a similar curb area to the pick-up one and pulled in behind another vehicle. This area was a mad house. Traffic was atrocious- people, cars, vans, and luggage were everywhere. There did not seem to be much if any order or organization. After the car in front of us unloaded their bags (very slowly I might add), the police officer directed up to pull in their vacated “spot” (which was not really a spot) and empty our bags quickly. Both my husband and I got out and unloaded our bags at the curb, but with no porters really to be seen (that weren’t already occupied) I carried the luggage over and placed it into the metal containers used to bring it onboard myself. Luckily I did not need luggage tags. Even though we unloaded fairly quickly the cop was on us to hurry up and he was more than a bit testy. We were there unloading for about 3 minutes tops and he really gave us a hard time. Seriously..!?!?! This whole port pick up/drop off area is unbelievably disorganized. At some point in this chaos I managed to rip off half of my big toenail. I didn’t even notice it until much later, while onboard I looked down and saw my white sandal covered in blood.

Once we completed that task, we merged back into the throngs of traffic and slowly made our way around the cul-de-sac and back towards the Midport Parking garage. Traffic was nuts, did I mention that? Anyway, when you enter the garage, you take a ticket. Parking costs $15/day and you pay at the end of your cruise when you exit the garage.

We were on the 2nd level of the garage where there is an elevated walkway to cross the street to the terminal. There are elevators on both sides of the street. Then you travel along the (uncovered) sidewalk to the terminal building. It was starting to rain as we lumbered in with all of our carryons and stroller. Continuing the theme of confusion nothing was well marked and we wandered in the wrong end of the terminal. We wandered back out and made the long trek down past the terminal, through all the pick-up people to the far end, by where we dropped off our luggage. We stopped to peek at the luggage to make sure it was OK. Our container was still right there, with apparently all of our (and only our) luggage in it…in the rain, getting wet.


As we approached what appeared to be the entrance of the terminal there were two separate unmarked lines. We just got in one of them. I don’t know if there was any difference between the two of them, but they led you to the first security check where you present your identification. We cruise with birth certificates and ID’s (except for me, I have a passport), and the agent was not as friendly as she could have been as I struggled to unfold everything and present it (note to readers: be ready with everything opened and neatly organized when you approach the terminal entrance. Considering the mass disorganization with which they carry on, can you hear my eyes roll?). In any case we were swiftly on our way to the real security lines. That was really a struggle, as we had several carryons (including heavy sodas), a diaper bag, the stroller, etc. It took some time to move through here and then we were inside the stark, barren, yes…UGLY terminal.




Having cruised Disney I can’t emphasize enough how barebones, cheap and unappealing this terminal is compared to the DCL one at Port Canaveral. Luckily we did not have to spend much time inside of it. We did not have to wait for a window, and although the check-in clerk as not as well informed as we would have liked (we used a cash account and he erroneously told us we would not be able to use our Seapass cards for charging onboard without attaching a credit card) Noticing that boarding had not started and everyone was just sitting around in the equally unattractive and unpleasant waiting area. I asked about priority boarding due to the stroller and was told we’d be accommodated, however right as we approached the waiting room, boarding began and the masses headed for the escalator. Since we had a stroller we had to wait for an elevator, which actually did put us ahead of some of the crowd.


The big line worked slowly through the building, then finally across the gangway and onboard (so much for priority boarding). The “wait” to get onboard (basically working your way through the line) took about 15 minutes, and we were onboard at about noon.

We entered the Independence on beautiful Deck 4. Adventure Ocean staff was right by and quickly got our kids their mandatory colored lifeboat wristbands. We were instructed to come up to AO and sign them up later that evening, and we never made it. We went straight to guest service to sea about the Seapass charging and there was no wait. We were told quickly that we were misinformed and then we headed on our way. We wanted to make our specialty dining reservations right away and had read that there would be a podium in the promenade to take care of this task, but the beautiful promenade was completely deserted, save for some Travel Agents getting a tour. We stopped at Café Promenade for some cookies, and then headed up to the King Lear dining room to make our reservations for that evenings’ MTD. It was no problem to get our desired time, and we took a few minutes to explore the luxurious three-level dining room. We found the King Lear dining room slightly less elegant than the Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth levels, but it may be that we just did not prefer the greenish color scheme and light wood chair design; It gave us somewhat of a cafeteria vibe as compared to the rooms below.

Next we headed up to secure Chops and Portofino reservations. We initially got the early reservations but as the cruise went on we decided to switch to later time slots. That was never a problem and it was easy to both get and change the reservations. That was a relief to us as we were used to Disney’s specialty restaurant Palo, which is very hard to get into. We then headed into Windjammer for the sail away lunch buffet.

We had read numerous negative reviews regarding Indy of late; most of the negativity concerned the food quality. We were impressed with Windjammer, both with décor, setup, and food variety and quality. It was very difficult to get a table, as WJ was packed. (Go to the left instead of the right; we usually always found seating port side), but getting a high chair did take a while. The kids enjoyed pizza, hot dogs, and crispy, yummy French fries. The hardest thing on the buffet to come by was the Honey Stung Chicken. Every station it was displayed at, the pan was empty. I finally came across one being replaced, and loaded up my plate with fresh crispy honey stung chicken! It was de-boned chicken breast fillets (with skin) coated in a thick sweet breading and deep fried. Ron (my husband) thought it was way overrated (and he expected an Asian stir-fry type of dish, which it clearly was not), but I really liked my fresh pieces (and I’m not a fan of chicken skin). We were already impressed with the food quality onboard (although admittedly our expectations were low).
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Disney Fantasy 10-25-14
Oasis of the Seas 11-9-13
Carnival Breeze 5-5-13
Disney Fantasy 9-22-12
Allure of the Seas 9-18-11
Disney Magic 10-30-10
Independence of the Seas 1-23-10
Disney Magic 9-27-08
Disney Wonder 10-4-07
Disney Wonder 3-18-07


56 Days at sea and counting...
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  #3  
Old February 12th, 2010, 06:41 PM
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After lunch, we were anxious to get down to our stateroom and get rid of our carryon luggage. We were in Stateroom 9376, a D1 balcony port side towards the aft end of the boat. Our first impression of the room was that it was larger than we expected. The balcony was also deeper than the balconies we had experienced on Disney. Most of our luggage had already arrived. While most would have been excited to see their luggage so soon, we were a bit concerned since we were missing two pieces of luggage. I knew it had all come up together since not only did I place it in the container myself, I saw it sitting in the container later on. I peeked in the luggage room and spoke to the luggage attendant and he said we had all of our bags, that everything from that container was already distributed. I told him no, that we were missing two pieces, and he said not to worry, give it some time for them to show up. I was skeptical since I knew it should have all been together. As I turned to walk back to the room, a gentleman from down the hall called our name (or my daughter’s actually since that was the name on the luggage tags), and approached carrying one of our suitcases. It had been mis-delivered down the hall. At this point we were pretty certain the other one had also ended up at someone else’s room, and while in hindsight we shouldn’t have worried too much about it, we were pretty concerned that somehow due to the chaos outside it did not make it onboard.
Our room:


Our door decorations! It was always easy to find our room!!


After getting our stuff dropped off, we headed down to the Flowrider. We’d read that right after boarding Was A great time to experience it with light crowds, and sure enough there was hardly anyone there. In fact it was us and 1 or 2 other families, so it was almost like a private hour for free!






After Flowrider, it was time for the mandatory Lifeboat drill. We got changed out of our suits and headed to our station, which was in King Lear dining room. We did not have to wear the lifejackets, which was nice, as was the fact that we were relaxing at a table instead of crunched in a line of people out on deck. The drill seemed to take a while (we broke our rule on not arriving early), but it was still about 20-25 minutes or more. This was the first sign of things to come as far as delays in departure.
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Disney Fantasy 10-25-14
Oasis of the Seas 11-9-13
Carnival Breeze 5-5-13
Disney Fantasy 9-22-12
Allure of the Seas 9-18-11
Disney Magic 10-30-10
Independence of the Seas 1-23-10
Disney Magic 9-27-08
Disney Wonder 10-4-07
Disney Wonder 3-18-07


56 Days at sea and counting...
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  #4  
Old February 12th, 2010, 06:46 PM
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Right after the drill we headed directly to the helipad for sail away. We were scheduled to sail away at 5 PM. I had made arrangements for photos (and as it turned out, video) to be taken of us sailing away from the Mortgage Mobile Port Everglades Webcam. We waited out on the helipad rail for what seemed like hours (and was in actuality about 90 minutes) before finally sailing away late at almost 6 PM.
Check out the cool video of us sailing away! Independence Jan 23 Sailaway
Ron was initially upset we missed the “real” Sail away party up on the pool deck. Being Veterans of Disney, we enjoy the big celebration they put on at sail away. So we assumed we were missing a party of similar caliber. When we saw the cruise in review video later in the week, it was nice to see that we couldn’t have been more wrong and we didn’t miss a thing. The RCCL sail away party consisted of about 40 people doing the Macarena on the pool bridge with a – a thing- I don’t know how to describe it. Is it a buoy? Is it a “character”? Who the heck knows? It is a roundish, triangular-y, faceless, bouncy…well, thing. That is the best I can do friends. It makes us practically collapse in hysterics when we see it, so I guess it does its’ job, eh?

