We drove 2 hours to the airport through rain/ice/snow and the flight was delayed 2+ hours due to weather. The agent said our connection was iffy at best and that tomorrow (Saturday) and Sunday all flights to San Juan were completely sold out. There were already lots of "iffies" on this trip, so one more seems par for the course. We finally board our 1 hour connecting flight and land about the time our flight to San Juan was scheduled to take off, we run the corridor, get to our gate and they are holding the plane! Woo hoo, probably won't have our checked bags in San Juan, but we'll fight that fight tomorrow instead of relaxing in San Juan. Following an uneventful flight we head to the baggage claim and low and behold our bags are amongst the first off! Wow, dodged two bullets, but I'm still concerned about the ship being repaired and am looking into condo rentals as my requests for space on RCL and X were denied.
Our hotel was in the Condado resort area and after a bit of exploring the area we take the bus (75 cents, exact change) to Old San Juan where we board the ferry from terminal 2 to take the Bacardi tour. It was OK, biggest thing I learned was that it is originally a Cuban company. Second biggest thing I learned was that the accent falls on the last syllable, not the second as is commonly used, even in their promotions. Upon returning to OSJ, we wandered around looking for a dinner spot and on the recommendation of a policeman, ended up at Raices for some local fare. I went with the skirt steak mofongo and it was the best dish I had the entire trip. Tender chunks of marinated beef mashed with plantains and a healthy dose of garlic... I'm actually salivating as I write this.
All this time the Caribbean Princess is nowhere to be seen. When we get back to the hotel I find her sailing north of St Thomas headed east. I have this disturbing thought that she may be headed to Freeport to be dry-docked. A check at midnight shows her about 20 miles NE of San Juan. Can I get a WOO HOO! I'm all of a sudden feeling this odd sense of both relaxation and excitement. In spite of everything it looks like our plans are going to be realized.
We check out of the hotel about 11:45, board a cab at 11:55 and are toasting mini-bar beers on the balcony at 12:25! The speed with which we went through the process was dumbfounding. We talk to several crew members about what they did during the time off. It was evident that they were not taking it easy. Our stateroom attendant said there was lots of deep cleaning going on. I've never seen a stateroom so perfectly clean. Usually the higher areas are dusty as are the corners in the room. We usually wipe everything down w/ Lysol, not this time. There was also fresh paint on the surfaces around the balcony. We relax, enjoy the view of OSJ and the stern cabins and crew lounge on the Adventure of the Sea and eventually go up to the buffet for some lunch. I'd call it nothing bad, nothing exceptional, just a nice fresh variety of food.
Nap time for DW, I wander around a bit talking w/ crew. We were on the CB in June and I did not recognize anyone. Also was surprised when the onboard shops opened in the early evening. The gal said this is the only port they can do it in. DW awakens; we do the muster bit and watch the Adventure of the Seas sail at 8:00 (we sailed her three years ago today). We then head to the buffet for some dinner. Although we miss the lobster claws, I was very pleased to have perfectly prepared, succulent calamari steaks.
CCL's Victory sailed around 10 and we pulled out at 11:00. I monitored my GPS as we left the harbor to see if she could attain speeds capable of a return from Barbados... when she hit 15kts I figured we'd be fine and went to bed.
St Thomas -- Nothing really scheduled here, but DW wants to do some shopping and then go to Meggan's Bay. We were docked at Crown Bay, which we'd not been to and which required a $3pp cab ride to get to town (or about a 2 mile walk). Getting off the cab we were met by a gentleman named Pasquale who offered all on the cab a tour of some of the island highlights ending at Secret Cove on the island's SE side. He said Meggan's Bay would be crowded and that there were also reports of jelly fish there. (I later talked to some folks who went to Meggan's Bay and they said it was great, not crowded and there were turtles and fish, but none of the jellied variety.) Anyway, he said $25 each and he would take us back to the cruise ship. He said to meet him back there at 12:15 (it was now about 10:30).
So we made our way down jewelry street until we got to Effy's (DW dragged me into one in Aruba in December). Seems DW had her eye on a blue topaz ring and had been saving, so after much discussion between salesperson and manager (think used car lot), she got the ring. After the purchase we were talking to the salesperson and I commented that the other sales persons were really looking at her enviously and she said this was her first day on the job.
So off we went with Pasquale, several picture stops (including one overlooking Meggan's Bay), a stop at a banana daiquiri place where you mix your own drink (they give you a glass of frozen mix and sit a bottle of 151 rum in front of you) and then on to Secret Cove which had a nice little beach w/ restaurant. We did some snorkeling, had some lunch and thoroughly enjoyed the experience (although I'm sure Pasquale was rewarded for his efforts). All in all it was a very good price for what was received. Cabs to Meggan's Bay were $12 each way per person.
