This is our review of the 11/12/94 sailing of the Horizon from San Juan to Martinique, Barbados, St. Lucia, Antigua, and St. Thomas. For comparison, this was our 15th cruise, having previously sailed on NCL's Seaward, Sunward II, and Norway, Carnival's Celebration and Fantasy, Crown Princess, Costa Classica, Regency Regent Sun and Regent Star, Dolphin OceanBreeze and SeaBreeze, Crown Jewel and Cunard Crown Dynasty and Star Clipper, although not necessarily in the above order.
In a nutshell, we would highly recommend the Horizon to anyone looking for good food and absolutely unsurpassed service (in this price range, at any rate). The food was excellent, the best we have had, although the food on Dolphin's SeaBreeze and OceanBreeze frankly came quite close in the dining room. The midnight buffets, in particular, were probably better on Dolphin. However, service is where Celebrity really excels, from top to bottom, although I will confess that we were extraordinarily lucky in our allocation of waiter in the dining room. With one very notable exception, (ONYX!!) this review will mention nothing about entertainment, as we don't watch ship shows anymore. We have been to all of the islands before, some several times, and did not take any ship shore excursions, but did island tours on our own on a couple islands, so I will give a roundup of the tours we did take.
We booked this trip about 6 months ago, at about 35% off, and even though there were some 50% off specials being offered by Celebrity around the time of our sailing, we were not able to qualify for any. We booked this trip along with Eric's parents, who proved to be good sailing companions. Their presence also helped us get a little cheaper island tours, when the taxi driver was able to charge for 4 people, not the normal 2. Since we were staying an extra day in San Juan after, we elected to pay the Celebrity $25.00 air deviation fee, but still use Celebrity air. Since we have FF miles on American, we chose American. We got a non-stop down, although unfortunately on the trip back, had to travel through JFK to get to Dulles. Non-stop flights would have cost more per person, so we elected not to spend the extra money. Tickets when they came through were our requested flights, although we had a nasty surprise when we discovered that American had switched the equipment for the trip from JFK to Dulles from a jet to a turbo-prop.
We left home on November 12, for non-stop flight from Dulles to San Juan and discovered at least three other couples with Horizon tags on bags, so we surmised that this flight was probably the one we would have been booked on anyway, if we had not stayed the extra day. Flight left on time at 8, arrived on time in San Juan, around 12:30 P.M., including an extra hour for the time change. We did not see any Celebrity personnel at the gate, so we proceeded to the baggage claim area. Our bags arrived, finally, on E.C. time. (E.C., meaning Eastern Caribbean time, meaning, when we get there!!)
Anyway, once we collected our bags, we handed them over to Celebrity people, who stacked a huge pile of bags for transport to the ship. Bags were transported separately to the ship, which is the best way. Just make sure that you have the Celebrity tags on, so they know which cabin to deliver them to. We elected to wait for the Celebrity bus to the pier, and discovered why we never do so. We had to wait over a half hour in the terminal, just standing around, about half of which time the Celebrity people were remonstrating us to "stand in a straight line". From here on out, we will resume our former practice of getting a cab to the pier, regardless of whether transportation to the pier is provided by the line or not. As it turned out, it probably would not have made that much difference anyway. We arrived at the port around 1:30 and were told that they would not begin checking in people to board until 2:00, and they did not. There was (free) fruit punch provided for any who were interested while waiting, plus rum punch which I think was free, but we didn't check it out. Once 2:00 came, they opened up the lines, which moved very quickly, and we were on the ship by around 2:15. An oddity, though, they did NOT want to see our passports, or any other form of ID, for that matter. Also, unlike many ships these days, you did not present a credit card for onboard charges at the time of boarding. You were requested to do so once onboard by going to the purser's desk. We prefer the way many lines are doing this now--signing up for the onboard charge at the time of boarding, which eliminates all further checking in. Late in the week, we heard the announcement calling out names of passengers, which I'm sure was for those who had not yet settled their accounts. I would think that it would be easier for the line, also, to have this matter of onboard charges taken care of before anyone boards.
Just prior to reaching the ramp to board the ship, we were handed a card assigning us to first seating dinner for Saturday night. Since we boarded very early on, I would assume that everyone who got on early got early seating. We did not consider this to be a major problem for the first evening, but our (eventual) tablemates refused to take their first seating assignment and ate on second seating, so you apparently could get second seating if you wanted and made a fuss. Up the ramp and onboard, to a row of stewards waiting to show us to our cabin. About half the cruise lines that we have sailed do this, and it's a nice touch. I did feel sorry for the crew though, as all Saturday afternoon and evening as we went on and off the ship, there was this huge line of crew waiting in the hallways to greet people. This was true even around 8 or 9 P.M., when one would have thought that most everyone was already onboard.
After dumping our carry-on's in the room, time for the welcome aboard buffet. Determined not to gain TOO much weight this time around, I limited myself to one of everything, and was happy for the fellow who came to carry my tray as soon as I departed the buffet line. In all of the times when we ate at the buffet for the week, which was almost all the time, a waiter failed to appear to carry my tray on ONE occasion. I was quite miffed (G!!) Of course, this was about Thursday, by which time, I was so totally spoiled that it was beyond controlling!! (G!!)