After heading out into the Atlantic, we retreated to our room to begin unpacking. Our rogue suitcase had still not appeared (and by this point there was no more luggage in the hallway, nor was the adjacent luggage room still open). We pretty much figured at this point it was either left behind on the curb somehow or maybe in the naughty room, even though there was nothing in it but clothing.
We managed to unpack most of the bags we had. We never completely unpacked our “bathroom” duffel bag; instead we kept most things in it, tucked under the counter. Had we found the ingenious large triangle shaped medicine cabinet built into the mirror earlier, then we might have unpacked it. There was lots of inventive storage in the rooms. Mirrors opened up to reveal little shelving units, there was a place to store (most) of the lifejackets in the closet independent of the shelving, and the closet was large and had plenty (20-30) of hangers! We emptied the mini-bar items and filled the fridge with coke. Finally right before we were preparing to leave for dinner, the missing bag appeared, with a new, handwritten luggage tag affixed. I had noticed at home that the adhesive tags separate very easily and had scotch taped the two sides together to help ensure they would not come detached during transport, but apparently those efforts were not enough. We were just glad to have the bag and headed up to dinner.
We had selected 8:45 as our dinner time the first night, which was a good time in the MTD area. It wasn’t too busy and we had good service from our waiter Sahare and her assistants (she appeared to have two assistant servers working with her). It was very hard to read the RCCL nametags from a casual distance so we were under the assumption the assistant we saw most often was the one named on the table (there is a little acrylic display that lists your table number and server/assistant’s names), however we would find out at the end of the cruise he wasn’t who we thought he was!
As far as the food goes, again we were pleasantly surprised. We really liked it! For appetizers we had the famed Vidalia Onion Tart. It wasn’t exactly what I expected- more like a quiche or spread of sorts, but it was tasty. I also had some of the oft-mentioned savory bites rolls, and they were good too. They have a rich sun-dried tomato-ey flavor to them. I also had the Chilled Watermelon Gazpacho, which although not appealing looking, tasted like liquid watermelon, and was crisp, fresh and delicious. For entrees, Ron chose the Prime Rib which he said was very good, and I tried the Mediterranean Quesadilla. While the quesadilla was a bit soggy and not crisp, the flavors were rich, the cheese decadently melty, and the thick veggie chunks scrumptious. It isn’t the kind of meal I would typically order at a restaurant back home, but I liked it. Brendan (our son) had the Alternative Selection Sirloin steak, and daughter Savannah had pasta with marinara off of the kids’ menu. For dessert, we had the chocolate cherry cake which was a delicious creamy mousse-like consistency. The kids had brownie sundaes:


After dinner, we headed back to the room and finished unpacking. With 5 people and 8 suitcases plus carryons in one room, we did not expect to have enough storage space to handle everything. We ended up stacking a couple of suitcases in the closet to make a “shelf” to store more clothing and diapers, etc. This worked well enough, but we did struggle towards the end of the week when we began to accumulate a lot of dirty clothes.
Ron took the kids to the Olympus Rocks Parade at 11 PM. He said it was pretty lame. A few ancient Greek/Roman costumes, togas abound, some cardboard props, and members of the service teams (servers, housekeeping, etc.) parading up and down the promenade with little signs informing us of such. And the music- pop tunes from the 80’s with the words changed. Instead of “The Heat is On, The Heat is O-On”, it was “Olympus Rocks, Olympus Roh-hocks”. I’ll give them a B for effort but it was…strange. Interesting at best, you can skip this one without guilt. (The parades do get better later in the week).
Our first night onboard was over, and we headed off happily to bed.
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Disney Fantasy 10-25-14
Oasis of the Seas 11-9-13
Carnival Breeze 5-5-13
Disney Fantasy 9-22-12
Allure of the Seas 9-18-11
Disney Magic 10-30-10
Independence of the Seas 1-23-10
Disney Magic 9-27-08
Disney Wonder 10-4-07
Disney Wonder 3-18-07


56 Days at sea and counting...
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  #5  
Old February 12th, 2010, 06:53 PM
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Day 2 – Sunday: At Sea

We awoke rather late on Sunday Jan. 24. Ron got up just in time to run down to get Ice Show tickets for later that afternoon. The Meet & Mingle was this morning and by the time we got everyone up, dressed and topside for breakfast at WJ, we were already missing it. We were already having to adjust our plans quite a bit. Thanks to a fellow CC member, we had used the Compasses from an earlier cruise to plan out this one. Another difference from DCL- (which has a very established onboard routine which rarely ever changes) - Royal is much more flexible and already our Compasses were dramatically different from the ones we planned off of. Since I am an anal planner that likes to have everything all scheduled out, this threw us a bit…but we just sighed, threw all our plans to the wind and went with it. What else could we do?
After breakfast we headed to the H20 zone. I was afraid it would be packed but we quickly found chairs. In fact on this cruise seats were always available near the H20 zone. Not so much by the main pool. I took Sarah to the baby splash zone, which she loved. As I expected the pool attendants were very strict about keeping the diapered children in the baby zone and the non-diapered children out (something I wish Disney would do).



The older kids loved the H20 zone as well, especially the little “donut” pool. We took a trip back to Flowrider for a while and the kids and Ron Boogie Boarded a bit (it was much busier today), and then back to the H20 zone. This would pretty much be our pattern onboard! It was sunny on deck but extremely windy and a bit cool due to the winds. Before too long we headed down to dry off and change clothes since we had gotten tickets to the 3 PM ice show matinee. Before heading down to Studio B, we stopped in Sorrento’s for lunch. The pizza was good, but not great. I think it might be a tad overrated on these boards. It was certainly a decent little lunch though.

We made our way down to Studio B, which was not so easy. We were on the wrong end of the promenade and since you can’t travel directly across on 3 (or 4 without going through the Casino), we had to go back up to 5 and cross the promenade, then ride back down to 3. The elevators were a pain in the butt most of the time too. Since we had a stroller we had to use them. The programming on them was weird; sometimes elevators would totally pass you up and stop at the next floor for example. It was a hassle at times. Getting from 9 to 11 was sometimes hard on sea days as the elevators would often be full heading up.

Once inside Studio B we had the difficulty of finding a good seat. We did not arrive terribly early (maybe 15-20 minutes) and of course all the “good” seats that directly faced the ice were gone. There was still seating on the “sides” of the rink but it is harder to find a good spot here due to the numerous support poles blocking the view. Since I had struggled getting an elevator with the stroller and the boys had gone in ahead of us, they had found the seats near a snotty lady making under-her breath seat saving remarks to her husband about us (did she not realize I was only a few minutes behind due to parking the stroller? I guess not) Oh well. Not like it was any skin off her back, she was there first and already had a seat)
In any event the Ice Show Freeze Frame was spectacular! It follows pop-culture and headlines back in time from the ‘40’s-70’s with music hits from each decade. I am really glad we got Freeze Frame, it was a lot of fun and I think we enjoyed the premise of the show a lot more than we would have the other Ice show shown onboard- the Classically-themed “Strings”. There was only one minor fall, and some of the stunts and jumps they did were pretty difficult, especially on that small rink. It was stunning and I wish we could have seen it again.

From the finale of Freeze Frame:



On the way out of the show, we made our first Elvis sighting. This cruise was inhabited by a group of Elvis Impersonators and fans (“Cruising with the King”) and they were having one of their events in On Air as we passed by.






We watched the King for a bit, and then headed back upstairs. The kids and Ron went back to Flowrider and I took Sarah back to the room for a nap and enjoyed relaxing on the balcony

Tonight was the first of two formal nights. We had scheduled our MTD dinner earlier this evening (7 PM) so we could make the 9:00 show. When we arrived, the MTD area was packed. We would discover 7 PM was likely the busiest time. We had to wait a bit, and even though we had requested the same table (or at least the same section), we would have had to wait a long time, so we elected to be seated anywhere there was an opening.




Dinner this evening would not run quite as smoothly. We are quick eaters, and since we have kids as well, our dinner was moved through at a rapid pace the night before. This evening it crawled. Our server was nice enough, but things just did not progress as quickly which is hard when you have a little one. For appetizers Ron had the cocktail shrimp and Lobster Bisque which he really enjoyed. I had the Pineapple and Papaya soup which was a bit bitter. For entrees, we both selected the Filet of Beef, served sliced with peppercorn gravy, mushrooms, and mashed potatoes. It was delicious. The kids had the Black Angus Sirloin again and Linguini with Marinara. Dessert was the Bittersweet Chocolate Soufflé, which we were expecting to be darkly chocolate and sinfully rich. It was very disappointing. It was caramel in color and taste- no chocolate flavor at all and the sauce was also caramely and not chocolate in the sense that we were expecting.

As we ate, someone came around with little tiny Mudslide shots in cute colored metal collectible shot glasses. The guy serving them said that since they were collectibles this was the only time on the cruise that they would be available and that each cruise is a different color. I had pretty much decided to get one anyway (without asking how much they cost- bad me!) but when we got the bill found that one little 2 oz shot cost $7! Yikes!! (It was creamy, chocolatey, caramel deliciousness but not sure if it was $7 worth!) Not to mention the collectible-one-time/one-color only glass was available for purchase on the last day of the cruise in the promenade- all different colors were available too.

Service was a tad hectic this evening. We saw a lot of the head server, in fact he served us most of our food. The head server was nice but we didn’t see him much til the end when he made a little table-napkin mouse for the kids. The assistant was a bit slow, as we often waited for drinks, even water.
Speaking of drinks, we did not buy the soda package onboard since only one of us (Ron) drinks a lot of soda at home. I love iced tea which is free (if hard to come by) onboard and the kids will drink water or the lemonade and fruit punch which is also free (but again hard to get). I really liked the little travel mug they give you with the package –it is somewhat like an aluminum travel coffee mug and has a cool RCCL logo design on it. You can get the iced tea, lemonade, and sometimes fruit punch during lunch and dinner hours at the WJ and that is pretty much the only place you can get them. One thing I disliked is that the teas (and the other beverages) are served up cafeteria style, hundreds of glasses at a time, all with ice melting in them. Yuk. I love iced tea, brisk with a lot of ice and it wasn’t until the end of the cruise that I managed to snag a good non-watery cold glass of it. That was one of my main disappointments onboard. You can also get iced tea from room service, but we never ended up trying that. In Café Promenade and Sorrento’s all you can get (if you don’t have a soda card) is ice water, milk, or coffee. No iced tea. (I could have made hot tea and asked for some ice but I didn’t feel like dealing with the hassle. Plus the glasses are small 8 –oz size tumblers. Just a bit of info for those considering the soda package and availability of the free drinks onboard.

After dinner, we headed to the Alhambra Theater for the Invitation to Dance production show. Since dinner ran so long (almost 2 hours) we were arriving right before show time, and for the 9:00 show (the popular one when they do the post-dinner shows which are 9:00 PM and 11:00 PM) it was packed to the rafters. We managed to get seats up in the top balcony towards the rear on the far side of the stage. Not the greatest seats but we were amongst those lucky enough to get seats, as by show time a few minutes later, many, many people were standing in the back. In fact there are support poles here too and one seat, the aisle one at the end of our row was completely blocked by this pole, and even though we occupied the rest of the row ourselves, people were constantly coming one at a time to sit in that lone seat, until they discovered they could not see the stage. About halfway through the show a lady came and sat there and apparently she was tired enough of standing to not care since she stayed sitting there, even though we knew she could not see a thing.



As for the show itself, this one did not impress us. Savannah is a competition dancer, and they bill this show as similar to ‘So You Think You Can Dance”, except it is without the modern dance and hip-hop. It is pretty much exclusively classical Ballroom Dancing and singing Big Band 40’s style jazz tunes which really wasn’t our cup of tea. There wasn’t a story line, just dancing and singing, repeat. Although the performers were good and costumes nice, we weren’t too impressed with this one overall.

