As we watched the sun sink slowly behind downtown Miami's wall of skyscrapers, my wife and I toasted our good fortune. We were in the high-up Viking Crown lounge aboard Royal Caribbean's Majesty of the Seas, sailing out of Miami on the first pure weekend getaway we'd been on in many years.
Leaving Miami by ship is a cathartic thing. We were on an island in the sea, leaving behind soaring gasoline prices, job worries, expressway road rage and all the other things that make modern life something of a struggle.
One reason we chose the Majesty of the Seas as our getaway vehicle was its recent upgrades. Built in 1992, the Majesty of the Seas underwent a 28-day renovation last year, so we trusted it would be fresh and up-to-date. We booked a superior outside cabin, which meant we had a decent-sized room with window overlooking the sea. (Regular outside cabins are snug and have only a porthole; inside cabins are tiny. Like most ships of its era, the Majesty has very few balcony cabins.)
Courtesy of the ship-wide renovation, everything aboard looked fresh and clean. Besides completely refurbished staterooms -- yes, with Wi-Fi access and flat-screen TVs -- we were especially delighted with new features, including a reconfigured self-service restaurant, updated spa, Latin bar and teen club.
We boarded the ship early enough on Friday afternoon to sample the new casual eatery, Windjammer Café. This large restaurant on the pool deck spreads its selections over several island stations, a far better arrangement than the slow cafeteria-style lines on some rival cruise ships.
Food quality both here and in the main dining room was quite good. Breakfast offerings included eggs cooked to order; among dinner options during our three nights were escargot, duck and filet mignon.
But those weren't the only new dining options. The Compass Deli offered sandwiches and salads; hamburgers and milk shakes awaited at Johnny Rockets ($3.95 charge); Sorrento's served up pizzas; and Café Latté-tudes brewed Seattle Best coffees ($3-$5).
A major change on the renovated Majesty was the relocation and expansion of its spa and fitness center. The new contemporary-style Majesty Day Spa now has 10 treatment rooms as well as the virtual Elemis SpaBar -- a nook where guests can download Elemis health and beauty tips from a computer. The new teen-only area consists of the hip Living Room with games and chat spaces, and Fuel, a high-energy dance club.
Teens were fewer on our late-May cruise than in summer, but there still were dozens of young people among the 2,578 passengers. We watched some of them playing in a pick-up half-court basketball game on the open deck while others tested their physical agility on the new rock climbing wall at the ship's stern.
When Saturday morning dawned, we looked out our window to see we were already anchored off Royal Caribbean's private island, CocoCay, where the ship would spend the day. Passengers could stay aboard if they pleased, but most went ashore.
On CocoCay, we browsed through some of the shops, ignoring what I call ''tourist junk'' -- painted coconuts, souvenir key chains and the like -- and bought a pretty handmade dress for our 4-year-old granddaughter.
For passengers wanting to work off some of the hefty portions of foods they get on board, CocoCay is ideal. We saw guests playing volleyball, line dancing in the sand, riding on personal watercraft, parasailing, swimming and diving. Less active types stretched out on the beach sand or on chaise lounges to improve their suntans. Everyone had plenty of room ashore, as the Majesty was the only ship anchored there that day.
Lunch on the island is an outdoor buffet with typical barbecue fare -- fried chicken, hot dogs, hamburgers, ears of corn and all the fixings. We sat at a picnic table in one of several open pavilions, where we met another couple from South Florida, Sydnee and David Horowitz of Biscayne Park.
Like many others on this cruise, they were taking a break from the office. ''Both of us work, so this is an easy weekend,'' Sydnee explained. Passengers board the ship Friday afternoon and disembark early Monday morning, not missing a day of work.
Back on board, evening dress that night was programmed as ''formal,'' but most guests came in casual outfits and nobody seemed to care. I felt almost overdressed wearing a jacket and tie.
We had requested a large table in the main restaurant, and our tablemates proved to be both charming and gregarious. Happy newlyweds Inu and Anitha George, both natives of India in a recent arranged marriage, told us they went parasailing at CocoCay and danced by the pool after midnight. Allen and Vicki Colantuono, veterans of many cruises, drive leisurely from California to Florida every year in their 40-foot recreational vehicle. This ''nice, short cruise'' was their break from road travel.
Sunday was our day in Nassau. Like many South Floridians, we've been to the Bahamian capital many times and opted to explore on our own. OK, we shopped. It's easy here: Downtown's Bay Street is just a block from the cruise ship docks. Liquor is attractively priced, but we were mainly looking for a topaz pendant for my wife Pat's omega necklace.
As the Majesty of the Seas was the only ship in port that day, downtown Nassau was blessedly uncrowded. That's the good side; less happily, because it was Sunday, many stores were closed.
Back on the ship, I couldn't resist going to the pool deck to watch one of those outrageous activities that cruise directors dream up to amuse passengers, a ``Men's Sexy Legs Contest.''
First, a jury of young women was chosen after each was asked what qualified them to be a judge in such a contest. ''I know men,'' replied one. ''I'm an expert from the waist down,'' said another. Lots of laughs. Judging the legs of the five men who volunteered to compete led to a lot of leg caressing, sexual innuendo and a lot more laughs.
Plenty of entertainment options beckoned to us that evening -- cocktails in the always-popular Schooner Bar, the Viking Crown Lounge or in Boleros, the new Latin bar. The ship's singers and dancers were featured in the a revue in the main showroom (a singer and a comic were solo performers on the two previous nights).
We chose to go to the late-night Spectrum lounge, where the cruise director hosted another audience-participation activity. This was an adults-only scavenger hunt called Quest, in which teams of couples had to obtain specific items.
First, there were easy things like a baby's picture and a diamond. Then it got crazy. Calls went out for an empty woman's purse (lots of frantic dumping of contents), a man wearing ladies shoes (much hobbling), two women's bras not being worn (a lot of discreet unhitching) and two men's pants not being worn (we saw a lot of colorful underwear). In the finale, the pantless men had to parade around the lounge wearing a bra, lipstick and carrying a ladies purse. What a hoot!
And a nice note for ending our weekend cruise. For three days we had put aside the cares of everyday living and let ourselves enjoy the moment.
As passenger Mary Lewis, traveling with husband Bob from Pennsylvania, told us, ''I'd go back in a heartbeat.'' So would we.