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  1. My husband and I are going on a 7N Freedom of the Seas (FOTS) cruise January 2020. I'd love to hear of all your suggestions for excursions. We LOVE the water/beach but are open to other ideas as well. We have already been to St Maarten and did a RC snuba excursion which we enjoyed. All other ports we have never been to. With so many ports, we'd love to hear your feedback on ports to do an excursion versus no excursion-either staying on the ship or exploring the town. I should also note that one day we'd love to go back and stay at an island for longer than one day so any suggestions on day passes at a resort to explore those would be great too.
  2. hello! Has any one else booked the St. Maarten Beach Rendezvous? We are on Harmony of the Seas in a month ?, and would like to enjoy the beach that day. I've read a report that the beach was overgrown with seaweed and Dog poop, but im wondering if this review was just an isolated incident?? Any insight would be appreciated!
  3. Hello everyone! Lots of great information on this site. Thank you to everyone for their recommendations and opinions. It's not technically our first time, but our last cruise was over 20 years ago before we had kids and boy have things changed! We weren't ready to have to choose between drink packages and specialty dining options, etc. It's really stretching our budget in ways we overlooked. We just booked on the Harmony of the Seas for July 21st. I'd like to ask thoughts on the drink packages. We would not drink enough to break even with the unlimited drinking package. I am a beer drinker with an occasional frozen drink and my wife is a wine drinker for the most part, but usually no more than 2 glasses at a meal. Also, getting all six of us the refreshment package can be a doozy too even with the discount running until tonight. Any insider tips or secrets you all would like to share in this area? I think this time around we are going to skip the Thrill Waterpark. From a budget view, the cost of this for a family of six would crush any additional excursions for the week. I believe there is still a lot to do on the island that is not so pricey. I am interested in thoughts on two of the excursions that we are looking at in St. Thomas. We have four kids... 11, 13, 15, and 19. Not worried about the 19-year-old as she goes with the flow MOST of the time. My wife is looking forward to snorkeling. We are trying to decide between the St. John's Trunk Bay Beach & Snorkel OR the Pirates of St. Thomas Sail, Snorkel, & Beach. My thought is why go to St. John's for snorkeling if you are in St. Thomas. St. Thomas was beautiful the last time I visited almost 30 years ago. Seems like a lot of time is spent in transit from one island to the other and that MAY frustrate the kids if the ride is too long. I have a horseback rider in the family and she wants to do the horseback riding on St. Maarten. Has anyone here done this one and have any feedback? If my daughter and I do the horseback riding, the rest of the family is looking to do something. Any suggestions on St. Maarten? This will be our first time on St. Maarten. Thank you in advance for any suggestions, comments, or opinions. Best, Hawkes
  4. Hi, We're looking at booking Allure for Christmas and the itinerary will have our first port day in St Maarten on Christmas day. Will there be any excursions we can do? Or is there a beach near to the port that will be open? TIA
  5. Hello, My wife and I are taking our first cruise in October and we are very excited. The 3 ports being visited are Nassau, St Thomas, and St Maarten. I am very inquisitive and I want to make sure the excursions we are looking at are quality or not. Being our first time being on a cruise and first time leaving the US other than trips into Canada we have decided to stick with Royal Caribbean promoted excursions. I tried searching this site but couldn't accurately say the reviews i found were for the exact excursion we are looking at. Any help from some more seasoned crusiers would be greatly appreciated. Nassau - Balmoral Island Beach and Kayak Adventure St Thomas - 5 Star Island Tour St Maarten - Pinel Island Eco Escape Thanks for your help
