Eastern Caribbean Cruise -
January 1998

By Jack Welsch

Audio controls:

We took this cruise in January of 1998. This was our fifth cruise and the second to the Eastern Caribbean. This trip was special because it was a celebration. My wife, Linda, and I went with my parents to help them celebrate their 55th wedding anniversary and their 75th birthdays! The ship was Royal Caribbean's Enchantment of the Seas.

Our first trip to the Eastern Caribbean involved visits to a lot more islands and was pretty hectic. This one was more relaxing. I hope you'll find something on this page that's of interest. I've split out personal accounts from the details of the Ship, Ports, etc. so you don't have to read my Diary to get the essentials for planning. However, if you do read the diary, you may want to jump ahead for more details. The hyperlinks will help.

Enchantment of the SeasThis time, the ship was the Enchantment of the Seas, the newest ship of Royal Caribbean. It is absolutely FANTASTIC! At 916 feet long and 74,000 tons, it's by far the biggest we've taken and Royal Caribbean went all out on opulence! Throughout the ship, there's extensive use of marble, brass, and inlaid wood. The workmanship is exquisite and even the rest rooms are elegant! The folks who build the ship at the Kvaerner Masa-Yards, in Helsinki, Finland, did an outstanding job! Here are a few of the more interesting areas and some general information:

Our Cabin

We had a mid-range cabin on the Main Deck (deck 4) just forward of the Centrum. It was a large outside cabin and had a large window and twin beds. At our request the cabin attendant made the beds up as a queen. There was a small couch, a coffee table, desk and chair. The television featured normal programming via satellite as well as a number of ship-based channels. One channel was fed by a camera facing forward from the bridge so you could see where the ship was heading. As always, the "head" was tiny but very cleverly designed to fit the necessary fixtures in minimal space.

The Centrum

CentrumThe ship's central focus is a huge atrium which they call the Centrum and which extends from the fourth to the eleventh deck. CentrumAt its base on the fourth (or Main) deck is a marble floor which has room to hold a baby grand piano, a small musical group and still have room for dancing. Around that slightly elevated floor is an extensive lounge area with bar service. A sweeping marble staircase connects decks 4 and 5 and a second one, cantilevered at the opposite side, connects decks 5 and 6. In addition, two glass elevators pass through the Centrum. Suspended high above is a sculpture of acrylic prisms. At the top is a huge skylight which looks out on the pool deck. The overall effect of the Centrum is awe-inspiring.

During the evening hours and at certain other times, there was live music for listening or dancing. The music was always very good and the ambiance is great!

The Dining Room

Dining RoomThe two-story dining room is elegant. The second story is a large balcony and the two are connected by a wide, sweeping staircase, at the base of which is a statue. At the far end is a waterwall in front of which is a stage for the pianist or string trio who played during dinner. The room is primarily white with a great deal of dark wood, including fluted columns supporting the balcony. We had an ideal location near the base of the staircase. It was not under the balcony and I think that was a distinct advantage; those tucked in the corners felt a little cramped. Most breakfasts were one open seating. Most lunches and all dinners were the traditional two seatings with the same assigned tables for the week. Unlike many other ships, there were a lot of tables for four. I think that's a mixed blessing. While it was nice for the four of us to have time to share alone, one of the advantages of large tables is getting to know other people. I do think that, if you shared a table for four with an unpleasant couple, it'd be a long week!

