Philipsburg – or a Fun Ship to myself?

Carnival Breeze, looking spotless in the Dutch Caribbean port of St. Maarten. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Carnival Breeze, looking spotless in the Dutch Caribbean port of St. Maarten. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports

This morning, guests aboard Carnival Cruise LinesCarnival Breeze found themselves on the Dutch island of St. Maarten.

St. Maarten is quite unique in that the island is half Dutch, half French. St. Maarten and its capital, Philipsburg, are overseas colonies of the Netherlands; while St. Martin and Marigot – on the other side of the island – are overseas colonies of France. Their native languages are Dutch and French, respectively, but everyone speaks perfect English.

Carnival Breeze arrives in St. Maarten just before 8am this morning. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Carnival Breeze arrives in St. Maarten just before 8am this morning. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Both also have their own currencies (and many shops in Marigot will accept Euros as payment), but the U.S. Dollar is the only form of payment you’ll really need to have on-hand.

Like most Caribbean ports, there’s no end to the shop-till-you-drop possibilities here. Disembarking passengers are funneled first through a small mall outlet area containing several dozen shops, a taxi stand, and water taxi docks. My favorite way to get into Philipsburg is to take the five-minute water taxi ride; it’s scenic and economical.

The color of the sea here in Philipsburg is always a sight to behold. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The color of the sea here in Philipsburg is always a sight to behold. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Personally, I’ve always liked Philipsburg. Sure, there’s a Hard Rock Café next door to a Diamonds International, but a few sidestreets later and you’ve got local bars and even European-style crepe cafes and bistros.

It’s also worth noting that no matter how smokin’ hot it gets here during the morning, afternoon showers are almost guaranteed.

I was up early this morning to watch as Carnival Breeze sailed in to Philipsburg. It’s a great ship-spotting port of call, and this morning didn’t disappoint as we joined two other vessels in port.

Looking toward Philipsburg from the cruise terminal. Note the water taxi traveling from right to left. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Looking toward Philipsburg from the cruise terminal. Note the water taxi traveling from right to left. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

But as the gangways went down and guests started going ashore, I just wasn’t feeling the love. To be honest, every time I’m here I tend to do the same thing: wander around, work up a sweat, cool off with a beer, and water-taxi back to the ship.

Then it occurred to me: I don’t really have to get off the ship at all.

As it turns out, staying onboard today turned out to be a great decision. I waltzed up to the Cloud 9 Spa on Deck 12 and purchased a day pass to the Thermal Suites and Thalassotherapy Pool for $40.

By 8:30am, I was fully immersed in the Thalassotherapy pool, letting the jets of salt water soothe my feet and my back.

Rather than go ashore, I decided to have a spa day at the Cloud 9 Spa on Deck 12. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Rather than go ashore, I decided to have a spa day at the Cloud 9 Spa on Deck 12. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The pool area isn’t quite as large as comparable hydrotherapy pools on other cruise ships I’ve been on, and I particularly miss the circular metal “rotunda” of jets and high-pressure water that can be found in the center of other pools. But the pool’s setting here onboard the Carnival Breeze is the real winner; nothing beats laying back and looking through the glass roof at the clouds lazily drifting by.

From there, I went and enjoyed the hot-as-heck Oriental Steam Bath for about five minutes before retreating to the Laconium Room to lay on the heated ceramic tile loungers for about half an hour. The floor-to-ceiling windows next to me let me watch the water taxis zipping back and forth from the cruise ship piers to the center of town.

The soothing Laconium is my favorite section of the Cloud 9 Spa aboard Carnival Breeze. Photo courtesy of Carnival Cruise Lines
The soothing Laconium is my favorite section of the Cloud 9 Spa aboard Carnival Breeze. Photo courtesy of Carnival Cruise Lines

Finally, I finished my session off with an Aromatic Shower. This scent-infused shower has modes that range from tropical to cool mist to a typical hot shower, each utilising its own jets and lighting scheme.

The perfect way to spend an hour first thing in the morning. In fact, there’s only one thing keeping the Cloud 9 Spa from reaching truly luxurious levels, and that’s the lack of bathrobes or sandals in the changing rooms. Crossing over into the public area of the spa in nothing but your swimsuit feels a little awkward.