Back in our room, a graceful swan awaited our return. We were all exhausted after a busy, active day at sea and were soon asleep awaiting the next one tomorrow.
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Disney Fantasy 10-25-14
Oasis of the Seas 11-9-13
Carnival Breeze 5-5-13
Disney Fantasy 9-22-12
Allure of the Seas 9-18-11
Disney Magic 10-30-10
Independence of the Seas 1-23-10
Disney Magic 9-27-08
Disney Wonder 10-4-07
Disney Wonder 3-18-07


56 Days at sea and counting...
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  #6  
Old February 12th, 2010, 06:55 PM
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Great review! Great photos!
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Old February 12th, 2010, 06:58 PM
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Day 3 –Monday: At Sea

We were up only slightly earlier Monday Morning. Our second full day at sea would be another one full of onboard activities. Ron was up first and headed up to the fitness center. Once we were all awake and dressed, we headed up to WJ for breakfast. We rushed through breakfast in order to make it to the Kids’ Learn to Ice Skate session at 10:30. While we did make it to Studio B prior to 10:30, unfortunately 30 other kids had gotten there first, and the skating session was already closed. We signed up for the first open skate at 11:00 AM and headed into the audience to watch the teaching session. I think the kids probably got as much out of it by watching as they would have if they were on the ice. At 11:00 the kids’ learn-to-skate ended and we headed down for the open skating session. There is a table set up where you get your ice skates and also helmets and knee/elbow pads if desired. There is a maximum of 50 participants per session so that the ice is not too crowded. Of our family, I was the only one who had ever ice skated before and that was only one time… 23 years ago. We all did pretty well, though. You have to wear long pants (not capris) or jeans to ice skate, and bring socks. I did not fall but I didn’t stray too far from the wall either. It was hard since there some really advanced skaters flying around everyone else and we were constantly trying to stay out of their way even though really it would have been easier if they just stayed out of our way. In any event it was a whole lot of fun; we skated for the entire session. At the end after repeated requests to clear the ice, some kids were playing around down there and it wasn’t until after four or five stern warnings and finally a threat to revoke their privileges that they vacated the ice. We did not take Sarah on the ice since she is so young, although they would have had skates to fit her and we could have taken her out there, there are technically no age restrictions.



After skating, we changed into shorts and headed up to the Sports Deck. We had first decided to play the Miniature Golf Course since the Rock Wall was not open for climbing yet. Today was super crazy windy, Like gale-force winds. Like a hurricane. It was crazy. It made for an interesting round of golf, with the balls rolling all over the place. The course was pretty full when we started, but by the time we reached hole 5 or 6 (of 9) we were mostly alone. The Golf course is open 24 hours a day; it is not staffed- there is a box with child and adult putters, different colored balls, and pencils/score sheets at Hole 1.


After we abandoned the putt-putt course we got our gear and lined up for the Rock Wall. Again, technically no restrictions except that you have to fit in a size XS to XXL harness. Ron was the first one up, and he flew right to the top before I could even make my way around the basketball court to the entrance. The kids and I ended up climbing up at the same time, so there are no pictures of me (maybe that is a good thing). I did make it about 1/3 of the way up (appx. 15 feet- it is a 48 foot wall) it was difficult. The kids did not make it all the way up either but it was a fun experience.
After that, back to probably our favorite spot on the whole boat: Deck 13 Aft…Flowrider! The kids were pretty good at it by now, but I had not tried it yet. It looks like a piece of cake, but it isn’t as easy as it looks. I had no trouble staying on the boogie board and got pretty good at steering it and maneuvering it up and down the wave. I was only on about 30 seconds but it felt like a few minutes. Confident in my abilities, I decided to try a barrel roll, which is a maneuver where you roll over onto your back and then continue rolling completely over to land back on the board where you started. My roll was about ¾ complete when I got washed back up to the top of the wav. In the video taken of me, it looks more like a wipeout than a cool trick, but I know what it was and that’s what counts right? J
The lines were a little long and we didn’t spend too much time there before retreating to the pool deck. The belly flop contest was just getting ready to start and we walked right up to two front row lounges. Guess it was too windy for the chair hogs today (or all their books, towels, and shoes had blown away! Ha!) The contest was fun, and we enjoyed a Guava Lava Colada as we watched. When that was over it was back to the H20 zone. It was mostly empty due to the high winds. In fact there had been some rough weather in the Caribbean that Captain Teo was trying to avoid. He altered the route to keep us in the shelter of land, the Bahamas, Cuba, etc. But there was no way to avoid what he informed us were 80 MPH apparent winds.

As afternoon turned into early evening, I took Sarah back for a nap and Ron and the kids headed back to Flowrider for Stand-Up Surfing. Only Ron was tall enough (Brendan was right at the height marker for the 58” limit but when they spun the marker it did not come in contact with his head so they deemed him too short). It turned out to be a very difficult time to try to stand up surf. It began to rain and Ron said it felt like hail pelting him, the winds were so strong.
We got ready for dinner and took the kids down to Sorrento’s for dinner. Tonight Ron and I had 8:45 reservations at Chops so the plan was to get the kids fed and Sarah asleep so Brendan could watch over her while we ate. We had originally made 6:00 reservations and were planning on bringing Sarah to Chops (children under 13 are allowed prior to 7:00) but she had been a bit difficult and we knew it would be a much better dining experience for us and others alike if we just went after she was asleep. Plus we would have paid the $25 cover for her as well, and that certainly was not worth it.
After Pizza, we headed up to the arcade area on Deck 12 for Pets at Sea. Some Freedom Class ships have a whole Pets-at-Sea shop in the promenade, but not Indy. We were happy to see them doing the Pets-at-Sea (which is like Build-A-Bear) on our cruise though. They did it every night from around 7-10 PM. There were many animals to choose from, and some pretty cute outfits, like Sailor and a Captain’s outfit. The procedure is just like Build-A –Bear, pick a critter, stuff it, get a heart (or star in this case), make a wish, etc. They even have the Birth Certificates. Brendan chose a raptor, Savannah a white tiger, and Sarah a pink poodle. The cost for three pets and two outfits was $78.

As we approached our room, we realized our wonderful Stateroom host Vic had not made it by yet. We hadn’t let him know we would be back early to get the kids down before Chops. When he saw us, he rushed in (with a helper) and they quickly turned down our room. Our D1 room had a no pull down beds, just the pull-out sofa. He gave the kids a towel-animal demonstration on how to create a floppy eared dog. We managed to get Sarah to sleep and headed off to dinner at Chops.
Chops is the specialty steakhouse onboard. The atmosphere is dark and crisp. I forgot my camera in the room so I don’t have any pictures of it, or of the delicious food. Service in Chops was excellent, and the atmosphere was somewhat relaxed, which I enjoyed. The suggested dress in Chops is smart casual. I found that as a whole, passengers on the Independence tended to wear dressier clothing than I experienced on Disney. Most people wore smart casual clothing every night.
Ron and I both ordered salads, Caesar for him and Chops House for me. I selected the house vinaigrette which I assumed was underneath the salad, but I guess I had just dug in too soon, as the assistant was right over with my dressing and fresh ground pepper. The salads were good, but the freshly baked bread was fantastic! We ate way too much of it.
Our appetizers came out shortly, for Ron the Dungeness Crab and Shrimp Cake which in his opinion was outstanding. Roasted Portobello Caps for me, which was a very small serving but very good!
Chops is a steakhouse, however and for sure the highlight there is the steak. We had both ordered the 10-ounce Filet Mignon, with Rock Salt Baked Potato. As it arrived, we were delighted and drooling at the presentation. The filets were about 4 inches thick (well Ron’s was, mine had been butterflied), and the potatoes were as huge as a small cantaloupe! We could hardly wait for the sauces to be brought over, before devouring the steak. Sauces were a green peppercorn, cabernet reduction, and a béarnaise. Ron’s steak had been ordered medium-rare but was served rare to still mooing (IMO). It tasted good, though he would have preferred it a tad more done and with regular A-1 instead of the cabernet reduction we both selected. I often have problems since I like my steak cooked medium-well. Usually I prefer to not butterfly the steak since it often results in overcooked dry meat. Even butterflied, however my steak was 2 inches thick on each side, flavorful and juicy and perfectly cooked. While not pink inside, you could still cut it with a fork. It was absolutely fantastic, and the current title holder for “Best Steak I’ve Ever Had”.
We hardly had room for dessert, but requested two servings of Chocolate Mud Pie to go. I though it might have seemed odd, but apparently it was a request they received often. The Chocolate Mud Pie was a sinful, thick mousse cake. Rich and delicious, and unlike last night’s soufflé- very chocolatey.
All in all, we loved chops and feel it is well worth the $25/pp cover charge. The only downfall is that the room was so dark and intimate that we both found ourselves wanting to fall asleep during the meal. And after finishing off our decadent mud pies, that’s exactly what we did.
Unfortunately the much ballyhooed adult scavenger hunt Quest was this evening, and it started before we were finished with our meal at Chops. I was a little bummed to have missed it, as I have heard it is a lot of fun, but it just didn’t work out. At least we know there will be a next time to experience the Quest.
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56 Days at sea and counting...
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  #8  
Old February 12th, 2010, 07:03 PM
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Day 4 –Tuesday: Philipsburg, St. Maarten, Netherlands Antilles

We awoke bright and early with the aid of the alarm clock this morning. Upon opening the curtains, the beautiful mountains and crystal azure water of Dutch St. Maarten lay ahead of us. The sky was partly cloudy and blue; the temperature in the mid 80’s and the wind was but a slight breeze. A gorgeous January island day! Our plans for this port were to go to downtown Philipsburg and shop in the morning, and in the afternoon we were scheduled on the Three-Island Snorkel Tour with Captain Alan’s. We were surprised to find on the Compass that our Port times had been changed- we were supposed to be ashore at 6:00 PM but now needed to be ashore by 4:30. Since we had the afternoon tour, that concerned us. It didn’t worry the Captain Alan’s crew- they told us that in 12 years nobody had ever missed the boat, and we didn’t plan on being the first.
As per our usual routine, we got dressed and headed up to WJ for breakfast. The huge windows of the restaurant afford a gorgeous view of St. Maarten:



As soon as we were finished we headed down to the Deck 1 gangway, down the long pier and into the small port area.


From there we took the water taxi ($4 per trip or $6 all day). From there we walked through downtown Philipsburg- the aptly named Front Street and Back Street. Sales pressure for taxi’s island tours, hair braiding and the like was the heaviest here of all of our stops, but the locals were friendly and polite and a “No, Thank You” from us was met with a smile.


