A week long cruise in the Southern Caribbean

Written by  Donna Dawson

It had been a while since we had last cruised…and when I arranged this cruise I wondered at the size of the ship – it was large and held a lot of people – 2,730 to be exact…would we get lost on the ship? Would we be treated like cattle, have long lines to wait for to do anything off the ship? What was it going to be like boarding the ship for the first time? I am sure you might have the same questions and I am here to tell you that it was perfect – in every way.

The Enchantment of the Seas went through a major overhaul in 2005 which gave it 73 extra feet in length. This ship is spacious, modern and full of activity. It is run by people who care about you as an individual – from our cabin attendants’ right up to the Captain and yes, we even had a chance to visit the bridge as well as the kitchen.

When you decide to book a cruise with RCI you are given a Reservation ID. This ID is in the system and when you log on using your ID you are taken to your area where you are able to pre book off shore activities, pre order any items you may need and tick off the list of things to be done prior to your sail. It’s called Countdown to Cruise and it does simplify things. When you arrive at the port – for us, it was the Port of Colon in Panama – you are directed very efficiently to your sign in station, your luggage is taken and then you board the ship. Simple as that. You can have a rest in your stateroom or watch the others coming on board until you sail. Very impressive but it does make sense to get there early because as the time draws down to when the ship leaves, there is always a flurry of activity and luggage. I would much rather get there early and enjoy the experience on ship, getting to know where things are and having lunch than madly rushing to get there.

We set off on our adventure by enjoying a wonderful meal that night, then taking in the nightly show. Off to bed because tomorrow we were arriving in Cartagena, Columbia.

There were many people signed up for the excursions but we find it more relaxing to just go at our own pace. Getting off the ship was a breeze and off we went. We took a cab and had the driver stop at the places that he thought we should see and we were not disappointed one bit. This was a fabulous city to visit. Surrounded by a 12 foot high stone wall which took 194 years to build, this city of pastel coloured walls and splashes of brightly coloured banners and flowers was a delight. There are even some buildings that have been fully restored showing off their Spanish colonial architecture while others are still in their original condition – a sight that I find endearing. After all this touring around we headed back to the ship for some r & r. After dinner and the show, it was off to our stateroom to discover the first of many ‘little towel animals’ who would greet us each night upon our return.

Our next port of call was Santa Marta, Colombia. Again many things to do here like the city tour, or the botanical garden or just walking around and discovering for yourself. Santa Marta was founded by Rodrigo de Bastides in 1525. Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino: Built in the 17th century, was the last home of Simon Bolivar, and today it is a house/museum in his honor. There are also other beautiful places to visit like the Cathedral and the Customs House.

Part of the fun of a cruise is that you have nothing to worry about. You arrive, unpack then enjoy and eat…so, that being said one must watch their weight, especially on this ship where there were so many places to eat and so many varieties of food that it still staggers me to think about. The ship has an excellent fitness room that faces out the front so you can walk on that treadmill for as long as you want and enjoy the scenery along the way. Below the fitness room there is a spa where you can get glammed up or totally vegged out. The choice is yours and every time we walked through it on our way to exercise it had the nicest floral fragrance.

Oranjestad, Aruba was our next port of call and after a restful night – did I tell you that the staterooms are oh so quiet and of a good size too? Just remember to watch how many suitcases your bring as you have to store them in your room.

I should also tell you that at each port there is a stand where you can ask the locals questions and pick up maps. Again, as I mentioned, the ship is very well organized and when you do get to a port you don’t have to go off right away if you are not booked on an excursion, you can take your time and go when you want...it is wonderful.

The historic Dutch capital of Aruba, Oranjestad is a cool and fun place to visit. We walked over to the town as it was very close to where the port was. Past the town there is a hotel resort that you can walk along the beach and there you will find the neatest critters. Iguanas every where, sunning themselves and munching on lettuce when we arrived courtesy of a hotel guest. The beach was gorgeous and so warm to walk along the water just enjoying having nothing to do, no one to account too, in no hurry to go anywhere…that is what a holiday should be about. We then took our time walking around this beautiful city with its gaily coloured buildings.