Having so much of the ship to myself gave me an excellent opportunity to photograph some of the typically-busier public spaces. Shown here is the entrance to the Casino, looking aft. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Having so much of the ship to myself gave me an excellent opportunity to photograph some of the typically-busier public spaces. Shown here is the entrance to the Casino, looking aft. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Day passes to the Thermal Suite can be used repeatedly throughout the date of purchase, meaning I can have access to the thalassotherapy pool and thermal loungers as much as I’d like between 8:00am when the Cloud 9 Spa opens until it closes at 10:00pm.

So why did I do this today and not wait for one of the two days at sea coming up? Simply put, caps are put on the number of day passes that can be sold – usually, 10 or fewer. On a sea day, everyone wants to go to the spa. But on a port day like today, I have the whole place to myself!

The Casino Bar on Deck 5 is one of the most popular bars onboard. An empty chair is a rarity. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The Casino Bar on Deck 5 is one of the most popular bars onboard. An empty chair is a rarity. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

For those of us who elected to stay onboard today, here’s a rundown of what’s going on this morning and afternoon aboard Carnival Breeze:

  • 7:00am: Early Morning Stretch. Cloud 9, 12 Fwd
  • 7:00am: Sports Square Opens (till 5:30pm). SportsSquare, 12 Mid
  • 7:30am: Fab Abs. Cloud 9, 12 Fwd
  • 8:00am: Yoga. Cloud 9, 12 Fwd
  • 9:00am: Daily Puzzles pickup. Plaza Café, 5 Mid.
  • 9:15am: Big Screen Concert – Bob Marley. Seaside Theatre, 10 Mid
  • 1:30pm: Decades Trivia 1960’s. Ocean Plaza, 5 Mid
  • 2:00pm: Charades. Ocean Plaza, 5 Mid
  • 2:30pm: Movie Trivia #1. Ocean Plaza, 5 Mid
  • 2:45pm: Big Screen Concert – Genesis. Seaside Theatre, 10 Mid
  • 3:00pm: All or Nothing Game. Ocean Plaza, 5 Mid
  • 3:30pm: Star Wars Trivia. Ocean Plaza 5, Mid
  • 4:00pm: Full House Trivia. Ocean Plaza, 5 Mid
  • 4:30pm: Bean Bag Toss. Ocean Plaza, 5 Mid
  • 5:00pm: Friends of Bill W. Library Lounge, 4 Fwd
  • 5:00pm: Basketball Tournament. SportsSquare, 12 Mid.
  • 5:45pm: Big Screen Concert – U2. Seaside Theatre, 10 Mid.
In Philipsburg, yu can literally see the storms coming. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
In Philipsburg, yu can literally see the storms coming. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

True to form, the skies over Philipsburg darkened rapidly around 1:00pm. Standing in the Serenity high atop Deck 15, I watched as the clouds swept over the hills and enveloped the two cruise ships next to us. Philipsburg is one of those places where you can literally watch a rainstorm race toward you. Five minutes past one, the skies opened up and rained with such intensity that you couldn’t even see the end of the dock apron.

Five minutes later, it was over. The sun returned and the storm moved out into the Caribbean sea, like it had never been there in the first place.

Let It Rain! Five minutes later, the sun was back out and you'd never known there was a storm at all. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Let It Rain! Five minutes later, the sun was back out and you’d never known there was a storm at all. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

With so many people ashore, this is the perfect opportunity to take a look at some of the areas of the Carnival Breeze that are normally packed with people!

Shops aboard Carnival Breeze are located on Deck 5, clustered around the ships' atrium. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Shops aboard Carnival Breeze are located on Deck 5, clustered around the ships’ atrium. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The RedFrog Pub, Deck 5. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The RedFrog Pub, Deck 5. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Carnival Breeze boasts two waterslides that are as popular with adults as they are with kids. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Carnival Breeze boasts two waterslides that are as popular with adults as they are with kids. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Overlooking the pool deck from high atop the waterslide tower. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Overlooking the pool deck from high atop the waterslide tower. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
I also took the opportunity to enjoy some time relaxing in my Category 8A Stateroom. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
I also took the opportunity to enjoy some time relaxing in my Category 8A Stateroom. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

I actually quite enjoyed my day onboard Carnival Breeze, catching up on work, my book, and enjoying all the facilities and amenities without any of the crowds that will be present on our two upcoming sea days.