We made the requisite stop at Del Sol, and then a little shop that lured me in with the samples of Madoudou Rum. Produced locally in Cul-de-Sac on the French side, this rum is aged in the sun with whole fruits inside for flavor. It comes in beautiful hand painted bottles. We got to liberally sample each flavor, and purchased quite a few bottles to take home with us (Coconut, Banana Vanilla, Ginger Spice, Orange Ginger, Tropical Punch with citrus and Spiced.) Good stuff. We passed by the Guavaberry Emporium and looked in but decided to stop there next time. We walked most of downtown, even passing a school where we could hear the kids out at recess behind a patchwork plywood wall. As we headed back towards the water taxi, we passed a nice looking craft market. The prices here were very reasonable ($5.99 for a large tote bag etc.)I wish we had time to shop but we had to get back over by the pier to meet for our excursion. I did some Tanzanite price checking in Diamonds International (the guy was trying to sell a ring I looked at pretty bad, I didn’t intend on buying it- just wanted to know the price but as I declined he kept dropping the price, eventually to half of the initial quote!) We rode the water taxi back over and Ron & Brendan went back to the ship to drop off our purchases and collect towels. Meanwhile we waited by the statue as directed. The sun was bright and the mid-day heat now sweltering. Somehow I missed meeting up with the group, since most of them were waiting in the shade behind me. As soon as the boys came back we found the driver and after waiting a little while longer for one party- who would eventually catch up to us later, we headed to the van. It was a packed van as it was and we met up with another family from Cruise Critic. Our kids would soon become fast friends. After a short ride we were at the Capt. Alan’s marina, and after signing our paperwork headed onboard the Awesome, a 30-foot twin 225 HP offshore speedboat.


In keeping with the theme, seas were high and rough, winds offshore were high, and the visibility underwater was low. Captain Alan said that had it not been a postcard-picture perfect day he would have considered scrubbing the trip. We are so glad he didn’t, it was certainly one of the highlights of our cruise.
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56 Days at sea and counting...
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  #9  
Old February 12th, 2010, 07:07 PM
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Our first snorkeling stop was at Little Divi Bay. Only about 5 minutes from where we were docked, this area offered an underwater snorkeling trail and artificial reef of sunken boats and submarines. Visibility was indeed low; the water here was fairly murky. There were some fish here, especially yellow tailed snapper. There were remains of an old fort on the mountaintop overlooking the bay, and some beach resorts on the shore. I think they chose this spot to keep us close by to pick up the couple that missed the boat. It was pretty scenery topside but nothing spectacular under the surface.
After a little while we headed up by the shore and the couple swam aboard. They were from our meet thread as well, so it was a lot of fun to be on an excursion with our Cruise Critic friends! After that we headed out to our second stop, which was a long boat ride (30 minutes or more) away, through the Simpson Bay Channel and under a pair of impossibly tiny bridges and finally emerging on the northwest (French) side of the island. We anchored off the coast of a gorgeous golden sanded beach. A very French, very clothing optional beach! This beach was a paradise. Luckily the kids were too busy playing in the waves to notice the naked sunbathers. Here Captain Alan brought ashore the volcanic mud from Tintamarre Island (which used to be a stop on the tour), mixed it with sea water and we slathered it on ourselves. Legend is the age-old volcanic mud provides therapeutic and cleansing properties when applied liberally to the skin and let dry, then washed off. We enjoyed relaxing on the secluded, breathtakingly beautiful shore as the velvety silt crusted on my shoulders in the sunshine. It was lovely.
The kids were having an absolute blast with their new friends. Back into the water to wash off the mud bath, and then we headed on to our final snorkeling stop. We could have snorkeled at Happy Bay, it is actually supposed to have decent snorkeling but the beach was just so nice, we were all enjoying it.





Another short beach ride out past Creole Rock took us where Capt. Alan hoped to have us snorkel- what he said was his favorite spot, but when we arrived there it was clearly not possible. The seas were so rough that waves were practically chopping over the side into the cabin of the boat. So we went back to Creole Rock to snorkel there.


There was better visibility and much more to see here. Gorgeous corals and spiny urchins, fish of all colors and sizes including trumpet fish, more yellowtails, blue tangs (aka “Dory” fish). Very pretty. Ron and I were taking turns with Sarah who was more than a little difficult to contain in the back of a speedboat for three hours. Capt. Alan and his staff Carlos and Chris were really awesome. Very friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful. Carlos especially was taken with Sarah and she even let him hold her for a little while, which is quite unusual for her. When he came back, I went in for a snorkel but I didn’t stay in too long since most folks had already started making their way back to the boat. Getting back ashore and onboard Indy on time was in the back of all of our minds. Before too long we were heading back towards Philipsburg. We had a snack of crackers, and there were unlimited waters, sodas and beers in two large coolers.


We thought Capt. Alan’s excursion was great, even though conditions for snorkeling were not ideal. We look forward to returning to St. Maarten to do it again! Upon arriving back in Philipsburg, we had ample time to walk the short distance back up the pier to the boat. As we approached we overheard a huge hullabaloo emerging from decks 11 and 12 and from the topside of the nearby moored Carnival Miracle. I could not hear exactly what was being said but I did recognize the voice of Cruise Director Joff Eaton. We managed to make out something to the effect of “We have Elvis and you don’t”. It seemed like a lot of fun trash talking from both boats, passengers were out on deck and in their balconies and I heard that as the Miracle sailed away that an early afternoon, many a full moon was visible.


Night fell quickly over the islands as we sailed away towards St. Thomas. We followed our typical evening routine of getting ready, and then headed back to the King Lear dining room for dinner. Tonight we were back to a later time (8:15) and were able to get back in Sahare’s section.
For appetizers this evening Ron chose the Caesar Salad and I had the Guava and Banana chilled soup. It was very good, I love the cold soups! Tonight’s entrees didn’t do much for me, Lasagna, Surf & Turf and a bunch of weird stuff. The kids both had Lasagna, Ron had the Surf & Turf (which was decent) and I had chicken fingers and fries from the kids menu. The surf & turf only came with 5 or 6 little shrimp scampi. It was the least appetizing meal of the cruise so far, but overall we were pleasantly surprised with the food quality onboard.
For dessert, Ron had the Kahlua Banana cream pie, which he thought was delicious. I had something else; it must have been something chocolate, because it wasn’t around long enough for me to take a picture of. After dinner, we relaxed on the promenade, took some pictures around the boat, and then headed upstairs where a trumpeting elephant greeted us.
Once the girls were asleep, Brendan was again happy to take over babysitting duties while we decided to check out the casino. This is the first time either of us had ever been in a casino of any type. I was looking forward to playing some slots; I had been saving my pennies for the penny slots forever and then forgot to bring them with me. In any event the Casino Royale on deck 4 was huge, busy, loud, and smoky. There is a non-smoking side but really it was smoky all over. In fact we never even knew which side was non-smoking until later in the week when we passed through the room empty and saw the signs posted.
In any event, we meandered about a bit at first, watching the blackjack dealers, and slots players punching away at the machines. Never having been in a casino I didn’t realize the arms on the slots were basically for show. You can use them, but most don’t. Interesting. Anyway we cashed in a 10 and began to play. We moved machines several times but that didn’t help. We just suck at gambling! We didn’t win at all, except once or twice for double credits on a penny slot (four cents anyone? WOW. ) I know we’re pretty low rollers- ten dollars LMAO- but not winning at all was pretty boring. Instead we went back to the room, checked on B and the girls, changed into our swimsuits and headed up to the Solarium. The whole area was almost totally vacant, save two teenagers making out in the one opened cantilevered whirlpool. We checked the hot tubs at the main pool and those had folks in them as well. So we walked back & forth a couple of times, not wanting to rain on anyone’s parade by joining their tub. Eventually Ron just got into the cantilevered one with the lovers and needless to say the make-out session ended rather quickly after that. LOL. I joined him and it was lovely to relax there. Stars above, the neon reflection on the waves far below. I could have stayed there all night. But since we had an early morning the next day we only stayed about 20 minutes and then headed off to bed.
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Disney Wonder 10-4-07
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56 Days at sea and counting...
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  #10  
Old February 12th, 2010, 07:14 PM
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Day 5-Wednesday: Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, USVI
Ron was up for a pastel sunrise dawning over St. Thomas as we approached.





The rest of us got a later start than we would have liked and after another rushed breakfast in WJ, we beat feet down to the gangway and onto the pier. At the first security gate I saw, we bowed out of the long dock area and at first I was wondering if we made a mistake – until I saw the complimentary tram to Havensight Mall. It is only a couple block trek from the end of the dock but we were headed to St. John, and all the taxis and ferries that entailed required us to keep as prompt as schedule as possible. When we were dropped off near the taxi station at Havensight we led the way towards the taxis, still hoping to catch the 9:00 AM ferry at Red Hook, even though it was already 8:35. We got assigned to a taxi- which was really an open air converted pickup truck (or “Safari Bus” as they are called) with rows of bench seats and a roof. Some are nicer than others. This one was not too bad. The driver sped along the crazy VI mountain/island roads but the way to Red Hook takes a while, and it was pretty apparent that we would not make the 9:00 ferry. We didn’t, of course and had some time to spend at the Red Hook Port Terminal waiting for the 10:00. There was a bit of a line to wait in for ferry tickets, and then we bought some drinks and relaxed at Lt. Quin’s small thatched roof bar. There are decent restrooms there also. Before too long it was already time to load the ferry. We had to finish our drinks first and the boat seemed nearly full when we did get on only a few minutes later. The ride over seemed to take much longer than the ride back but it had to be no more than 10 or 15 minutes. We arrived at a small dock in Cruz Bay, St. John and there were plenty of Taxi Drivers waiting. They put groups of us on Taxi’s according to destination. We were in a taxi with a large group going to Maho Bay (which I had never heard of Maho on St. John- only the one in St. Maarten) That family did not speak much English but they were asking our opinion on the beach, explaining it was the one they saw “In the Movie” (which I assume was being shown on TV, I don’t know). They asked where we were going and if it was nice and we told them it was one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. I’m not sure they were convinced- until the Taxi pulled over at the little lookout point overlooking Trunk Bay. Needless to say after seeing it, the entire taxi disembarked when we arrived at Trunk Bay.


Trunk Bay entrance is $4/adults and children are free. We walked straight out onto the beach, expecting it to be packed since we had arrived so late (It was nearing 11 AM), but it wasn’t busy at all yet. We walked right up to a nice shady cove area that was large enough to afford us both shade and sun as we desired. The kids went straight for the water. The sign out front told us that visibility today was only “fair” and the seas were rough but looking at the crystal clear turquoise water I wondered how visibility in these waters could ever be considered just “fair”.


