We left Canada at the end of July 2022. Now, 16 months later, we’re heading back for a short visit with family and friends by way of a 14-night transatlantic cruise onboard Royal Caribbean’s Enchantment of the Seas.
We’ve done thirteen cruises in the past but never more than seven days in length, and this is the first time we’ve crossed an ocean. Cruise lines reposition their fleets according to season, and repositioning cruises have long been considered a great way to avoid the jet-lag associated with long overseas flights. These cruises have also become a very popular way for nomads to reposition themselves, so we figured we’d see for ourselves what all the hype is about.
Cruising for us has always been about the ports of call. We enjoy the ability to experience several different cities/countries without having to unpack between destinations. Repositioning cruises typically only call into two or three ports which results in multiple days “at sea” between the ports. By day, the itinerary for our crossing was:
- Embarkation day in Barcelona, Spain
- At Sea
- Málaga, Spain
- At Sea
- At Sea
- Ponta Delgada, Azores
- At Sea
- At Sea
- At Sea
- At Sea
- At Sea
- At Sea
- Nassau, Bahamas
- At Sea
- Disembarkation day in Tampa, Florida
That is a LOT of time spent aboard the ship. In hindsight, this cruise would have been more enjoyable had we not just spent a very quiet month on the coast of Spain. That being said, the ship does try to fill the hours on board with a variety of activities, we just found them a bit repetitious.
Trivia contests were offered throughout the day: general knowledge, airport codes, name that tune, TV shows, and logo identification (which was an embarrassing fail for us, obviously we don’t shop enough) were just a few of the varieties. We did, almost, ace the map challenge, correctly identifying 47 of 49 European countries (we mixed up Liechtenstein and Luxembourg) which garnered us second place. Interspersed with the trivia contests were karaoke events, lounge singers, pianists, and art auctions. You could lose some money in the casino, sit in on an enrichment lecture (during our sailing the lectures were about the Titanic), learn some beginner phrases in Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese, catch a movie matinee in the auditorium, or play in the waters on the pool deck.
The shops on board were always offering sales on their overpriced jewelry and watches, you could book an appointment at the spa (at an additional charge) or spend a bit of time in the fitness room which was well-equipped with ellipticals, treadmills, recumbent and stationary bikes, free weights and yoga mats. A few free fitness classes were offered (Zumba, stretching) along with several paid classes (spinning, yoga, HIIT). Evenings had more karaoke, piano bars, and lounge singers with the addition of discos and stage entertainment in the ship’s auditorium with different acts each night (a juggling team, a hypnotist, a comedian, an impressionist, and several production shows with singing and dancing). As passengers, you could do as much or as little as you wanted. Howard spent most of his free time editing pictures and doing a deep dive into our finances; I read – thank goodness for my Kindle.
Fewer ports of call often equate to fewer passengers on board and generally mean a lower price point. Those two factors were definitely part of our decision-making process when we looked at this option to return to North America. In terms of passengers, our crossing was at capacity, around 2900 passengers, which is a reflection of the growing popularity of this type of travel. The basic cost of the cruise did come within our budget, just, but adding in mobile data, health insurance, and a few incidentals put us slightly over.
Vacations-to-go is a content aggregator website featuring most of the popular cruise lines, and is extremely helpful when researching cruise options. You can search for trips by cruise line, region (repositioning cruises are considered a region), cruise length, or time of year. Then organize the results in a variety of ways – we always sort by price per night. The website also allows you to select your preferred currency (US, CAD, AUD, or Euro) which is handy so you aren’t constantly converting. The annoying feature of Vacations-to-go is that the prices they list do not include port taxes (easily several hundred dollars) or tips for cruise crew which are pretty much mandatory and range between $15-$22 US per day per passenger, so you need to keep that in mind when you see a price that, at first blush, is appealing. Once we added in taxes and tips to the base price for an inside cabin, the cost of the cruise averaged out to $153.70 CAD/per day – just under our $160/day budget.
Quick comment on cabins before a bit more blathering on costs. An inside cabin is the cheapest stateroom on a cruise ship. As the name implies they are located on the “inside” of the ship, small in size and do not have windows. The other stateroom categories are Outside (they have a window that does not open) and Balcony (or Veranda) suites. Within each category the cabin price increases based on size, amenities, and location (midship is considered the most desirable especially if you are at all susceptible to seasickness). Before picking a cabin it is often useful to look at the deck plans and determine if your cabin is located under the casino, the dining room or the disco. Your best bet is to pick a cabin with other cabins above or below yours. We do not object to the inside cabin, which is good because they are the category that fits our budget. There are plenty of places onboard where you can find seating by floor-to-ceiling windows if you need to see daylight, and we actually liked sleeping in the pitch-black. Back to pinching pennies…
Once you are onboard there are all sorts of ways to spend more money. The base cost of a cruise includes a cabin, food, and water. Different cruise lines might supplement the water with lemonade, ice tea or fruit punch (Royal Caribbean did) but they do not include soda pop, mineral water or alcohol. Those luxuries can be bought on an individual basis, but what the ships really want you to do is purchase a beverage package, which to be cost effective requires you to be consuming at least 12-15 beverages each day. The alcohol packages also have to be purchased by both occupants of a cabin as you are not supposed to be sharing drinks with other passengers. We have never purchased a drinks package. If I want the occasional glass of wine, I’ll just buy one.
