The never-ending review goes to Antigua
Copyright 2018 Debra Littlejohn Shinder
At the end of Part Three of this review, I was finally falling asleep in the wee hours of the morning after dealing – long distance – with the inevitable issues that arise when you travel, especially when you leave a spouse, three dogs, a turtle and a fish at home to fend for themselves for a week. This is one of the reasons I can never be one of those constant cruisers, and don’t want to be. I don’t want my fur babies and wet pets to forget me.
That, however, was the low point of the cruise and it only got better and better after that – right up until the saddest day of all: the day they kicked us off the ship to make way for some interloper to invade my stateroom and take over my chosen spot in the lounge and my table by the grill and eat my gelato and drink my coladas of both the piña and Bailey’s Banana variety.
But on Tuesday, I still had a world of fun and adventure and relaxation ahead of me, and I was going to enjoy it, as Frank – the subject of that evening’s first show – would say, my way.
My week in a nutshell: Day Four (Tuesday, Feb. 20)
After a too-short night, I woke up before our arrival in St. John’s to blue skies and fluffy clouds, which would change to overcast as we approached the island and then turn into full-fledged showers shortly. It seems I hadn’t escaped all of the rain after all – but the forecast for the day promised sun later on.
When I opened the balcony curtains around 7:30 a.m., the island was visible in the distance, but it would take a little while to dock. We first had to sail its northern coast staying around two nautical miles from the coral reef before docking at St. John’s. Ships dock at Heritage Quay or Redcliffe Quay.
St. John’s is the largest town on the island of Antigua, which is part of the independent state of Antigua and Barbuda, and is not to be confused with U.S. Virgin Island St. John, which is 216 miles (187.5 nautical miles) to the northwest.
Also note that Antigua is pronounced “AN TEE GAH,” not “AN TEE GWA” or “AN TEE GYU WA.” I heard many mispronunciations on the ship.
In the light of morning, the Lobster and Champagne Catamaran excursion that I had gone back and forth about and finally booked at the last minute was looking less attractive to me this morning.
Problem number one: I went through my toiletries bag and realized that I had forgotten to pack sunscreen. Because we were in port, the ship’s shops wouldn’t be open, and I had no idea whether there would be time to run to a store there at the port to buy some. Most likely I could have found someone else on the tour who would take pity on me and lend me some lotion, but problem number two was that I really just wanted to go back to sleep after getting less than four hours.
I wavered – after all, I had paid for the excursion, and some of the group members were expecting to see me there – but then made an executive decision based on the “it’s a vacation so why feel pressured?” principle, and went up to the concierge desk to let them know.
I didn’t expect, canceling at the last minute, to get a refund, and was surprised when she apologized profusely that I would only get half of my money back. She seemed relieved and grateful when I told her it was no problem; I got the impression that some others might have been less understanding. Interestingly, on my final bill, I did find the entire cost of the excursion subtracted. Maybe that was a mistake – or maybe being nice pays off in unexpected ways. I have frequently found the latter to be the case (and even when it doesn’t, it never makes things worse).
NOTE: Friends who went on the catamaran said they had a wonderful time, and it’s something that I would definitely try another time when I’ve had more sleep and come appropriately equipped with sunscreen.
With the day freed up to do whatever I wanted, what I wanted was to hang out in my usual location in the Top Sail lounge and watch the rain as we pulled into port.
Top Sail Lounge means a plethora of goodies to start the morning off with a good taste in your mouth.
As a matter of fact, I never did make it to the Yacht Club restaurant for breakfast even though I intended to. It’s just that the lounge food, and that up top at the grill, were so good that I never got around to it. I realize this demonstrates a serious lack of thoroughness in my research for this review, and means I need to go back as soon as possible to rectify the situation (along with checking out so many of the ship’s features that I didn’t have the time or inclination to try out).
I did at least check the breakfast menus, and had I been an early riser (and also immune to caloric overload), I would have happily created my own omelet and indulged in Belgium waffles with chocolate and whipped cream. But hey, it’s good to have something to look forward to next time.
When my fitness band started nagging me to get up and get moving for the third time, I reluctantly left the lounge and hit the gym for a 20 minute walk to nowhere. I love the way the treadmills are situated at the windows so you have a view while you work out.
I was going to get off and walk around and shop a little at the port, but that turned out to be another thing that I just didn’t get around to. Instead, I did another walkaround of the ship. I’ve been to Antigua before, and it’s beautiful, but I actually love being on board when a ship is in port; the vibe is always completely different with most of the passengers away.