After checking out the buffet, we decided to head up the hill to Fort San Cristobal to get some shots of the ship in port, as we had often done of other ships in the past. Unfortunately, the Horizon docks at the wrong pier to get a really good picture of her from Cristobal, as there was this darn building in the road. I asked Eric to do something about that building but he declined. Headed back down the hill, did some window shopping and took a few pictures at the statute of Columbus, and back to the ship.
Both Eric's parents and we were on deck 4, which is the bottom deck of passenger cabins. As we usually do the first day, we scoped out the cabins on other decks. Cabins on all decks appeared to be the same size, until one got up to the level of the Horizon suites and the Presidential suites. Based on reports here on $P$, I believe that the only difference in the upper level cabins is that there are hairdryers and safes in the upper level cabins. Deck 4 and Deck 5 cabins do not have safes, something which I missed immensely. Safety deposit boxes are available at the purser's desk (no fee), but it was a pain having to go there all the time. I generally take all my good jewelry on cruises, and I feel very uncomfortable leaving jewelry, casino chips and cash in the room. The Celebrity brochure is VERY bad about describing what amenities are available with each room, so if either of these items are important to you, have your TA check with Celebrity.
Our cabin was around 190 square feet, with two twin beds fixed together to form a king sized bed. Suitcases fit nicely under the bed. Storage space was outstanding, this being the first cruise that I ever remember having extra storage space. There was about 8 linear feet of hanging space, 8 drawers in the closet and another 8 under the dressing table and a couple of smaller drawers in the nightstand. Cabin colors were shades of oranges, as I believe all cabins on our deck were. The TV had a remote, but was a little lacking in channels, compared to NCL, Carnival or Princess. The only live channel was CNN and occasionally ESPN, plus two channels of movies (not a particularly good selection), and the Celebrity info channel. We had a large window, with a wide ledge, which I sat in, upon occasion, and watched the ocean go by. Unfortunately, not much opportunity for that on this trip, with so many islands. Will have to book another cruise on the Horizon to check it out further.........
For some reason, the bathroom struck me as garishly WHITE, but it was nicely laid out, with a large shower, European style shower head, clothes line in the shower, and 4 hooks on the back of the bathroom door. There was not really a medicine cabinet per se, although there was a rail above the sink for toiletries. Three large bathtowels, instead of two, plus handtowels and washcloths, of course, standard cruise ship white. Conditioning shampoo and body lotion were provided and replenished as used.
There is a pretty decent picture, I think, of the Horizon suites and the Presidential suites in the brochure. The Horizon suites are kind of nice, if you want a little more space but I personally would not pay the money for either those or the Presidential suites. The Presidential suites were small, I thought, with a small sitting room, plus the bedroom, and a larger bathroom, plus walk-in closet. Mary Ann Rizzo gave you a much better description in her review, so will leave that to her. Frankly, the only reason why we ever book higher priced cabins is to get a balcony, and the Horizon has none of those. Looking at the brochure for the new Century, it seems that Celebrity is aware that many people are looking only for that type of cabin. They sure do want a lot of money for those cabins on the Century though!! In short, we personally would not book anything but the cheapest outside on either Horizon or Zenith, as even the cheapest outsides are very nice cabins.
Now for a little tour around the ship. Deck 3 is the doctor's office and crew cabins. Deck 4 is passenger cabins, plus the beauty shop and children's playroom. We never saw (or heard) the latter. I really saw very few kids on board, and they all seemed under 10. There were no marauding teenagers running the hallways. Deck 5 is passenger cabins and the Horizon Lobby (purser's desk and shore excursion desk). The Horizon Lobby is all orange. There is not a kinder word for the color. This was apparently a deliberate departure from the 5 story atrium concept, which apparently has not been too successful, as it seems that the new Century has the now "traditional" atrium concept. Deck 6 is all passenger cabins. Deck 7 is the Starlight Restaurant, the Rendezvous Lounge (quick question, how many ships can you name that have a Rendezvous Lounge??), the Library, Card Room, the Photo Shop, and the main level of the Palladium Show Lounge. The Starlight Restaurant was kind of bland, as far as ship restaurants go, as befitting a backdrop for some of the best food and service at sea. Not unattractive, just not eye-catching. This was kind of a first for us in that you could enter through the rear of the restaurant, as well as the front. The Rendezvous Lounge was really an attractive lounge, but we had a grand total of one drink there for the week and never spent any time there. This was a function of never going to the shows, as this lounge is in between the dining room and the show lounge. The Library and Card Room were again, kind of an orange motif and rather plain, but nice looking rooms. The Palladium Show Lounge had a nice arrangement of seats, with good sight lines, and comfortable seating, not jammed so close together that one could not walk between the seats. No pillars obstructing views. A nice show lounge.