Meals were very good, especially when you consider they cook for 1000 people at a time! As per usual, there was a different theme menu each evening with the decor and the staff's attire matching the theme. Service was excellent. Our waiter, Abdullah, was from Turkey, as was his assistant, Fuat. Both were delightful. They were friendly and responsive to our needs without interfering with the table conversation. As the week wore on, we learned more about them both. Abdullah was a professional Basketball player before being sidelined by a leg injury. He had just gotten engaged to a young lady on the ship and is planning to marry in June. Fuat speaks French as well as English and he and I had fun speaking to each other in French since neither of us gets much practice! The wine steward, Cory, was from Alberta, Canada and was friendly and helpful. With the number of tables for which he was responsible, it was amazing that he was able to spend as much time with us as he did. When we discovered we were both pilots, another world of conversation opened up! On many cruises, we rarely saw the head waiter except when it was time for him to collect his tip! In this case, Dominic was exceptional. He stopped by often to check on us and made us feel special. On the first evening, I asked for the "International Cheese Plate" after desert. I like a bit of Roquefort to settle the stomach after a big meal and was disappointed that there was none on the plate. Dominic intervened and arranged for three small balls of stilton and some grapes. Each evening thereafter, Abdullah brought me my special cheese plate and a second for the rest of the table.

Dress code for dinner was varied. Two nights were black tie but formal attire wasn't mandatory. I think it adds a lit to the affair but a number of people elected to wear suits or sport coats. On those evenings, the Windjammer Café on deck 9 was open for informal dinning. One evening was what they called "smart casual"; a sport coat and tie were suggested. On the remaining evenings, casual attire was acceptable but not shorts, etc. All in all, a nice mix, I think.

Other Places (and Times) to Eat

Windjammer CaféAs with all cruises, there are lots of opportunities to eat. Besides the main Dining Room, food was served in the Solarium and in the Windjammer Café. Upon boarding the ship in Miami, we found a luncheon buffet set up in the Windjammer which is located in the bow, forward of the pool. Windows wrap around about 270° so the view is great. The food was good and plentiful but not remarkable. Each morning, there were breads and coffee available there quite early, then breakfast, lunch, and a mid-afternoon snack. Even though it's adjacent to the pool, swimwear wasn't allowed without a cover-up. At mid-day, hot dogs, hamburgers, and pizza were served in the solarium. As always, there was a midnight buffet most nights. The really exotic ones were in the dining room; the others in the Windjammer. If the early morning coffee, three meals in the dining room, two meals (sometimes three) and afternoon snack in the Windjammer, pizza, hot dogs and hamburgers in the Solarium all day long and from 1:00 to 6:00 AM and the midnight buffet weren't adequate, one could order room service at any hour without charge! Hunger isn't a major concern!

Bars, Lounges, Etc.

Viking Crown LoungeMy favorite lounge on Royal Caribbean ships is the Viking Crown. Look at a picture of any of their ships and high above the upper deck, usually attached to the funnel is a cantilevered area enclosed by glass. That's the Viking Crown. The view from there is great, whether you're looking down at the pool area or out to the horizon. It's a Champagne Terracewonderful place to be as the ship enters or leaves a port. There was a DJ there after dinner but we never attended then. For before-dinner cocktails, we split our timebetween The Viking Crown and the Champagne Terrace which is at the base of the Centrum. The Champagne Terrace is also a great place for dancing.

Carousel LoungeThe Carousel Lounge is a rather large one located at the stern on deck 6 and was used for small shows and dancing. Despite its size, it's too small for the big nightly shows. For that purpose, they use the Orpheum Theater which is reminiscent of the old movie houses. It has a large balcony and a huge stage complete with orchestra pit. The shows were pretty good. We learned it was best to go there right after dinner in order to get a good seat. A few nights we came in shortly before the starting time and were lucky to find a seat at all.

There are a number of other small bars and lounges scattered around the ship and all were nice. In addition, there's a library and a card room, both well appointed.

Onboard Recreation

Main PoolMy favorite spot on any ship is the pool and the deck around it. They have a fairly large pool on (where else?) the Pool Deck which is number 9. Around the pool are four hot tubs and lots of deck chairs. Forward of the pool is a small dance floor and room for the steel band and, forward of that is a bar. Going forward still further, there's an elevator lobby and the Windjammer Café. Going aft from the main pool, one finds another elevator lobby and the Solarium. SolariumThe Solarium's main attraction is a pool and a couple more hot tubs. It differs from the main pool area in that it's covered with a glass canopy. The canopy allegedly can be slid open but I never say it that way. Aft of the Solarium is the health club. On both sides of the main pool is an area covered by the sun deck which, of course, has a large opening in the center to let the sun hit the pool. There are glass walls on the sides to cut down the wind which can be pretty strong. The Sun Deck is lined with deck chairs and allows one to be out in the wind. As with any ship I've been on, it's pretty crowded in the sun and you need to claim a spot pretty early if you want a good one. There's a running track on the Sun Deck along with the normal shuffleboard, etc.