  6. How is st maarten today , since the hurricane?
  7. Has anyone been to St. John’s recently? We have a stop in September and wondered how much has been rebuilt since Irma? What about St. Maarten? Thanks! p
  8. I'm taking a page from @KLAconQueso and splitting out my review of one of our major excursions to this board, rather than making it part of my live blog. Now, I've already posted the photos from that excursion on my recent live blog; you can view them here. This entry is more to talk about the excursion and the folks who run it, how to book it and what to expect when you go. The official name for the company that runs this tour is "Soualiga Destinations", and this is also the name of their web site. But everyone who's told me about it, and the owner himself, tends to refer to just as "Capt. Bob's". They're an independent outfit and don't do bookings through Royal; everything is done directly with the owner, Capt. Bob himself. They only offer this one tour, which runs daily from 10 AM (with 9:30 checkin) to 4 PM; they expect that if you book with them, your all-aboard time is no earlier than 4:30 PM so you have enough time to walk or get a cab back to the port. In all honesty, our trip with them was back at the marina at 3:45, and I've heard other accounts that indicate 4 PM is really a buffer, and they tend to get back a bit earlier so no one misses their ship. They currently have 9 boats (having lost 3 to Hurricane Irma in 2017); the larger ones hold about 16 people, while smaller ones hold groups of 8 or 12. While all of the boats have a canopy of some sort, none of them offer full-time shade and you will definitely need to bring a lot of sunscreen for this trip and/or things to cover up with! At the time we booked in April of 2017, the price was $119 per person plus 5% tax, with a 20% deposit. Payment of the deposit is done via PayPal, and the balance is due in cash when you check in at the port. I was able to pay in full up front, as I wanted to do this for budgeting purposes, and Capt. Bob was up-front that he holds on to your money until you've arrived and taken the trip; if your ship can't make or a disaster like Irma strikes, he issues a full refund of whatever you paid. You are welcome to charter a boat for just your group, but pricing will be affected depending on how large your group is. Booking with them is done through email. The site's Contact page also lists phone numbers in the US and St. Maarten, but it's clear that email is the preferred method. I actually had a lot of questions before I booked, due to my mobility limits and concerns I had about how much I could take part, and Capt. Bob took the time to answer every one of them before I booked. He's very low-key and has no problem if you end up saying no after first contacting him. When you arrive in St. Maarten, you'll go through the port market to the main road and make a left. You'll follow the road until you see a yellow building with a cheese shop, which is where the Dock Maarten marina you embark from is located. There's a little walk-through archway on the side of the building that gives you direct access to the marina, and this is where you'll find Capt. Bob and the other boat captains who will be taking care of you. It's a fairly easy 15-minute walk, even for a moderately mobility-limited person like myself. We took a taxi to get there only because we were running a bit late and didn't want to miss check-in, and walked back to the ship afterward. Our captain that day was Bob's son Brett, and our first mate was his fiancée Laura. We were going out on the only boat that had been docked in Dock Maarten during Irma and survived (albeit banged up and in need of some minor repairs); not just the only boat of theirs, the only boat in the entire marina. Capt. Bob's other surviving boats (two that he owned himself and 7 owned by the other captains who he works with) were docked elsewhere during Irma, so they definitely did well by not pulling all of their figurative eggs in one marina-shaped basket! I'm going to take a moment here to talk about Brett and Laura, as they were just amazing hosts for this tour and we couldn't have asked for a better pair to guide us around and help make the trip memorable. I was especially grateful to them since I ended up staying on the boat almost the entire time and it was good to have someone to chat with while everyone else was in the water snorkeling or swimming. They told me (and eventually the others on our trip) their back story, and it kind of blew my mind. If you'd rather skip this part, just pass over the quote block. Now for the actual tour! Every boat that is going out leaves the marina separately, and I think each one also changes up the overall timing of the itinerary a bit to avoid overlap. Even though there are a total of nine boats, and from what I saw at least five of them were going out the day we were there, the only places we saw any other boats from Capt. Bob were at lunch and when we arrived