Deck 8 consisted of the upper level of the Palladium Show Lounge, the Shops, the Plaza Bar, the Casino, the Zodiac Club, and the Disco. The casino is one of the most handsome casinos we have ever seen, with loads of cherry wood surrounding even the slot machines. There were even some nickel slots, although we didn't play those. Didn't lose money fast enough there!! There were two Caribbean Stud tables (more on that subject later!!), 2 roulette wheels, 1 craps table, and about 6 blackjack tables, including a $3 table which was open all the time. This was a nice touch for those beginning blackjack players like me. One major flaw in the casino, which has been repaired in the Zenith, according to our favorite bartender from this trip (Miller), was the bar in the casino had NO barstools. Silly design.
The Plaza Bar is attractive, but rather startlingly WHITE. Although nicely placed in the ship, it did not seem to be busy very often. Again, our source, Miller, said that this bar on the Zenith was more inviting, being closed up more, to resemble sort of an English pub. There was a fellow who played piano at this bar several evenings, but didn't seem to be our type of music, so we didn't stick around.
On to our favorite room on the ship, the Zodiac Club. We thought it easily the most beautiful room on the ship, done in shades of blues, with lots of brass. It had a wonderful huge long bar, with probably 30 seats at the bar along it's length. We spent our evenings either here or in the casino. We discovered this lounge, and our favorite bartender, Miller, on the first night out, as we searched for something, ANYTHING, going on, on Saturday night. Miller is Jamaican, one of our favorite types of people. On Saturday night, we sat and discussed the merits of sunsets in Negril, Jamaica, one of our favorite places in the world, over a few drinks. One or two nights during the week there was Kareoke (can't even spell it, I dislike it so much!!) here, but most nights, ONYX played there.
Onyx is easily the best band that we have heard live, not only on a ship, but anywhere, in terms of sheer talent to produce almost any type of music. Onyx is listed on the program as the "Caribbean band". I suppose this is because they are from St. Lucia. They do play some Caribbean music, but they also play almost every other type of music imaginable. They play a lot of top 40's music, including Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You", with a man singing the main part better than anyone could imagine that a man could sing it. They played great steel band music (although they did a lousy Kokomo--which is Beach Boys, not steel band, anyway). They played 30's music. They even played a WALTZ!!! They have a tape available in the gift shop ($12 cash)--great music and a great souvenir. Buy it!!
The disco was similarly laid out to the Zodiac Lounge, with a huge long bar. Typical disco decor here, with lots of electric pink and black. We never strayed into the disco. Eric says I'm getting old!!
Deck 9 is cabins, Deck 10 is cabins and the suites, Deck 11 is the America's Cup Club, the pools, the Marina Bar, the Coral Seas Cafe and "The Grill". The America's Cup Club is all the way forward, a very nautical lounge, with lots of prints of America's Cup ships. The room is done all in shades of blue and white, with large windows all the way around. We never got here until the last evening, but had lovely drinks around sunset here the last evening. Just not enough time on a one week cruise which goes to five islands to do all the things which should be done.
There are two pools on this deck, along with a bandstand and bar serving this deck. There is ample sunning room on this deck, plus on Deck 12 above, with, unfortunately, plastic strap chairs. Even on the day at sea, we had no problem whatsoever with procuring a chaise lounge for sunning. Good show, Celebrity! There were plenty of towels provided from the (smiling) ondeck staff.
The Coral Seas Cafe was the site of the buffet breakfast and lunches. We ate breakfast and lunch here on all days, with the exception of breakfast in the main dining room one morning during the week, plus the last morning. The Coral Seas Cafe has two serving lines, with a large selection of foods for breakfast, including french toast and pancakes, as well as omelettes, fried eggs and scrambled eggs, bacon and ham on most, if not all, mornings. Waiters came round with pots of coffee in the mornings, although they somehow managed to always miss my schedule, as they were usually passing by when I sat down, then again, just as I sat down from getting my own second cup of coffee. There was a separate line which featured continental breakfast items in the morning, then a salad bar at lunch time. It did not appear to be much used on either occasion, but it enabled one to grab a quick item without waiting in any lines, regardless of the time of day. There was loads of seating inside, plus some tables outside under cover facing the pool. All the way aft on this same deck is The Grill, where they served up marvelous hamburgers and french fries, hot dogs and a mean chicken shishkebob, which was great! Here was the only really outside dining area with good views of the ocean, with tables and mesh-type umbrellas. Actually, this area could have stood to be larger, as it did fill up on the day at sea. I never saw any dirty dishes sitting around on tables, either inside or outside.
Deck 12 consisted of the Fitness Center, the saunas, the (boarded-up) whirlpools, upper sunning deck and the Mast Bar. We walked through the Fitness Center on the first day and observed that they had the Reebock Step. There was also a decent sized aerobic area, decent circuit machines, plus a couple of steppers. I usually go to exercise class here at home about 3 or 4 times a week, but decided to pass for the week while on the Horizon.
Overall, the design of the Horizon is functional and there never appeared to be any lines, except for the viewing of the Grand Buffet and the captain's cocktail party. I really miss a promenade deck, though. The design also kind of reminded me of the Crown Princess, from the aspect that the interior of the ship seemed kind of insulated from the sea, with only the short outside promenade on Deck 8 and all the way up top on Decks 11 and 12 giving one access to the sea. It didn't really affect my enjoyment of the trip, especially since we spent so little time sailing during the day.
