Note: The areas of the write up that cover costs of activities or travel are in green font to make it easier to find.
This past winter was rough. Forget the weather it was just an emotionally and physically painful, sad, long winter which carried over to an extremely busy Spring. I’d meant to take myself somewhere tropical a few months ago, but thought that it would be more fun to visit a friend closer by and it was. Thankfully it was warm where she was too. In late April I decided that it was indeed time to book a trip where the main goal was to lay out in the sun and get in the ocean. It didn’t matter in what part of the earth, but somewhere, the closer the better. “How about leaving on a cruise from Miami” I said to myself, and since I like cruising on Norwegian and I wanted to try their newest ship the Getaway, I thought “why not”.
I did have a couple of reservations after all it’s a sister ship to the Breakaway and virtually identical. Did I really want to go on a ship that was the same as one I’d been on? With all of the ships leaving out of Miami for Caribbean waters was this the best choice? I figured I’d try. There was a special where I could book an inside room that wasn’t a studio and not have to pay 200%, as well as $50 OBC and a BOGO for a free cruise on the Norwegian Sky. What was not to love.
Second challenge. Finding a friend to hang out with. Yes I enjoy traveling alone, but sometimes you want to spend time with a good friend while on vacation and who better than BJ! Yes BJ that I’d met on the Transatlantic two years ago, lost touch with, then met up again with on the 2013 Miami to Barcelona TA last year. I texted him, he said, sounds good and we booked. Now here’s the kicker. We booked with two different online agencies and do you know that we were put in room right across from each other. 10401 and 10403. Couldn’t have been planned better than that! Now I didn’t have to go far to bug him 🙂
I decided to fly in on June 6th the day before the trip. I wanted to stay in a hotel that I hadn’t been in. Before I’d booked a Marriott not far from the port that had free transfers. A nice hotel, but I’d done it twice in a row and had seen nothing of Miami as it was in a rather out of the way area. This time I went for the Conrad in the business district. There was a 10% off discount to book it via Hotels.com so with tax it was still under $200 for the night, and the room was comfortable, the bathroom huge, and it came with an Illy Espresso machine. Life was good. I’m not a coffee drinker, but un caffe per favore when it comes to Espresso especially with Sambuca.
Also available are robes, slippers, free bottled water (not the ones from the mini bar) Housekeeping and the concierge provide full size bottles of free water, the front desk on 25 has half sizes, in the room there is also as mouthwash, tooth cleaners (for between teeth), Q-tips, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, and a shower cap. The bathroom was very large with both a tub and shower in separate areas of the room. Under the sink there was a scale.
The Conrad is a very nice place, in the sleek hotel Espirito Santos building that houses either offices on condos on lower levels. So in order to get to your floor you enter in a the ground floor, pass by the Concierge, take the elevators to the 25th floor, and then take the elevator to the floor you were assigned to. For me it was 18 with a Bay view.
There is new construction of another building that blocks some of the view as I imagine it could be, but it’s still a nice view allowing the watching of sailboats going by and letting the light hit in the room during sunrises and sunsets. Would I stay here again yes. Though on my next trip to Miami for a cruise I’ll probably stay on Miami beach, but I would go back to the Miami Conrad. Nice hotel, good price, good customer service and walkable to restaurants.
Taking a cab to the port is about $12 and 15 minutes. So there’s plenty of time for a long luxurious bath in the morning before making your way to the ship.
There is a pool and a gym neither of which I visited. There was an event there when I visited which closed down the bar but the restaurant was open, if there was a downside to this stay, this would have been it, as the way the entrance to the bar restaurant is there are many people in the way when you go from one set of elevators to the other. They weren’t doing anything wrong, but the layout lends to crowds. The large crowd put me off of using the restaurant as I felt the entire area would be a bit noisier than I felt like hearing during a vacation. Internet access is pricey at $15 a day. I think that for the price of the hotel this should be thrown in for free, but so be it. I wound up leaving my iPad and Android changers home with nothing but a USB cord for my phone. My internet service on my phone was a bit sketchy, and so between all of the above I actually laid back, relaxed, looked at TV and after having a dinner at a couple of mojitos at a nearby Latin restaurant, I promptly went to sleep by 9:45. Quite the life of the party wouldn’t you say. 😉
On the Ship
So like I said, it had been a crazy winter, so this trip I didn’t think about looking for interviews, or even taking as many photos as I usually do as I didn’t feel like carrying my DSLR with me everywhere. So while I have photos this trip write up is going to be more written than imagery. A change for me, but it does encourage me to be more detailed.
