MSC Seaside – Day 5 St Maarten (Abridged)

Crack of Dawn: It’s another early excursion.
7:00am Breakfast arrived – our second attempt at American breakfast. Thinking someone extrapolated three orders of bacon (Virginia meant “extra bacon”) into three orders of everything. This is a lot of eggs. I will just call it the “Breakfast Tower.”

Breakfast Tower


When you order “bread”, you get bread and not toast. When you ask for it to be toasted, you get bread. We did get jelly and butter this morning.
I have coffee, so I’m happy. It really is nice coffee.
They take the order form away after you sign it, so I can’t verify everything, but Virginia had bacon and eggs, and I have coffee, so I don’t care.

Morning in St Maarten.
We have our first trip to Maho Beach today, the beach where you go to see airplanes and not sand. We’ve been to St Maarten before, just never there.
7:55am Slamming down breakfast so we can head out. I thought I should post this for all the ladies desperately waiting for a photo of me in my Speedos.

You’re welcome.
8:35am Checked in for the excursion. No ponchos issued. Good weather ahead!
8:40am Excursion called. Right on time again. Wondering about the people who think MSC is inefficient.

(They did spell “St Maarten” incorrectly, but they knew one of the vowels was doubled.)
9:00am Survived the parking lot march. Driver saved the front seats for us. Sometimes, crying works. As the bus pulled out of the parking lot, an ambulance (with lights and siren blazing) was pulling in. I hope they weren’t coming for us.
9:20am Entering St Martin. Second country in one day. Time to switch from Dutch Gin to French wine.
9:30am Orient Bay Beach. Still rebuilding from the hurricane. Only two bars open. The tour doesn’t even stop. Very sad.

9:45am Driving through Grand Case. Rebuilding. Hurricane Irma was a bitch.
10:15am Marigot. Half-hour stop. Multiply souvenir total charges by two to get dollars spent per hour.
Virginia found the jewelry maker she couldn’t buy something from in 2015 because she ran out of cash. Same vendor, same location, same handmade jewelry – some still hand-colored by his girlfriend (not sure if she’s the same girlfriend.) So, something survived the hurricane.
Hurricane Irma is still the star of the tour, which is tragic. For islands that get almost all their supplies by air or ship, it takes a long, long time to rebuild, especially when most of the money is from tourists who don’t pay to see devastation. It’s not as bad as I feared, but it’s not as good as I had hoped.
11:15am Maho Beach. Plane landed as we were trying to park. Don’t think they have the same guarantee as Alaska whale watching.
Plane-watching at Maho Beach is like deep-sea fishing on other islands – you go when the tour times are, not when the planes actually arrive. So, Jet Blue arrived while we were a couple of miles away (but we saw it) and a commuter plane landed while we were in the traffic jam for the parking lot.
The beach is packed. We found two seats at a bar. All we had was plastic, but if the charge was over $20, they’d take it. Luckily, their signature drinks are $13 each.

Jet Fuel and Purple Nurple


YouTube has invented an entire generation that thinks an iPhone is the best possible way to capture anything and if it’s on a stick, you’re a serious photographer.
I’m pretty sure some of the people in the water are just trying to get other people out of their shot.
12:15pm Carousel Gelato Factory. Why wouldn’t a French-Dutch island have an Italian gelato factory? The Stratcietella was molto bene. Our driver told someone there’s one more photo stop and we’re heading back to the ship. (We sail at 2pm.)
12:30pm One last overlook of the Dutch side. Can’t see the ship. Hmm. Hope it’s further down the road.
Virginia just showed me her photo of what’s in a Jet Fuel. Glad I am not driving the bus. Wondering why I’m not asleep.
1:05pm The ship is still at the dock. Whew. So is the Allure of the Seas. That’s a lot of tourists.
1:45pm Back in the cabin.
2:00pm As suggested by a couple we met at the Meet & Greet, Virginia now has a redneck Sharps container.