We rented snorkel gear and a chair (each rented item required a $25 deposit) and hit the underwater snorkeling trail.
There are lots of pretty fish, even from the shore when you step in the water there are tiny ones nipping at your toes and swimming around in schools. Pretty corals, it was just fascinating. The underwater trail was fun, with markers underwater to teach you about sea life, corals, reefs, and tropical fish life. The kids especially enjoyed it.





Swimming back to the beach against the tide was difficult, seas were rough, waves crashing, and there was a fairly strong undertow. I was ready to relax in the thick, powdery white sand when I got back. The kids were having a blast, Savannah had made another friend from the boat and the girls and Brendan were playing a game of chasing the waves and bodysurfing. Sarah enjoyed riding the waves in her floatie, but she doesn’t like walking on sand, so she was wither in the water or relaxing in the shade of the palms in our little cove.
Facilities at trunk bay are great- there are big bathrooms and showers, picnic pavilions, a small gift shop, and even a snack bar that served up hot dogs, hamburgers, fries and chips. The snack bar includes a little bar counter with beer and even some frozen drinks available for purchase.
We spent several hours enjoying the beach and around midday it was fairly crowded. As much as we would have enjoyed staying longer, with all the ferries and taxis required to travel to & from St. John we did head back early enough to give us some time to shop and take the Skyride to Paradise Point. There were plenty of taxis waiting at Trunk Bay to take us back to Cruz Bay, although we did have to wait a little bit for a few more groups to fill the taxi before we headed off.

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  #11  
Old February 12th, 2010, 07:18 PM
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Back in Cruz Bay, we had planned to stop and grab some lunch at the High Tide Bar & Grill, but here we became a bit confused about the ship/shore time difference and thought we were running out of time. A ferry was loading, so we decided it would be best to hop on and it departed shortly. We were back in Red Hook, St. Thomas in what seemed like less than 5 minutes, and loaded in a taxi (a regular large van this time) back to Charlotte Amalie. The van was packed full, so tight that most of our bags had to go behind the back seat and I commandeered the passenger seat 9which was actually nice since it had gotten rather hot- I would say about 90 degrees-and the air conditioning felt nice on my raging sunburn!) The drive back took forever, mostly due to the traffic. We were stuck behind a frequently stopping school bus for a good part of the ride, and then we drove well out of the way to drop off some riders at a distant resort. The ride back took about 45 minutes.
As the last ones left in the van, the driver drove us all the way to the closest security gate to our boat, which was where we had caught the tram earlier. The boys wanted to change out of their sandy suits, and everyone was hungry. I feared if we got back onboard that we might not make it back out to Paradise Point, but we went quickly up to our room, changed, made a quick stop at Promenade Café for sandwiches to gobble (I thought the Ham & Cheese croissant was really good, but I may just have been so hungry that my opinion was influenced), then we headed back off the boat as most passengers were coming back aboard.
This time we had missed the tram to take us up to Havensight but it isn’t really a bad walk. It took less than 10 minutes to get to the Skyride to Paradise Point building. The sky ride is pretty expensive, but the view from 700 feet up is outstanding and the Bushwhackers at the top are to die for. There is a combo ticket for adults that includes a Round Trip ride and a large Bushwhacker for $28…ride prices without Bushwhackers are $21 for adults and $10.50 for kids 6-12. Ages 5 and under are free.


It was probably more comfortable to experience in the afternoon (we got our own car on the sky ride, and there were ample seats at the rail where the views are best), but the lighting during those hours is not the best for pictures. Plus I had managed to smudge the lens and didn’t notice so our pictures from the top are very disappointing. Definitely ride up in the morning if you want good pictures, the glare of the setting sun was very troublesome for us. Pictures from other cruisers take just a couple of hours earlier are stunning.




While enjoying our Bushwhackers, the kids noticed Cruise Director Joff and his wife (who also works on the ship) relaxing and enjoying their time off. We felt much less concerned about the time and missing the boat, knowing they aren’t about to leave the Cruise Director behind.
We had hoped to find some sky ride specific merchandise up top in the gift shops but they did not have any. We stayed up for about 30-40 minutes before heading back for the ride down. There is a lot to see up top- even a set of massage cabanas for massages with a view and a wildlife/nature trail that we didn’t have time to explore.
We then headed back through Havensight Mall, doing a little shopping for T shirts and trinkets, a little bit more alcohol, and the holy grail of the Caribbean- Tortuga Rum Cakes. They seemed much more expensive than I remembered- $15 for the “large” cakes (which are small if you ask me). The store we were in also sold smaller rum cakes made by the “Caribbean Rum Ball” company and those seemed to be a much more reasonable price, but they were not as good – by FAR (can’t taste any rum in those imposters, although I did enjoy their rum balls).
After a full day in St. Thomas and St. John, we were among only a handful of people returning to the ship, and within minutes we were sailing away with the sun setting over the island peaks. It was a stunning sunset, giving the mountains the appearance of erupting volcanoes as the sun’s rays shone off their peaks:



Back onboard, we got the kids cleaned up and headed to WJ for dinner. Tonight Ron and I had reservations for Portofino, the specialty Italian restaurant onboard. Only having eaten a tiny sandwich and a quick breakfast this morning, we were famished. Even knowing we would be goring ourselves in about an hour, we couldn’t resist grabbing a small plate of Asian delights from the Jade buffet section. I had a large bowl of lemongrass infused rice- yum! And some shrimp-rice crackers. Ron helped himself to a small plate of sushi. Everything looked so good.
Windjammer did not seem to offer what the dining room offered each night. They seemed to have their own rotation of food. For instance each night we were in there we say the same Peppercorn Steak and Roasted Chicken. There were hamburgers and hot dogs nightly and also a taco bar with toppings and even nachos and cheese. Those chicken fingers that I like so much were ever elusive however.
Sarah tended to do better in WJ than in the dining room. I found the food better in the dining room, and service was hit and miss in the ‘Jammer. High chairs are always an issue and by then end of the cruise we were just letting her kneel in a regular seat in WJ. She was happier doing that anyway!) But overall we thought since it went so well tonight we might all actually eat a dinner here later in the cruise.
After dinner, we took a relaxing walk across the pool deck. Near the H20 zone we really love the huge revolving doors to the pool area; they even have a display with mannequins inside. We named them, like Will Smith did in the Movie I am Legend. Fred watched over the Port side door, and “the chick” inside the Starboard door (we couldn’t remember the female mannequin’s name from the movie,) we were surprised how quiet it becomes in the evenings. Nobody is an any of the pools pretty much after 6 PM. Not even the Solarium. We would walk by in the evenings to find only a scattering of folks in any of the seven hot tubs. It was gorgeous at night with all the neon lightings and nobody around to enjoy it. I thought that was strange.
We took the kids back to the room to get them wound down. We had told Vic of our plans so he had already finished turning down our room, and a wascally wabbit with cool shades stood watch at the corner of the bed.
Exhausted Sarah went right to sleep and Brendan and Savannah relaxed watching RCTV and movies on their iPods, or playing their Dsi’s and we were off to Portofino.
We expected Portofino to much resemble Disney’s specialty Italian restaurant Palo. For the most part it did, although we found Portofino a tad bit more upscale (read: stuffy). Our server was friendly and efficient. We were brought a bread basket with a variety if breads, crusty Italian rolls, crunchy breadsticks, and a large crispy flatbread. The bread was not as warm and delectable as the loaf in chops so we did not fill ourselves up on it this time. Like Palo, it was served with a variety of dips, an eggplant and olive tapenade and also fresh roasted garlic.
The menu was slightly different from the one emailed to me by a previous cruiser. Notably the appetizers. Some of the selections are meant for one person and others are meant to be shared. The menu doesn’t indicate which ones are which but we each ordered a salad individually (Caesar for Ron and Caprese for me). Both were very good, if small portions. We also ordered an appetizer meant for sharing (we suspected as such and this was confirmed by our server) which was a variety of fried vegetables: eggplant, zucchini, and something else we did not like. (I can’t find this dish on any of the menus posted so it must be from the “new” menu) The zucchini was great though.
We had to wait a while for our entrees to be served- Fileto di Manzo- Filet Mignon with Truffle Mashed Potatoes. However seated behind me were some officers and high ranking crew members (apparently dining with passengers) and their stories of life onboard were very entertaining. At one point one of the high-ranking official corporate ladies took one of the others on a behind-the-scenes tour, using her all-sccess badge to disappear through what looked to everyone else to be a wall panel.
It was about this time a very large party of 15 + was seated in our server’s section and service, especially from the assistant did drop off a tad. We are quick eaters and do prefer a more expedient dining experience but things really started lagging as our waiters were busied taking care of the big party.
The steak was indeed scrumptious. Again, perfectly cooked- it always seems difficult to get a thick steak cooked medium-well back home and not receive it rare or charred, but Chops and Portofino have it down! Ron enjoyed hi s steak too. Served with a cabernet reduction very similar to the one we selected in Chops, a dollop of creamy mashed potatoes (I could not discern the earthy truffle flavors), and some blanched broccoli and asparagus. The portions were not as ample (or we weren’t as full) as at Chops, since we had no problem cleaning our plates this evening.
Service had slowed to a crawl and we had already been in the restaurant for two hours, so although we had room for dessert, we again requested it to go. I chose Tiramisu, which I love- and Ron decided on the Dolcetti ala Portofino- or dessert sampler. The sampler was to come with Tiramisu, Chocolate Torte, and I believe Panna Cotta with Strawberries. I’m not a fan of the little tiny samplers that come with two bites of dessert in a shot glass, so I decided against the sampler even though the Chocolate torte sounded irresistible. Our server brought us a little plate of chocolate covered cookies and strawberries as he took care of our bill. Yum!
In the elevator on the way down, a friendly woman asked what we had in our containers, I showed them the Tiramisu and they laughed and said they did the same thing. Let me just say- everyone we encountered on this cruise was so friendly!!! Not just staff but the passengers too. Everyone was polite and happy. Even in a cramped elevator with Sarah screaming. We didn’t encounter any rude behavior, minimal chair-hogging, and only one incident of elevator-sniping (and when we asked the lady who stepped in front of me to get in the elevator first after we had already been waiting for about five minutes, she did let us get on first with the stroller without complaint) I am used friendliness, happiness, and politeness on Disney but I have to say that even so, I was pleasantly surprised by the generous and warm behavior on the Independence.
Back in the stateroom, all was well, the girls were fast asleep and Brendan was watching Jurassic Park on his iPod. We relaxed in bed eating our desserts, and I was surprised to see that the “sampler” that Ron got was actually large sizes. The “sample” of Tiramisu he got was the exact same size as mine. So, if in doubt, try the sampler at Portofino, you won’t be disappointed. And the Tiramisu was perfectly creamy and rich, served encased in a crafted shell made out of white and dark chocolate. It was beautiful and tasty!

