Life Travel

Thursday 18 September 2014

Travel: Wave goodbye to stress on a Caribbean cruise

Published 17/02/2014 | 02:30

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BEAUTY SPOTS: With visits to places such as Charlotte Amalie on St Thomas and Philipsburg in St Maarten during this cruise, there were ample opportunities to enjoy the Caribbean’s pure white sand, whilst admiring the turquoise water, with barely a cloud in the sky
LAND AHOY: The old town in San Juan, capital of Puerto Rico. A stopover at the island offers the opportunity to take a segway tour of the city, several walking tours through historical areas or a nocturnal zipline tour through the jungle. The city has some great jewellery shops.
The Celebrity Reflection, the newest in the Celebrity Cruise Fleet

'Enjoy it while you can, there won't be time for that sort of thing of thing soon," a friend pronounced, when I told him I was soon to embark on a Caribbean cruise. It's the kind of thing people with kids regularly say to those without. Normally, it would be in one ear and out the other. As it happened, unbeknownst to said friend, I was actually pregnant. And it had already occurred to me that flying halfway around the world in search of some winter sun was probably not the sort of holiday I would be attempting with a small child in tow.

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A cruise, however, is exactly the sort of holiday one should attempt when pregnant. Even the constant onboard activities are run at a gentle pace – cooking demonstrations, hair styling tutorials, ballroom dancing. And if you are feeling exhausted, there's zero guilt if you want to while away an afternoon by finding a quiet spot on deck and spending a few quality hours with your book. And of course there's the food. Cruises are legendary for their culinary choices – just the sort of environment perfectly suited to an appetite suffering from all day morning sickness.

I had been on a cruise before, but a river cruise, where our boat was a mere minnow compared to this ship. The Celebrity Reflection, the newest in the Celebrity Cruise Fleet, carries over 3,000 passengers and over 1,000 staff. This includes several suites (the Reflection suite is 1,636 square feet), a spa, an art studio, a conference centre, a lawn club (real grass on deck) that offers bowling, a casino, a gym, private on-deck alcoves where one can chill out, a solarium, a shopping alley (Bulgari, Michael Kors, lots of watches), an ilounge, a theatre, a reading area, an observation lounge, a fun factory for kids, and 12 dining venues.

We tended to start the day lazily, by breakfasting on our balcony. If there is one piece of advice I could offer when booking your cruise, it is to try and stretch to a cabin with a balcony. There is no nicer way to start the day than sitting on your balcony watching the ocean go by, or taking in whatever port you had woken up in.

I'm also told any sea sickness is far worse in a windowless cabin. Ours was a balcony stateroom, spacious, with a large double bed, a couch and coffee table area, and a roomy bathroom. Our balcony had a table that could have comfortably seated four.

Our ship left Miami on Saturday afternoon, with two days at sea before our first port. Exploring the ship alone provides a good half day's entertainment, so day one was spent mostly pottering, and then getting ready for dinner in the Opus restaurant. It can be hard to prejudge, and, therefore, pack for a cruise's dress code. We had been warned that any sort of beachwear, particularly flip flops, was strictly forbidden at dinner. In fact, we saw everything from shorts, T-shirts and sandals, to cocktail wear.

The Opus, which is the ship's main dining room, is a pleasingly luxurious old-style dining room. It reminded us of the location in the opening scenes of Indiana Jones Temple of Doom, with a mezzanine overlooking the main floor, a cream and white decor scheme, lots of chandeliers, and tables for all size groups – so you won't be forced to sit with strangers for the duration of your stay, a risk on some cruises. The menu was fairly classic and included steak, salmon and pasta.

Next day we adjourned to the pool. The Celebrity Reflection boasted two pools, one of which was open air, with several whirlpools. The atmosphere poolside gave the lie to the notion that cruises are holidays for OAPs. From early in the morning the sun-loungers were packed (the weather was generally good once we got away from Miami), and the atmosphere more akin to a sun resort. There were DJs and poolside exercise classes throughout the day.

I wasn't interested in exercise, but the husband took to regularly using the small sports area at the front of the ship, which had a basketball hoop and a small football goal, before dinner. A running track circling the deck seemed to be in constant use.

We tended to lunch at the Oceanview cafe, a self-service restaurant overlooking the back of the ship, whose offerings changed three times a day, covering every sort of breakfast, lunch or dinner you can imagine. Food could be eaten outside or inside, admiring the view through floor-to-ceiling windows. A quiz generally started up towards the end of the lunch hour.

The Celebrity Reflection includes several speciality dining options for which guests pay a cover change. As a treat, we decided to try Qsine one evening.

Described as globally influenced, you are presented with an iPad in lieu of a menu on arrival. This isn't as annoyingly gadgety as it sounds, it's actually very user-friendly. The food on offer is a sort of international tapas; spring rolls, sushi, sliders, tacos, seafood bits and miniature curries.