It’s a beautiful ship! And despite being a sister ship to the Breakaway in my beloved New York there is something about the Getaway that I like even more. It really is a gorgeous ship, with sleek decoration especially around the Boardwalk.
Getting on board was a breeze. I left the hotel around 11:10am arrived at the pier by 11:30 and was inside on board the ship by 11:50.
Passengers / Vibe
The downside has nothing to do with the ship but rather some of the passengers (as usual). Specifically rowdy youngsters. If you, like me, and want to stay away far, far away from this crowd while on board I’ve a few suggestions. Well for one, book while they’ve back trying to cram in 16 credits, but if that’s not an option and you want to cruise during peak season, these tips might help. If you’re booking inside cabins try to book on a higher floor. I booked a guarantee which thankfully put me on ten. If they don’t assign these manually perhaps the algorithms will base where you are by Latitudes status and age. I only say this because it seemed that the drunk, rowdy “I wish they were back on the other line where this is more acceptable” crowd seemed to be housed on 5. Perhaps they specifically booked it, maybe not, but I can say that on 10 Forward (love that Star trek reference) it was fairly quiet passenger wise.
Another way to stay away from the overly zealous and loud young ‘uns is to avoid he main pool deck on sea days and to book Vibe. It’s a $79 pass for the week and well worth it. There’s no separate pool (you’ll have to book the Haven for that) but there are two hot tubs, 2 small cabanas, plenty of lounges, umbrellas and an attentive bar staff. Tip: You actually have more of a breeze under the umbrellas than in the Cabanas on a hot day.
There are also 5 larger Cabanas that face the water, but they’re an additional $299 per week. For me I can’t think of a reason to justify the expense. They have a cooler, and the backs are to the rest of Vibe so you don’t have to look at anything but the water, however I think I’d just add a couple of more dollars and book a balcony if that’s what I was going for and could avoid other people all together. However by doing the two things mentioned above (book rooms on higher floors and buy a Vibe pass) we managed to avoid most rowdiness and except for once while on the dance floor at Spice H20 we rarely encountered them.
Of course the best idea to to probably book the Haven. Any age group can of course book this as well, but you’ll probably avoid the “just escaped my parents, now I’m acting like a fool” types. You’ll of course run into older drunks anywhere but after a life time of liver picking they’re usually a bit quieter. To be fair though the worst situation we heard of concerned no kid but rather a grown man, whose violence put his wife in the hospital in St. Thomas, he then proceeded to berate the security on board when they try to subdue him when he was acting up, and then because of his actions had to put him in the brig and then escort him off of the ship. We can only hope he’s on a permanent “no cruise” list with NCL.
Entertainment / Latitudes Party
On the second night in we head to the Illusionarium. Get to the theater and get on line early and ask for a seat closest to the stage if you bought floor seats. Banquet seats line the room around the back and are about $5 cheaper per person. Mind you getting there early is no guarantee of where you’ll be sat exactly as they seem to seat people based on group size.
As I don’t eat meat I asked to just have their seafood option which was fried shrimp, which suit me fine, they were tasty and I was satisfied. The dessert was a plate of 3 small deserts with a dip. The only one that I liked was the chocolate hazelnut torte that was on the right hand side. The other option was a mini cupcake and a flan.
The show while geared towards kids is also fun for adults. We sat next to a couple that were originally from Hungary. The husband was a Physicist and even he was trying to figure out how certain tricks were done.
Towards the end of the show they invited three people on stage at different times to help perform tricks, one was a little boy, one was a man and the other was a woman…that woman was me. I had a chance to make a table “float”. A cute memory.
We head over to the Latitudes party where I had the chance to see a few faces I hadn’t seen in a while including Jose Contreras, Deepak Gonsalves, and one of my favorite people on NCL Marites DeSouza also known as Mama Tes and Tek. We’d skipped the official photo with Captain Rune Myre the night before but I had a chance to get a snap with him at the party.
So after a long day lounging hard at Vibe we head to a Mojito tasting at the Sugarcane bar. The tastings are fun. There’s lots of liquor, if you don’t have a tolerance sip slowly and only drink half. Nothing more to be said.
