~~ Thursday, January 17th - Greetings from the Pacific Princess ~~
It has been a busy day but we are aboard the beautiful Pacific Princess at sea, bound for our first port of call, Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, day after tomorrow. Flying from Orange County Airport -- John Wayne -- very early yesterday morning, we arrived in Fort Lauderdale last evening about 6:30 PM and were met by the free shuttle from the Rodeway Inn & Suites. Ours was a nice but modest motel accommodation: quite good enough for a one night's stay. A Continental Breakfast this morning was enhanced by delicious make-it-yourself waffles: not bad for $72 (AAA discount).
This morning at 10:30 AM, the Rodeway Inn & Suites shuttle delivered us to the Cruise Terminal where, before 11:00 AM, we were able to begin our check in -- with NO CROWDS at all! I was really surprised that we would be able to check in that early.
Being of the Elite status with Preferred Boarding, our check in went remarkably fast and we were soon ushered into a private waiting room, especially for Elite and Platinum Captain's Circle members, from which we were called for boarding just before noon. We were in our beautiful Mini-Suite 8046 on Deck 8 shortly thereafter.
The next order of business was lunch in the Panorama Buffet -- the Club Restaurant was not yet open. We selected an outdoor table at the stern of Deck 9, under warm, sunny skies -- to start with. Soon, however, dark storm clouds rapidly approached and a heavy shower, albeit short-lived, forced us to seek another table beneath the overhang, dry from the rain.
Our luggage arrived soon -- three of the four pieces at first, and then finally the remaining carry-on of mine; most of our unpacking is already accomplished. There is considerable storage space available and we have no difficulty finding a place for our things. Being a Wheel Chair cabin -- all that was left to fulfill our mini-suite guarantee booking, the bathroom is huge -- enough to easily accommodate a wheel chair; however, no bath tub, which is somewhat of a disappointment. This mini-suite with 322 square feet is over one and a half larger than a normal balcony stateroom, primarily much wider. Very spacious in any case.
At 3:15 PM there was the mandatory safety muster with all passengers required to attend. Our muster station B is the Club Restaurant directly below on Deck 5 at the ship's stern. Princess satisfies this mandated safety drill inside the ship in contrast to other cruise lines who force all of the passengers out onto a deck directly beneath the life boats to which they would be assigned in case of an emergency. We are instructed what to do in case of an emergency and how to properly put on our life vests. Very routine.
Shortly afterward, at around 3:45 PM, with all passengers aboard, the Pacific Princess set sail on this 10-day cruise to the Eastern Caribbean, visiting the islands of Tortola, Antigua, St. Kitts, St. Lucia and St. Barthelemy. It will be my first visit to these islands, and a main reason for my selection of this cruise.
Sail-aways are always celebratory and those from Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale are no different. Many members of our Cruise Critic group met on Deck 10 around the jogging track located there, and a good time was had by all. I counted about 24 of our group of 50 that showed up. Well away from land, the air became cool as the sun sank below the horizon, and it was time to retreat inside and get ready for dinner; our traditional dining is the "late seating" at 8:15 PM.
Tomorrow at 11 AM our Cruise Critic group will formerly gather for our "Meet & Greet" in the Sterling Steakhouse on Deck 10, hopefully with several of the ship's officers also attending. With 50 on our Roll Call, I expect a good attendance -- especially for such a small ship as the Pacific Princess (680).
That's about it for tonight; it may be tomorrow sometime before our satellite internet connection is available to send this first email.
~~ Friday, January 18th - First Day at Sea ~~
Today -- Friday -- has been a slow, quiet and relaxing day, our first day at sea. Tomorrow will also be at sea until we arrive in Tortola on Sunday, our first port-of-call. There was a time change last night, setting our clocks ahead one hour; we are now 4 hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time. The skies have been clear and sunny and the seas smooth as glass. The top deck around the pools was filled with sun worshipers, enjoying the respite from the cold winter back home.