at Maho beach towards the end of our trip. At our snorkeling and beach destinations, ours was the only boat anchored there at that time. After leaving the marina, you make your way along the coast and quickly move into another inlet. This leads to the most expensive marina on the island, where the truly wealthy dock their multi-million dollar yachts in the winter months. You get to see a lot of amazing vessels here, although when we went through there were several that were damaged (and one sunk) thanks to Irma. Your captain will tell you about the ships that are there at the time; one of them on our trip belonged to a Russian oligarch, and cost a cool $500,000,000! That is some seriously insane (and from what I've heard separately, most likely illegal / laundered) wealth on display! From the marina, you make your way through a channel and continue along the Dutch side of the island. The channel is wide enough that you speed along, seeing all the buildings built on the shoreline as well as the natural beauty of the island. Even with the devastation still visible everywhere, it was amazing. The color of the water alone will blow your mind. You'll also pass by the mansion of the French side's governor, prominently on display by itself at the top of a modest hill. At this point, you'll pass under a small drawbridge and cross to the French side of the island. You are warned that on this side the beaches are clothing-optional, but we never saw anything at any point that made us stare (or want to look away quickly). The channel opens back onto the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean not long after, and you'll continue along the coast for a bit before cross over to your first snorkeling stop, Tintemarre Island. This is a small little island with no inhabitants, and is part of a nature preserve that surrounds a lot of St. Maarten and encompasses the surrounding little islands. (islets?) The island is home to sea turtles and sting rays, both of which often keep to the sea grass under the surface of the water. For those who didn't bring their own snorkeling gear, your captain will hand out fins and also a mask with snorkel. You're instructed to hold onto these for the duration of the trip, until the last snorkeling stop is done. The mask is sprayed with some anti-fog solution so you can see clearly at all times. Those who are unfamiliar with snorkeling get about 10 minutes of instruction here, and both the captain and first mate will check that your mask is on your face correctly before you dive in to the water. Everyone is free to jump in from either the sides of the boat or from the back. You get about 45 minutes at this stop before everyone has to board again. Boarding is done through a short rail-less ladder that gets attached to the back of the ship after everyone has gone into the water. Based on my experience using this ladder at our lunch stop, it's not really something for a mobility-challenged person like myself with a lot of foot problems. The steps of the ladder tended to be a little slippery, and since it's rail-less you need to hang on to the side of the ship, or the engines, or the thick fuel hoses, or anything else that offers a grip while you're pulling yourself back up into the boat. After everyone is back on board, you go straight to your next stop – Pinel Island. This is also part of the wildlife refuge, but has a small strip of beach with umbrellas and loungers, plus a little bar / restaurant and a small gift shop selling hand-made and -painted bird feeders, wind chimes, and carved trinkets. There is a "bathroom" here, but it's really more of an outhouse; there was no running water to flush with that I could see, and there is also a warning sign outside the little cabin telling you in French and English to not put any toilet paper into the toilet! This is the only spot where you'll have access to any kind of bathroom, though, so if this just doesn't work for you then you'll need to either hold it until 4 PM, or do like the fish do. I suppose I should mention at this point that from the moment you set out from the marina, there is plenty of water and also beer to be had. Brett told us that the beer was actually cheaper to buy than the water! For our boat, we had Coors Light and a very nice French lager that I'd never had before. There were only a few bottles of that, and I only scored one of them, so the rest of the time it was Coors beer-like tap water for me! But this does make it difficult to avoid needing a restroom the entire trip! While at Pinel Island, everyone is free to swim, relax on the beach, visit the gift shop, and also enjoy lunch. While they used to do lunch in a different spot that had its own restaurant, that place was destroyed by Irma and hadn't yet been rebuilt. While I clearly smelled food cooking at the bar here, we were more or less told that we couldn't get anything to eat there; if I had to guess why, it was because on the French side they only accept Euros, not