Enough for our tour of the ship, time for DINNER!! As stated earlier, we got stuck with first seating for the first night. Dinner the first night on the Horizon was open seating, which means that you end up with luck-of-the-draw for waiter and busboy, who also know that they will probably not see you after the first night, therefore not much incentive to provide good service. A bad idea, I think. We, of course, went into dinner with Eric's parents and were assigned a table with two really lovely older ladies who, like Eric's parents, were on their first cruise. Despite somewhat indifferent service from both waiter and busboy, we had a wonderful evening meal, concluding with "the swan thingy". We ended up making quite good friends with these two lovely ladies, always seeing them around on the ship, and conferring with them on the success of their days.
After dinner we headed back to the room to unpack, then off the ship to take a few night pictures and to visit a few of the vendors still sit up on the pier and take in the Caribbean night. There is just no air like that warm, humid evening air in the Caribbean, ripe with life!!
Other ships in port on Saturdays are the Star Princess, the Song of America, the Fascination and the Cunard Countess. All left before we did. We left the dock around 11:30, to the tunes of Onyx, and a nice going away party. We were surprised, since the ship left so late, as it appeared most everyone was on the top deck to see the ship off. There was quite a large participation in the Electric Slide, although we were not among them. Off to the Zodiac Lounge for a few drinks, then off to bed. We found out a couple of days later that the casino actually was open late on Saturday night. Obviously lightly attended as most, including us, did not know it was open.
Sunday was a day at sea, a day of rest before our sprint through 5 islands in 5 days. Lifeboat drill was at 10 AM, with our assigned station being the casino. (Somewhat fitting, I thought!!) The lifeboat drill information was repeated 4 times--English, German, Spanish and French. Possibly necessary, but lengthy nonetheless. After the announcements, we had to proceed to our lifeboat stations. It made for quite a long lifeboat drill.
Sunday lunch brought an introduction to Celebrity's style of service, which brings out requests for service that one would not think of asking for on another ship. After picking out my bounteous assortment for lunch, and informing my charming waiter that we wished to dine outdoors, I found a table which only had one chair. After the waiter had placed my tray, I had HIM find me another chair. Frankly, I would not have done that on any other ship that we had sailed to date.
During Sunday afternoon we made our preliminary foray through the shops. I collect coffee cups from all the ships we have sailed, so we went on Sunday to make certain of that purchase and find out what else had to be purchased. Lately I have also been collecting various stuffed animals from ships, so long as they have the obligatory t-shirt, "I love (fill-in-the-blank ship). Well, on the Horizon, they had a little stuffed COW with a t-shirt, so this was my purchase. More on Msr. Bovine later.
Sunday evening was the first formal night, and night of the captain's cocktail party. We did end up going, late, primarily because Eric's parents had not cruised before, so we thought they should go. We had our obligatory picture taken with the Horizon's (rather diminutive) captain, and headed in the lounge, only a couple of minutes prior to the cruise director coming onstage to introduce the captain, who introduced the senior staff. The captain being quite a talented fellow, he delivered a welcome aboard speech in half a dozen languages. Then off to dinner to meet our regular tablemates and our regular table.
Travelling with Eric's parents, we assumed that we would be dining with them and requested a table for 8, but ended up with a table for 6. Almost all of the tables were tables for 6. Frankly, we would have been quite worried, had we been our tablemates, considering the other four persons at the table were family. It could make for many conversations which excluded the "outsiders". Fortunately for us, we are all very outgoing people. We ended up paired with a couple in their young 40's who were also very outgoing, Ray and Heather. The first evening they were both somewhat reticent, but we kept trying to draw them out and we were soon very comfortable with each other. We had an absolutely wonderful week at dinnertimes, laughing and telling jokes and telling the stories of the day. We often saw people at other tables looking over at us, trying to figure out what the joke was about. Our waiter, Mustafa, and our busboy, Ibraham, and the Assistant Head Waiter, Peter, all told us what a joy it was to serve our table, because we were so obviously having FUN.
Mustafa deserves a paragraph all to himself, so I will devote one to him. Mustafa was a great waiter, primarily, I think, because he really enjoyed his job and enjoyed serving people. He always had a wonderful, gentle smile for us, and by the end of the week, was joining in on the jokes with us. He knew the menu, knew which selections were good and which weren't, and he knew which selections were likely to disappoint an American crowd. One evening, Eric ordered a appetizer described as "salmon surprise". Mustafa went to great pains to describe the dish to him, to make sure that he would be satisfied with the dish when it came, as it was not at all what an American would expect. Very early in the week, he took personal responsibility for making sure that we had an absolutely superb dining experience, stating that HE was responsible for all the food. Even though we knew he was not the one doing the cooking, we appreciated his concern with making sure that all was as we expected. The best waiters will bring a tray with the various desserts, SHOWING us the selections. Why is this such a hard thing to do?? Mustafa did this unfailingly, and usually made a game of it. The tray bearing the desserts carried two rolled up napkins at either end. On Sunday night, by mistake, I think (!!) he stuck the end of the napkin (which did extend quite a ways) into Heather's face. Each evening after that, he never failed to do the same. By the end of the week, we told Mustafa, don't bother with the menu, just bring the tray!