The decor is boutique hotel; low lighting, lots of bright citrusy colours and eye-catching wallpaper. The perfect spot for a romantic night out – it was full of couples.

A restaurant full of American tourists is never going to be overly dressy, but this offers the opportunity to get dressed up, if you wish. Most of our fellow diners were extremely glamorous.

The first of our three stops was on Monday afternoon, in San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico. Some passengers, who had either done this route before (apparently, repeat cruising is quite common) or had fully succumbed to the onboard way of life, don't bother getting off at ports, so if you feel like really giving into your inner sloth, there's no shame in it.

If you did choose to stay onboard, that day's events included everything from a diamond and gemstones seminar – a sort of how to shop for precious stones, an art seminar, Latin dance lessons and wine-tasting.

Each location offered tours at three activity levels – mild, moderate, and strenuous. In San Juan, this meant everything from a segway guided tour – disappointingly, pregnant people were not allowed take part in this, as we were tempted, several walking tours through historical areas, a nocturnal zipline tour through the jungle, a horseback ride, a bike tour, scuba diving, kayaking and snorkelling. We opted to explore the city, as our next two stops offered plenty of beach and wildlife choices. If you're interested, San Juan provides some great jewellery shopping options.

Our stops were scheduled in a row, so the next day we woke up in Charlotte Amalie, on St Thomas, the capital of the US Virgin Islands. Again, there was a huge range of tours on offer; snorkelling, sailing, beachside lunches, swimming with stingrays, turtles, or dolphins.

The island is renowned for its beaches, so we decided to be lazy and do a beach excursion. It took us about 15 minutes to get to the nearby Sapphire beach, which was your classic Caribbean beach fantasy; pure white sand, turquoise water, not too crowded, barely a cloud in the sky.

Included in the cost of our day trip ($39.75 per adult, $29.75 for a child) was transport, a sunlounger, a drink, and snorkelling gear. We had been told this was the quieter of the beaches on offer, and while it was busy enough, it wasn't overrun.

The boat tended to leave port around four, so, depending on how quickly you were up and out in the morning, you could have most of the day at your chosen activity.

Our third stop, the next day (our three stops were bookended by several days at sea) was to Philipsburg in St Maarten, a two-nation island with Dutch and French sides. Trips on offer included coach tours, underwater tours, hiking and yoga excursions, trekking, mountain biking, treetop adventures through the forest, shopping tours, scuba diving, boating to secluded beach spots, yachting and kayaking. We opted for a three-hour round-trip to Orient beach – activity level, mild.

There's something almost surreal about sitting on a white beach with not a cloud in the sky when you know it's grey and wintery back home. Surreal, and completely relaxing.

 

TAKE THREE

1. Snorkelling

Snorkelling may just be the thing that makes my marriage go the distance. Once on holiday, I would happily find a sunny spot, and lie there with my Kindle for the duration. The husband can tolerate about a half day of this before he starts to get bored. His favourite holiday ever was a skiing break we took. Snorkelling is our happy medium. Caribbean beaches with their picture-perfect turquoise waters make the perfect snorkelling spots.

2. Ship's Spa

Just when I thought things couldn't get any more relaxed, I indulged in a facial treatment at the Celebrity Reflection Spa. It's an Elemis spa – a particularly nice product range, a huge treat. As well as treatment rooms the spa includes a sauna, a steam room, a cold room, sensory showers, a hammam and heated loungers with sea views. I had an oxydermy facial, which left me feeling, and looking I imagined, more alive than I had in weeks.

3. Afternoon Tea

We quickly succumbed to the cruise eating mentality, whereby if you haven't eaten in two hours you begin to panic and desperately start to forage for food. So, in order to make it all the way from lunch to dinner, we took to having afternoon tea which included hot drinks and scones with fresh cream and jam, on the deck at about four o' clock just as the boat pulled out of that day's shore stopover.

 

Seven-Night Eastern Caribbean Getaway Cruise on Celebrity Reflection:

Enjoy a 'Modern Luxury' holiday onboard Celebrity Reflection from just €1,554 per person (based on 2 adults sharing an inside stateroom). Fly/cruise price includes return flights from Dublin, transfers and a seven-night cruise departing from Miami, Florida, USA with exciting calls at San Juan, Puerto Rico; Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas and Philipsburg, St. Maarten ahead of the return to Miami; meals and entertainment onboard plus all relevant cruise taxes/fees.

For more information and to book, call 1 800 932 611, visit www.celebritycruises.ie or talk to your travel agent. Pricing based on 15 November 2014 departure. Alternative departure dates and pricing available. Flights subject to availability.

Book any 2014 European sailing before 28 February 2014 to enjoy two added bonuses from a complimentary classic beverage package, worth up to $1,400; up to $300 on board spending or, free gratuities.

Guests choosing an Alaska, Bermuda or Caribbean cruise can choose one of the bonuses and bookings for third and fourth guests include a free Classic Non-Alcoholic Beverage Package and over half an hour of internet usage per holiday - perfect for families.

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