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Old December 4th, 2008, 08:47 AM
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St Martin….

Boy oh Boy – we had FOUR ships in at the same time, all of them mega-ships. I remember when you came to St Martin and all the ships had to tender, so there would be one in the bay and two outside. Now they have a dock long enough for four mega-ships!

In port with us are Emerald Princess (3800-passengers), Carnival Liberty (3200+ passengers) and Independence of the Seas (5000+). All four ships are sharing the same dock, two ships on each side. Next to us they are building another dock, presumably to handle the new Oasis of the Seas-size ships (5400 berths, 6300+ total possible passengers).
In other words, there are approximately 15,000 of us walking the narrow shopping street of this island today. That is nearly 30% of the entire population of the entire island added to the populkation just for one day. When the new pier is done, there could be as many as 25,000 passengers alighting on this tiny island on any given day.

This is a stark difference from the days when I worked on cruise ships just about 15 years ago. I spent four months on the Norway, at the time one of the biggest cruise ships in the world at 80,000-tons, and we used to anchor outside the bay here at Phillipsburg because we were too big to turn around. Our tender trip to the city center used to take almost 20 minutes. Today we have ships twice that big docking within walking distance of downtown.

So, what is my point? That just in the last three to five years the cruise industry has grown by over 30% capacity. The average-sized ship visiting these Caribbean islands is 120,000-tons and 3500 passengers. Within three years it will likely be closer to 160,000 tons and 5000 passengers. This industry has skyrocketed, but has it gotten too big?
While you are on any cruise ship, the answer is no, you do not feeel as if the ship is too big. In fact, since it is your home for a week you tend to feel it is just about the right size since it takes you about that long to get used to your surroundings and see just about everything you feel there is to see.

Even in downtown Phillipsburg I did not feel overly crowded. I had the immediate attention of a shopkeeper the second I walked in any store, asking me what fine watch, earrings or camera I was interested in pretending I was interested in today. BUt where I absolutely DID feel overly crowded was on the dock itself. With eight gangways (two for each ship, crew and passengers) feeding a steady stream of humanity onshore.

What I find funny is that if you are listening to Wall Street, you are hearing this industry is in trouble due to the slowing economy whilst all the extra ship capacity is coming online. All I can say is, if there is any crisis in the economy, it is not apparent here in the Caribbean where older cruisers buying designer watches and younger ones picking up game cartridges for thir Wii and XBox consoles are heating up the plastic that makes world go 'round.

Royal Caribbean just laid the keel for Allure of the Seas today, the sister ship to Oasis of the Seas. Four more sister ships to Solstice are coming online in the next four years. That is almost 25,000 berths between the two sister companies coming online before 2012.
Meanwhile, the islands are getting ready - building new docks, and in the case of Jamaica, an entirely new destination port city from the ground up for the Oasis-class vessels.

This is a booming business, one where my guess is Las Vegas would be jealous. Only time will tell, but if the excitement of the passengers I am speaking to this week is any indication, cruising will continue growing the same as it always has in the past, and what was considered to be outrageously outsized just a few years ago will be the "norm" tomorrow.
The ship was surprisingly active last night. Once again, the dining room was uncrowded and service was fast, but I was very surprised to see the Casino, shops and nightclubs open even though we remained in port until 11:30.

There are a lot of things that happen on this ship that we did not see on our two-night press junket. On those nights all the menus were pre-set, so we didn’t truly get a chance to try the variety of food available.

Another surprise was the Martini bar where I caught some of our CruiseMates enjoying. This bar has some very flamboyant bartenders whom are always juggling their beakers and catching ice cubes behind their backs.

The bar features Grey Goose Vodka. One item available is a sampling of every flavor of martini they make. Four $17.50 you get SIX 2-oz martinis of various colors. By the time our test subject was done she was telling us here life story – uninvited.

Another similar concept they have is in the wine-tasting room. They have 12 bottles set up in a vending-machine kind of apparatus. You can buy these wines by the ounce with a pre-paid card you buy at the bar of “Tastings.”

The wines vary from $60 to $200 bottles, and an ounce costs from $2.00 to $8.00. They also give you bread and cheese to refresh the pallet between tastes, and of course plenty of fresh glasses.

At 11:30 we watched something I had never seen on a Celebrity ship – an adult-oriented “blue” comedy show. There is a small room that has not gotten a lot of attention by the press called “Celebrity Live.” The reason is because it is so hidden away. It is just a small amphitheater, but some of the entertainment onboard happens in there. They have movies during the day, and at night it feels like the “Improv” comedy club.

The movie, showing three times yesterday, was “No Time for Old Men.” Which isn’t exactly a movie for fans of Walter Mathau and Jack Lemmon.

Comedian Louis Johnson performed his best jokes, and they were good. Late night partying went on in the Quasar Club. This is an active ship, with people of all ages, and especially people who FEEL young at heart. This is NOT a “roll up the sidewalks” at 10:00 ship.

Tomorrow we do CruiseMates Trivia – all questions will be about the Solstice – I will give questions and answers later. Then we do Tea, a Christmas ornament exchange, bocce ball challenge and…..

BTW: everyone I meet on this ship is a VERY experienced cruiser, and everyone loves the ship. Most of them are Celebrity fans who have been on all their ships.

Martini Tastings:

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