For the 14th year running, Travel Weekly readers have recognized Royal Caribbean International as the Best Cruise Line Overall and the Best Cruise Line in the Caribbean. This year, Cruise Critic recognized the company for three Editors’ Picks: Best for Families, Best Entertainment, and Best Suites. Needless to say, I knew we had chosen the right ship for our seven-night southern Caribbean experience. It was booked through the preeminent luxury travel agency in New York City—First in Service/Travel Hub 365— so I was confident that the itinerary would be the perfect fit for our first cruising experience.
The ship departed from San Juan, Puerto Rico, and once aboard I was overwhelmed by not only its sheer size, but that it was just like a floating luxury hotel. All of the amenities you would want and need were within walking distance of our suite. There were pools, multiple restaurants and dining options (including the best mocha latte I’ve ever had!), games, shows, a full-service salon and spa, on-board adventures, art, and—without question—the friendliest and most fun staff I have ever had the pleasure of spending a full week with!
The ship itself could have kept me busy for the full seven nights without us disembarking at all, but the best part of this fabulous vacation was that I could enjoy the ship as much as I wanted, as well as visit some of the most beautiful islands in the world as we traveled to five ports in six days.
Here’s an inside look at the ship, the ports of call, and the overall beauty of the islands and the people I met along the way.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
We boarded the ship and departed from Old San Juan.
Our first port was the U.S. Virgin Island St. Thomas. Like all of the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Thomas has much to enjoy—duty-free shopping in its beautiful downtown area; lounging on the beach or taking a dip in the crystal blue ocean; and partaking in many of the local watersports. We enjoyed the day walking around town and doing a little shopping.
Our second port of call was the British Virgin Island St. Kitts. This island was so magical with more than a quarter of its land used as a National Park, including a rainforest that is actually expanding in size rather than shrinking. The island is surrounded by new and untouched dive sites, massive beds of coral, and a sea filled with fish of every stripe and color. Whether you choose to hike through the rainforests or lounge on a sandy beach surrounded by the cutest (and friendliest) little monkeys, this island made for the perfect day on shore.
Our third port was the British Virgin Island Antigua, my favorite island of the trip! There are no words to describe the beauty of these beaches. I have never seen whiter sand or bluer ocean. The local Antiguans boast there are 365 beaches, one for every day of the year, and if they all look like the one we visited, Antigua truly is paradise found. The day started out with a Royal Caribbean excursion that we booked through the front desk concierge, which took us on a snorkeling boat ride that ended up being the highlight of our trip. The snorkeling was so amazing. After about an hour at sea, the tour guides brought us to a private island that was hidden behind a mountain and only visible if you were on a boat sitting directly in front of it. It was spectacular, and a place I will definitely visit again.
Our fourth port was the British Virgin Island St. Lucia. This island was unlike any other we visited. St. Lucia is the sort of island that travelers dream about—it’s a small, lush, tropical gem that is still relatively unknown. What makes this island unique is that the Atlantic Ocean sits on the east side of the island and the Caribbean sits on the west. One island, with two different oceans meeting the shores–pretty amazing! Since there was so much to see and do on St. Lucia (beaches, rainforest, volcanos), we decided to take another Royal Caribbean excursion, a jeep tour of the island and rainforest. It included a 45-minute walking tour and ended at the loveliest Caribbean beach filled with local music, beer, and tourists enjoying their sun-filled days. This island had a great mix of everything—if you didn’t know better, you would think you were in the south pacific instead of the Caribbean!
Our fifth and final port of call was the British Virgin Island Barbados. Out of all the islands we visited, Barbados seemed to be the most commercialized while still holding onto its West Indian island roots. It was an easy decision to head to the beach once we disembarked, and a quick cab ride later, we were yet again basking in the warm sun on another stunning beach. We went horseback riding in the water and on the beach, which we loved. The main difference in the coasts was that to the west, you’ll find calm waters and good swimming (similar to St. Lucia), and on the east, there are massive, competition-caliber waves. It’s the perfect place for anyone who loves the rustic, distinct charm of beautiful beaches.
Our final day was spent at sea as we headed back to San Juan. We spent the day lounging by the pool with a drink, watching an outdoor movie with the kids followed by a late-night comedy show, and said our final farewell to our amazing dinner wait staff. We truly bonded over those seven nights, and dinner on board the ship was our favorite—we recapped our day, laughed out loud, and enjoyed some of the best food we have ever eaten. The team at First in Service made this a trip we will never forget, and we cannot wait to take another one!