dollars, and this place didn't take credit cards. In any event, the new arrangement is for plenty of fresh-made sandwiches that are packed on the boat before you head out. These are really good and come in a nice variety – we had ham, tuna, chorizo, crab, and veggie as our options; and all were on fresh-baked mini-baguettes from one of the local bakeries on the French side. The sandwiches are served with chips and apples, and there are enough sandwiches for everyone on board to have two or even three if they want. After about an hour and a half, you head out to your second and final snorkeling stop, a large rock that juts out of the water and is named Creole Rock. This is where you will snorkel to see a wide variety of fish, octopi, and sea urchins. The latter tend to make their home on the sides of the rock, so you get a pretty strong warning to stay clear of the rock and stick to the areas marked by little buoys that let you know where the fish tend to congregate. You also have to keep to the side facing the Caribbean Sea, which is much calmer; the other side faces the Atlantic, which has much more wave action, and you'll be warned that going to that side could lead to getting smashed against the rock and the sea urchins. This stop is shorter, about 25 minutes, and then the really fast part of the trip begins. After everyone's snorkeling gear is gathered up and stowed, the captain opens up the engines and you go flying back to St. Maarten and the Dutch side of the island. It's a literal "hold onto your hat" ride, as the wind is strong enough to rip baseball caps or loose sunglasses off heads and send any loose towels or garments flying off the boat, never to be seen again. You quickly make your way to Plum Bay, where you will see the Dutch governor's home, as well as a large mansion currently owned by the 43rd President of the US. After a quick look and bit of background on that mansion, you fly off again and quickly make your way to Long Bay, site of the white villas with red tile roofs that show up in so many photos from St. Maarten. This is your final beach stop for the day, and you get another half hour or so to just relax and swim. The water is a bit deeper here and the current into the beach a lot stronger than on Pinel Island, so if you want to go to the beach you'll need to prepare for a bit of a fight back into the deeper water where the boat anchors. When this round of beach time is done, the captain opens up the engines again and you speed along the coast to Maho Beach. You don't get that close to the actual beach area, this is more about hoping to catch a plane flying close overhead. It's kind of luck of the draw here; on our outing, we had a plane pass overhead just as we arrived, with no chance to pull out a camera and get it lined up for a picture. You only spend a couple of minutes before making one last speed dash back to the marina. I'm not sure if this part is common, but there were three other boats from Capt. Bob's at Maho when we arrived, and all four of us left and once and turned that final run into a race to the finish line. It was actually really fun to see which boat would end up "winning", and everyone was hooting and hollering for their captain to the be the one to come in first. After returning to the marina, your captain will winch the boat back up part-way in its lift before you disembark. You'll be asked for a very well-deserved tip, and you'll also be advised to stop in the cheese shop that you passed on your way to the marina; here you can get a free treat by just mentioning that you were with Capt. Bob. It's normally ice cream, but in our case they had sold out and were instead giving away small caramel waffle cookies. You'll also have a chance here to buy some cheese (no Monty Python jokes, please!), made following authentic Dutch recipes and guaranteed by the owner to travel just fine for the rest of your cruise and your flight home. When we were there, they were giving samples of a really tasty Gouda that I'd have loved to buy, but I wasn't certain it would hold up to the time out of a fridge between getting off the ship and finally getting home. You'll definitely be pushing the boundaries of your all-aboard time with this trip, but it is incredibly worth it in my opinion. This was far more than any excursion we saw offered by Royal, the group size was very small and made for great snorkeling without a lot of people crowding you, and your captain and first mate are excellent tour guides. I also think they're far less expensive relative to the duration of this trip vs. anything you can book in the Cruise Planner. $119 per person for a six-hour outing is, I want to say, half the price I saw for an equivalent duration excursion on the Cruise Planner. And judging by the feedback from my wife and daughters, the snorkeling was really good and offered a lot to see. Throw in the included beverages and food, and you've got one heck of a value for this trip, even after including a good tip!