I did, however, step ashore briefly to rattle off some images of Carnival Breeze docked in St. Maarten, and to admire the luxury yacht that was tied up at the end of the pier. It was a simple little craft – nothing fancy. Just a highly-polished exterior adorned with a helicopter and two skiffs that look like they’d give James Bond pause for thought.

But, that ostentatious display of wealth wasn’t enough to impress some passengers. One Carnival Breeze guest – a small boy – said loudly to his father, “Ours is better.”

If there is one downside to my first Carnival cruise, it is this: the crew and guests are so darn nice. Tonight, I was invited to join a family travelling together for pre-dinner drinks in Fahrenheit 555, where I had one of the best whisky-infused cocktails I’ve ever tasted.

Bottoms Up! Enjoying a hand-crafted cocktail in Fahrenheit 555. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Bottoms Up! Enjoying a hand-crafted cocktail in Fahrenheit 555. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The conversation was just as good; one member of the family has sailed 22 times with Carnival, and another gentleman whose part of the same party has been sailing with the line since 1993. Both admitted they cruise other lines – everything from Crystal to AmaWaterways – but keep returning to Carnival time after time.

After dinner, my table of eight decided we should all participate in the Adult Pub Trivia held in the RedFrog Pub on Deck 5 amidships. We didn’t win trivia (that award went to the gentlemen who gained bonus points for having worn underwear on their heads for the duration of said trivia), but we did have a lot of fun.

Tonight at dinner, our wait staff in the Blush Dining Room danced and performed for us. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Tonight at dinner, our wait staff in the Blush Dining Room danced and performed for us. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Afterwards, we all lingered to listen to Pub Guitar sounds with J.J, which ran until just before midnight. Perhaps more noteworthy is the fact that the place was still at nearly full capacity by the time I left just after midnight. Carnival’s guests love their live music, and tonight was just plain fun. There’s really no other way to describe it.

The downside: it’s just past one in the morning and I am still writing this report. But that’s a good thing; the later I am up, the more enjoyable the voyage must be.

Enjoying Adult Pub Trivia in the RedFrog Pub this evening. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Enjoying Adult Pub Trivia in the RedFrog Pub this evening. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The distance between St. Maarten and the island of St. Thomas, where Carnival Breeze is scheduled to arrive tomorrow, is barely more than a handful of nautical miles. As I write this tonight, we’re making a lazy eight knots across a flat-calm sea, bound for Charlotte Amalie.

I’m looking forward to our last port of call tomorrow in St. Thomas, but I’m very glad that we still have two full days left onboard Carnival Breeze after that.

My first Carnival cruise experience is one that I really don’t wish to see come to an end.

Carnival Breeze bathed in the setting sun in Philipsburg, St. Maarten. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Carnival Breeze bathed in the setting sun in Philipsburg, St. Maarten. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Carnival Breeze - 8 Night Eastern Caribbean

DAYPORTARRIVEDEPART
January 31, 2014Prepping our Fun Ship Journey
February 1, 2014
Miami, FloridaEmbark Carnival Breeze4:00 PM
February 2Fun Day at Sea
February 3Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos7:00 AM3:00 PM
February 4San Juan, Puerto Rico11:00 AM7:00 PM
February 5Philipsburg, St. Maarten8:00 AM6:00 PM
February 6St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands7:00 AM5:00 PM
February 7Fun Day at Sea
February 8Fun Day at Sea
February 9Miami, Florida8:00 AMDisembark

Join the Conversation

Craig says:

It sounds like you’re having a great time, both on the ship and at the various destinations. Also, ‘Giants of the Seas’ arrived in the post yesterday (along with the QM2 Owners’ Workshop Manual) and I’ve really enjoyed reading your descriptions of the different ships.

Aaron Saunders says:

Thank you, Craig! Glad you are enjoying the reports – and ‘Giants of the Seas.’ Though I will have to look out for that QM2 title!

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