First stop was St. Maarten / St. Martin. As BJ hadn’t been here before my suggestion was to head to Maho beach to drink some drink and watch the flying entertainment. And when I say flying, I don’t mean the planes. More of that later. Let me start by saying $3 and $4 Mojitos and Guavaberry rum. If you’re going to drink, do so right as you get off of the ship and walk past the gates. 100 feet in to your left is the Guavaberry Rum shop, 40 more feet to your right is the inexpensive Mojito stand. Stop at both places. Guavaberry rum doesn’t just come in that flavor, there are others like Mango, Vaanilla, Coconut and my favorite, Almond. They are strong, delicious and they give samples. For more on the Guavaberry rum check out my St. Maarten post from last year.
I came home with Mango, Coconut, and Almond. BJ, 4 bottles. I threw away flip flops, slippers and other items before leaving the ship to make sure that my baggage wouldn’t be overweight due to the rum (which is heavy, about 4 pounds each) the glass bottles are thick, so you don’t have to worry about breaking them but pad them anyway and be prepared for some overage changes or bringing an additional carry on for the plane so these can be checked in.
We caught a cab that cost either $8 or $10 to the beach there and parked ourselves at the somewhat overpriced Sunset Bar where drink prices are standard and food prices are high. 2 drinks, 2 shots, fish fingers, fried and onion rings were $60 with tip ($53 before) just to give you an idea. The drinks weren’t strong and the food was…fried, so there’s only so great that’s going to be but to my taste they were over fried and lacking flavor.
There’s another bar at the other side of the small beach which I’ll head to the next time I’m here to see if there prices are any different, however on my next St. Maarten trip I think I’ll explore the island and eat where the locals eat instead. Unfortunately when I was here in January I didn’t feel up to doing much so I didn’t do anything besides walk around the port area shops. So the plan is definitely to see more on another trip.
The good part of being here isn’t the food or drinks, but rather watching the planes land. Especially the 747s. Try moving to the middle of the beach when they arrive, you’ll feel as if you can touch them overhead. The better option is watching the adventurous or simple (depending on your point of view) stand at the fence trying to take photos when the 747s are taking off. This is what you should do next.
1. Pick up your drink
2. Smile broadly and wait to laugh
3. Crack up and some poor bloke or blokette sails through the air and into the water, or vehemently pushed back if they’re of the denser variety. I saw one dude with a backpack, resist with all his might until the thrust and ocean won.
Entertainment for hours. Literally.
Tip. Enjoy the rest of the island first and get there between 11-3 to see the takeoffs and landings. The Sunset House Bar had notifications of which planes will be landing when so you can plan your viewing pleasure accordingly.
St. Thomas / St. John
I have to admit this is my third time in St. Thomas the second time was January of this year. Hubby and I went to the beach but I don’t remember which one. :/ I do remember eating french fries, trying to get all of the sand off of my feet and being in an open side cab with my husband, that’s it. This time hubby stayed home holding down the fort and BJ and I took a cab to the ferry port of Red Hook and head to St. John another of the three islands that make up the USVI (the last being St. Croix) so this means that if your phone package is like mine and only works in the US, it will also work on these islands (along with Puerto Rico).
Note: The Ferries returning run on the hour every hour. The journey is about 20 minutes and the cab to / from the Cruise Port is about 20 minutes, so factor this in when deciding which ferry to take when coming back.
You catch the cab/jitney to Red Hook which is where the passenger ferries are. The cab is $10 each way per person, the ferry is $13 round trip. Once you get to St. John the cab is $6 each way, so travel will cost you almost $30. There is an entrance fee to trunk Bay of $4 as you’re enter a National Park f the USVI. However to spend time in an area like Trunk Bay it’s well worth it.
Beautiful crystal blue water where you can see down to your feet. You can snorkel our to the coral reefs (which life guards will constantly reminded you not to stand on if you decide rest there) or just hang out in the mild, warm salt water letting it tighten your pores and make your skin feel buttery smooth. There’s a high salt content so floating is easy. The waters are calm and it’s a serene experience. Provided you go there on your own. If you take a ship excursion they herd you in and out in about 75 minutes.