It's big. Certainly the biggest I've seen afloat. I personally don't get much of a kick out of giving my money away and I figure they didn't build the Casino to give me theirs so, for me, the casino's a place to pass through. However, it looked pretty nice and was always crowded.


The shops were essentially a small mall of boutiques. Like the casino, it's located so you pass through it a lot. Selection of goods was pretty good but prices were no great bargains, of course.

St. Maarten/St. Martin

The island is about 37 square miles in area and is divided in two parts. The southern part, St. Maarten, is part of the Netherlands Antilles and its port, largest city and capital is Phillipsburg. I don't really like "P-burg" very much. It's very crowded and, of course, "touristy". Traffic is crazy. There are hotels right on the beach in the middle of town but I don't think I'd want to swim there. Outside of P-burg, there are a number of resorts, some of them quite nice. The "big" airport of "Princess Juliana" is in the southwest part of the island and jumbo jets land there.

MarigotThere only way you know when you pass into the French part, St. Martin, is by seeing a small signpost. The border has been open for many years; long before similar borders were opened in Europe. Personally, I like French St. Martin a lot better than its Dutch counterpart. I find the people friendlier and the place just "quainter". The capital of St. Martin is Marigot. When we first visited 15 years or so ago, it was a sleepy little town. Now it's been "discovered" and a lot of trendy shops have opened. Traffic is crazy here as well and a lot of the charm has gone. However, there's a picturesque harbor and an open air market on Wednesdays. Much more to my taste is the small town of Grand Case, just north of Marigot. It, too, is starting to get a bit crowded but it still has a lot of charm and the people are great. As in most parts of the Caribbean, there's a lot of poverty with the associated filth and decay but you just need to look beyond that to see the beauty. In Grand Case is St. Martin's airport, L'Esperance. It takes small commuters and private planes.

On the east side of the island, still in the French (northern) part, is the best beach, Orient Beach. The good news is that it's 1 - 1/4 miles of beautiful sand. The bad news is that, while it was once almost deserted, it's now overcrowded. At the southern end of the beach is Club Orient, a "clothing optional" resort. The first time we visited, the majority of the people on the entire beach skipped the swim suits so you felt strange having one on. Now, it's quite the opposite and I think (seriously, now) that the change is a sad one.

There will always be a soft spot in my heart for St. Martin but change has not improved it. I'm unlikely to return for a long stay.

St. John

Trunk BayParadise! While we saw only a tiny bit, we saw enough to make us want to return. Our arrival point, Cruz Bay was less than beautiful but it was only a way-station so it hardly mattered. As I mentioned above, they have open trams which they referred to as taxis. They're really converted trucks where they have used only the cab and frame, then build on them a platform, seats, and a canvas top. They load from one side and are open enough to allow for picture taking. The ride from Cruz Bay was short but stunningly beautiful and there were a number of overlooks to the sea. The driver, "Kitch" was friendly and stopped a number of times for pictures. Unlike St. Martin, this island is lush with foliage.

Trunk BayTrunk Bay was what one pictures when thinking of a deserted island. The sand was the finest I've ever experienced; almost like talc. At least when we were there, it wasn't crowded and there was plenty of room to stretch out, The water was warm and that clear aqua only seen in the tropics. There's a small rock island in the bay which inhabited by birds and is off limits to humans. Trunk Bay, as I've mentioned is the site of the famous underwater marked trail that's part of the US National Park System, I'd been looking forward for years to seeing it and must admit I was a little disappointed. First, it was a lot shorter than I expected. The coral looked pretty beaten up but I think that may be due to the hurricane they had a couple of years ago. The fish were, of course, vibrantly colored but, except for the tiny "neons" (if that's what they were) were not terribly abundant. Don't misunderstand; it was great, just not up to my expectations. Maybe I'd built it up too much...