I came across the Captain’s guest book and “Q&A” display in the atrium, which I thought was a really nice touch. You can leave a little personal note in the book for the Master, and if you have questions, his answer will be delivered to your stateroom. It appears this is a standard thing with MSC, although I don’t know for sure since this was my first cruise on the line.
I continue to be impressed with the Captain’s and other officers’ involvement with the passengers. I have never seen it to anything near this extent on Carnival. Even those Captains who are more outgoing seemed to engage mostly with the Diamond guests or those who participated in special events such as the behind the scenes tour.
By then, it was time for lunch and for me, that had come to mean the Yacht Club grill. Today’s buffet included more wonderful fish – cod, mahi-mahi again, salmon – steak for the beef eaters, chicken, hot sandwiches, and some wonderful pasta, along with the usual fruits, sweets, salads and cold antipastas, and breads.
Choosing which to get is the hardest part, but knowing what to drink with it is easy. The bartenders up there already knew my established lunchtime standard: a big, tall, cold BBC garnished with pineapple. When I close my eyes, I can almost still taste it.
Facebook friend James Bolger asked me, upon seeing that bottom picture when I posted it on my timeline, whether the glass was half full or half empty. That question misses the point. In the Yacht Club, with your magic wristband, the glass is always infinitely refillable.
Despite the lovely array of delectable little cakes and cookies and other goodies to fuel to feed a raging sweet tooth, I bypassed the desserts in both the lounge and at the grill, because I had the one craving that couldn’t be satisfied in the Yacht Club: it was time to venture downstairs for the ultimate sweet treat:
On the Seaside, when the hankering for something cold and creamy overcomes you, there are three strategically positioned gelaterias to choose from. There are gelato bars at the Jungle Pool on deck 18 mid-ship, at the South Beach pool on deck 7 aft, and of course at the Venchi Cioccogelateria and Coffee Bar on deck 6 mid-ship.
All this goodness and yet, no gelato in the Yacht Club? Whatever were they thinking?
Perhaps it’s a ploy to nudge us out of our ivory tower to see other areas of the ship. Maybe it’s out of concern for our well-being; after all, it’s not healthy to be a permanent lounge lizard or bask like a turtle on the pool deck all day. Yacht Clubbers need to get a little exercise now and then – and whatever the motivation, it works. I would eagerly descend into the bowels of the ship if I had to, in search of stracciatella.
Because the elegant indoor atmosphere of Venchi’s is more to my taste than the poolside environment of the other two venues, I headed down to 6, where I found Heaven in a Cardboard Cup. The YC wristband worked its magic again; while two scoops cost $5 for those without the drink package, unlimited gelato is just another way in which “membership has its privileges” and for some of us, is even more appealing than the included premium alcohol.
Oh, and yes – it was very, very good.
Even when it’s free with Yacht Club, there is always some kind of price to be paid. The cost of my gelato indulgence was another stint on the treadmill and another walk around the ship (not that that either was unpleasant). All of the rain was long gone and it had turned into a beautiful day in Antigua, so this time I walked on the outside decks. We had company in port; we were parked next to the Norwegian Gem, so I got chance to check out her outdoor areas.
Nice enough looking ship, but meh. I’ve never had much desire to try NCL, although I have friends who love that line. And in fact, a recent review that I read comparing an NCL ship (Escape, I think) to the Seaside, by a reviewer who clearly preferred Norwegian, left me more sure than ever that based on the differences she described, I’ll stick with #MCSforMe.
As a photographer, I’m always looking for interesting photo opps, and I became intrigued with these two half-sunken boats just off the shore. As I walked the ship, I took pictures of them from different angles and in different lighting, and wondered about the stories behind them as they lay there, abandoned and desolate. Were they the remnants of last fall’s Hurricane Irma that left Antigua mostly intact but decimated her sister island of Barbuda? I guess I’ll never know.
As the 5:00 p.m. departure time arrived, I said goodbye to Antigua from my balcony. St. Johnny, we hardly knew ye. (And how many of the readers of this blog will recognize that phrase, either as the traditional folk song, the 1960’s anti-war anthem, or (what comes first to my mind) the Kenneth P. O’Donnell book about John F. Kennedy.
As the ship pulled away from the quay and the sun began to inch its way down through the clouds to sink beneath the horizon, it became quickly obvious that it was going to be a spectacular sunset. I armed myself with my camera and got off a few good shots from my balcony, then moved to the YC lounge to capture the final display.
Going, going … almost gone.