After dinner, time to go back to the casino, to lose some more money before heading down to bed. This had to be the absolute worst that we have ever fared in a ship's casino. We take money for gambling to use as entertainment, but usually it is a little more ENTERTAINING than this week, as it usually takes much longer to lose!! As misery loves company, we really did not see anyone too much who appeared to be winning for the week. BTW, George, the top odds for Caribbean Stud were 100 to 1. I guess the casino manager on the Horizon wants to keep more of the take.
If this is Monday, it must be Martinique. We had been to Martinique before, but had not taken a tour there, so decided we would take a tour, and spent the day with Eric's parents. We headed out in the morning for downtown for a little shopping. Taxi ride to downtown is $2 PP each way. Worth the money, as it is quite a little hike and not much to see inbetween. We walked around the park downtown, site of the statute of Empress Josephine, wife of Napoleon. Apparently some recent revelers had engaged in that very French practice of "Off with her head!!" and we took a picture of the now headless Josephine. Did a little more walking around and determined that we were ready to do a taxi tour. By magic, a taxi driver appeared at that very moment. He told us that his vehicle was just "right over there and it was a Mercedes". We talked to him for a couple of moments to deal with price ($25 each for the 4 of us for a 4 hour tour) and to determine he spoke English and we were off. Speaking English is important here. Even though many, if not most, taxis here are Mercedes, many, if not most, taxi drivers here do not speak English. Ours was a very careful driver and spoke excellent English. We took a drive around the beautiful countryside. We saw the rain forest , which was an extra fee of $7 PP, but very much worth it. This was really just a flower garden, but since I love flowers, I loved it, taking many pictures. We drove through several lovely fishing villages, stopping at one for a little shopping a coke and a restroom stop. I, of course, ended up in the bathroom with the funny looking water fountain by mistake.
At one of the stops by a little waterfall, we met up with our lady friends from the first evening meal. They were on the ship shore excursion, stuck with a taxi driver who spoke very little English. Part of the tour they were on busses, part in taxis, and they got no choice of taxi drivers, so got a bad draw. They paid $45 PP and were not particularly happy with their tour.
The last time we were in Martinique, we had gone to the beach. Most of the beaches are at Point de Bout, which is best reached by ferry. Ferries left from Fort de France every 15 minutes. The cost was $5 PP round trip.
We arrived back at the ship around 2:15, but fortunately, the buffet was open until 2:30 on this day, as well as all days in port, so we did not go hungry. Most ships shut down the buffet at 2, so Celebrity deserves cudos for keeping the buffet open till a decent time for people to return from shore.
Reading the program schedule for Monday, I realize that there is a 1/2 hour period between 6:30 AM and 1:00 AM. when there is NOT food available. In addition to all the normal offerings of breakfast, buffet breakfast and lunch, afternoon tea, etc., the Horizon offered Croissants and Muffins in the Rendezvous Lounge from 10:00 AM to 12:00 Noon and from 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM. Also, one of the best features we enjoyed was that there was either pizza or cold sandwiches served in the Zodiac Club, Gemini Disco and the Plaza Bar from 11:45 PM to 12:45 AM. No need to stand in any lines for the midnight buffet, they just brought it around. The pizza was excellent, hot and fresh.
Monday night's midnight buffet was on deck, Tex-Mex. We went and looked and checked out the deck party for a while, but didn't eat anything. While watching the goings-on, we noted a couple of waiters bring two chairs all the way from the Coral Seas Cafe, to place them beside the pool, at the request of a couple of passengers. This exemplifies a level of service, with a SMILE, that is the hallmark of Celebrity. Even down to the fellows who dished up the food in the Coral Seas Cafe, all the crew bestowed one with a smile as they worked, signifying that they at least believed that they were part of something good. And they were. As we sat watching the festivities, a smiling Mustafa came by, and proclaimed that he had "checked us off" for our participation in the midnight buffet, and proclaimed himself satisfied.
Tuesday was Barbados. Having been here before, we decided not to take any tour. We rose late, and checked out the relatively new shopping center and cruise terminal. Nice. Headed out for downtown and paid $1 each for the taxi because the van was packed. Normally the fee is $4 for the taxi each way. We walked around downtown, then back to the ship for a little bite to eat before heading out to the beach for the afternoon. As we were grabbing a quick bite to eat, Mustafa came by and asked if he could get me anything--a dessert, or a cup of coffee. Amazing, considering he was not even on duty, as far as I know.
We hadn't been to a beach in Barbados before, so we left it up to the taxi driver, who took us to Bamboo Beach. Apparently this beach is one of the few who really encourages cruise ship passengers, or they offer the biggest kickbacks to taxi drivers for bringing passengers, as there were several passengers from the Horizon there. According to the ship's paper, taxi fare was supposed to be $12 each way, but our driver charged us only $10. The beach itself was OK, but had lots of small rocks in the water, plus a pretty good surf. Next to the Bamboo Beach Club was Tamarind Cove, which looked to be a really nice hotel, so we went and got a brochure on the place. It seemed kind of pricy. Back to the ship, to sail for St. Lucia.
