Still not back home but on the way! We had an EXCELLENT time on our trip and we even met up with some of our Meet and Greet fellow passengers at the Meet and Greet. We only had about 6 or 8 of us show up, we all got a gift for showing up and since there were so few of us, we all won something at the raffle.
1. Pack your formal wear in dry cleaning bags and put them at the top of your suitcase, can fold over once..no wrinkles (our ship had no irons and no laundry facilities although you could send in stuff to get laundered, dry cleaned or pressed)..also was tuxedo rental on board.
2. Pack a large duffle with about a case and a half of bottled water (small bottles). You save LOTs of money not having to buy the expensive bottled water on board. We used this water for our shore excursions and when we went to work out (the gym was EXCELLENT with tons of cardio machines, weight machines and free weights, not to mention a hot tub and not crowded aerobics classes). You can then use this suitcase for souveniers.
3. Get only one soda card for two people, unless you drink loads of soda! For two adults, with gratuities they add on there, it comes to just under $100. You will have juices, tea, coffee at bfast...lemonade, ice tea and water at lunch and dinner...we also didn't pay for the kids juices at dinner. I did notice that at non-mealtimes, if you wanted something to drink, soda or juice at any of the bars, I was always asked for my soda card...don't know what the rules are though.
4. Don't waste too much time in the casino..even though we did come out ahead, I guess that ships don't have to follow the same rules as in Vegas (ie payout percentages), so you are really getting ripped off, ie the slots..just do it for fun here and there.
5. On alcohol, you get charged a $9.50 consumption fee for each bottle, whether you buy it on board or bring it on...some people on these boards reported they had no problems bringing their own alcohol on board..some even put their alcohol in water bottles (I think that's extreme). Whenever you leave or come back on the ship, your stuff always gets xrayed and I did notice they were making folks open their bags when they brought back large bottes (and yes they charged the fee). Some guy told us that if your bottle is already open getting on the ship, they cannot charge you that fee...I don't know if he was telling us to unscrew all the bottle tops or what..you decide!
6. You don't need to bring towels for the beach or the pool; will be provided in your room as well as by the pool (they say they charge $20 for every missing towel from your stateroom). Small towels are also in the gym.
7. Be ready for a big bill when you leave. Everything gets put on your Seapass card (which is also your identity card). Then at the end of the cruise, they put that on your credit card..check the charges before the end of your cruise though (you can even do this on your tv in your stateroom). Out of the 8 families we knew, over half of them had something screwed up on their bill. Also keep your receipts (we collected them in a drawer in our stateroom). Things add up, especially when they had the gold and silver chains sale, 50% off sales, etc in the Promenade area every night!
8. Plan for your gratuities. The easiest way to do that is to have it put on your bill at the end..they'll give you a recommended amount for everyone you need to tip and they'll use that..I think it was close to $300 for us. Otherwise, you use the envelopes at the end for everyone who serves you (room attendant, waiter, etc) and you put the money in there and give it to them personally.
9. We did bring one of those nightlights/air freshener things, but didn't hook it up in the bathroom as that plug was for razors only..but it worked fine in our room..we also had a junior suite, so the room was HUGE for the four of us, even a walk in closet and bathtub and a big balcony...the room attendant turned the couch into a bed every night, and yes we did have towel animals and mint chocolates every night as well.
10. The refrigerator was only half stocked, so it was easy to move all their stuff to the top shelf and use the bottom and the door for our water, snacks, etc.
