New Year’s Eve in St. Maarten

ABOARD OCEANIA RIVIERA, DAY TEN –– It’s the last day of 2016, New Year’s Eve, and the weather gods aren’t smiling any more. In fact, they’re downright grumpy.

We are docked in St. Maarten, our last port of call on this voyage. It’s windy, chilly and gray, with a light rain peppering down. No tour today, by choice. We have been here on numerous occasions, and it’s still one of our favorite islands.

Parked beside us — you can’t miss it — is Carnival Fascination. In fact, we have an excellent view of their dining room, and not much else, from our balcony.

Don’t miss the goat cheese souffle at Jacques

St. Maarten is half-French and half-Dutch. We are moored in Philipsburg, on the Dutch side. Normally we would catch the Water Taxi over to the downtown shopping/entertainment district ($7 a person roundtrip), but given the weather, we browse the shops in the terminal area, which is a nice mix of upscale names, local merchants and bars.

Given our previous trips here, Pam is a certified St. Maarten power shopper and quickly zeros in on her quarry. Actually, I have to give her kudos. The local jewelry she found is both unique and well-priced.

We make it back to the ship just before the skies open up and a hard rain sends less fortunate tourists scurrying for cover.

Onboard, preparations are under way for the big New Year’s Eve gala, scheduled for 10:30 on the pool deck, weather permitting. Through the afternoon the skies are overcast but the rain has moved on, so we are hopeful we’ll get a “thumbs up” from mother nature to welcome 2017.

Tonight we dined in our fourth and final specialty restaurant, Jacques, named for master chef Jacques Pepin. Exquisitely appointed, it is a virtual trip to a Parisian bistro. The extensive menu offers something for every taste. Pam started with a goat cheese souffle, which literally melted in your mouth. She couldn’t stop raving about it. I had the baked onion soup, and it was the best version of that dish I’ve ever tasted. Our entree was the Dover sole, prepared tableside. Flavorful perfection.

Among the four specialty restaurants onboard — all outstanding in their own way — Jacques was the clear winner for us.

Tonight’s show in the Riviera Lounge is stand-up comic Cory Kahaney. Ms. Kahaney has an impressive resume of TV, cable and off-Broadway work, and her jokes hit the mark more often than not. She definitely knew how to work the room.

Passengers form a conga line for the New Year’s gala

The next order of business was head for the atrium lobby and choose your party hat and noisemakers. It’s almost time to get this party started.

Looks like weather won’t be an issue, and to help things along, Captain Sanguineti has turned the ship away from the wind and we’ll just drift for the duration of the festivities. Nicely done, captain!

The Riviera staff has done a first rate job of transforming the pool deck into an outdoor disco. Tables are set up around the pool, where more party favors are available, and Happy Hour is in effect for the next two hours, creating a frenzy of action at the bar. The Riviera Band is in place, as well as singers, and the culinary staff is attending a giant “2016” ice sculpture.

Hundreds of passengers, some sporting masks they created in the Artist Loft, ring the pool and the deck just above — dancing, drinking and partying like it’s 1999.

Cruise director Nolan Dean has an announcement. Tonight we’ll be attempting to break the world record for number of people in a conga line on a cruise ship. Is there such a record? Who knows, but why not? Pam and I join other revelers as we conga our way around the pool. A cheer erupts when Dean confirms we have bested he old record. Woo-hoo!

Guests cheer as the ice sculpture marks the start of 2017

Wait staff circulate with glasses of champagne (the good stuff, it should be noted) and finger foods as the clock ticks to midnight and the start of a new year. Everyone joins in the countdown and watches as the ice sculpture becomes 2017.

Happy New Year!

At this point, the party moves from the pool deck to Horizons on Deck 15, where DJ One-12 keeps the beat going, and the captain gets us back on course. As it gets on toward 2 am, we opt to retire our party hats and masks and bid Happy New Year to our stateroom.

Tomorrow: The first of two days at sea, and Sunday Brunch.

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