My main activity of the day was our Cruise Critic Meet & Greet at 11 AM, originally scheduled for the Sterling Steakhouse but relocated to the Sabatini's Italian Restaurant due to a scheduling conflict with the "Pub Lunch" in the Steakhouse. Louise, the lady in our CC group who had arranged the Meet & Greet, unfortunately became ill at the last minute causing her to miss the cruise. As a result, it was up to me to fill in for her, conducting the meeting, distributing the name tags I had created along with copies of our CC Roll Call, which I had also created. Surprisingly, there were over 40 of the 50 in attendance. Unfortunately, the Captain, Cruise Director, and other ship's officers who were to have been invited by Louise, failed to attend. We all had a good time in any case, conversing and exchanging information with those with whom we had been blogging on the internet for the past few months. A very successful meeting, I would say.
Afterward I decided to enjoy "Bangers & Mash" at the Pub Lunch, along with a Beck's beer. Delicious! With my duties performed, and my appetite satisfied, it was then time for a nap. On our balcony one of the comfortable chairs beckoned; the balmy breezes, the gentle sounds of the sea being parted by the bow of our ship, and looking out over the almost mirror-like water, all contributed to my relaxation. Wonderful!
Originally I had thought that tonight would be the first of our two formal nights, but that will be tomorrow night; tonight is just "smart casual." Usually the first formal night is preceded with a Captain's Welcome Party, with free drinks. Time to drag out the tuxedo!
Last night's dinner in the Club Restaurant presented the customary first-night menu choice of Prime Rib, which I selected along with Princess' superb mushroom soup. The prime rib was exceptionally good, and I finished every morsel. Dessert was one of my favorites: passion fruit souffle with vanilla custard sauce. Yum! We were seated at a table for 4 along with an older couple from the Toronto area; they seem nice.
All of the unpacking is now complete and the spaciousness of our Mini-Suite is now more apparent than before. The increased size is most apparent in the width of our cabin; there are three large windows facing the balcony, the middle one being a sliding glass door. The entire wall is glass. Being a "wheel chair room" our entry door is extra large and, as previously mentioned, the bathroom is huge. Unfortunately, we would have preferred a smaller bathroom with a bathtub. Those are the chances one takes with a "guarantee" booking. The two-category upgrade, however, was still substantial and well worth the long wait.
Preceding dinner tonight (our seating is at 8:15 PM) there is a special "Elite Lounge" happy hour from 7 until 8 in the Sterling Steakhouse offering hors d'oeuvres and drink specials; I plan to attend.
At just past 6 PM (Atlantic Standard Time) it appears to be getting overcast outside although the seas are still smooth. The day's warm sunshine has disappeared for the day. Almost time to get ready for dinner.
~~ Sunday, January 20th - Tortola, British Virgin Islands ~~
We have just now arrived in the harbor of Tortola, one of the British Virgin Islands, where we will be for the day, 8 AM until 6 PM. The skies are crystal clear and the air is balmy pleasant; it should be a beautiful day.
Our tour for the day from 10 AM until 2 PM is:
***The Baths at Virgin Gorda & Beach:
Bask in the warm Caribbean sun during a relaxing cruise to Virgin Gorda, the third largest of the British Virgin Islands, to visit the Baths, a magnificent slice of heaven on earth. The half-day excursion starts with a refreshing cruise across Sir Francis Drake Channel. Marvel at the splendid painting-like tableaux created where sea, land and sky cross paths. After docking, hop on a safari bus to reach the Baths. Shaped through volcanic activity, this unusual geologic formation consists of massive, time-smoothed boulders piled up in stacks and clusters, which naturally creates intimate grottos, stunning beaches and oasis-like pools between them. Enjoy time to follow spectacular trails, rejuvenate in secluded pools, explore dazzling grottos and swim, sun and relax on the beach in this resplendent destination. Before departing, savor a fresh fruit juice or rum punch as you soak up the amazing imagery in this slice of paradise.***
Afterward we will still have a few hours before reboarding the ship at 5:30 PM to investigate the small town with shops, restaurants, etc.