Once the sun was gone and no longer in need of my attention, I turned to thoughts of dinner. And once again, found myself not really enthused about getting dressed up to eat a big meal, all alone, in the restaurant. Although in general I love cruising solo, in the past I’d always been part of a big group and always had someone to eat with. In fact, something I really liked about Your Time Dining on Carnival was the ability to switch around and not only eat at different times every night, but with different friends.
You have that same flexibility in the Yacht Club on MSC – the problem was that all of those on this cruise that I knew well enough to have dinner with weren’t in the YC, and had set dining times in the regular MDRs. Of course, you can workaround that by eating together at the specialty restaurants, as I’d already done – but tonight I was on my own. I debated whether to go it alone at a table for one, and if I had been really hungry, I would have.
The menu for that evening looked appetizing, but nothing jumped out and grabbed me and shouted, “You must have this!” (although the eggplant came close).
I decided this presented an opportunity to sample the room service dinner menu. It was a little sparse, but the grilled chicken wrap sounded good, so back in my stateroom, I placed the call. I was surprised that it was my butler who delivered it, and it arrived more quickly than expected, and hot. It wasn’t much to look at, but it tasted good and was filling and really was all I wanted or needed after the big lunch and gelato.
Sorry, but I somehow forgot to take a picture of the room service menu or of the chicken wrap. Again, this is a gap that I really need to close by taking another cruise on Seaside.
My quick room service dinner afforded me the opportunity to see both of the shows for which I had made reservations for that evening: Forever Frank at 7:00 and Butterflies at 9:30. I was looking forward to both of these after reading reviews (mostly negative) on the group pages.
Forever Frank is a tribute to Sinatra and involves the production company doing some of his most popular songs. The bad reviews came from people who were displeased to hear Sinatra songs sung with foreign (Italian and Dutch) accents. I guess I’m just atypical once again; I really enjoyed the show. The accents didn’t bother me at all; in fact, I thought it added charm.
I can hear Americans attempting to exactly imitate Sinatra (and usually failing) anytime. The performance on Seaside didn’t try to do that; instead it took his music and gave it an international twist that I liked. The finale, a strong rendering of My Way, was especially well done and as always, that song touched my soul with its message of uplifting optimism and ultimate satisfaction at the end of an imperfect but well-lived life.
Tuesday was “white night.” Unfortunately, I didn’t see any White Knights – although one could have mistaken the Captain and other officers for same in their dress white uniforms. I would say that, at least on this sailing, white night was the most popular of the theme nights in terms of the number of people who dressed up for it. I ventured down to the atrium to see what was going on.
At that point, they were still getting things set up but there were a number of people in white at the bars. I had brought white jeans and a white silk blouse, and that’s what I wore to the show. When I went back to my cabin for a few minutes before time for the next show, I found that my towel animal was also appropriate dressed for the occasion.
I was planning to stop by one of the photography stations and get a photo taken in my white attire, but as so often happens on a ship, other things intervened and so I have no record of my participation.
Butterflies seems to be a show that people either love or hate, nothing in between. Many of the reviews of Seaside that bashed the entertainment mentioned “nothing but opera and classical.” That wasn’t at all true; most of the shows were more like Broadway musicals, but this rendition of Madame Butterfly, based on what is probably one of the most popular operas around the world, does indeed fit that label.
Although it’s a much shortened version, it was a bit longer than the other shows I saw on Seaside. The costumes were beautiful, the voices were strong, the set was lovely, and it was overall well done. Of course it was sung in Italian – but there were English subtitles and synopses of the stories displayed on the screen behind the performers so it was easy to follow along.
I was a little embarrassed on behalf of my fellow Americans when masses of people got up and left at the end of the second act. Did they really not know it was an opera when they walked in? I heard some remarks that indicated that no, they didn’t. I guess it’s asking too much to expect people to read the description in the Daily Program before making reservations or showing up. To me, getting up and walking out in the middle is rude.
The good news is that many people did stay and appreciate and enjoy this art form.
With another day at an end, and an early arrival in St. Thomas scheduled for the next day, I was ready to call it a day after a last glass of wine and some music in the lounge. I realized that I hadn’t yet made it to the improv comedy show (and in fact, never did), and although I circled the smooth jazz live music in the Seaview Lounge on the program each day, I had only actually made it there once. It always seemed to conflict with the show times in the theater, or dinner, or a party, or something.
Before going to bed, I filled out the breakfast room service order. I would finally get my Belgium waffle with chocolate sauce, and more important, a pot of coffee.
That night, things were going more smoothly at home and since I also never did get that nap, I was asleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow. To sleep, perchance to dream of getting bushwhacked again at Paradise Point in Charlotte Amalie – although alas, that was not to be.
Fino a domani …