MSC Seaside: The Ports!

I really should have titled this one “The Port!” since we only got off the ship once :). The final itinerary we sailed changed a couple of times, impacted the most by the devastating hurricanes that came through the Caribbean back in September. Originally included on our itinerary were San Juan and St Martin, with both being (understandably) pulled from the schedule not long after the storms devastated both islands. As a result, our final itinerary ended up being Antigua, St Thomas, and Nassau. Of those three stops, Antigua is the only one we’d never been to, so we decided to stay on the Seaside in St Thomas and Nassau, as we wanted to get as much time on this new ship as possible.

Not seeing much on the list of ship excursions in Antigua that we really wanted to do, we decided to get day passes to Sandals Grande Antigua. We’ve had good times with day passes at Sandals in the past, and wanted to check out this resort and its beaches. Having a pool with a swim up bar doesn’t hurt either! The Seaside arrived early in the morning, sometime before 8am. We really weren’t in a big hurry to get off the ship, so while the girls slept in, I just walked around, ate some breakfast, and took a few pictures:

After a relaxing and slow morning, we finally got off the ship a little after 10am. Things in the port were a little hectic, it’s a small port area and including the Seaside there were 4 ships docked that day. We did find a cab pretty quickly, however, and were on our way at a cost of $12 for all three of us (one way). The drive over was interesting, to say the least. It was Boxing Day, which is celebrated on the island, so many of the streets in the port area were blocked by different activities, including an actual boxing match. Apparently anyone can just challenge someone else to a fight and step in the ring! We did eventually get around all of that, arriving at Sandals roughly 25 minutes after we left the port.

Upon arriving at Sandals, we checked in, got information on when our tour would take place (a requirement for travel agent day passes) and headed down to the pool/beach area in the Mediterranean Village area of the resort. Since it was approaching lunch time, we decided to eat first, so we stepped in to the open air restaurant Barefoot by the Sea for a quick bite to eat. From start to finish, it was definitely an enjoyable experience. Beautiful setting, tasty burger, excellent service, yea, it was a good choice!

Next up was some beach time. Their beach is connected to a public beach, so the only thing that’s really limited to Sandals guests only are the loungers. The ones with umbrellas were all taken, so we grabbed three in the sun and spent a little time relaxing. The beach itself is beautiful, but due to time of year, the water was a little chilly, so none of us went in for more than a minute. It was a bit windy, too, so after about 30 minutes or so, we decided to move to the main pool in the Mediterranean Village portion of the resort (full map here). This is the part I really enjoy, as I’m a fan of swim-up pool bars. We probably spent a couple of hours at the pool, both relaxing on the loungers and over sitting at the pool bar. Excellent drinks in a quiet atmosphere with blue skies overhead. Definitely the way to spend a port day!

Another sunny day in paradise 😊☀️ #SandalsGrandeAntigua #Sandals #Antigua

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Just before 2pm we headed back up to the lobby for our tour. This resort had just reopened after a 3 month closure for renovations, so it was nice to get to see the place right after all of that work was completed. I’ve got a bunch of pictures of the resort at the end of this post, but I will say that we were impressed with what we saw. The views from those ocean-facing rooms is amazing, everyone we met during the day was friendly, and the property has plenty of space to allow for activities, entertainment, or just plain relaxing. One of the highlights for Bayley was the cat cafe. They have a few cats roaming the property, so over by the spa they have a little open air cat house where they keep some food and water. We didn’t initially see any cats in the area, but as we were walking away, one jumped out of the bushes and eventually let Bayley pet it.

After hanging out with the cat for a bit, we headed over to the Garden Pool in the Sunset Bluff portion of the resort (resort map) to relax a little more before departure. We’d pre-arranged a departure time with our cab driver, so I think we had something like 30 more minutes at the resort before he arrived, and we weren’t going to waste it! This is a beautiful resort, and we enjoyed all of our time there. A big thank you to the staff for the tour, as well! Enjoy a few more pictures from our time at Sandals Grande Antigua, and (shameless plug) if they inspire you, feel free to contact Jen about booking a stay here!

 

MSC Divina: The Ports!

Okay, it’s time to catch up on blog posts, and next on the list is a rundown on our port activity while sailing on the Divina this summer! Our previous three trips on the ship were all on the other itinerary, and while we’ve stopped at all of these before, it was a nice change of pace.