It was nearing 11 PM, but Savannah awoke and Ron took them to the late showing of that evening’s production show- Under the Big Top. We weren’t expecting much of the shows, as opinions on them we have read have been mixed, and we certainly did not expect them to meet up to the standards of the productions we’ve seen on Disney. But Under the Big Top gets rave reviews from this family. It was fun and upbeat, the performers were skilled, and it offered some stunning tricks and acrobatics. The set was so elaborate and fun. This is a wonderful show and it is highly recommended by my kids! Try to catch it if you can
It is hard to compare them, but this may have been the best day of our cruise.

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  #12  
Old February 12th, 2010, 07:25 PM
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Day 6 - Thursday: San Juan, Puerto Rico

Of the port stops on this cruise, this one excited us the least. We were only scheduled to be in port from 7 AM to 2 PM, which was not really long enough to schedule an excursion to the rainforest or do zip lines. Since our other three ports we had been doing beach activities, we opted to get a local breakfast and do walking tour of Old San Juan on our own, and maybe explore one of the old forts.


We were up and off the ship quickly- since we were going to eat breakfast out, we didn’t have to brave the masses in the ‘Jammer. Off the boat and at the end of the pier a group of tour operators was trying to sell us on a tour, $20 right at the end of the pier….then $10 as you got further down the street. But we were going to do it on our own.
We walked several blocks up in old town, following the tiny port map on the handout sheet (I had other maps too that we had gotten from AAA, but we never needed them). Streets are narrow, sidewalks are not necessarily stroller friendly (paving is uneven and though most corners do have a small wheelchair-ramp marked indention, due to parked cars on the curbs they weren’t always usable. Streets are marked by signs on buildings bordering intersections and many streets are not marked at all. But we pushed on following our map, and found ourselves where we were headed- on Calle San Francisco, at La Bombonera.


La Bombonera is a legend. Spanish for “da bomb”, it has been around over 100 years (since 1902 to be exact) and is famous for it’s’ breakfast sandwiches made out of sweet Puerto-Rican pastries: mallorcas. (Just kidding, in actuality La Bombonera means “the chocolate box”.) I first read about this place on Cruise Critic’s San Juan board, and while researching it on Trip Advisor I became convinced. I told Ron I discovered a place we needed to try and to trust me!
As we walked up to the store front picture-perfect pastries beckoned us to come inside and eat them:
Just take a look (those are the famous Mallorcas on the bottom shelf)


The door that faces the street has a sign on it that says use “use other door” which we had to look for. (It is inside the staircase). I never quite figured out the sign because all the locals coming in used that door. In any event we walked inside and were transported back in time to the ‘40’s or ‘50’s. A true diner, complete with counter and stools. I almost expected a Puerto Rican version of Mel in the kitchen (in actuality reality wasn’t too far removed from that assumption).


There was nobody out front at the cash register, so after pausing for a moment in the foyer/pastry shop area, we seated ourselves in a booth. Our waiter was soon over, and he was friendly but didn’t speak much. He kind of let us lead the ordering and I wasn’t really sure if I should do it in Spanish or English, so I gave it a try en espanol. (I must have done it right because we got what we ordered!)
As we sat back and waited for the food, taking in the atmosphere was so much fun! The locals at the counter chatting away in Spanish, or reading the paper, the 19th century Cuban behemoth contraption that brewed the coffee. Oranges being tossed into the juicer. It’s a fun place. I’d read online that service can be slow and less than friendly at times, but that is part of the character of the place. Our waiter was fine, he was friendly enough, although he didn’t say too much, and we did not have to wait for long for anything- except the check at the end but really it was only between 5-110 minutes.
Una mallorca con mantequilla y un juego de china grande y un café con leche. Translation: Heaven! To paraphrase a trip advisor review: It was cracktacular! The Mallorcas are simple a soft roll sliced lengthwise like a bun, slathered with butter (or if you prefer bacon, jam ,eggs, cheese, etc.) and crisped in a press til warm, then dusted with powdered sugar. It melted in your mouth! Ron and the kids, who had theirs with the breakfast foods inside of it, also loved it and said the contrast between sweet and savory was perfect.



The beverages were great, too. We all had fresh squeezed orange juice which was tart and refreshing (a little too bitter for the kids; they didn’t care for it), the café con leche was also spectacular. The prices were pretty reasonable. Coffee is $1.25 (and apparently includes free refills); the mallorcas plain like I had are only $2.00. But the juice was expensive- $3.25 for a grande (large) but the glass was rather small IMO. Probably 6 or 8 ounces at most. The total for all five of us was $44.41. Yes, we could have had a free breakfast on the ship but we loved La Bombonera and we hope we find ourselves in San Juan again so we can go back.
On the way out I bought 6 mallorcas to go at the pastry counter. My advice is – don’t. They are not as good when not served hot and fresh pressed with butter. We ate them the next day, and on their own they were bland, and the powdered sugar had evaporated or melted into the bread. So my advice is instead of buying a few to go, instead try one of the other sweets in the window, or just order another pressed one to eat while you are in the restaurant.
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  #13  
Old February 12th, 2010, 07:29 PM
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This is one of the best, most detailed reviews I have ever seen on Cruise Critic. Your writing is amazing, it is as if you are speaking to me in my living room.

We are SOOO excited now for our cruise. Thank You!
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Old February 12th, 2010, 07:30 PM
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Now that our bellies were full, we continued our walking tour. We stopped in some shops, made some souvenir purchases, and continued in the general direction of the fort. We came upon a small plaza (still decorated for Christmas) with what seemed like a million pigeons.


Stopped there for a few minutes, took some pictures. Found more stores like that old standby Del Sol. We did a more shopping and found ourselves standing in front of a tall ancient portal – once of the old city gates. Old San Juan was protected by a huge wall surrounding the perimeter of the city and this was one of the entryways. Very cool.


As we continued in what was hopefully the right direction towards the fort (we still had not encountered water yet) we discovered Sarah had lost one of her shoes. Whenever she gets angry or frustrated (like any time we confine her to the stroller) she will kick off one or both of her shoes in frustration. Though we knew she had kicked it off, we thought we had put it in the stroller basket but apparently we did not, and it was gone. We briefly considered going back to look for it, but we had covered a lot of area and had been in many shops. So we gave up, took off her other one, and forged ahead, (If anyone does find a tiny little pink & white tennis shoe in OSJ ...it’/s probably Sarah’s.



Old San Juan is very charming, with its’ narrow cobblestone streets and picturesque colonial architecture:



Famous landmark the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista (built in 1521). Inside is the tomb of Ponce De Leon:



As we walked through what now appeared to be more of a residential area of town, we made a discovery that delighted Savannah- cats! Everywhere! On cars, under cars, prowling the streets, drinking from drain pipes…suddenly they were just everywhere. Savannah adores cats so she perked up and now enjoyed the rest of the walk towards the coast, and hopefully the fort El Morro by spotting los gatos. Before long we found another city gate, this one attached to the perimeter wall- Paseo del Morro, we had to be close!
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  #15  
Old February 12th, 2010, 07:38 PM
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The garitas (dome covered sentry boxes protruding from the fortifications) are now a well-known cultural symbol of Puerto Rico




We took some time exploring the gates and wall before realizing we were still quite a ways from the fort. It looks so close on the maps, but it was really quite a walk. We trekked back towards the city since the coastal perimeter walkway was shut off with a gate and through another neighborhood, by a small park, and finally the huge green lawn surrounding Castillo san Felipe del Morro emerged in front of us. The lawn is a great place to fly a kite, the winds blow at a high velocity across the rolling green grass.

Admission to the fort did cost a small amount: $3/adult. Built in the mid-late 1500’s and last used in WWII, El Morro is fascinating. There is a little movie you can watch about the history of San Juan and the forts, but we never seemed to be in the area at the right time for the English showing. You can ascend ramps to the top level (145 feet high) and view artillery, or descend an impossibly tiny and steep triangular staircase to view barracks and prison cells.




Take your camera into the bathroom; the view overlooking the crashing waves is amazing.


There are some areas that are not stroller friendly; notably descending anywhere into the bowels of the fort. There were guided tours also if you are interested in that, plus a neat gift shop and bookstore with lots of great books. Nearby and visible from the top of the fort and the lawn is the oft-photographed La Perla slum and Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery.
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  #16  
Old February 12th, 2010, 07:43 PM
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After checking out El Morro, we decided to head back towards the ship, as it was already after noon. We followed back in our footsteps to the gates (Paseo del Morro) and from that point walked the scenic coastline sidewalk back towards the port area. This brought us down a lovely promenade and plaza- Paseo de la Princesa- and the stunning Raices fountain:



After a quick stop in Hard Rock Café for a T-shirt, we were ready to hop back onboard. We had a wonderful time in San Juan and would love the opportunity to call here in the future. It was really a surprise highlight of the cruise.




Back onboard our plan was to hit up Johnny Rocket’s for lunch. The at-sea version of the restaurant appears to be identical to the on-land version. We had never been to either so we were excited to check it out. Located on Deck 13 aft, near the sports deck, we had walked by it many times during the cruise and it had never been busy at all. In fact, it had been deserted. Of course I knew everyone on the ship would have the same idea as us, and sure enough when we went upstairs the joint was packed and there was a short wait.
We did only wait about 5 minutes to be seated, which wasn’t too bad. JR has outdoor seating overlooking the ocean and indoor seating inside the diner. We would have preferred to be outside; alas with hungry kids we opted not to wait further and got a cozy booth inside the diner.
JR’s is not free onboard RCCL ships. There is a $4.95 per person “cover charge” to eat there. Paying the cover charge entitles you to eat as much of, and anything you want off the menu- except specialty beverages. In fact all beverages except water are an additional charge, including the famous milkshakes.
The first thing I didn’t like, again no iced tea. Since we did not have a soda package, Ron was drinking tea too so we were both frustrated with that. Ron got up and went down to WJ and brought back 3 glasses of tea. Sodas here are specialty drinks and I believe they also cost additional even if you do have the soda package, just a forewarning.
Right away our server brought us the first of a bottomless plate of french fries and hot scrumptious onion rings, paired with a side of ranch-type dip and a plate with a smiley face made of ketchup. We munched on those appetizers while we looked over the menu. The atmosphere is loud and fun. Each table has a miniature jukebox (no coins required) and you can make song selections but I’m not quite sure if they actually play the songs as requested or if their general playlist just consists of those songs. We never heard the barrage of Jimmy Buffett tunes each of us selected played while we were eating there.
At intervals the music will get louder and the whole staff will come out and dance for you (once for the patrons inside, than again for the ones outside) It’s pretty funny to watch as some of them aren’t great dancers.
As for the food, we found it very good. Having never eaten in the land-based counterpart before, I really can’t compare, but we liked it. The burgers were thick, juicy and hot. The milkshakes were a rather small serving for the $3.95 cost, but they were rich and thick and satisfying, Brendan also had a root beer float, which he liked and before the teas came I had ordered a vanilla coke for everyone (but mostly the kids) to split. It wasn’t very vanilla-y and the soda balance was off (too little syrup, or maybe I just expected more out of the vanilla, who knows) but it was disappointing (and an extra charge). Even though we were all stuffed to the gills, we could not resist ordering the hot fudge sundae (no extra charge), which was yummy!