Royal Caribbean is one of the only cruise lines that allows you to bring one bottle of wine per (age appropriate) person in your cabin. But only on embarkation day and you may only enjoy it in your stateroom. You can certainly purchase additional bottles of alcohol onboard in the duty-free shop or in other ports, but those bottles will be held for you until you disembark at the end of the cruise. If you do want to consume full bottles of alcohol while onboard, there’s a beverage package for that. I took full advantage of the Royal Caribbean wine policy and stretched our two bottles into a pre-dinner drink for about half of the cruise. If you want WiFi while onboard that also comes at an additional charge. A package for the entire length of the cruise is available for purchase or, as we did, you could occasionally buy 24-hours of WiFi access. It is rather pricey WiFi though – $28 US for 24 hours ($38.50 CAD) or the bargain price of only $25 US/day if you purchase the package for the duration of the cruise. Another big consideration when looking at the price of a cruise is what you might spend in each port. The ship, obviously, wants you to purchase their shore excursions, but we much prefer to do our own thing and have always been able to find tour options far less than what the ship offers. During this cruise we just enjoyed soaking up the ambience of each port by wandering the streets.
Málaga, Spain is one of the oldest cities in the world, though I ask myself “What city on the Mediterranean coast doesn’t have that distinction?” The Phoenician trading post, Malaka, is accepted as the origin of the city (circa 770 BCE) with subsequent colonization by the Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Visigoths, and Moors all leaving their mark. During the 15th-century Catholic Reconquista, it was one of several cities hosting inquisition tribunals and in 1881 witnessed the birth of one of the best-known artists in the 20th century, Pablo Picasso.
Ponta Delgada, on São Miguel Island, is the capital of the largest island in the Azores archipelago, and there is no mistaking its black and white cobbled streets for anything other than Portuguese pavement or calçada.
Mysterious islands in the Atlantic Ocean had long been a part of nautical legend but it wasn’t until the seafaring cultures of Europe began to push into the western seas that myth became fact. Early in the 15th century, the Portuguese discovered nine islands lying approximately 1600 km (1000 miles) west of mainland Portugal and settled this chain which appeared to be azul (blue) from a distance. This uninhabited archipelago was ideally situated for resupplying Portuguese merchant ships traveling from West Africa and the East Indies to the Americas, although not an insignificant portion of their human cargo often remained to work the plantations cultivating the fertile soil (the only place in Europe where tea is grown commercially is on the island of São Miguel). Twenty-six active volcanoes, eight of which are underwater, have contributed to dozens of earthquakes and tidal waves devastating the region over the centuries, but the islands have never failed to persevere. Howard had to persevere through a bit of suffering too as we walked along the coast near the outskirts of Ponta Delgada – a bee flew up the sleeve of his t-shirt and stung him three times before he got it dislodged!
In 1696 the ship, Fancy, with her hold full of booty plundered from French and Spanish merchant ships, sailed into the Nassau harbour on the island of New Providence.
Once the local British governor had his pockets suitably lined, Fancy was granted safe haven and more privateers followed suit. On two separate occasions the French and Spanish fleets attacked Nassau in an attempt to wrest control of the harbour from the pirates, but only succeeded in running off the English government. Between 1706 and 1718, the Republic of Pirates operated with impunity in Nassau. The English King, George I, finally recognized that this lawlessness could not continue and offered to pardon any pirate who was willing to surrender. Some did, many didn’t and were hunted down and executed. By the end of 1718, the British had regained control of Nassau, and began to erect a number of forts around the island to protect themselves from the rest of the pirates still operating in the Caribbean. Fort Fincastle sits at the highest point in Nassau and is reached by 66 steps hand-carved (by slaves) into the solid limestone. The steps are now known as the Queen’s Staircase in honour of Queen Victoria who abolished slavery when she ascended the English throne in 1837.
I’m just about finished regaling you with the details of our cruise, but no description of cruising would be complete without discussing the food. If you go hungry on a cruise ship you’re doing something seriously wrong. The dining options are fairly similar between cruise lines, but at a minimum always include a formal dining room, with assigned seating times, 24-hour room service (which more and more comes with an additional service charge), and a buffet.
Specialty restaurants are common too. A meal in one of these establishments is sometimes included in the price of the cruise, but rarely. Our ship had a steak and seafood restaurant, a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream bar, and a coffee shop (serving Starbucks coffee) all of which came at a cost.
Our dining preference is for the casual atmosphere of the buffet which has many of the same dishes offered in the dining room plus more, and you can dine according to your own schedule. We did one dinner in the formal dining room when lobster tails were on its menu and, not surprisingly, were not available at the buffet. The buffet was open for breakfast from 7am-11am, lunch from noon till 3pm and dinner from 6pm-9pm. The quality of food varies greatly between cruise lines but we had no complaints with the variety and flavour of the fare offered on our ship with the result that many afternoons were spent in the fitness room working hard to burn off those calories.
So, in summary, what did we think of a repositioning cruise? I had been a little concerned about whether the open ocean would be rough and we did have two days of rocking and rolling, with swells of 5 meters (17 feet). Fortunately, the Bonine I packed (active ingredient is Meclizine) kept the nausea at bay. The cruise itself did come under our budget but by the time we added a few extras, we were slightly over. Having just the three ports of call made for a lot of sea days that frankly just got dull. We did chat with several different couples over the course of the cruise but no one we really connected with on a personal level. And finally, in an effort to combat jet lag, the ship “turned back the clock” by an hour every couple of days so that by the time we landed in the Bahamas we were on East Coast time (a total of 6 hours change). Our internal clocks did not adjust that quickly. We boarded a plane for Calgary the same afternoon we landed in Florida (which necessitated another two hours in time zone adjustments) and felt just as jet-lagged as if we’d flown straight from Barcelona to Calgary. There is no question this type of travel can be a good way to unwind, and as I mentioned above had we not just had a whole bunch of relaxation time in Spain we probably wouldn’t have succumbed to the boredom the same way, still, we’re not in any hurry to book another repositioning cruise.