  9. We are visiting Friar's Bay in St. Maarten. Wondering if this was good for snorkeling. My sister and I would like to go at some point but aren't sure if we want to book a 4 hr trip
  10. First cruiser here going to St Maarten, is there beach access without having to sign up and pay and stand in line waiting for a tour? I've signed up for that in Bahamas and St Thomas. Can I stroll off the boat in St Maarten and find a beautiful beach on my own without having to go in a large group for a designated time etc? I'd like more freedom on St Maarten but don't want to miss a beach experience.
  11. This is the review I posted on TripAdvisor for Soualiga Destinations Boat Tours in St. Maarten ********************************************************** After we did our Speed Boat/ATV/Jungle Trek excursion in Belize, we didn't think anything would ever again top that experience. We've had to wait nearly 10 years for something to compete. The Soualiga Boat Tour has done just that! On the morning of October 22nd, we walked down to Dock Maarten. Captain Bob was all business at the dock, but he has been nothing but professional and helpful from beginning to end. He had a lot to manage that morning, so I can easily overlook any curtness. Besides, from all the reviews I've read, he was a fabulous captain back in the day. And that's okay, because we had Captain Mike and he was great! Before I go any further, I have to say that the lunch they provided was one of the best meals we had during our entire cruise vacation. I really didn't know what to expect, but the creole mahi, red beans and rice, and salad were delicious! (Even if the city was hosting a protest that day. A little unnerving, especially if you bring the little ones. Of course, there is no way I'd ever hold Soualiga accountable for that. Just mentioning it, because you always need to remember that you're entering a foreign country with their own ways of doing things. Stay with the group and you'll be fine.) Back to the trip.... Captain Mike's boat was awesome! He told me that his type of boat is what the government agencies (DEA, FBI, etc.) use because they're powerful and sturdy. We were flying! And bouncing! But, when I pulled him aside to ask him about the power and ability of the boat, he said she was doing about half of what she could handle. He said that he needed to throttle it back so we wouldn't get hurt. It was a rush! I wish we could have gone faster. The 14 other people onboard with my wife and I all had a blast! The boat was also clean and well cared for. I even saw Mike maintaining the hull while we were anchored at Pinel Island. Very fastidious! Along with providing an amazing vessel, Bob and Mike also provided everything we would need to enjoy our stops: snorkel equipment, floating noodles, etc. Plus, there was plenty of cold bottled water, soda, and beer. As for the stops, they were paradise. Pinel Island was probably my favorite, but that might be because it was the first stop, and the most leisurely. The snorkeling at the other stops was fantastic! We saw turtles and all sorts of fish. The waters were clear and warm. Mike also pointed out a lot along the way, like St. Barts - home to the rich and famous! We also saw King Kong island. And, of course, we made the quintessential stop at Maho to see the planes! What an experience! I'd say that seeing it in a boat is better than on land. True, you can get closer to the plane standing on Maho Beach, but Mike had a surprise in store for us. As soon as we saw the landing, he swooped around to the other side of the airport so we could see the takeoff! That may have been more amazing, because that plane had no room for error - it would have hit the mountain! What a sight! As you can tell, we loved this experience. We highly recommend it! I don't write a lot of reviews, but I was too impressed not to say something about the Soualiga Destinations Boat Tour.
  12. I will be on the Allure in a few weeks on the Eastern Caribbean cruise. I will be visiting St. Maarten, Nassau, and St. Thomas. I have been researching excursions for the ports and just wondered if anyone who has been to these ports had any "can't miss" suggestions on things to do? I don't snorkel. I am thinking about Maho Beach in St. Maarten so that I can see the planes land but I don't know if I want that to be an all day excursion. I have also read on Trip Advisor and Cruise Critic that 'Bernard's Tours' in St. Maarten is pretty good. Has anyone used them? Also, if anyone has any suggestions about Nassau (was thinking of the Paradise Island waterslide and lazy river package. Is it worth the money?) and also St. Thomas, I would appreciate any and all feedback.
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