Service at JR’s was just OK. Our server was friendly enough but he had an extremely thick accent and we could hardly understand him at all. Food came quickly and the onion rings and French fries did not stop until we asked them too. Drink refills were not an issue here (because it costs extra if you get more). Our bill, without tip and oddly enough like breakfast was $44. We joked that it must have been the highest bill anyone has ever had at JR’s. But overall we did enjoy it and may even stop in next time we are at the mall.
The next thing we decided to do – you guessed it, more pool and Flowrider. Sarah loved the baby splash area of the H20 zone. Ron and I alternately spent a lot of time there with her, watching her play, helping her share toys, and chatting with the other parents. We got some drinks of the day, and relaxed while the kids played with their new friends.





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  #17  
Old February 12th, 2010, 07:48 PM
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As the sun slipped towards the horizon, we headed back up to Flowrider to close out the last session of the evening. I sat in the observation seating area with Sarah and watched the sunset off of the back of the boat while Ron and the kids took turns surfing over and over again. Ron and Brendan were the last two surfers of the evening, gliding side by side under the shining moon (and neon lights).






We planned to get some pictures tonight but as we got ready for dinner we had a minor crisis: my curling iron decided to stop working. I managed to make my hair look passable since it was still warm, but by the time I went to do Savannah’s hair it was ice cold. Between that and Sarah’s demeanor this evening, we would not end up being too successful in the picture department.



Our reservation was again a bit on the early side (7:00 hour) and both the dining room and MTD waiting area were packed. We had to wait a little bit for a table, 10-15 minutes but were still able to score our usual section with Sahare.
Tonight was one of our worst nights in the dining room. Sarah for some reason just did not do well in there. I don’t know if it is just the extended timeframe of sitting around in a high chair or what, but she started screaming right off the bat. I took her back out into the lobby for a little while and got her calmed down, but as soon as I would move back towards the dining room she would howl. Eventually she was calm enough to return but she would not sit in the high chair. She was only happy if Ron held her in his lap. It was frustrating.
Meanwhile dinner was crawling along. That 7:00 hour in MTD is brutal. The bread guy came around and getting some bread did help Sarah. Again no Savory Bites (the little poppy seed encrusted rolls), we never saw them on our bread tray after the first night, although on one of my many trips in and out of the dining room I had the opportunity to observe them on other stations’ bread plates. Oh well.
Appetizers tonight for both of us were Creamed Wild Mushrooms in a Puff Pastry. It was good, not quite as good as a similar appetizer I’ve had before on DCL, but good. (Mine was cold due to my constant running in and out of the dining room)
For entrée’s Ron had the Fisherman’s plate. Lobster and shrimp. The lobster tail was good, and a decent size (I’d say about 5 inches long). The kids had burgers this evening, which they didn’t eat much of, but still had room for dessert. Sarah had chicken tenders and fries and once she had calmed down, ate well. I decided to order the up charged Chops Filet this evening. I am not a fan of lobster and the other options this evening (scallops and ziti, prime rib) did not excite me. I thought about trying the Thai BBQ Chicken Breast but I was just in the mood for a good steak, so that’s what I ordered. It costs $14.95 and the steak was delivered hot, thick (not butterflied this time) and just as delicious as the one I had in Chops several nights before.
When it was served, Sahare let me know she had the Chops Peppercorn sauce coming, which I initially declined, but I did accept some when she brought it anyway, and I am glad I did! It was delish! Way better then the cabernet reduction sauce we had chosen when we dined in Chops. When Ron and I saw the filet intact and not butterflied, we cringed, knowing how I like my steak medium well (and leaning to the well end of that spectrum). We were both sure inside it would be blood red. But no, I cut into it and it was a juicy grey throughout! It was delicious but I did have buyer’s remorse somewhat. Mostly because of Sarah it just wasn’t a good night to linger over dinner and we all rushed through. We also ended up catching one of the dining room parades, which we were trying to avoid. But any loud noise to cover Sarah’s occasional random screams was good, plus she actually enjoyed it. And it was over quick, much to the relief of our pounding heads.
For dessert this evening Ron and I both chose Cherries Jubilee. This was a bit of a disappointment. A mound of vanilla ice cream with four (yep, four) little cherries. They tasted scrumptious but I could have eaten a huge bowl of ‘em. Of course tonight we were mostly concerned with getting out of there as quick as possible.
After dinner we pretty much went straight back to the room and got Sarah right to bed. A Funky Monkey hung from the ceiling to greet us.

While I got Sarah down, Ron and the kids decided to go to the Mad Hatter’s Ball Parade in the promenade. This one they give much better reviews than the Olympus Rocks one from the first night. The Mad Hatter’s Ball parade featured bright psychedelic decorations, elaborate costumes, fun and detailed floats. It was fun!





When they returned Sarah was out like a light and Savannah was on babysitting duty tonight. Ron, Brendan and I went for a short walk on deck and then to the Big Music Game Show. Created by Cruise Director Joff Eaton, this show is supposedly exclusive to Indy (or whatever boat he might be on). It is a Music Trivia game show. We were glad it wasn’t adult-exclusive even thought it was 11:15 at night, although Brendan was by far the youngest in attendance. (We did ask assistant CD Katie if it was Ok for him to attend the show and she said of course!) The Pyramid lounge was absolutely packed for this game, and arriving right before the start, we were lucky to have gotten seats (many didn’t). The first round they would play a 5 second or so snippet of a song and you had to name title and artist. Sounds easy right? Not so much, especially when they are throwing in some really old stuff like Rat Pack songs for example. Plus, even the newer decades (‘70’s and up) can be difficult. Who knew how alike Barry Manilow and Neil Diamond sounded? Not me! Of a possible score of 300, I scored 200, Ron 190, and Brendan 20 (thanks to a Plain White T’s song which practically everyone else in the silver-haired peppered audience missed.)
The champions who moved on to the final rounds all scored like a 250 and up. Even though I was bummed to be out, the show was a whole lot of fun to watch and the guy who won was really knowledgeable. All of the finalists got a bottle of champagne and the winner got a really cool RCCL tote bag filled with stuff (and the champagne too!) I thought those were pretty good prizes! (Remember this statement when you read about the next night)
It was well after 1 AM when we finally went to bed. Another jam packed fun filled day done. Only two more to go!
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  #18  
Old February 12th, 2010, 07:59 PM
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Day 7 – Friday: Labadee, Haiti
We were up fairly early and reprised our routine of running to WJ for a fly-by breakfast once again. The offerings do not change much day to day except some days there might have one type of sausage and other days there might be two (or three). Some days they had the thick large triangle patty hash browns, some days they had the little round ones. Some days both. But for the most part the offerings were the same daily. There are pancakes and blueberry sausage, Canadian bacon, country ham, biscuits and gravy, an oatmeal station with toppings like brown sugar and nuts, a fresh fruit bar, bagels, breads, pastries, cereal (the little individual serving boxes). WJ offered a huge variety. Drink stations had glasses pre-filled with Orange and Apple juices and water. Interestingly, coffee was difficult to come by. A coffee cart was pushed around by servers to the tables but on all days but one never reached our table.
It was extremely frustrating. It would be much nicer if they just had a serve yourself coffee station (like they do in Café Promenade and Sorrento’s) or at least supplied it in pre-filled cups like the other drinks. We found ourselves really running late since Ron didn’t realize where we needed to meet for our 9 AM excursion (the Schooner Bar) was on the boat and not onshore. So he ran in a and grabbed a plate for the kids and we boogied down to the Schooner

Once we had fueled up, we headed down to the Schooner to meet for our Dragon’s Breath Zip Line Adventure. This is the one must do thing in Labadee, IMO. We chose to both go at the 9 AM slot (the first one of the day) I recommend this for a couple of reasons. One- there is a lot of time involved in doing the zip line, an hour and a half for us and we were in the first three people down (and done). Then you can go about the rest of your day without having to interrupt it with a huge block of time. Secondly- restrictions on the line are variable and do change depending on wind and weather conditions. They did in our case. So keep those tips in mind if you plan on doing Dragon’s Flight.

Once in Schooner we filled out the waivers (everything it seems, comes with a waiver. You fill them out for ice skating, rock climbing, flow riding, etc.), and get checked in. I asked the staff about the kids and if Ron and I would be able to switch off and the answer was no, we could not. Had we had any idea how long the experience was to be for sure we would have checked the kids in AO or gone at different times. Thank God for Brendan the little babysitter. He and Savannah were wonderful waiting on the beach for such a long period of time and entertaining Sarah.
At 9 AM, the call was made for debarking and we, along with the other zip line participants headed out in a group. It was hard keeping up with the leader amongst the throngs of folks heading off the ship. As soon as we got off the boat Ron realized he had left the cash in the safe. On Labadee you need cash to tip the locals who help you get beach chairs, and to buy things in the Haitian Market and Artisan Market and also if you plan to get any hair braiding done. But since we didn’t want to risk getting separated from the group, he didn’t go back yet.

