Today was our second port stop, St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. We had booked a tour after reading some favorable reviews across the Internet. The tour would take us around the island to see various well-known spots and then conclude with a beach stop.
Freedom was the last of seven ships to dock in St Thomas. We didn't get there until 11am ship time (noon local time). I had gotten up at 6am for some reason and couldn't sleep (7am local time) so I tried listening to music and sitting on the balcony but eventually decided to let my wife and daughter sleep while I tried something new.
I've always wanted to try spinning at the gym and Freedom of the Seas offers it almost everyday in their gym. The cost of the class is $12 per person and there was enough room for about 12 stationary bikes or so but I think our class had only 8 people in it. The class lasted about 40 minutes or so and consisted of the instructor directing us how fast we should go and what we should be doing while biking. We would do “push ups” off the bike, do standing bike runs (where you stand up like you are going up hill) and speed trials.
This was my first time doing spin at all and my mistake was trying to keep up with everyone else who clearly had done spin before. I certainly worked up a good sweat and burned a lot of calories but almost immediately after I felt nauseous and that lasted a good hour or so. I figured I had become dehydrated so I drank a lot of water at the Windjammer. Within an hour I was feeling better and ready to tackle St Thomas.
Our ship docked at around 11 but we didn't make it off the ship until about 11:30 because of delays in getting the ship cleared and the sheer amount of people that are also trying to get out of the ship. The good thing about an 11am arrival is you can sleep late but by the same token, the bad thing about an 11am arrival is EVERYONE tries to get off at the same time, whereas with early dockings things get spread out more.
We used Godfreys Tour and met Godfrey himself at the gate as we got off. There were 4 other people from our ship on the tour, which seemed like a great number but then we heard they had another van full of people from Carnival (there were actually 7 cruise ships docked in St Thomas today). We left the port area, picked up the other people from downtown and started on our tour.
The tour provided complimentary soft drinks and water although no food. The cost was $25 per person if you wanted just the tour and $30 per person if you wanted the tour and a beach stop. We opted for the beach stop as well. Off we went and stopped at various photo spots along the long and winding roads that go all over the very mountainous St Thomas. The spots were picturesque and beautiful but my issue was with such a large group, I felt like we spent too much time at each place. Personally, I'm the kind of guy that looks around for about 10 seconds, takes a photo or two and is ready to go. Minor stops lasted about 5 minutes while the longest stop at the mountain top (located at the top of St Thomas) was closer to 20. I could complain about the amount of people on the tour and the slow pace, but then again I also paid significantly less than say the ship sponsored excursion.
Eventually we had the option of beaches to go to and we selected Magen's Bay. It's well known and seemed good for us. The beach is beautiful, although very narrow (meaning not a lot of space from the start of the beach to the water's edge). We had no problem finding a spot and my daughter absolutely loved her time swimming here. There was a snack shack with rather expensive prices so we opted for just fries and onion rings (we had taken a few drinks from the tour bus).
Our driver gave us about 2 hours to swim at the beach, which was fine for our needs. When we arrived the beach was rather full but by the time we left, the beach was nearly empty since all those other cruise ships had left already. Magen's Bay is a beautiful location and you can't beat the surroundings. The water is a pretty shade of turquoise although we found it not that clear. Nitpicking, I'm sure but with the beach's reputation it was a slight disappointment. Nonetheless, this was a great place for a swim and it certainly was quite beautiful.
Our driver returned promptly and we got on the van and picked up the other people at the other beach option and started making our way back with a few drive-by photo opportunities. There was considerable traffic getting back but he got everyone back with enough time to make their ships.
Overall I enjoyed the tour but I'm not sure if I'd recommend it or not. On the one hand, you can't beat the price for what you get. On the other hand, I'd much rather prefer a more personal tour that allows us to move at our pace. Also some of the stops along the way were definite “tourist traps”, which I don't care for. If you want an affordable tour of the island, it's a great choice but just be aware what you pay for.
After getting back to the ship, we showered and dropped my daughter at the nursery so my wife and I could eat at Chops, the specialty steakhouse on Freedom of the Seas. The last time we ate at Chops was aboard Mariner of the Seas for our honeymoon in 2008 so it's been a while but we loved it back then. The cost is $20 per person and you can order as much food as you want once there.
The restaurant was a little more than half full and one change that was first noted by friends of ours on another cruise was Chops has gone from 2 servers per table (main waiter and assistant waiter) to just one waiter and the by-product of this change has been a noticeable delay in service. It's not terrible or unbearable, you can simply tell things would go faster with more help and our server continuously apologized for delays (I think she thought we were bothered by it, but we really were not).
Food wise, Chops offers a good selection of choices. I wanted to order more but I wasn't that hungry for some reason so I limited myself. We opted for the Asian tuna and caesar salad for our starters and both were quite good. The tuna was very small, which worked for my limited appetite but most days I could have easily had a second appetizer.
I wanted to order the New York Strip steak but my waiter actually talked me out of it. She told me many guests had complained the steak was too chewy/tough and so I asked for her recommendation and she pointed me towards the porterhouse or the filet mignon. I opted for the porterhouse while my wife took the filet.
I freely admit I am not a steak expert. To me, a steak from Outback Steakhouse is the epitome of a good steak so did the steaks here taste good? Yes, I enjoyed it as did my wife. I just can't comment if it's the best steak ever. Both steaks were certainly better than the steaks we've had in the main dining room.
The real standout were the sides. We ordered mashed potatoes, cheesy potatoes with prosciutto and parmesan & fried onion rings. My wife says she loved the cheesy potatoes and all the sides were really quite good. Definitely branch out and try a lot since it's all included in the price.
Of course, we had to order dessert so we each chose something to taste and of course, the desserts were really good. Both cakes we ordered were moist and had a great taste to them. Definite candidates for what to eat when the world comes to an end and we have a 30 minute warning.
I'll write up a more formal review of Chops for the site at a later date but I thought Chops was a good choice for steak lovers.
After dinner we lost more money in the casino (I sense a trend developing) and decided to call it an early night since we are going to have an early start tomorrow morning.
Tomorrow is St Maarten and our last island (insert sad face here). No firm plans, just going to explore and see what comes to us!
Thank you for the great comments and questions, be sure to post your thoughts below and I'll answer them for you!