Located about 20 miles off of Venezuela, Aruba is the ‘A’ in the ABC islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. It is not very big at only 19.6 miles long and 6 miles wide with one third of the 105,600 people living in Oranjestad. Where the ship comes in to the port, it is perfectly positioned so that you get a fantastic view of the city. Back to the ship for some r and r before dinner and a show…ahh times are tough.

Our next port of call was Willemstad, a UNESCO site. This little island lies 35 miles north of Venezuela and 42 miles east of Aruba. It is the largest of the 5 islands that comprise the Netherlands Antilles at 38 miles long and 7.5 miles wide. 170,000 call this island home.

The cruise just kept getting better and better. Here in this picture postcard perfect city there is a floating bridge, and not just a small one. It opens to let the ships through. The houses and buildings are painted in pastel colours and the ambiance of this city is just plain welcoming. Outdoor cafes line the waterway and with locals playing music the happy holiday feel of the place just takes your breath away. There is an open market which is a floating market consisting of small boats selling fish, fruits and vegetables and all kinds of handicrafts. There is so much to see here that the time flies bye and before you know it you have to head back to the ship, feeling so much better for having spent the day here.

Kralendijk, Bonaire was our last port of call. It means coral reef and again there are many examples of Dutch architecture here, but it is small enough that the highlights can be seen a very short time. The island is 24 miles long and 7 miles wide with 15,000 inhabitants.

Of special interest are two things, the flamingos and the donkeys. Bonaire is one of the four places in the world where flamingo colonies breed. In fact they outnumber humans here. There are two places to see them, the Cargill Flamingo Sanctuary in the south and the Goto Lake in the north.

Donkey Paradise Safari Park is a sanctuary for donkeys. They were brought here in the 17th century to transport water, salt and the Spaniards. Nowadays they do not have much to do but entertain the tourists. A foundation was set up to help these animals live out their lives in safety, peace and good health. All the help is volunteer help and it is their passion that is keeping this alive – as well as donations. It costs just 10.00 to feed one donkey for 2 weeks

We spent our last day cruising towards Colon and while doing so had an opportunity to visit the Kitchen being toured around by the Executive Chef himself, Ramil Buhian, from the Philippines. You could see that he was very proud of his kitchens, and rightly so…everything in the kitchen is planned, even with pictures showing what the finished product should look like. I have never seen so many ranges, counters and coolers. All is planned, it has to be as there is no turnover on a ship. The meals are turned out with precision and are all delicious, everywhere they are served. On our cruise we would consume 6600 eggs, 1300 gallons of ice cream, almost 9400 bottles of beer, 6700 lbs of chicken, 8800 lbs of beef plus an assortment of other foods.

Meeting the Captain of this ship, Srecko Ban, from Croatia was a nice surprise. He toured us through the bridge area telling us what the different instruments were meant to do. The length of our ship was 989 feet and at 105 feet wide it was too wide to go through our Panama Canal right now, but when the new lane is built, who knows? There are 840 crew on board from 60 countries.

There were so many things to do on the ship as well, want to learn to dance? How about a battle of the sexes game show, and there is a whole array of things planned for the children so you can have some time to yourself. For those who love special coffee and ice cream there is Ben & Jerry’s and Seattle’s Best.

What a beautiful cruise. The weather was perfect, the places we visited were all memories that will live on. This was the first time we had cruised on Royal and already another cruise is planned..where? well the same cruise, we enjoyed it so much!

Tips:

Yes, there were children on board, but this ship has areas for them and they are rarely noisy.

Pack less than what you think you need..truly, this is the Caribbean. You don’t need much!

Bring a water bottle for off shore excursions and for exercising.

Make use of the off ship internet cafes.

Sit and relax at each port, take in the ambiance of where you are. Have a local drink.

Always leave with just memories and above all, enjoy being in the moment.

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Photo by Donna Dawson
Photo by Donna Dawson

Since we live in Panama, we used the very capable services of

GRAND TOURS CRT, INC.

Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises

Telephone 507-322-2345

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