The rest of the island is still a mystery to me so I guess we'll have to go back!

St. Thomas

We didn't spend much time here, either, so I must confine my remarks to the main shopping district of Charlotte Amalie and the area around the docks. The docks are a couple of miles from town and, considering the heat, it's a good idea to take a taxi. Here the taxis are vans and they act as shuttle busses for $2.50 a head. Right at the docks is a commercial shopping area which is more or less and open air mall. It's a decent place to pick up the t-shirts and post cards you forgot earlier in the trip.

Charlotte AmalieCharlotte Amalie is the capital and principal city. For those who like to shop, especially for jewelry, it's overload! There are countless shops one after the other on the two parallel main streets and the side streets and alleys. I think if you know what you're doing, you can probably get some good deals. However... after many stops, my wife found what she was looking for in a little shop called "Bobby's". The quality and prices were good and the people were great. It was a fun experience but my wallet is lighter now. As I mentioned above, I stopped at a shop called "Seoul Trade" for eel skin wallets. I bought one years ago and it lasted for years. When it wore out I looked all over, even in Asia, and failed to find one. A friend has relatives in St. Thomas and he got my second one for me. This time I bought two to keep in reserve. I also bought a great belt. The lady in that store was charming.

Coco Cay

ParasailingI'll say going in that my mood is affected greatly by the weather and the weather when we were in Coco Cay was lousy! The island is controlled entirely by RCI and ours was the only ship in. Of course it's pretty small and, with 2000 people on it, fairly crowded. After we left, I decided I should have walked further and explored more; there were probably some more secluded spots which we missed.

After seeing how exhausted we were after our last trip to the Eastern Caribbean where it was "If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Barbados", we vowed to take it easy. We chose this itinerary because there were three days at sea, two in port and one at an out island. While some have said they think it'd be boring, for us it was ideal.

Getting to the ship

We left our home in NE Pennsylvania on Saturday morning for a US Airways flight to Miami via Philadelphia. Both flights were on time and we got to MIA without incident. We'd elected to travel on the day before the sailing date and stay in a hotel arranged by RCI (Royal Caribbean International). The literature they'd furnished said that, if you were staying overnight, you were not to affix the RCI baggage tags to the luggage until leaving the hotel in the morning. We complied but still packed our overnight things in a carry-on for convenience. Out first hiccup was when the RCI agent who met us at the gate said that we'd bypass baggage claim since the bags were being transferred directly to the ship. I said we'd not affixed the tags and she said we were supposed to. Anyway, we got the bags from the belt, affixed the tags, and (nervously) put them back on the belt. Together with a large group of others, we were escorted outside to a bus for the hotel. The driver was funny as hell and kept us amused all the way to our destination, the Wyndham. The Wyndham in Miami is a nice hotel but poorly laid out to handle a crowd. At street level is simply a "motor lobby". Elevators are used to get to registration on the fourth floor. Imagine a busload of people trying to use four elevators at the same time, then consider that there were a number of busses since two RCI ships were using the hotel!

After check-in, we set out to eat dinner. Choices in the hotel were poor so we took a cab to "Bayside" which is an open mall not far from the hotel. We had a great dinner at "Los Ranchos", then we walked around a bit before heading back to the hotel.

