Author and expert cruiser Jenny Block reports from Olivia’s Western Caribbean cruise.

The only thing better than a Western Caribbean cruise is a Western Caribbean cruise with 1,300 other women on an Olivia Holland America charter. This is our second time cruising with Olivia. And I don’t know if we were more excited the first time because we didn’t know what to expect or this time because we did. All I can tell you is that we were excited.

This time around we came in a day early, which I highly recommend. Coming in on Saturday for a cruise that departs on Sunday means that you don’t have to worry about a late plane or delayed luggage. You’ll have plenty of time to smooth out any bumps before you have to get yourself to the ship’s port.

We stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel, which was beautiful. Our room was great looking and the service was terrific. It was a little loud a little late into the night. But it was Gasparilla weekend (an annual pirate fest that Tampa plays host to), so we shouldn’t have been surprised.

After settling into our room, we had dinner at Shula’s Steakhouse. Living in Dallas, we take our steak very seriously. Apparently, Shula’s does too. We had beautiful shrimp cocktails, perfectly cooked filets, grilled asparagus, garlicky, buttery spinach followed by delicious sorbet and fresh mixed berries.

Sunday morning we slept in late. Ok, I slept in and my girlfriend went to work out. Then we grabbed a couple of fruit smoothies (sans the sugary syrup) and packed up to head to the port. A cab arrived within just a few minutes to take us to the port. Our driver was a delightful Turkish man who got us there in no time for a $25-plus tip.

We couldn’t have gotten there at any better time. We arrived at about 1:30. (It was a 15-minute drive from the hotel.) There were no lines. No lines to have our documents checked. No lines at security. No lines to check-in. No lines. We asked around and apparently, we picked what the staff considers the perfect time too.

We never have a porter take our luggage when we go on cruises. You can end up waiting quite a while for it if you do. We always take it ourselves, which works out great when you board around 1:30 since, chances are, the majority of the rooms will be ready.  I’ve been told that’s not always true for those who board right at 11:00 am.

The ship was already hopping with women on every deck, in every corner, laughing and drinking, meeting new friends and reconnecting with old ones. It was like going back to summer camp after a long year of school.

Everyone is just happy to be exactly where they are and excited to be with lots of other people who are equally happy to be there too. And it’s all women. All women. I don’t believe it gets any better than that.

After unpacking in a surprisingly big, ocean view room, we headed out to check out the ship. It always takes a day or two to get your bearings on these boats. We spent some time in the deck chairs, soaking in the sun and enjoying a snack and then we headed out for muster (the emergency drill required of all passengers.)

After another brief exploration of the ship, we realized we were a little hungry and sleepy. So we headed back to our cabin for a little nap and room service snack.

Before we knew it, it was time for the show. We’re scheduled for the early show, a late dinner, which we love. VP of Travel and Cruise Director Tisha Floratos welcomed everyone and filled us all in on what to expect for the week.

Then it was time for the main event, Kate Clinton performing with Vicki Shaw emceeing. They were both hilarious. And it made us both really excited to see Vicki’s headline later in the week.

After the show, we bought our Olivia’s wear in the ship store. You have to get it early because they sell out like crazy. It was nuts in there.

Then it was off to dinner. We’re both “being good” these days and were excited to see how many healthy choices were available. After dinner, we checked out our boarding photos, which we were surprised to find were pretty good and then we went to the liquor tasting and jewellery raffle, which we didn’t win. Sigh. Next time.

No Club O at the Crow’s Nest for us tonight. After the raffle, we made our way back to our cabin, where we planned out our day at sea Monday and checked out all of the amazing excursions for the week. I’ll keep you posted on what we pick.

Well, the breakfast room service card is on the door, the plans for the day are made, and we’re all snuggled into our very comfy bed. So, until tomorrow…