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Anchor’s away: Cruisin’ the Caribbean

Last fall, suffering from empty nest syndrome after my youngest daughter left for college, my friend, Gina, and I took a seven-day cruise off the Eastern Caribbean. Neither of us had ever vacationed sans spouses and kids, nor had we been on a cruise.Using my frequent flyer miles accumulated from using my Safeway card, I managed to book a 7 a.m. flight out of Denver to Miami, with a layover in Washington, D.C., for a total of $7.50.After safely arriving in Miami, Gina and I took a cab to our hotel, located on Biscayne Bay, where we could see cruise liners right from our room window. We spent one night in Miami and briefly explored the city using its free Metromover, individual motorized cars on a 4.4-mile elevated track that loops around downtown.Day OneThe next morning we were up early and anxious to get over to the Port of Miami to board our home for the week ñ the Carnival Triumph ñ 893 feet long with a guest capacity of 2,758 and a staff of 1,000. The port was full of people and luggage. Unlike the airlines, Carnival doesnít limit the amount of luggage you can bring.Luggage was taken by the staff immediately after arrival and delivered to our cabin. We passed through two security screenings and identification checks prior to boarding. At check-in, we received ìsign and sailî cards. These cards are used for everything on the ship, from upscale purchases in the boutique to alcoholic beverages. Cash is only accepted in the casino and laundry areas. The sign and sail card is also the room key.After boarding, we entered the rotunda stretching nine decks up, featuring glass elevators and the Capitol Lobby Bar. Our room was located on the Riviera deck with a view just above ocean level. The room included two twin beds, a small refrigerator, a sitting area with a sofa, and lots of storage space. The beds had feather comforters and big, fluffy pillows. In the closet were two extra-soft bathrobes for our use throughout the cruise. I knew right away that we were in for a great week at sea.Day TwoOur first stop was in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Gina and I decided not to book shore excursions through Carnival; instead, we researched each port prior to the trip and planned our own itinerary. We decided to spend the second day relaxing by one of the shipís four pools until the captainís cocktail party.Others who choose to stay busy can enjoy the shipís many activities, from 6 a.m. until the wee hours of the morning. There are yoga, spinning or Pilateís classes and a fully equipped gym. Day two also included bingo, an art auction, golf lessons, a gemstone seminar, an ice carving demonstration, a hairy chest contest and a slot tournament, all before 2 p.m. The evening offered a classical concert, karaoke, a wine-and-cheese party, a sing-along bar, jazz music and numerous other offerings. We skipped all but the 10:45 p.m. adult comedy show. I hadnít laughed that hard in a long time.Day ThreeAfter indulging in the breakfast buffet, we hung out by the pool until it was time to debark. Once on land, we took a two-hour tour of the island to see the highlights and pick up a souvenir or two. We also did a self-tour on foot through Old Juan. It was hilly with uneven cobblestone streets and was not well lit. Some stores remained open for us late tourists; nightclubs and bars lined the streets as well. Tomorrowís destination was St. Thomas.Day FourGina and I debarked around 11:30 a.m. and took a bus out to Magenís Bay Beach & Paradise Point. Paradise Point has a panoramic view of Charlotte Amalie ñ the capital city of St. Thomas ñ and the surrounding islands. Magenís Bay is rated by National Geographic as one of the top 10 beaches in the world, and it definitely earned that rating. The water is clear turquoise, calm, and beautiful. The beach also has a snack bar, clean restrooms and a shop to purchase forgotten sunscreen, bathing suits, cover-ups, sunglasses, etc. Itís a perfect place to spend the day in St. Thomas.That evening we attended ìThe New Wave Magic Showî starring Kevin the Magician and Caruso ñ his snake. The show was phenomenal, the snake not so much. Gina, who at one time was terrified of snakes, decided she wanted to meet Caruso after the show.Day FiveWe arrived in St. Maarten at 7 a.m. This was my favorite stop by far. St. Maarten is governed by the Netherlands Antilles while the other half of the island, St. Martin, is part of the French West Indies. We visited St. Maartenís shopping district, Phillipsburg, right next to the beach. A water taxi is available to take passengers from the ship to the town, but itís only a 10-minute walk and was our preferred method of transportation. Like all our ports-of-call, shopping is duty free. St. Maarten has great buys on electronics, jewelry, alcohol, perfumes and a host of other items.Days Six and SevenThe last two full days were spent at sea. We explored the ship, took photos and talked to the folks who worked there. Most of the employees were Eastern European and former Soviet Union nationals.Our last evening, before hitting the midnight buffet, we packed our luggage, which is picked up the night before you debark. Passengers are reunited with their luggage at the port.Back in Miami, it was on to customs and then to a direct flight home to our husbands, eagerly awaiting our return.Cruising is a great way to visit several places in a short period of time. I recommend researching your trip so you know what you want to see and do before you arrive. Bon Voyage!

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