I looked out the window at 6:00 and there was a ship in. (We later determined it was the Majesty of the Seas.) By daybreak, there were 4 tied up. Check in for the cruise started at 8:00 in the hotel lobby. We got there about 10 minutes early and there was already a line. Here we discovered another error in the communications. The instructions clearly said that only passengers on two specific ships (neither one ours) needed to fill out a Bahamas landing card. While in line, we were told we did need to. Then, the paperwork said they'd start bussing us at 11:30 but at the desk they said 12:15. About 11:30, we met Mom and Dad and took a cab to the pier. I figured avoiding the hassle at the elevators alone was worth the few bucks. There was absolutely no delay at the pier; we walked right on the ship. We were escorted immediately to our cabin which was prepared for our arrival. Mom and Dad's wasn't quite ready but they were able to leave their bags there while we all went to lunch. I was absolutely shocked to find the bags in the cabin when we returned from the buffet lunch in the Windjammer Café and a little exploring; we had everything stowed by 2:00. On some previous cruises, it was dinner time before we had the bags and we've learned to carry swimwear and a change of clothes in the carry on.

At sea

It was rather cold on deck so, after further exploring, we got ourselves installed in the Viking Crown Lounge to watch the departure which occurred precisely on schedule at 5:00. We stayed there long enough to clear the channel, then went down to dinner in the Dining Room which required only casual attire on the first evening. Since it was Super Bowl Sunday, the game was on all over the ship and the Orpheum Theater was the site of a huge Super Bowl party. As a result, the normal evening show schedule was modified and there was only one sitting for the show. There was music in the Carousel Lounge before hand by an excellent group, the Mudsharks, playing mostly 50's and 60's music.

Monday was paradise! We woke around 8:30, had breakfast in the dining room and installed myself by the pool where I spent the entire day. I finally pried myself away at 4:30. Thank heaven for SPF 30!! Dinner was black tie and the menu was French. We skipped the "meet the Captain" bit before dinner and and had a drink in the Champagne Terrace. At dinner, the service and food were both excellent and we celebrated with a bottle of Dom Perignon. The evening's entertainment in the Orpheum was a singer and comedian named Hal Frasier. He was absolutely fantastic and deserved the big time.

Tuesday was another day at sea. We woke at 7:00, put our swim suits on and went straight for the pool. After staking out some chairs, we grabbed a quick breakfast in the Windjammer Café and returned to the pool. Our before dinner cocktails were in the Viking Crown and dinner was Italian. I have to admit it wasn't the best I've ever had. After dinner, there was a "get acquainted" party with the Captain for people who'd been on Royal Caribbean before. The party was ho-hum and underlined one of the shortcomings we were beginning to notice. On previous cruises, we found it easy to meet and talk to people. On this one, folks tended to stay more to themselves. Maybe it's the times, maybe it's the size of the ship, but I really missed the camaraderie of earlier cruises.

St. Maarten/St. Martin

Our first landfall was on the divided island of St. Maarten (the Dutch part) and St. Martin (the French Part). We were almost unable to visit. There's no suitable dock in the port of Philipsburg so it's necessary to take tenders from the ship. There are some large island-based tenders supplementing the ship's own so, at least in theory, it's supposed to be a relatively quick process. We'd arranged to rent a Jeep to visit the island so we were able to board the first tender. The wakeup call we requested for 6:30 never came but, nonetheless, we were at the large watertight doorway on deck one, ready to board the tender, at the appointed 7:45. However, since leaving Miami, the seas had been getting rougher and by Wednesday morning they were pretty big. For an hour, we watched with growing apprehension as they repositioned the ship to minimize the relative motion between ship and tender. Just as I was sure we'd get scrubbed, they let us off the ship. Our Jeep was reserved with "Dutch Tours" and we'd been told to look for a lady on the dock in a red skirt and white blouse. Sure enough, there she was to walk us two blocks to a van which drove us out of town to the rental office. We'd visited this island twice before, once for a week in 1983 and again on a cruise in 1990. I was pleased that traffic wasn't quite as bad as on our last visit but, by the time we reached Marigot on the French side, we were in the thick of it. Leaving Marigot, I happened to glance at my fuel gauge (should be full, right?) and it was firmly on "E"! After addressing that, we had a delightful lunch at the Tastevin in the picturesque village of Grand Case, checked out the tiny L'Esperance" airport, had a bit of a swim at Orient Beach, and returned the car. I'd hoped to call my voicemail but the very few phones at the pier had long distance lines so we shopped a bit and headed for the ship. After showering, we headed for the Viking Crown to watch Philipsburg slip away.

