This is the fourth installment of the day-by-day, blow-by-blow review of our September 14-21, 2019 cruise on the MSC Seaside. If you don’t have the time or inclination to read the “long form,” there is an intro/overview that hits the highlights HERE.
Tuesday, September 17th
What better way to start the day on your birthday than to open up your curtains and look out on a gorgeous sunny morning in the U.S. Virgin Islands? We docked at Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, at 7:00 a.m. so needless to say, we were already there when I got up. Unlike the overcast and light rain we had the evening before in San Juan, it was hot but clear and lovely, and the view from our balcony was perfect.
We grabbed some snacks and had some coffee in the Top Sail, as usual, and then prepared to venture out onto the island. We didn’t book an excursion – we never do in St. Thomas. The Havensight area at the port is easy to walk around and you can take a taxi if you want to go to other parts of the island.
“What do you want to do today, Deb?
“The same thing we do every day (in St. T.), Tom.”
“Take over the world?”
“Nah. Take a look at the world from Paradise Point while sipping a Bushwacker.”
(Only those familiar with the 1990s animated children’s program Pinky and the Brain will “get” the above conversation. If you aren’t and don’t, please disregard and just scroll on by).
The last time we’d been up to Paradise Point together was in 2014 when we were on our 20th anniversary vows renewal cruise. Tom caught a bad cold on the plane and was sick for much of that cruise, and missed going out at several ports, but he was feeling better by the time we got to St. Thomas and we have some great memories of that, so of course we wanted to revisit them.
I’d been to St. Thomas a few times since on solo cruises or with friends, but hadn’t been back up to the Point since hurricanes Maria and Irma did so much damage to the island in the fall of 2017, almost exactly two years before.
Primas escorted us downstairs to leave the ship. Since we’d been docked for a couple of hours, there were no lines. We walked off and past the Havensight shops, and across Frenchman Bay Road to the skyride base station. There was no long line there, either, so we quickly purchased tickets and climbed the stairs to the platform to board the tramway, where we had a car all to ourselves. I took the obligatory photos of the rapidly receding ships as we went higher up the mountain, and the post card perfect view Seaside docked below from the top.
After we got to the upper tram station, I noticed a few subtle differences since the last time I was there. For instance, the “Welcome to Paradise” sign at the entry to the stairs that lead to the bar and grill was missing, probably a casualty of the storms that devastated the region.
Something that hadn’t changed (thank goodness) was the delicious taste and alcoholic lethality of the bar’s signature drink, the bushwacker.
I learned a couple of visits ago that this is a very sneaky drink. It packs a punch – but not right away. The previous time I was there, it was extremely hot and I had quickly drained my glass and ordered a second. I finished it off, too, and didn’t feel much of an effect — until ten minutes later when I tried to stand up. Oh, dear.
This time I knew to order food to go along with the delightful frozen concoction, and to stop after the first one (although I certainly didn’t want to). Even if I were a little better at holding my liquor, I didn’t need all those liquid calories in duplicate. It was yummy, and so were the conch fritters that I selected to go along with it (yeah, yeah, I know — I didn’t really need those calories, either, but hey, it was my birthday).
We hung out for a while, perused the little shops above the bar, and bought Tom a beautiful parrot design shirt made of silky terrivoille that quickly became his favorite shirt.
Sadly, the real parrots that used to be in one of those shops, with which we’d had our pictures taken back in 2014, were no longer there. However, we found a few more nice little souvenirs.
I always like to spend some money and help out the local economy on the islands but that’s especially true in the wake of the hurricanes. St. Thomas has come a long way in recovering – farther than some of the other islands – but there are still many reminders of the terrible consequences of those storms.
We did get one fun photo taken, though. Tom looked pretty distinguished as a pirate and I guess I made an okay wench.
Before we headed back down the mountain, I was able to get a gorgeous zoomed in closeup of our lovely ship. I know I’m biased, but I really do believe she is the prettiest cruise ship on the sea.
We had considered catching a ride over to MountainTop, another summit on the island that boasts beautiful views and a sweet libation – the banana daquiri. But it’s an approximate 20 minute drive each way, and we wanted to spend some time on the ship before dinner, so we headed on back.
Yacht Club and Black Card gangway
That’s one of the side effects of cruising in the Yacht Club: you almost hate to spend time off the ship in port because you get “homesick” for the lounge, the pool deck, your cabin, and most of all the wonderful YC staff and crew members who make it such a fantastic experience.
Back on the ship, we trekked back to our cabin to get cleaned up after spending the time in the hot sun. When we got there, I found a little surprise on the bed: a sweet birthday card signed by Primas and Sheena, our butler and junior butler.