Back on board DW took a nap and I enjoyed the sail away from our balcony and the dusk to darkness which seems to come way too early. I set my GPS for Tortola and was shocked to see it was only 27 miles. I'm a bit mystified as to where our joy ride took us over the next 12 hours. Anyway, DW rises about 7, I lay down and the next thing I know it's about 8:30 and DW is watching Mr. Popper's Penguins, so much for formal night... No great loss as we've sort of migrated to the buffet after doing the traditional thing for many years.
Tortola (new port for us) -- Room service breakfast scheduled for 7-7:30 arrives at 7:01. We're off by 9 and headed to Speedy's for the ferry service to Virgin Gorda. These are nice high speed catamarans which was a nice surprise. The ferry we took in San Juan was a noisey tub w/ benches (but was well worth 50 cents).
Upon arriving at the baths (it is a National Park), there are two paths, one to Devils Bay goes to the left and one to the Baths goes to the right, about 15min and 10min walk respectively. We headed to Devil's Bay and discovered some of the best snorkeling we've done. It was like going from one big room into another into another, etc... After about an hour there we did the cave path/route to the Baths which was an incredible trek. There was little bar/restaurant so we got a couple burgers (don't be in a hurry) and then headed out for more incredible snorkeling. This was one of several highlights of this trip.
Back on board DW does the requisite nap and I enjoy a great sail away through many small islands, many with sailing yachts moored. Set the GPS for Antigua and see it is 130 miles so no laps or joy ride tonight.
Antigua (another new port) -- I was surprised to see 3 other ships in port (Serenade, Summit and Valor). Following another bountiful room service breakfast on our balcony (very nice to have the Princess McMuffin on the room service menu), we were met by our friend/driver/guide at the pier and headed off for a day of fun, fishing and frolic on this beautiful island. An extended drought has left the island less than lush, but the beauty of seascapes on the Atlantic side and the beaches on the Caribbean side made the day! I even managed to catch a few rock hinds that provided a fine dinner for our friend.
I think this is the night we went to the comedy show in the Princess Theater and laughed till it hurt. The guy's "I'm just a man so don't expect too much", shtick was just a hoot!
Dominica (another new port; accent on third syllable, not second as is often sounded. I learned this the hard way.) Following our "regular delivery" of breakfast sandwich, cut up melon and juice (I get our daily coffee fixes from Wilson at the coffee shop prior to DW rising), we head off the ship to meet our tour guide Martin of Exodus tours. We set out in his totally pimped, over engineered, and spotless inside and out Toyota van. When you see the inclines we negotiated you'll understand the need for a strong transmission. We were winding our way through the exotic rainforest. The roads were amazingly good; very narrow, but constructed of concrete and most look brand new. Our first stop was Titou Gorge and it turned out to be one of the most amazing places I've ever seen.
I've was told that some scenes from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies were filmed here. Anyway, you swim under into this cavernous area and up to a waterfall and it was absolutely stunning in there. Best argument I've seen for a waterproof camera...or you may simply want to take something along to float your camera. Thanks to Martin's timing we had the entire place to ourselves. He said later on it would be teeming with cruisers and you'd be in there with a bunch of others. To have it to ourselves was very cool (pun intended, the water is cool, but you'll get used to it and you do not want to miss this). Before leaving Martin breaks out his guitar and sings a couple of songs, he is very talented and quite a showman.
We then went to the Champagne Reef which was OK, but the seas were a bit rough that day and water clarity was not the best. They call it the Champagne Reef because there is an area where volcanic gas bubbles up through the water. We saw the usual assortment of fish and a lot of beautiful yellow coral pipes and some huge bowls. I can't wait to see it sometime when the water is clear. We had a very nice and reasonably priced lunch at the restaurant at the head of the walkway to the reef. Martin played and sang for all those in attendance. Soon we are off to Trafalgar Falls, winding our way up and up and up through the lush rain forest. Once there we were escorted by a park guide who was very knowledgeable and spoke about the prevalence of herbal medicines in Dominica. We finished the trip at the botanical gardens in Roseau.
It was an amazing day. This is the lushest place I've ever been to. All the locals we encountered were very warm and friendly and Martin is a superb guide with a great sense of humor. He has been to the states and has a son studying music in Atlanta.
Here is Martin's website:
Barbados -- Yet another new port for us, you can see why we picked this itinerary. Nothing planned except a leisurely beach day. We headed off the ship about 10 and go to the taxi stand (which in hindsight may have been a mistake). We see a mother and daughter from CA that we'd met previously and they had similar plans. After speaking to the gal at the booth she escorted through a door to the awaiting taxis. It was like being thrown into a shark frenzy. It was pretty chaotic (or worse, depending on your tolerance for chaos), a dozen (ok, maybe 8?) drivers in your face shouting offers. We finally choose a shark and the van full of fellow beach combers heads north. After about 20min or so it is decided that the surf is too high so we turn around and head south. We ended up at Accra Beach a couple miles south of Bridgetown, at the SideShore Beach Bar & Bistro - sideshorebarbados.com . All was good. You could rent lounges and umbrellas for $5 each and it was applied to any food and drink purchases. The water was pretty churned up close to shore, but there was a manmade reef/break wall about 150yds offshore that provided some very good snorkeling. Not much coral, but all the usual swimming suspects including huge schools of yellow tail snapper.