As far as the excursions, I already gave a tip on Jamaica/Ocho Rios for Dunn's River Falls. Go first thing, go on your own in a taxi and you'll get the most out of it (more on the Jamaica board). In Grand Caymen, Stingray City and Coral Gardens was a must! We went with Nativeway, and they were excellent! There was only about 20 folks in our group and we had juice and water (and the crew was constantly serving us)...they went out of their way to show us other things on the route, spent extra time with the non-swimmers (Coral Gardens was about 10-12 feet deep), had all the gear for us and helped us handle the stingrays with plenty of photo ops (about 3 ft deep and just beautiful)! My 7 year old loved snorkeling with the stingrays, and they reminded me of dogs the way they would brush up against you and let them pet you and my husband got a kick out of the way they sniffed around you for food. Coral Gardens was nearby and even the nonswimmers were rigged up so they could "snorkel" and see the coral and the fish. There were TONS of schools of fish and even barracudas and some BIG fish..it was honestly like swimming in a huge tropical aquarium! WE saw other tour operators with just loads of people packed onto their boats..one boat reminded me of one of those trains through India where there was a person sitting on every available space on the boat, including the roof! Shopping was terribly expensive in Grand Caymen, so if you want to do snorkeling, diving, water sports, I would do them there and forget the shopping! A simple tshirt costs about $28, same for a hat! Save your jewelry and trinket shopping for Jamaica and Cozumel, Mexico. Labadee, Haiti was nice for just hanging around on the beach and the water..they also had an inflatable waterpark set up..go early for that as when that's at max capacity, that's it. Lots of folks also did parasailing and jetskis as well. People were friendly (ie natives) and the ship set up a nice BBQ, very relaxed and lines were minimal..also saw folk dancers and of course the popular drink was the Labadoozee. They did have a pseudo Haitian market set up...in the building in front, lots of extremely pushy vendors, most had the exact same stuff...lots of bartering...if you are squeamish about being around people and getting hassled, don't go in there, as you'll get overwhelmed..the building in the back must be owned by someone else and they had different items...tried to haggle a few times in there, every time was a "no go"...they said their prices were fixed. Again, nice beach and time to relax but forget the shopping...also haven't decided yet if I liked that whole artificial environment..considering how poor Haiti is, etc...
Someone asked about Margaritaville..it is right off the place where the ship docks in Ocho Rios..in the Island Village Shops, again an artificial environment with higher prices in the shops..Margartiville souveniers are very expensive I thought..but they will mail a free postcard home for you..food was so-so..and yes, we did see kids in there..their pool area is nice, bring your suits...also the bar scene and wacky adult games and such, dancing with the mc who taught you all the Jamaican dance moves..the Taj Mahal shops down the street..within walking distance..you even see how poor this country is on the way with beggars and children darting out asking for money...stuff here was cheaper than at the Island Village..we didn't venture any further, as the rest of the town was really rundown, police everywhere..just didn't feel comfortable. WE had family who did take some of the tours, and minus the Dunn's River Falls part of the tour, they did get to see some of the island. Our taxi driver also offered to take us on his private tour around...he seemed trustworthy (he was an old guy with a daughter in teh States)...I think these taxis are also somehow licensed (there were two taxi companies at the pier and it was all very organized) and probably safe. He quoted us a price of $80...didn't know if that was per person or for our four person family.
Do bring a light rain jacket or umbrella..I guess it rains alot in Cozumel...it was overcast, thunderstorms and such when we went..lots of shore excursions were cancelled...lots of lightening and as we shopped the electricity did go out and we were told this was typical. Great place for buying silver jewelry we thought and loose stones.
One word on the $20 coupon book you can buy on the ship...if you are going to buy jewelry it's probably worth it...it reminded me of a scavenger hunt as you took the coupons and would go to various shops to get a "free gift"...most were cheap looking trinkets, although I must say the "diamond" as well as the "emerald" earrings didn't look too bad. I did win a diamond tennis bracelet at the shopping talk on the ship (they do this for each location; telling you what shops they recommend)..of course, had to go to the shop to claim it..Diamonds International in Cozumel...had no problem getting the bracelet..of course they want you to trade it in (supposedly a $200 value)...so I played their game (I love white gold)..pointed out one of those and the guy did his figuring on his calculator and figured $700...then we went to leave and he got us before we went out the door, and all of a sudden after speaking to his manager, after more figuring, the bracelet was quoted at $400...so that made us leery...what is that stuff really worth when there can be such a big difference in price from one second to the next? We walked...
that's about it..gotta run for now!
Due to sail on Mariner of the Seas 7/4/04
La Palma - sometime in Spring 1993
MS Romanza - 8/8/87-8/16/87