There are other beautiful beaches in the area such as Cinnamon Bay (I’ll review that next time) but if you don’t bother to see either of these places you’re missing out on some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. I’ve been to many from Australia to Thailand, Greece to my good old home town of Brooklyn and this place is gorgeous!
Coming back we took the jitney to the marina and missed the ferry by about 2 minutes. It was just pulling out. We planned so that it wasn’t our last option and since we had another ferry we could catch in an hour we went to the ATM (Banco Popular is 20 seconds from where the ferry lands. The fee was $2.50 for me.) then opted to have a bit to eat and a drink at a nearby restaurant.
The restaurant is right across from the ferry landing, and we figured it would be quick, but we should have gone to one run by locals instead, because two very simple orders took about 40 minutes, couple that with the time we spent walking around and we had no time to sit down to eat and enjoy it, and as there is no eating on the ferry I had to bring on my pungent fish tacos until I had a chance to eat them once we landed in St. Thomas. Needless to say I’ll skip that place on my next trip to St. John and eat at a local run establishment instead.
Nassau, Nassau, Nassau I’ve been here about 5 times now and while sometimes I explore and sometimes I don’t no matter what it never fails to have a lot going on. I’d decided to take this day nice and slow. I woke late, got up for a quick bite and coffee, sat down and read. I didn’t decide to leave the ship for about an hour and a half after it docked. BJ decided to take a ferry trip and I wanted to do a little shopping so we left the ship together and then parted ways. Tortuga Rum shop and the Straw Market along with a walk along Bay street.
Tip: I met a couple that couldn’t find the Tortuga Rum Shop. As they’re very yummy and I’d hate to see that happen to anyone else. Here’s how to get there. When you exit your ship and go through the “terminal” make a right. You’ll see brightly colored huts on the side of the street that you’re on. Cross the street and walk towards the straw market. It is on the street before you get to the Straw Market. There won’t be a sign but it’s called Fredrick Street. The address is number 10. You can’t miss it. There’s a wooden pirate out front.
From the Rum factory I walked over to the Straw Market to pick up a bag that I could use as a carry on to bring home some clothes, as I’d have three heavy bottles of Guavaberry Rum and Tortuga Rum Cakes in my check in luggage. Honestly this begs the question of why don’t I just buy the cakes online from the comfort of my home and have them shipped directly to me. Tradition I guess, but I do think I’ll probably start doing that. The straw market is an indoor open sided craft market that sells all kind of souvenirs. Items like wood carvings, hand woven straw bags and hats, jewelry, fabric bags, t-shirts, key-chains and more. The prices are reasonable and you can haggle a bit. Another option are the colorful booths found across the street. For high end shopping close to port walk along Bay street.
On my way back to the ship from my little shopping excursion I passed by Bar / Lounge / Restaurant named Via which offered a Bahama Mama and Conch Fritter special for $9, so I decided that I’d drop my packages off, change into something a little less sweaty and come back out and dine there.
Via is located on Parliament and Woodes Rogers Walk. If you come out of the terminal it’s to the left. The restaurant has a NYC vibe with outdoor dining on one side and a cool air conditioned interior. Interestingly it also houses a Sushi place complete with Sushi chef. So if you didn’t eat any while on board here’s another opportunity. I ordered the special I’d seen and when the waitress placed a Bahama Mama of at least 12 ounces in front of me along with delicious Conch Fritters I knew that it was a place that I’d have to get back to on my next trip. The drink was strong and delicious and the fritters were as they should be with chunks of seafood and non-greasy. I decided to order a full size Bahama Mama this time which was a least 16oz. After that I made my way back towards the ship where I unexpectedly saw BJ.
On the way out the first time I took photos of the Naval Vessels that are docked nearby. On one I noticed a young lady in uniform and asked to take a photo of her to which she graciously agreed to. Coming back the second time I passed by another vessel where I saw another young woman in uniform, who allowed me to come up the gangway and take a photo with her. How’s that for Island hospitality 🙂
It was a wonderfully relaxing trip with an amazing friend, great food and lots of entertainment and drinks. Even though the ports are familiar to me, there’s always something new to see wherever you go and so I definitely hope to get back on the Getaway and enjoy what she and the islands have to offer.
All written material and photos Copyright © TravelXena.com 2014
St. Maarten Photos
St. John Photos
All written material and photos Copyright © TravelXena.com 2014