St. John/St. Thomas

We'd decided on an excursion to St. John which Linda and I hadn't visited but where Mom and Dad had spent some time years ago. The trip we booked was a "Beach Tour". The ship doesn't dock or anchor in St. John, it simply pauses briefly in passing to allow people to board an island-based tender, then it continues on to nearby St. Thomas. Once again, we were up before the roosters, this time at 5:45! (Hence the reason to avoid the "an island a day" cruises!) The tender was a large one and took us to Cruz Bay where we boarded the open trams they call taxis. Ours took us to Trunk Bay for swimming and snorkeling. Needing a "buddy" with whom to snorkel, I was pleased to be approached by a young man, Steve, who had the same problem. Together we followed the famous underwater trail but I was disappointed at the coral. I'll provide more details below.

After several hours, the "taxi" took us back to the tender which, in turn, took us to the ship, now at the dock in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas. After lunch on the ship, we took a cab in to the shopping district so Linda could unload some money at a nice little jewelry shop named "Bobby's" and I could "stock up" on a couple of eel skin wallets from "Seoul Trade". They wear like iron and this is the only place I've ever found them! It's worth noting that we've shopped at Bobby's a total of twice and his is the first Christmas card we get every year!

Once again, we watched the departure process from The Viking Crown. After dinner we danced in the Champagne Terrace. The sea was rough during the night.

At Sea Again

As we moved northward the weather got worse. By Friday morning, the skies were gray and the sea was so rough, there was a "surf" in the pool! As a result, the pool was closed and it was less than ideal on deck. Nonetheless, knowing that vacation was nearing an end, I toughed it out for several hours. The sun peeked out occasionally but there was also intermittent rain so eventually I surrendered and we took a nap. This was the night of the "Captain's Gala", the second black-tie affair. Dancing in the Champagne Terrace was magnificent due to the elegant surroundings and the formal clothing.

Coco Cay

Coco Cay has no pier so it was necessary to get tender tickets to control the flow of people. I woke early and was in the lobby at 7:30. Dad joined me and and we got in line about 7:40. By the time the desk opened at 8:00, the line wrapped all the way around the Centrum. We got tickets for tender #1. We were scheduled to arrive at Coco Cay by mid-morning but the heavy seas since leaving St. Thomas had slowed us down and we arrived after lunch. We tried to sit by the pool but the weather was lousy and it actually rained a few times. The beach barbecue was cancelled and we had lunch in the dining room. The tender was large and took forever to load but the ride was short. I asked about parasailing and was able to go in the first group. Nine of us went out on the boat and I was the eighth to "fly". What a kick!!! Took off and landed from the aft deck of a small boat and went up on a 400 foot rope. I figured it'd be windy but it wasn't; I could have worn my hat! It was really peaceful up there! Dad met me at the dock when I returned and showed me to our tiny spot on the overcrowded beach. The weather was by now just marginal, the water was cold and the beach was too crowded; not a great way to spend the last day. We shopped a bit at the "marketplace" which was typically Bahamian and headed back to the ship. As always, the final evening was sad but the show was great. The only thing I hate more than packing to go away is packing to return home!
Miami and Home

Getting off a cruise ship sucks! We were up at 6:15 for breakfast at 7:00 just as were were arriving in Miami. Then we had to vacate the cabin and just sit around in the public areas until Customs cleared the ship. There has got to be a better way to protect out shores than to have 2000 people sit around for hours! When they eventually got around to releasing us, things happened quickly. We left the ship in the second (albeit large) group, quickly located our bags, checked them right there with US Airways, and boarded a bus for MIA. The day was crystal clear all the way home and I was desperately missing having my own plane. The next day (Monday), we learned that Miami was being clobbered by 100 MPH winds. Timing is everything!

Mom & DadBeautiful ship but next time I'll take a smaller one. Great itinerary. Had a fantastic time being with Mom and Dad for the whole week. It was special.