We just returned home last night from our second trip of the year. However, it turned out quite a bit different than originally envisioned. We booked the trip last December. It was going to be a cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Empress of the Seas visiting three ports in Cuba (Havana, Cienfuegos, & Santiago de Cuba) & Labadee, Haiti. We were really excited to visit multiple stops in Cuba.
Our best laid plans were dashed in June when the Trump administration effectively banned travel to Cuba. The administration claimed the ban was a result of Cuba being a “communist foothold in the region” and supporting “US adversaries like Venezuela”. While I am irritated that I can no longer visit Cuba, I am infuriated that the administration’s reasoning was inconsistently applied to Cuba and not to China. China is both communist and supports Venezuela, but we don’t see Trump banning travel to China. Why not just say you are reversing every Obama-era policy and this one was next on the list? Anyway, I digress.
Accordingly, Royal Caribbean changed the itinerary for our sailing but allowed free changes due to this
abomination policy. The changed itinerary was not one we had interest in as we had been to most of the ports. We lucked out as there was a different itinerary for the same date range starting one day later that we liked. This meant we didn’t have to change our flights and had a free day in Fort Lauderdale before the cruise. We still got to visit Haiti and sail on one of Royal’s mega-ships, Allure of the Seas. It wasn’t what we originally wanted, but it was a great replacement. Here is how it went:
- 08/09 – Flight to Fort Lauderdale: We had travel vouchers from JetBlue as a result of delayed flights in 2018, so we used those for the outbound flights for this trip. Ironically, we had another long flight delay on this trip. Scheduled arrival was around 8pm, but we didn’t actually arrive at FLL until just before 2am. So, they gave us each a $150 travel voucher this time.
- 08/10 – Fort Lauderdale, FL: Due to arriving very early in the morning, we slept in late and had a lazy day. Our hotel was right on Fort Lauderdale beach.
- 08/11 – Embarkation & Departure: We boarded the ship and had lunch while waiting for our cabin to be ready. Then, we spent the afternoon exploring our cabin and the rest of the massive ship. The muster drill was noteworthy in that our muster station was at the ice skating rink venue! We loved that. On the other hand, I thought the video they showed during the muster was cringe inducing and way longer than it had to be. You can see it here on YouTube; judge for yourself.
- 08/12 – Day at sea: On the first sea day, we spent the morning by the solarium pool. After lunch, we played a round of mini-golf, rode the carousel on the boardwalk, & browsed some of the shops. The highlight of the day was the the Ocean Aria show that took place that night in the aquatheater. Here is a YouTube video someone took of the show on an earlier sailing.
- 08/13 – Labadee, Haiti: We spent the day in Labadee on the beach at Royal Caribbean’s private resort. After dinner back on the ship, we went ice skating, which I had never done before. This is clearly not a skill I have, so I only did one lap gripping to the railing the entire time. But it will be unique to say that the first (and probably only) time that I went ice skating was in the Caribbean Sea!
- 08/14 – Falmouth, Jamaica: In Falmouth, we went to a nearby beach club and spent the day on the beach. That night we went to a ventriloquist show by Ronn Lucas.
- 08/15 – Day at sea: For the second sea day, we played another round of mini-golf before I had a go at the zip line. After an afternoon nap, I then went to a viewing of Avengers: Endgame.
- 08/16 – Cozumel, Mexico: For our stop in Cozumel, we chose to visit the Mayan city of Chichen Itza. It required about a 35-40 minute ferry and 2+ hour bus ride each way, but I think it was worth it to check off a bucket list item.
- 08/17 – Day at sea: On the last sea day, I attended a crew Q&A with the captain, chief engineer, hotel services manager, & the cruise director. Kara never has interest in these. After lunch, we went to the Ice Games show at the ice skating rink. I’m not an ice skating or ice dancing fan, but it was impressive how much they could do on such a small rink. Here is a partial video of the show someone took on a prior sailing. After the ice games show, we tried our hand at boogie boarding on the flowrider. I did better than I thought I would and most importantly didn’t get injured.
- 08/18 – Disembark & flights home: We also had travel vouchers from United as a result of delayed flights in 2018, so we used those for the return flights for this trip. Despite a minor delay, we arrived home without too much difficulty.
We typically prefer cruise itineraries with a low number of sea days so that we can see as many places as possible. After 7 nights (including 3 sea days) on this ship, we were never bored and there are some things we didn’t even get to. We enjoyed our first mega-ship. I’ll post the pictures after I’ve finished with them.