Yesterday was our second day at sea and was highlighted by a wine tasting at 3 PM, complimentary for us Elite Captain's Circle Members. A familiar selection of wines included Nobilo sauvignon blanc from New Zealand, Kendall Jackson chardonnay from the US Russian River, La Crema pinot noir from Napa Valley, and Wolf Bass cabernet sauvignon from South Australia; a sweet dessert wine from the sauvignon blanc grape completed our very enjoyable tasting. There will be a second Maitre D' Wine Tasting later on in the cruise featuring more choice wines accompanied by appropriate magnificent hors d'oeuvres -- at a price of $25.
Last evening was the first of our formal nights and was preceded with the Captain's Gala Party in the Cabaret Show Lounge -- with free drinks and hors d'oeuvres, where the ship's officers are all introduced. With 680 passengers aboard, there were two parties, one for early dining and one for late dining, about 300 each. Dinner was quite good and my menu choice was delicious leg of lamb with Bananas Foster for dessert. Yum!
Following dinner we attended the first production show, "Motor City", in the Cabaret Show Lounge. We have seen this particular show several times now on other cruises but this production was still very enjoyable. Of course my tuxedo got another workout; we were among the FEW aboard dressing in tuxes. Oh well...
It is time to start getting ready for our day's outing so I will continue my report later this evening.
~~ Monday, January 21st - Antigua ~~
As I look out of our windows to the sea, the skies are dotted with small clouds but otherwise clear and sunny. The position of our cabin on the ship's port side shields us from the early morning sunshine. The seas remain remarkable smooth with only a slight gentle motion; we have been very fortunate to have had such calm seas. The air, of course, is fresh and balmy and delightfully warm.
Today we will be in Antigua, the largest of the British Leeward Islands, where we will dock in St. John's, the capital city. Our full day tour, however, will prevent seeing much of the city. Arrival is at 8 AM and departure is at 5 PM; my tour choice is described as follows:
***Champagne & Lobster, Scenic Cruise & Swim:
The quintessential Caribbean dream becomes a reality on this decadent getaway cruise aboard the luxury catamaran Mystic, which includes a lobster and champagne lunch. Your first stop is Deep Bay Beach, with an arched shoreline and water temperatures perfect for swimming. While you relax on the beach, crew members will serve you refreshing fruit drinks. Keep your bathing suit on because your catamaran's next stop is Morris Bay, just a short sail down the west coast. You'll know you've arrived when you see the signature coconut trees that line the sandy shores. While you're ashore, the Mystic crew is busy preparing a delicious lobster buffet for you on board. An open bar and lively Caribbean music complements your glass of champagne and meal.***
Sounds pretty good to me! I'll let you know later how it all turned out.
Yesterday's tour in Tortola to Virgin Gorda Island was most interesting with the giant granite boulders arranged by nature along the beach, resulting in many grottos and small beaches. We took a daring cave route to Devil's Bay that required maneuvering between and beneath the giant boulders, sometimes creating very narrow and low passages. The only unfortunate thing was the limited time allowed for our enjoyment of the beaches, the cruise over from Road Town having taken 45 minutes. Our return cruise was made quite festive with the delicious rum punch drinks liberally distributed by the boat's crew; rum is very plentiful and very good in the Caribbean.
Even though we still had a couple of hours remaining after the tour, the physically challenging crawling among the giant granite boulders at Virgin Gorda had exhausted me. A short trip into Road Town allowed for some shopping at a market for more wine and a stop at a small Chinese restaurant (only one open since it was Sunday) for a couple of Carib beers. Then back to the ship for a wonderful, restful nap before dinner. The ship departed right on schedule at 5:30 PM.
It is time to start the day and prepare for today's activities; our tour meeting time in the Cabaret Lounge is 8:45 AM.
~~ Tuesday, January 22nd - St. Lucia ~~
Big puffy clouds fill the morning skies with the sun beginning to peek through. The air remains balmy and fresh and the seas are calm. Another beautiful day in paradise!