Tuesday evening we got a gentle lecture from our waiter, Mustafa, on the comment cards. I was surprised and not entirely pleased to hear his request for only "Excellent" on the comment card, or in the alternative, to leave the section blank. We had to forgive him for this lecture, however, as he truly is a very likeable fellow and an absolutely superb waiter. Mustafa clearly deserves his "Circle of Excellence" award. Our tablemates had alerted us to the picture of Mustafa in the Horizon Lobby, so we asked him about it. It seems that every six months or so, the ship awards the award to the best waiter on the ship. The best waiter for the past six months was Mustafa. Over the course of the week, we often joked with Mustafa about how there was going to be a line through his Circle of Excellence.
Tuesday evening's midnight buffet is the Oriental buffet. Eric's parents went and proclaimed the decorations alone worth the trip, with the waiters dressed in coolie outfits. They said that everyone went to look, but few ate very much of the extensive offerings.
Wednesday mornings, the ship docks in downtown Castries. The ferry across to Point Seraphine, which is where the only nice shops are, was $1 PP each way. We had most recently been in St. Lucia in August on the Star Clipper and had taken a helicopter tour. The helicopter leaves right from Port Seraphine. We paid $75 PP in August for a 1/2 hour helicopter tour. It was wonderful and we highly recommend it.
This time we wanted to be able to actually see some of this most beautiful island from the ground, and elected to do an (all-day) taxi tour, along with Eric's parents. In August we had had a wonderful taxi driver, whom we asked to meet us for a tour in November. We checked at the pier and our man didn't appear, so we settled for another taxi driver. Cost was $125 for the cab for the day, plus tip. This worked out to around $30 PP for the four of us, easily the best money that we spent for the week.
St. Lucia must be seen to be believed. It is exquisitely beautiful. It is mountainous, lush and green and tropical as no other island that we have seen thus far in the Caribbean. It also is lacking in good roads and many amenities. We would go to spend a week in St. Lucia in a heartbeat, but would probably go for an all-inclusive, as there didn't appear to be many good places to eat.
On to the taxi ride from hell..... Our taxi driver knew, as we did not, that in order to come close to seeing the island in only a day, that he had to drive like a bat out of hell. He did. We flew over very bad roads, twisting, turning, for about 1 1/2 hours before he took his first stop. Eric's mom sometimes gets carsick and I was worried that she might get sick, as I was kind of contemplating it myself, and I have never even been seasick. By the time he stopped, we were all happy to get out of the cab and cease being jostled around. I was not at all happy, though, when one of the locals appeared right behind me holding a huge snake. Picture opportunity, of course, except for those like myself who are terrified of snakes. I declined his kind offer to have my picture taken with the snake. I still remember with great loathing being talked into holding a huge iguana for a photo op on a previous cruise to Mexico. UGH!!
Back into the taxi (which was really a van), and more jostling about over bad roads. During the course of the day, we saw many evidences of the recent storm, which had washed out many roads. The most famous sight in St. Lucia, and one of the more famous sights in the Caribbean, is the Pitons. These are two huge peaks which rise right out of the ocean, a beautiful green against the deep blue of the ocean. Our taxi driver seemed not to recognize this, or that we might want a picture or two of this phenomenon. We drove at breakneck speed around twisting roads, with constant beautiful vistas that my camera finger itched to photograph, but stopped not nearly often enough. I know that we would not nearly have completed our tour of the island if we had stopped as often as I would have liked for pictures.
St. Lucia has what they call the "drive through" volcano. While I might have expected Mt. Killewea (sp!!), this is more a kind of bubbling spring. Our taxi driver left us off at the bottom of the hill, and we walked up the hill with our guide. Admission was $2 PP, plus a tip for the guide. Very knowledgeable fellow, who gave us an absolutely excellent tour of the place, just for the four of us. Much better than the "cattle" tour being given to the inhabitants of the busses, who arrived after we did and left before we did. Eric got some great video of the bubbling lava pools.
Back to the taxi, for a stop at the waterfall, mineral baths and flower forest. Again, a separate admission here, around $2 PP and well worth it. Back to the taxi, for the most exciting part of our day.
One of the reasons that our driver drove so fast is that he knew, as we did not, that our future course would become even more difficult if we did not get over the mountain before the rain which was fast approaching. On to the most hair-raising part of the trip--straight UP and over this mountain, on a road under construction. We should have known that we were potentially in some trouble when the taxi driver asked Eric and I to get all the way in the back of the van for better traction. The road started out paved, then gravel, then rutted gravel, then mud, then rutted mud. After we had been traveling uphill for around 45 minutes, dodging earth movers, dump trucks and various other construction equipment, we came to a halt in a mud bog. The road was one lane and there was a car coming from the opposite direction which was stuck in the road. We waited for about 20 minutes while several locals PUSHED the car uphill through the mud bog. Once the other car passed, we started down this really bad patch, in neutral, with a couple of locals instructing our driver which particular rut to drive in, starting to slide a little sideways before regaining control. Of course all of this was on the side of a mountain, with no guardrails within contemplation.