Ocho Rios, Jamaica

This was the first of our four stops, and prior to sailing we’d picked up day passes for Sandals Ochi Beach Resort. We’ve utilized day passes before and tend to enjoy the less crowded nature of them compared to the public beaches or beach excursions, and this trip did not disappoint. After arriving and checking in, we immediately headed for the beach. This location actually has two beaches, one on more calm water, then one a little further down the resort that’s sort of in the main outside area. In addition to the beach, there’s a pool area with a swim up bar, and a restaurant. That was the area we camped out at all day, and we found it pretty quiet the entire time we were there.

The last time we used a Sandals day pass was in late 2015 while on the Norwegian Escape, and it ended up being a bit of a bust. Not long after arriving at Sandals Nassau (ACTUAL NAME), the weather turned on us and it poured on the area. I think we stayed there for an hour, had maybe one drink and headed back to the ship. No fault of Sandals, obviously, just bad timing. This time, things were pretty awesome. Our day pass was all inclusive, so we enjoyed a number of drinks at our beach chairs, at the pool bar, and with lunch, and it was all excellent. While I did spend some time in the ocean just floating around, I’m pretty sure I spent more time hanging out in the pool enjoying the swim up bar. I have to say, I do enjoy the day passes at places like this. It’s definitely something to look at when you’re considering a beach day at one of your stops!

Floating through #Monday like 😎 #sandals #jamaica #mscdivina #cruise

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Until next time, #Jamaica! #mscdivina #cruise #ochorios #theta360

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Georgetown, Grand Cayman

This is another stop we’ve been to a handful of times, and I’m pretty sure that we’ve gone to Stingray City each time whether it was the only thing we did, or as part of a larger tour. We actually went in to this stop with nothing scheduled, as the plan was to just get off the ship and look for a tour out to, you guessed it, Stingray City. We had Jen’s mom with us, as well as Bayley’s friend Wally (a member of the Divina’s entertainment team), and neither had been there before, so we thought that we be fun to head out to, and it didn’t disappoint (for the most part)!

After tendering over to port, Jen spotted a tour operator she felt good about using (Carson’s Stingray City Tours), so we walked over to the woman to inquire about their tours, and after a quick discussion decided to go for it. We hung out right there by the tender area for about another 20 minutes while they signed up a few others, then off to the bus it was. One warning here, like a lot of Caribbean tour companies, they’re all about filling up the bus. Every single jump seat or other flat place to sit was full, which I freely admit I’m not a huge fan of. After a bit of a ride, we finally arrived at the small pier where the boat picks you up. Now, one thing I should mention first is that for $35, we got a stop at Stingray City, a stop to snorkel, and time at 7 mile beach. We were pretty happy with the order they did it in, too.

The first stop was Stingray City. We got out there before it got busy, which was really nice. If you’ve ever visited Stingray City, it can get really packed with ships in town, and even though we were the only ones here that day, it did get a little crowded at the end. On arrival, they gave us some short instructions and let us jump in. Once in, there were plenty of stingrays swimming around to enjoy. The staff jumped in with food to entice the rays over and started the picture ritual. You obviously can take your own pictures, provided you have something waterproof, or you can buy theirs. We actually did both. At the time, the $40 for all of our pictures (all 5 of us included in that) seemed like a great deal, as we got some really good pictures from our guides last time, but after getting home and seeing the shots, I regret buying them. Not sure if it was a lens thing or transfer to CD thing, but the images came out pretty warped. Jen and Bayley had looked at them on his laptop on the ship and don’t remember seeing them like this, so I assumed something happened when they were burned to disk. They do give you an email address you can contact if you have issues, as they hold on to the originals for one month. I’d say I emailed them at least 10 times in that month, from multiple email addresses, and got zero response, so yea, if you use them, either look very closely at the pics before you buy them, or don’t buy them at all in my opinion. Thankfully we have all of my GoPro pictures and video to fall back on.