We walked down the new pier and over to the Zip Line buildings, which are nearby what is now the entrance and exit to the island. We did another roll call and another sign in (to prevent hitchhikers into the group I guess) and after a short intro and safety spiel we lined up to weigh in and get our harnesses. The weight restriction on the line is 250 pounds and yes they are strict about it. They weigh you right there on a real scale with numbers and one staff member yells out your weight while the other writes it down. So if you are uncomfortable with your weight being announced to everyone keep this in mind. I couldn’t believe the scale said I had already gained 10 pounds since the beginning of the cruise! Yikes! I got my harness and then took the kids to a nice shady area on the beach near the pavilions where they would be able to watch us on the zip line. Meanwhile Ron was getting his harness. After he got his, he came over to talk to the kids and missed a step in the pavement and fell, skinning his knee. All of the pictures of him on the line show his gory bloody knee. We stashed our stuff in the cubbyholes provided (or you can rent a locker for a fee) but you are not allowed to take anything with you at all except a small camera (only allowed on your wrist) and sunglasses, which must be secured with sunglass straps (also available for purchase for a small fee). Keep in mind weather conditions can affect operation of the zip line. After we went down, the weight restriction was lowered to 220 lbs due to the high winds. I’ve read of instances where it has been lowered substantially (like to 150 lbs) so another good reason to get it done early if you might be hovering somewhere near the upper end of the weight limit.

Once everyone was weighed and harnessed we walked up what seemed like a million steps to the practice zip line. I was already tired from running back & forth to the kids in the impossibly small harness. It took a while to figure out that the person in it before me must have been about 3 feet tall because the shoulder straps were so tight I could not stand up straight and was getting a crick in my neck. But I found the adjuster buckles and it was much better when I wasn’t walking around like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. This short practice zip line is probably about the length of a football field and is maybe 25 feet up off the ground. We climbed up to a metal platform which can be best described as looking like an electrical transformer. We were allowed to go down this line in groups, for example Ron & I were able to ride down together. They won’t promise that you can go together on the big one, since they have to try to balance the weight of the lines evenly.




We were towards the back of the group as we waited for our practice turn. When it is time to get on the line, you are brought up one at a time to one of the five lines and your harness is secured to the line, and then you are tethered to the base. I was the last one brought up in our group of five and I had the center line. He hooked in my harness but apparently did not secure me to the base. As everyone was waiting for me to get hooked in so we could all be dispatched, the staff member told me to sit down in my harness so we could wait for the all clear from below. , I wasn’t scared, but I was a bit hesitant and maybe that is a good thing because as soon as I did I started to fly down the line. I immediately tried to stand up as one foot was on the platform and one was off. The staff member grabbed me and together we struggled to get me back up on the platform. I lost one of my shoes but did manage to stabilize myself and get back on the ledge. Now I was scared! It was just the shock of going when I (and they) didn’t expect it, but I wouldn’t have fallen or anything, I just would have gone down the zip line. Still it shook me a little bit. They were able to retrieve my shoe for me, which is a good thing because that metal platform is painful to stand on (it has sharp grooves). And when it was my turn I went down the line and it was fun!




Once we were all down the practice line, we were loaded into Land Rover/Jeep type vehicles to drive us to the peak. Each one seats about 12. Ron was fretting about not being in the first one, but somehow the one we were in ended up at the top of the hill first which put us at the front of the group entering the real zip line platform.
Ron did want to be one of the first to go since we had been separated from the kids for so long. And I was also among the first five put up on the platform. Surprise, surprise I was also the first to go! I was a little bit freaked being so high up (500 feet I believe- that is like 50 stories high and 4,000 feet long- the longest zip line in the world over water!) and of course after the mishap on the practice line, but I felt pretty confident they were going to make sure I was tethered down right this time.
But after the first moment of “OMGI’mgoingtoDIE!” it was amazing- exhilarating! Flying down over the water at 40-50 mph, the view spectacular! Just amazing. Words can’t express it but if you ever go to Labadee you NEED to try this experience, it is worth every penny of the $85 cost. At the end, you hit a bunch of springs to slow you down but if you continue past those at a high speed, you will be stopped by the final catch mechanism. It is loud and it will swing you up in the air if you are still flying by at a clip. The video Brendan took doesn’t show me hitting the end, but you can hear it and the reaction of everybody near him gasping is priceless! It doesn’t hurt and isn’t scary. The hardest part is getting unhooked from the harness. You have to pull yourself up on the crossbar so there is enough slack in your harness to get it unclipped. It is like a chin up- or really more like a full pull-up. Well, I have never (ever) been able to do a pull-up, weakling that I am so the staff at the end of both lines struggled to get me unclipped. I read they used to have stools for you to stand on while they did this, don’t know why they did away with those. Eventually the guy just had to stick his knee practically up my butt to give him some leverage. Be prepared for that too if you have little to no upper body strength like me. Ron was the third person dispatched and was flying down behind me but I didn’t even notice or stop and look back. I went over to the kids and they were fine and happy (even Sarah!). Ron joined me shortly and we were shocked to discover it was already 10:30 – time for our scheduled Dragon’s Breath Roller Coaster ride!

I had a suspicion the times on the roller coaster weren’t followed so strictly. (I was right) In any event we did hurry all the way to the other side of the island to Adrenaline Beach where the roller coaster is. There is a tram but since we did not want to break the stroller down, we just walked. The island is not really as big as it looks but it took about 10 minutes to cover the distance.
Once again at the Roller Coaster entrance – more waivers. I filled those out while Ron got in the check in line. Unfortunately it moved impossibly slow and was mixed with people who had scheduled the excursion and pre-paid with those who were walk ups and were trying to pay and decide about pricing options, etc. If that was annoying, the wait for the coaster itself is impossibly slow. It is an alpine bobsled type coaster. Each vehicle holds two people and since each car is self controlled you can imagine how long that takes. The wait was about 40 minutes at that point. Luckily since we were switching off Sarah we didn’t have to wait twice- the operator allowed us to do a child swap of sorts where we waited in the initial line together then Ron went with Savannah while I waited with Brendan and Sarah by the loading area, and when he got back we were allowed to load up right away. You can ride as a single (if you are 12 years or older) or double. Maximum weight per cart (vehicle) is 360 lbs, and children passengers must be between the ages of 5 and 11. It might sound pricey at $15.ride (for two people per cart) or $25 for two rides (two people per cart). Or $40 all day but we thought it was good enough value.
Located on the same peak as the zip lines (Santa Maria Lookout Mountain), the top of the lift hill is purportedly 680 feet up. What’s exciting about this coaster is that you control the speed yourself using a hand brake. So yeah, you’re also responsible for keeping a safe distance from the cart ahead of you and not flying off the rails turning corners at 30 MPH. Plus, although you are belted in, the carts are basically flat so there isn’t much protection around your body, which makes it all the more exciting.




We had fun chatting with Jason, the staff member doing the loading and dispatch since he used to work for Disney Cruise Line and told us a little bit how Royal recruits from Disney since Disney offers training and then Royal entices the trained staff away with higher pay. He also told us a little about how the kids’ club personnel on both lines are actually trained by and hired from the same company.
The ride itself is a lot of fun. It is very quick and the views are great, but they fly by fast. Whether or not it is worth the $15 is up to you. We thought it was.


After we each took one ride, Ron headed back to the boat to get cash so we could get a spot on the beach and I took the kids to one of the pavilions for lunch. First we had to go all the way back to the Zip Line area to get the bags we had left in the cubbyhole.
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56 Days at sea and counting...

Last edited by nenner1; February 12th, 2010 at 08:00 PM.
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Old February 12th, 2010, 08:07 PM
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It took about a half an hour for Ron to get to the boat and back. Meanwhile we dug into the BBQ lunch. The food was decent- typical BBQ fare of chicken and ribs, hot dogs, hamburgers, cole slaw, potato salad, mini corn-on-the-cob, savory rice, fresh fruit, cakes and cookies. I thought it was very good. So did Savannah:


After lunch we finally headed out to the beach. The Dragon’s Breath beach area was packed and the minimal shady areas there were all taken. On the other side of the island, Barefoot Beach was not too crowded, alas is for suite and Diamond and up Crown & Anchor members only. The next little cove is what used to be called Nellie’s Beach. It is now apparently nameless (on the maps anyway) but we decided to stay there since we feared Columbus Cove Beach (the big one with the water park) would be even busier, The attendant got us two nice chairs in the shade. The chairs aren’t too comfortable, but that’s OK. Ron & I relaxed with Labadoozies while Sarah napped and the kids played in the water.






When Sarah woke up we took her across the way to Buccaneer Bay, a cute moored pirate ship play area with fountains. She loved it.




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56 Days at sea and counting...
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Old February 12th, 2010, 08:13 PM
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Eventually Brendan & Savannah came over too, and so did their friends. When Savannah saw the girls with their hair braided, she decided she wanted the same thing done. So while Ron & Brendan went to ride the last rides on the coaster, I took her to the hair braiding station.


Once that was done we went over to meet up with the boys who were still on the coaster (it takes a really long time to cycle through that ride) then we shopped for a little bit in the artisan’s market. I found the prices very, very reasonable here. And they had some really neat merchandise. So definitely take a look when you go to Labadee.

The clouds began rolling in and everyone was packing up and moving back on the boat. With the low clouds hanging over the mountain tops it looked like volcano smoke erupting. It took a little while to work through security with the masses coming back all at once, and once back onboard we decided we were hungry.



One place we had not eaten yet was Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream on the promenade. It is an additional charge for ice cream here, around $3.95 or so for a cup or cone.


With our hunger sated, what time was it? Flowrider time, of course!
With a little bit of coaching, Savannah was able to get up on her knees!


After Flowrider shut down, Ron took the kids for the last open ice skating session of the cruise.
Then we all headed to Windjammer for dinner. After the previous night, which was by far Sarah’s most difficult in the dining room; we thought we would spare others and ourselves from that again. We thought the WJ offerings looked tasty the night we had been in there to feed the kids, but this evening it did not have the same appeal. It had pretty much the same food (except for the yummy rice from Jade I was craving). And none of it looked very good. We were all pretty disappointed but we did manage to fill ourselves up enough to get through the night.
With a speedy, convenient dinner out of the way, we headed to the Alhambra for the “Once Upon a Time” production show. I was very curious to see this, given that I had seen what I figured to be the best in “fairy tale” entertainment onboard Disney…so I wanted to see what Royal could do with the material.


I expected it to not be good at all, but it was actually very interesting. They used popular music to tell the fairytale stories (“Yackety Yak” in a scene where the Stepsisters harass Cinderella, “Hungry like the Wolf” for Little Red Riding Hood. It wasn’t Disney but it was fun. The performers were very good too. I was really overall very impressed with the quality of entertainment onboard.
After the show, we went back to the room, where we were greeted with this creature of the night:



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Carnival Breeze 5-5-13
Disney Fantasy 9-22-12
Allure of the Seas 9-18-11
Disney Magic 10-30-10
Independence of the Seas 1-23-10
Disney Magic 9-27-08
Disney Wonder 10-4-07
Disney Wonder 3-18-07


56 Days at sea and counting...
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