We finally got off the mountain and I was limp as a rag when we stopped at a little restaurant in Soufriere for a (mystery meat) hamburger and coke, around $3 PP. After lunch it started to rain, sometimes heavy. From here on out, we headed down the coast, along relatively good roads, stopping in a fishing village for some shopping, then on back to the ship, arriving around 2:30. We piled out of the van and Eric's mom had her picture taken with the taxi driver, so we could prove that we took the trip and survived. Eric's parents wanted a book on St. Lucia, so we piled back in the van to go over to Point Seraphine. They were without luck in finding such a book, but the taxi driver ended up giving them the tourist guide to St. Lucia, which actually was quite good.
Back to the ship, and onboard to find the nearest bar so we could get a drink to calm our nerves. Easily the most hair-raising cab ride we have ever had, plus the most fun and most beautiful scenery. After getting underway, we saw the rain pouring down over the area of the Pitons. Unfortunately for us, we would get no good views of the Pitons from the sea today, as the captain steered away from the area, keeping us out of the rain.
At dinner, Mustafa told us, as he always did, that we should go to the midnight buffet, not to eat, but just to look. Of course, Eric's dad had to give him heck about how he always told us that we could go look, but not eat!! Eric's parents being first time cruisers, they made EVERY midnight buffet. Wednesday night is the tropical night on deck, with wonderful fruit sculptures. I was so beat from the day, I retired early, around 11:30, and Eric went with this parents. It really was a lovely spread, based on the pictures he took. Next trip on the Horizon I'll go.....
Thursday is Antigua. We had sailed on the Star Clipper out of Antigua in August, and spent an extra day there. We had also visited Antigua before, so didn't need a tour of the island. We decided to bypass our normal beach on Antigua, Runaway Bay Beach Club. This is a quiet, unassuming little beach with a nice restaurant and bar on the water. We highly recommend it for anyone looking for a quiet beach with no waves and beautiful sand with no rocks, seaweed or junk.
It rained, very hard, in the morning in Antigua, so we decided on staying onboard for a while, taking some pictures of the ship, as we had not yet done so. We also checked out the Monarch of the Seas, which was docked just beside us, and decided their balcony cabins would do quite nicely. Eventually, around 11, it quit raining. We walked around some downtown, then back to the ship for a bite to eat before heading out to the beach. As we climbed back onboard, we met up with both Eric's parents and the two ladies from our first evening's dinner. The two ladies proceeded to tell us, with great glee, about their taxi adventures from the morning. They proceeded to tell us how they had approached a taxi driver and demanded a taxi driver who spoke English (kind of amusing on Antigua, we thought!) and whose vehicle had air conditioning and who would give them a tour of the island for only X dollars!!
After talking Eric's parents into taking a tour of the island on their own, we set out in a taxi for Hawksbill Resort. Hawksbill is the site of the only nude beach on Antigua, and the reason why we went there. Hawksbill Resort is very expensive, and not worth it, according to what we saw. The rooms were not that great looking, and the pool area quite disappointing. It was nowhere near worth the $200 and up per diem. After walking down the beach for about 1/2 to 3/4 of a mile, we finally came to the nude beach, which was totally separate from the other beaches. This was a pretty beach, but there were lots of rocks in the water, and lots of waves. There were no facilities whatsoever there, though. We had quite a good time playing in the waves there, before the rains came back and we headed back to the ship. Eric's parents had taken a taxi tour on their own--$40 for the taxi for about 3 hours.
Thursday afternoon over the course of about 2 hours, the ship kept making announcements for foreign nationals to proceed to the Zodiac Lounge to clear U.S. customs prior to entering St. Thomas. I would suppose that this is the normal course for the Horizon, since there is always such a large contingent of non-U.S. citizens on this ship. On our trip, the ship was not quite full, carrying around 1200 passengers, with approximately 400 of those being non U.S. citizens, and most of those being German. This procedure means that there is no delay in debarking the ship Friday morning in St. Thomas, waiting to clear U.S. immigration and customs.
Thursday night was the second formal night, and Eric's parents and we decided to go before dinner to have formal portraits taken, since we have never had a professional portrait of the four of us taken. Well, we still haven't had a professional portrait taken, as the ship's photographers on the Horizon are horrible. This is really the first time that we have ever even noticed ship's photographers, other than their being in the road all the time. This was not the case for this week. What we objected to was the exceedingly bad quality of their work. Our formal portraits, for which they were charging $22.50 (!!), were horribly out of focus. Needless to say, we did not purchase them. We looked at many other pictures which were also out of focus. Being a photography buff, I am more critical of photographers, but I felt I could have taken better pictures than they took. Strangely enough, when I talked to my TA when we got home, she said that she has been hearing more and more complaints about the quality of ship photography, something which she had never heard complaints about in the past.
