The background to this cruise is that in 1981 we moved to Michigan so I could go to graduate school. And Michigan is at least as cold in the winter as Masschusetts, if not colder, and Cheryl has never enjoyed the cold weather. (And to be sure as I get older I like it less as well.) So I made a promise that when we retired we would get away from the cold winters. I think at the time I expected that we would move away, but later we decided the thing to do would be to get an RV and become a “snow bird”. When I got retired by Ford in 2019 we were not ready to do that, but I am on the mail list for a company called Vacations To Go, and I got an e-mail from them with a good deal. It was for a two week cruise of the Caribbean in February 2020, and the price was pretty good: 2 weeks for $859, not counting excursions, and we did add those as well. But for two weeks of sunshine, it was pretty good. So we booked it. And in hindsight we got really lucky because we squeezed this in just before the Covid pandemic blew up. This is my journal of that trip.
We had a 6am flight, so it was up at 2:30 to shower and dress. We had hired a fellow who does airport runs as a retirement business, and he picked us up at 3:30, and we were off to the airport. We were flying on Frontier, which is inexpensive but which charges you for everything. Bottom line, they are still cheaper even when you pay for carry-on bags, it is just a different business model, and it kind of makes sense since you only pay for what you use.
In Miami, we had lunch at Chili’s in the airport, a good decision, then we got a shuttle to our hotel, a La Quinta Inn, and I doubt we will ever return. Fortunately, I had only booked our hotel for the beginning, so we made reservations at Hampton Inn for our return trip. Dinner was obtained next door at the Embassy Suites, which was satisfactory: the salads were large!
Saturday, 2/8/20 – Miami
Breakfast at La Quinta was seriously bad. It was all carbs, so once we cleaned out their stock of apples there was nothing we could eat. They did at least offer a shuttle to the Port of Miami. Once there, we had a few hours to kill, and found the Seamans Restaurant across the street from the terminal , where the salads were generous. Then it was check-in to the MSC terminal. There was a lot of standing in lines to get through it all, but finally we made it onto the ship. We had booked an inside room since our experience on the Viking River cruise was that we never used our balcony, and this trip validated that. We can get to as many outside decks and balconies as we wish any time we want, so why pay for a balcony?
We watched as the ship left the dock in Miami, and we were part of a procession of 4-5 cruise ships, and kept our companions along as far as we watched, but then we had a mandatory safety lecture to attend, then off to dinner. We checked out the Buffet and found we could get anything we wanted there, so that was good. But we also had an assigned seating in one of the restaurants, so we went there and found we had been seated with a nice family from Denmark. Most of the people on this ship are European, which we were told to expect since MSC is much better known in Europe, where it is based. After dinner there was a dance party/show on the upper deck. We watched that for a while, then it was off to bed.
Sunday, 2/9/20 – At Sea
This was an “At Sea” day as we sailed for Puerto Rico, so we had on board activities only. After breakfast we started to seriously look at excursions, prompted by a coupon MSC left at our door. I had purchased a few before we left, but nothing for San Juan and I was starting to question that. As we went over the options it became clear that the ones I had purchased came from the booking company, Vacations to Go, and not from MSC. And as we looked at the MSC offerings it was clear that there were several that we wanted, so we went to the Excursions desk and booked a few more. I am coming to understand more deeply that the value of a cruise is largely defined by the excursions. In any case, we purchased a tour of San Juan, and a couple of snorkeling excursions.
I had not purchased the Internet access, and enjoyed not being plugged in for a change. Instead, I had brought books with me (in electronic form, of course). I finished the History of Africa I had been working on before we left Miami, and started After Shock, a look back at Future Shock 50 years later. So I took my Kindle, and Cheryl took her books, and we went to the indoor pool on deck 18. I took a dip in the salt water pool, followed by a little hot tub soaking, but otherwise dozed and read all day. At the end of the day, we decided to eat in the buffet instead of our assigned seating, and then went to the show. It was just over 30 minutes and very acrobatic. We enjoyed ourselves, and then went to bed.
Monday, 2/10/20 – San Juan, Puerto Rico
Since landing at San Juan would not happen until 5pm, we had the day again for on board activities, so we went back to our preferred spot at the indoor pool. The San Juan stop kind felt like “we were going past it anyway, so let’s stop”. We had signed up for a tour, but in hindsight we could have skipped it. We visited the Castillo San Cristóbal about 15 minutes before it closed, then drove around . We got caught in rush hour traffic, and finally were dropped in the square in Old Town San Juan. We walked around for a little bit, then went back to the boat for a late dinner before going to bed.
Tuesday, 2/11/20 – Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands
We got up early to get breakfast because we had scheduled a morning excursion, and found we were docking. Our excursion was with Castaway Girl catamaran sailing and snorkeling. We had a great time, and I am looking forward to our next snorkeling excursion in a few days in the Bahamas. We saw an octopus, which is not common, and some fish and sea urchins. We also visited a wreck, which was placed there to help create a reef. This was an MSC excursion, and very good.
We docked in time to get back on the ship and change out of wet bathing suits before going on our St. Thomas Overview. This was the first of our Vacations to Go excursions, and it mostly seemed to be a tour of places selling souvenirs. Their particular grift is to offer observation decks high up in the hills, which you can only get to by going through the store, and no doubt there is a financial relationship with the tour guides. All in all, forgettable. We had a little scare when Cheryl couldn’t find her wallet, but she had left it in our room, so no disaster. We got back and decided to book another show, which meant again eating in the buffet (though for us, that is the most convenient since we can get exactly what we need). And the show was fantastic. That is one of the high points of the MSC experience. Our show tonight was called “Fly”, and it was loosely based on Hollywood films, but really made up of singing, dancing, and acrobatics. And following that, off to bed.
Wednesday, 2/12/20 – At Sea
Making our way back from St. Thomas to the Bahamas was a long jog, so we got another day at sea to relax. We went to our favorite spot (the Jungle Pool), and pretty much vegged out the whole day. I read two books, and came to a realization that I have been spending altogether too much time on social media. Reading books is what I really wanted to be doing in my retirement, and this cruise is getting me to see that, which is good. I will be making changes when I get back home. At the end of the day another excellent show in the Theater, this one called Peter Punk (very loosely based on Peter Pan, but mostly about pirates), and then to our room where I finished the second book of the day.