As I mentioned, we got there before it got busy, which gave us a lot of space to work in and a lot of stingrays to see. As it got closer to the end of our time there, some of the ship and other private excursions showed up, and it got a lot more crowded, so we were pretty happy they got us out there first before the crowds. After we finished up here, we hopped back on the boat and headed to the snorkeling spot a short distance away. While the water around the stingrays was pretty calm, this spot was a little rougher, but not too bad. They have snorkeling gear available for people to use at no extra cost, so they brought out the masks, snorkels and life vests (for anyone that wanted one) and handed them out. They do have fins, and mentioned it more than once, but I was the only one to take them up on it. Frankly, it just made swimming there so much easier. There were plenty of small colorful fish around here too, so even though it was a short stop (like 30-45min if I recall), it was worth the time to me.

Our last stop was 7 mile beach. For those who didn’t want to go to the beach, they’d drop you back at the ship, but for those who did, they’d give you some time here and come back to get you at a pre-agreed on time. For our bus, that was 3pm, but the 5 of us didn’t plan to stay that long. We hung out until around 1-1:30 just relaxing a little and then grabbed a taxi back to the port at a cost of like $5 each. Wally needed to be back for his next shift, and frankly the rest of us were tired. We did walk around the shops a bit before heading over the tenders, which was a mistake. Bayley and Wally went right for the tenders when we got to port and said they had no line, but by the time we got there it was a pretty lengthy line. Fortunately MSC had a number of lifeboats running, and I don’t think we waited out in the sun for more than 10-15 minutes. This was also another point I missed being in Yacht Club, as there were butlers out there escorting YC guests straight to the tender boats. Another awesome perk of Yacht Club!

Outside of the issue with the pictures, we were pretty happy with the tour, especially for the price. If I were planning ahead, however, I’d probably go back to the ones we used the last time we were there, as our guides were awesome, and the pictures they took came out great. I really need to go back and figure out who that tour was with 🙂

Surrounded by #stingrays 😊 #grandcayman #stingraycity #mscdivina

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Cozumel

This was another planned beach day for us, and with another day pass. This time we were headed to Nachi Cocum Beach Club. We’ve been to a few places along this stretch of beach before (Playa Mia, Ocean Beach club, etc), but never from the dock MSC uses. What’s normally a 10 minute ride was easily double that. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but just be warned, they dock further away from all of those places, so plan your time accordingly.

The only other ship in port here was the Carnival Triumph, so Nachi wasn’t full at all. I think we were told they sell 150 passes per day, and today had sold 60 of those. The place was incredibly relaxing all day, and we pretty much spent our time lounging in the water having drinks brought to us. Being an all-inclusive, drinks and food are free, but if you want any water toys (lounger type things), you do have to pay a little more. We didn’t end up getting any, so I can’t say what those cost unfortunately. Something else I should note here, if you have kids with you, I’d probably recommend something like Playa Mia, or one of the others that has a water park with all the inflatable toys in it, as Nachi has none of that. Even though kids are allowed, this just felt more adult oriented, which was perfect for us. We hung out in the water drinking all day with some of the people from the Triumph, and had a blast. So far, Nachi is probably my favorite of the beach stops we’ve done in Cozumel, and I wouldn’t hesitate to visit them again! Outstanding service all day, and while the food was just okay, it was nice to have it included in the price. Our only complaint here was shoddy wifi, which was basically useless the entire time. Just something to keep in mind if you absolutely need to stay connected while you’re here.

Beautiful day at #NachiCocom 😊🏖 #mscdivina #beach #cozumel #mexico

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Toasting paradise 😊

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Nassau

The last few times we’ve stopped here, I’ve sworn I wasn’t getting off the ship, but every time, we’ve had a reason to go. Last time it was me needing shoes for Palo (on the Disney Dream), but this time I had absolutely no reason drawing me to shore, so I stuck to my guns and stayed on the ship with Bayley. Jen and her mom did get off so she could show her mom the straw market, but they weren’t gone long. It was really hot and humid, and if you’ve ever been there, walking the straw market in those conditions just isn’t fun. Our day in Nassau was basically a sea day for us, enjoying the (mostly empty) Divina, watching a pretty intense evacuation drill (see below, trust me, it’s worth it!), playing various games, and even getting in some time in the F1 simulator and on the water slide. Good stuff!

That pretty much covers our stops on this sailing. Next up, our debark and final thoughts on this trip aboard the MSC Divina!

The #NorwegianEscape docked in #Nassau earlier this month 😊🛳 #theta360

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