Today we will dock in Castries, the capital city of the island of St. Lucia where I have chosen the full day tour:
***Ladera Resort, the Pitons, Catamaran, Drive & Lunch:
Indulge in the natural and man-made wonders of St. Lucia. Your six-hour excursion begins as you depart for the town of Soufriere aboard you air-conditioned motor coach. You'll travel along St. Lucia's lush western coast and arrive at Ladera Resort, the first Caribbean hotel to be rated #1 by "Conde Nast Traveler" magazine. Ladera has welcomed Oprah, Harrison Ford, Denzel Washington, and today, you'll be welcomed by a cocktail, a perfect prelude for your gourmet lunch at the award-winning Dasheene Restaurant, which overlooks the majestic Pitons. After lunch, you'll continue on to the Soufriere docks and your catamaran that will take you out into glorious Marigot Bay, called, "the most beautiful bay in the Caribbean" by author James Michener. Enjoy the view, have some rum punch and swim in the inviting water. Then you'll return to the dock and board your coach for the return trip to Castries.***
The Pitons are twin peaks rising over 2,600 feet above the azure waters of the Caribbean.
Yesterday was a very full day in Antigua with our extensive catamaran coastal cruise aboard the beautiful Mystic II, easily accommodating the many of us tourist from the Pacific Princess as well as many from three other huge cruise ships in harbor, one of which was the Celebrity ECLIPSE; another was a German ship whose name I did not recognize.
During the day we passed by beach after beach, each more spectacularly beautiful than other. We stopped for over an hour at "Deep Water Bay" where the catamaran maneuvered right up to the sandy beach allowing us to simply walk down stairs onto the beach. Then our coastal cruise continued with generously supplied rum punch until we reached yet another spectacular bay where we anchored for the champagne and lobster lunch, prepared aboard with the large lobster halves on a grill at the catamaran's stern. Absolutely delicious!
Our return to the ship did not allow for additional time ashore so it was back to our cabin for a well-needed nap. Our ship departed right on schedule at 5 PM.
We are now docked in Castries and I see the large RCL Brilliance of the Seas cruise ship pulling in behind us. It will be another crowded day in town.
~~ Wednesday, January 23rd - St. Kitts & Nevis ~~
Despite rain earlier this morning and a storm squall early in the evening last night, causing some noticeable sea motion, right now the skies have returned to their brilliant blues with a few puffy clouds around and the seas are again very smooth and calm. Perfect for cruising.
Today we are docked at Basseterre, St. Kitts, and our tour will take us over to the neighboring island of Nevis. Our ship is not scheduled for departure until 11 PM tonight, so there will still be a lot of time for St. Kitts after the tour, described below:
***Nevis Circle Island Tour, Plantations, Beach & Lunch:
Begin your island adventure with a scenic, 45-minute boat ride along the coast of St. Kitts' southeastern peninsula to the beautiful sister island of Nevis. Upon arrival in Charlestown, the capital, embark on a motor coach drive through the tranquil town for a glimpse of the true Caribbean lifestyle. As you circle the entire island, your native guide will provide the history of life in Nevis. Wind you way through sleepy villages and see the gracious Montpelier Plantation Inn and gardens. Continue along Nevis' main road to the Golden Rock Plantation Hotel, located on the edge of a rain forest. Enjoy a stroll around the hotel's lush grounds and take in the panoramic vistas. Then, arrive at Pinney Beach for lunch at LIME Beach Bar. After your meal, relax on a lounge chair or take a dip. Board your boat right off the beach and ride back to port.***
Our final port-of-call tomorrow is St. Barthelemy, which is very nearby, and is the reason for our extended stay here in St. Kitts.
One highlight of our day on ship will be the Ultimate Balcony Dining I have arranged for this evening at 7:00 PM; this huge Mini-Suite and its extra-large balcony is perfect for such a luxury, I thought. I chose tonight, while we were still in port, and not having to worry about any possible adverse sea motion while dining. The menu will include lobster as well as steak, with cocktails and hors d'oeuvres preceding. And wine. For a price, of course!