How sweet is that? But that was only the beginning of the Seaside crew’s and staff’s conspiracy to make sure this was a birthday that I would remember forever.
It wasn’t quite time to get ready for dinner yet, so we then headed to the Top Sail for a little appetizer and to check out the restaurant menus. They’re always posted next to the stairs that go up from the Top Sail to the dining room, and there we could see both what we missed at lunch time and what was in store for dinner.
To be perfectly honest, I didn’t find the dinner menu compelling. I don’t eat beef, not a fan of octopus or mussels, and tuna isn’t my favorite fish. But everything would turn out just fine, thanks in part to a surprise dish that wasn’t listed.
Tonight was Italian night, and I’d brought my Italia shirt and color-coordinated long skirt for the occasion. We went back to the cabin and took our time getting dressed, and by the time Primas showed up to escort us to the dining room, I was feeling festive. Tom wore his red parrot shirt that we’d bought in St. Thomas, and it went well with the color scheme.
I love Italian night on MSC. Although, unlike other theme nights, they don’t have a party for it later in the evening, they do up the dining rooms beautifully and the waiters all wear the Italian flag colors – red, white, and green. We were one of the first couples to arrive and the tables were all decorated to celebrate the wonderful country of MSC’s origin.
We got a nice photo of us with Primas and Christian to serve as a memento of this fantastic day.
In the Yacht Club with the man I love, my butler on one side and my waiter on the other, and the beautiful island of St. Thomas in the background to look out on while we ate — how could this birthday possibly be anything but happy?
I ended up ordering the tricolor salad for my first course, which turned out to be surprisingly good, and the risotto with Taleggio cheese as my entree. Seaside’s risottos have never let me down yet, and this was no exception. It was delicious. Tom had the beef carpaccio and a cheese plate to start, and surprised me by getting the clam and mussel pot instead of the filet mignon.
It was all good, and what had appeared to be an uninspiring menu morphed into a meal that was one of the best on the ship. But there was one more dish in store for me.
I love pasta, and when I saw that Ercan was cooking up a special pasta dish right there in the dining room, I was glad I’d gone with the salad instead of something heavier, and saved some room for it. What I didn’t expect was that he would call me over to help stir it, for a perfect birthday photo opp.
Not only was it fun to help make it – the pasta tasted great, too. And no sooner had I finished off the plate than Christian reappeared with the tiramisu I’d ordered for dessert and a rose made from a red napkin, topped by a white napkin bird. Just another example of how the little gestures add up and make you feel so cared for among the Yacht Club family.
He disappeared before I could even thank him properly, but a couple of minutes later, he was back – with another huge birthday cake like the one I’d been surprised by at Teppanyaki the night before. Oh, my. And half a dozen waiters plus Ercan gathered around and sang “happy birthday” to me. Just … wow. I wasn’t really expecting it to happen again, and I was so touched.
Dinner had been absolutely fantastic, but I was feeling beyond full. It was time to walk, so after taking the rest of the cake back to our room, we made the rounds of the ship’s public decks, several times.
While it was Italian night in the restaurant, the theme party that night in the atrium and the Haven lounge was country and western, and we stopped to take some photos in the lounge where they were gearing up for the C&W bash, and then snapped a few more here and there around the ship.
Even though we were both feeling fat following that fantastic fare in the restaurant, we decided to go ahead and pose for some pro photos since we had the unlimited package. I didn’t expect any of these to be very good, but we were surprised to find that some of them were among our favorites.
I have to say once again that I found the photo package to be a really excellent value, and we had a lot of fun hamming it up for the camera.
This entire cruise was amazing, but this day was special in so many ways. We packed in a lot of seeing and doing (and eating and drinking), yet it never felt frenetic – it was still one of the most relaxing days I can remember ever having. I hated to see it end, but there was still plenty of fun yet to come.
As we sailed off into the sunset – literally – I reflected for the hundredth time this trip on how very blessed I am.
Tomorrow we would dock early in Philipsburg, on the Dutch side of Sint Maarten. This was the only port at which we had purchased an excursion, and to our dismay, once on board we learned that it was scheduled to start at 7:30 a.m. To avoid being completely sleep-deprived during our tour of the island, we decided to forego that evening’s show and turn in relatively early — after one last visit to the Top Sail lounge for a medicinal glass of wine to help us sleep, of course.
Stay tuned for our day in Sint Maarten and the full account of our exploration of this little outpost of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and its slightly larger French-speaking conjoined twin, Saint Martin, as we hit the halfway mark of this cruise on Wednesday.