2:30pm Finally saw our next door neighbors in the buffet this afternoon, just after I mentioned to Virginia that I hadn’t seen them on their balcony since the first afternoon during sail away when they were wearing matching “God is Good” t-shirts and Virginia decided to tell them about the bimbos on the Norwegian Bliss that had flashed a Coast Guard boat escorting us out of the harbor. Their response was muted “Tsk, tsk, the things people do”, but I figured the rest of the cruise, they’ve been down in the Chapel, praying for her immortal soul. So, I was glad to see them eating at last. Virginia is either saved or a lost cause.
5:00pm Attended our first MSC Voyagers Club party. Since we status-matched from Norwegian Platinum Plus, we are Black Card members (soon to be called Diamond members.) They are changing the name because “diamond” reflects all the values provided. It will also prevent angry people of all races and colors from yelling, “I’m Black, dammit!” at the crew.
The last couple of Platinum Plus parties in Norwegian were hosted by the Future Cruise team and were basically sales calls (with free drinks) but the MSC party invitation came from the cruise director and the Captain mentioned we’d have drinks again when he found out our status at the Meet & Greet, so I have higher hopes.
The Captain came by and said, “Hello.” He asked if we were on a back-to-back since he recognized us. He told the couple we were sitting with (Norwegian cruisers and in the Yacht Club this week) he would see them at the Voyagers Club party tomorrow. There’s another one?
Interesting to watch the senior staff all toast and sip with the Captain and then immediately have their glasses collected. Meanwhile, I had three sips of my red wine and was asked if I wanted another.
So, hearing the Captain speak about new ships and the new terminal is much more interesting than hearing a salesperson talk about cruises.
I had another Aperol Spritz after the red wine. I’m hoping we will see the vat of Aperol Spritz on the Behind the Scenes tour in the morning.
Also, the Captain was talking with other guests when we left. The last time I spent that much social time with a Norwegian Captain, I had paid to have him perform our renewal vows.
I have always said there are Captains who are ambassadors of the line and there are Captains who drive the ship. This is an ambassador – even if nobody ever introduces the rest of the senior staff.
6:00pm Had our photos taken on the Bridge of Sighs. This is a romantic bridge across the two towers of the ship. You can look down though the Bridge of Sighs ten decks or so. For Virginia, it is the Bridge of Screams. Mainly screaming, “Don’t look down!”
6:45pm More photos. I hate photos. Virginia has bad legs and a bad back, but she can stand for hours for photos that I can guarantee we will never buy. Ship photographers do the same poses regardless of the subject, so there are some standard poses I know one or both of us will veto. But, boy, can she stand a long time!
6:55pm (or so) Stopped by the photo counter to move the photos in my account to Virginia’s, since she has the unlimited package. Others have said this was very painful and this went easily, so I’m doubtful.
7:05pm Found the funny photographer. He’s the one who shot photos at the Black Card party, He thought our standard “choking” photo concept was funny.
7:30pm Dinner at Ocean Cay, the final specialty restaurant on the ship. Ocean Cay is also the name of one of the decks of the Seaside and the name of MSC’s new private island. Marketing needs to work a bit harder on the naming. We met a woman the other night who was extremely confused because Ocean Cay wasn’t on the Ocean Cay deck. Wait until she finds out Ocean Cay isn’t on Ocean Cay, the island, either.
This is a very small menu and if you are on the dinner package, even more so, because a number of dishes are excluded.
Crab cakes were excellent. The fancy pasta with a name Virginia didn’t recognize was basically linguine and clam sauce and I would order it again.
We both finished with pistachio ice cream. I’m afraid Virginia is going to try to smuggle some home in our suitcases.
9:45pm Tonight’s show is Fly. We missed getting to the theater in time for the XL seats. The MSC theater has comfy seats, but there are a couple on each side and in the front row that are seats and a half. So, if you feel squeezed in a regular seat, find those.
10:45pm Had almost enough luck in the casino to counter Virginia’s lack of it. Almost. The fun part of penny slots is hitting a 500 point win and seeing the lights and hearing the bells go off. The sad part is realizing it’s five bucks.
We found our invitation to the Welcome Back reception in the room. It’s tomorrow night, which means formal attire – it’s the second formal night of the cruise. See earlier tirade on the stupidity of formal night.
Random Notes: This was one of our shortest port calls ever. Because we’re calling on Nassau on Friday instead of just taking two full sea days to get back to Miami, we were in port in St Maarten from 7am until 2pm. Then, we head to Nassau, 940 nautical miles away – over nine times the distance from St Thomas to St Maarten. Probably not a good day to roll your own excursion.
The excursion we took was visiting ten points around the island and it was illuminating, depressing and hopeful all at the same time. The damage from Hurricane Irma was presented very matter of fact, not asking for help or sympathy, just the fact that hurricanes happen and damages result. We learned that September 5, 1995, Hurricane Luis hit St Martin as a Cat 5 storm. Twenty-two years and a day later, Irma hit. There is still damage from Luis. That’s how bad hurricanes can be in a relatively poor country that depends on tourism for most of their income.
We missed port calls on our Christmas cruise at St Thomas and St Maarten (among others) in 2017 because of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. There were people on Cruise Critic and Facebook bitching that their itineraries were changed because of the hurricanes. That was a trivial issue compared to what the islanders dealt with – and are still dealing with today.
Ironically, the best way to help is to visit. They need tourism. Sure, there are still some broken areas, but the islands are open for business. Take a cruise, take a plane, then take a tour and buy some rum. Buy a native a cocktail. Buy hand-crafted souvenirs. Eat in the restaurants, drink in the bars, sleep in the hotels. It’s certainly the most painless way to help your fellow man.
On my bitching about having to take photos every evening, I have been reminded that someone in my party who is not I bought the unlimited photo package so we get digital downloads of all the photos that are taken of us. This of course means we should take lots and lots of photos because otherwise the six that don’t suck are really expensive. It’s much better to have dozens of photos you’ll never show anyone, ever, because the cost per photo is lower.
We need to take lots and lots of photos because the photo situation is radically different than other lines. There is no photographer wandering in the restaurants every evening. (This is not a bad thing.) There are no photographers at the bottom of the gangway as you leave for excursions – this may be because excursion groups are formed onboard and then lead outside to the luxury coaches buses. The only way you seem to have your photo taken is to seek out a photographer or attend a party.
Someone in our party (not I) assumed MSC Cruises interrupted all your dinners and harassed you as you left the ship, and all those photos would be in the unlimited photo package. Oops.
I mentioned yesterday that our Kleenex holder had never been filled and today it was. That is an amazing coincidence or someone at MSC is reading this blog. If someone is reading the blog, I would like a Aperol Spritz delivered at 8am tomorrow, to take the edge off the early morning. (We have the Behind the Scenes tour in the morning at 8:30. So much for sleeping in on a sea day.)

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