Yesterday's tour on St. Lucia was very enjoyable, scenic and interesting, albeit a long day. Our drive from the dock was in a comfortable small minibus and seemed to cover a lot of this mountainous island on a very serpentine highway; I am glad that I am not prone to motion sickness as some in our group were. With several stops along the way, for tourist shopping and photo ops, our main destination was the very exotic Ladera Resort which sits up in the hills overlooking the town of Soufriere, with views of both of the majestic Pitons. We were greeted with a welcome cocktail and cold towel and then ushered to our table on a terrace with incomparable views. Lunch consisted of delicious, warm bread, a pumpkin soup, and a choice of a fish or chicken dish; dessert was an apple crisp with coconut ice cream. Complimentary wine was served.
Afterward were give a brief tour of the hotel facilities, the one room shown was beyond fabulous! I can see why Oprah chooses this place. Everything is open air with private pools and terraces; bedrooms are upstairs, the beds equipped with netting. Elegant baths and showers are appointed with lots of terrazzo tile artwork and hand carved wood accessories. Truly a work of art. Not bad for around $1250 per day + taxes. Not exactly your Motel 6!
We are now at dock, DIRECTLY next to one of Celebrity's huge behemoths, the REFLECTION, which forms a real "Wall of China" blocking any possible views. FORTUNATELY, we just heard that they leave at 4 PM so they should be gone when we return from our tour.
It is now time to get busy and prepare for our active day, and escape from the prying eyes of the hordes on balconies of neighbor ship.
~~ Thursday, January 24th - St. Barthelemy ~~
I was lazy this morning and did not write my daily log entry. Now it is almost 4 PM and as I look out of our windows, blue skies and a few clouds are in sight with incredibly blue/turquoise waters of the Caribbean here in the harbor of St. Barthelemy where the Pacific Princess is at anchor. This is our final port-of-call and the only one where ship's tenders were used. The tour of the day -- the only one offered -- is described below:
***St. Barths Scenic Island Drive:
Take off on a sightseeing adventure that offers a glimpse at the many surprises this island paradise has to offer. After boarding the air-conditioned mini-bus, just sit back and relax as you travel along Gustavia's tree-lined streets that hold many reminders of the town's Swedish colonial past. Then, continue along the winding roads and rolling hills to St. Jean. Fringed with white sand beaches, turquoise water, and coral reefs, St. Jean is home to luxury hotels and sprawling villas. Next you'll see the salt pond area know as Salines, an unspoiled seaside escape famous for its nude beach. Further on is the beautiful bay at Grand Fond. Here, you'll see a beach different than the rest of the island: swimming is prohibited and spectacular shells cover the rugged coastline. After a drive through some of the charming villages on the north coast you'll return to Gustavia.***
Our driver was low-keyed but informative and our hour-long ride over steep and winding roads, along with 5 others, was excellent. We passed by the airport with a 2100 feet long landing strip, able to accommodate only 20-passenger aircraft and smaller, used primarily for private planes. Some of the beaches viewed were almost identical to those we see in Southern California. Several times the driver stopped for photos at points of view yielding panoramic vistas.
This island is a "dry island" as is evidenced by the many cacti present. It is also known as the "Playground of the Rich & Famous" made so primarily by the Rockefellers and Rothschilds in the '70s. Christmas and New Years are the best times to "star spot"; many famous people call the isle home. Like: Steve Martin, David Letterman, Jimmy Buffet and Mikhail Baryshnikov. Year-round, there are mega yachts the size of battleships moored in the harbor; Microsoft's Paul Allen frequently visits in his 416-ft yacht, Octopus. The most expensive hotel on the island is Eden Rock, currently owned by Russian investor Roman Abramovich.
After our tour we walked along the town's main street, lined with luxury shops: Prada, Hermes, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Channel, etc. At the street's far end was a restaurant-bar where I stopped for a couple of beers: small Heinekens at 4 Euros each, or $5.20. Everything is very French and VERY expensive! Our return to the ship early in the afternoon for lunch and a nap was a most welcome retreat.
At this moment the tenders are being hoisted back aboard, and when all passengers having gotten off the last tender, the Captain will proceed with our departure, scheduled for 5 PM, but possibly sooner. Next stop, Fort Lauderdale.