Back on the ship we grazed through the buffet then DW napped (seeing the pattern?), while I found wifi from the terminal on our balcony and caught up on a few correspondences. The ship wifi was weak to non-existent in our stateroom/balcony. The ship was scheduled to sail at 4:30, which I think was the norm for the week. At about 4:45 as they started letting the lines down, here comes a couple of young ladies just sort of lah-ti-dah, taking their time... then they must have noticed the gang planks were gone and they suddenly broke into a sprint... About 5:00 here come a couple of guys, running for the ship. I greeted them with a, "RUNNNNN FORREST!"
This evening was formal night and also lobster night so I broke out the coat and tie and we enjoyed our first MDR dinner of the cruise. Lobster was typical cruise fare lobster tail, small and so-so at best, but the scampi served with it was quite good and about the same size.
This evening we finally went to the Hypnotist Show in the Princess Theater that we've somehow avoided for years. It was hysterical and I doubt we'll miss another.
SATURDAY -- final thoughts
Day at sea... The port intensive itinerary has left us in need of this day to relax our bodies and minds. DW, the consummate sun-seeker finds a quiet spot to lay out, I go to the theater for the cooking demo and banter between the maitre de and executive chef. I've seen this many times, but it is always entertaining. It would be nice if they'd change the dishes... Linguini w/ pesto, Caesar salad, Mediterranean style scallops and tiramisu... again? Oh, well at least this time I positioned myself near an exit so I can breeze through the galley tour, which was a great ploy; it took all of about 5min instead of 20-30.
Tonight we finally made it up to Skywalkers for the suite/elite/platinum happy hour. They were featuring a $3.99 cosmo and some cold hors d'oeuvres including a shrimp fountain. We enjoyed the offerings and had a nice chat with the only other two people up there. Nice, but it sure seems like a waste of prime real estate.
For dinner we grazed through the Trident Grill and Pizzeria and then over to the buffet for some salads and desserts. The brat w/ sauerkraut and fries may not be the best for my heart and waistline, but I sure enjoyed it!
We went to the crew talent show tonight. It is always amazing to see the amount of hidden talent.
Final thoughts -- whew, I need a vacation to get rested up from this vacation. We played pretty hard. We thoroughly enjoyed all the ports and were particularly smitten with Dominica. It is unfortunate that Princess is pulling out of San Juan next year as I'd do this again and will likely be looking at competitor's offerings. I do understand that it is all a numbers game, but hopefully they will return.
As for the negatives of this trip, there is only one. We had some rather inconsiderate neighbors; we shared a wall with two twenty-something British bimbos and then in the next room was a twenty-something American young man we'll refer to as Bellowing Tool. "Bellowing" because he did not seem to possess a quiet voice and "Tool" because he displayed the mental agility of a small plastic soap dish.
Monday night was the worst; at 3:00 a.m. we are awakened by screaming, thump thump thump running around, pounding on doors. It lasted about 30min.
The next night DW is in bed about 11 and I'm relaxing on the balcony when there is a sudden scream from the balcony next door. Bellowing Tool somehow managed to scare one of the bimbos and she let out a shriek likely heard back in Tortola. It was time to say something, so I lean my head over the rail and say to the bimbo that I would really not like to have a repeat performance of what transpired at 3:00 a.m. last night. She gave me a blank glance and mentioned something about being scared out of her wits. The rest of that night was pretty quiet.
The next afternoon I was enjoying a beautiful sunset/sail away while DW napped. I hear the balcony next door open... no issues until about 10min later when Bellowing Tool comes out on his balcony and engages the bimbo in some small talk... Only now he has adopted this pathetic Cockney accent to better match that of his quarry. His lame attempt at humor to impress her was countered by bimbo giggles which only got him excited and thus louder, all the while maintaining this pathetic Cockney accent. I finally had enough and sought respite in my cabin, but alas, the powerful voice of Bellowing Tool is no match for the stateroom walls. DW is now up and around so we dress and head out for the evening.
Throughout the rest of week it was sort of on again off again. A couple of evenings between 2 and 3 it would get loud for a short period and then instantly quiet and then build back to a crescendo. These seemed be in about 15min cycles lasting a total of maybe 30 min (two crescendos). I envisioned that once a certain noise threshold was reached the bimbo would suddenly recall disturbing the %^&$# next door and hush Bellowing Tool. I believe alcohol may have been a contributing factor.
But enough of the negative, putting up with obnoxious kids was pretty minor in the grand scheme of things.