Thursday night came the only major coup of the week in the casino. Eric had been playing Caribbean Stud, Blackjack, and Craps and I had been playing Roulette and Blackjack, along with donating $20 in quarters. With the exception of one or two times at Roulette and one time at Craps, we had uniformly been losing our shirts. Eric was playing Caribbean Stud with a group of the "regulars", who were talking and joking with the dealer. He HAD been playing the extra dollar in the slot every hand, but got to talking and forgot to put in the dollar this time. You players of Caribbean Stud know what's coming. He picked up his hand and saw 2 pairs---of 4's. Both pairs were 4's. He looked down at the slot with a sinking feeling, to see if his light was lit and saw that it wasn't. With a sick feeling, he saw the dealer BARELY qualify with an Ace-King and collected his $200.00 for the hand. With that extra dollar in the slot, it would have been another $300.00............Ah, well, George, you can't win them all. At least the dealer qualified........And guess what, tomorrow was St. Thomas, and our credit cards were getting rusty from not being used...............
Friday is St. Thomas for the Horizon, docking at Havensite Mall. We set off to melt Eric's credit cards, looking at Havensite for some porcelain figurines which we were unable to find. Disappointed, we headed downtown, with no particular object in mind. Within about 1/2 hour, I had purchased a gold bracelet and earrings. We had wandered into this one small store, looking for "lucky cabin numbers" and discovered what I THOUGHT was Eric's parents' cabin number. (It turned out that I had transposed the last two numbers of their cabin number, so they didn't win anyway!!) We talked to the owner of the store, and proclaimed we would be back to have them claim their prize. Of course he suckered me into looking at some stuff, and I ended up with the bracelet. Pretty bracelet, though. Meanwhile, I had been looking for a while for another pair of sapphire earrings. I found a really nice pair of earrings at one store (7 carats of stones), but decided to do some more looking around. I found another pair that I also liked, smaller, but shaped differently. As I proceeded to haggle down the price on the latter pair, the store owner asked me if I was from Indiana or something. Of course, the poor man did not know that I really AM originally from Indiana. He did intend it as an insult, I'm sure, but covered up well. I'm sure that he figured that he had lost the sale. I ended up with those earrings anyway and wore them to dinner, even though dinner was supposed to be casual this evening.
Friday afternoon, we took a cab to Magen's Bay and spent a couple of hours. This is the perfect cruise ship beach, as there is no hotel here, just lots of beach, with picnic tables, shade, floats for rent, food and drinks for sale and no hotel guests to be disgruntled by all the cruise ship passengers.
Friday evening was our opportunity to express our gratitude for a wonderful week of service by all the staff. We had not often seen our cabin steward for the week, but when we saw him, he was always smiling and we always had a clean room and towels, wash cloths, etc. We had played a trick on him over the course of the week with the stuffed cow which we had purchased, moving it around from place to place. He finally caught on, around Wednesday, when we put the cow in the bathroom above the sink, and he moved it to sit on top of the glasses. Then, we hung it from the air conditioner vent, and he put a bunch of chocolates in a little bag and hung it off Msr. Bovine's arm. On the last night, Msr. Bovine held his tip envelope. When we returned from dinner, Msr. Bovine held a hand-lettered sign which said "Thank you". Much fun.
With regard to the cabin service, we were amused at Eric's parents, they being first time cruisers. They remarked early on about how the cabin steward came in TWICE a day and replaced even the wash cloths, if they had been used. How our expectations have changed over the years..... We also got a real kick out of Eric's mom, as one of the first nights out, she had left her nightgown out, and their cabin steward had arranged her nightgown on the bed. Thereafter she HID it, so he couldn't find it. It was so refreshing to see the level of service from their eyes, as first time cruisers. Even for us, as seasoned cruisers, the level of service in the dining room and buffets, was much above any prior experiences.
Saturday morning we ate breakfast in the dining room, which was actually served at a decent hour for second seating of 8:00 AM. We said goodbye to Mustafa and headed back to the cabin to collect our stuff. We waited on the pool deck to hear our deck called. Disembarkation from the Horizon proceeds from the top down, with Deck 10, plus the Celebrity past passenger's club, going first. Deck 4 was finally announced around 9:30 and we disembarked.
Eric's parents and we were both staying on in San Juan, so we got a taxi to Condado Plaza Hotel and Casino. We had requested early check-in at 10:00 AM, so our room was available when we got there. CP is a great hotel, with good service. There is free shuttle bus service over to the El San Juan Hotel, which is a sister hotel to the Condado Plaza. We were planning on going there Saturday afternoon, but the weather turned cloudy, so we decided not to make the trip. Spent a couple of hours by the pool at the CP, then headed out to Fort Buchanan, which is where Eric's parents were staying. Eric's dad is a retired military officer, so they stayed in military guest housing, lucking out with VIP quarters. We ate dinner there, then got a taxi back to the Condado Plaza. We sat on our balcony there, drinking a bottle of wine, and watching the ships sail from the harbor. Sunday morning it was up for a couple of hours of sun, then on American back home.
Conclusion--The Horizon is a wonderful ship with a great, friendly crew and excellent food. We would heartily recommend her to any and all who want the southern Caribbean or Bermuda. This trip also reinforced my wish that more ships sailing from San Juan would place more days at sea in their itineraries, as this schedule is just too busy for a mere mortal like me. We would be happy to answer any questions.
Carol & Eric in Virginia
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