Now, back to yesterday in St. Kitts, or rather our visit to the neighboring island of Nevis. The trip over was by a public ferry and took about 45 minutes; many of the locals seemed upset that the tourists were taking their spots on the ferry that they routinely take for work. We were also joined by passengers from the Celebrity REFLECTION, further crowding the situation.
On arrival we were ushered onto small mini-buses for our ride around the island with stops at two former sugar cane plantations, now luxury hotels: the Golden Rock Hotel, and the Montpelier Hotel. Our native driver was excellent with his narration and personalization, showing us where he lived, where he had gone to grammar school, etc. The drive through town was congested with local revelers, celebrating election results; it was a local holiday.
The last stop was the LIME Beach Restaurant -- on the beach -- where we were greeted with a rum punch and a choice of grouper fish or chicken, both served with a salad and rice; I chose the fish which was absolutely delicious! Lightly sauteed and grilled in butter with spices, it was incredibly tender, juicy and tasty. Wonderful lunch! Especially after a second rum punch. The restaurant was all open-air and quite delightful; a musician on a steel drum entertained while we ate. Then it was time to return to town of Charlestown and the ferry ride back to St. Kitts and our ship.
Back on ship it was time for a nap and rest before our special event of the day: Ultimate Balcony Dining, scheduled for 7 PM. Beginning with a cocktail of Mojitos along with a generous plate of canapes, the next course was a "salad" including a crab quiche, accompanied by bottle of French champagne. Our entree was "surf & turf", a HUGE lobster tail along with a 10-ounce filet mignon. I was able to finish the exquisite lobster but had to leave some of the steak - reluctantly. Topping it off was a dessert plate of assorted mousses: chocolate, mocha, white chocolate, and hazelnut, topped with slivers of pure chocolate. What a feast! It was $50 each but well worth it. Needless to say it was easy to get to sleep last night! I never knew when we departed St. Kitts at 11 PM.
Tomorrow morning at 9 AM, on our first sea day back to Fort Lauderdale, we have scheduled the wonderful gift from our travel agent and friend, Patric, of Travel Travel: Champagne Balcony Breakfast. Several times before we have been similarly gifted and it is a wonderful treat, on which I shall report tomorrow.
Tonight at 7:30 PM we are invited to a special reception for 40 of Princess' "Most Traveled Passengers Aboard." This will be the third time we have been so honored. On this cruise we ranked 26 and 27; there are 98 Elite, 127 Platinum, 231 Gold and 190 Blue Captain's Circle members.
Tomorrow we have a second meeting of the Cruise Critics group at 11 AM, and tomorrow night is our second formal night, dinner preceded by a Captain's Circle Cocktail Party. A rather full day ahead.
~~ Friday, January 25th - First Return Sea Day ~~
It is early afternoon here aboard the Pacific Princess now well on our way back to Fort Lauderdale and the end of our cruise. The sky is perfectly clear and the sun is warm; the seas are slight with occasional large gentle swells. We have been SO LUCKY with smooth seas during the past days. The gentle sea motion that we do have is almost inconsequential -- just enough to rock you to sleep, if you are so prone.
This morning's activities have gone well. The Champagne Balcony Breakfast was delivered right on schedule at 9 AM, perfect timing since the sun had yet to arrive on our balcony; our route of travel is to the northwest so the sun rises on ship's starboard. Right now, however, there is full sunshine on our large balcony.
Along with fresh-squeezed orange juice and brewed coffee, a half-bottle of French champagne started the breakfast feast. Plates of smoked salmon along with small onion slices and capers served on an endive spear were accompanied with a delicious dill cream cheese also served on an endive spear. There were also toasted and buttered halves of brioches. Second plates of green salad topped with crisp bacon slices accompanied a delicious bacon quiche along with tomato halves, cored and filled with Swiss cheese and toasted, served with toasted bagel halves. Other plates each displayed a cantaloupe half "bowl" filled with assorted berries: strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries, topped with a dollop of whipped cream. To top it off came a plate full of Danish pastries. It was quite the feast! Thank you again, Patric!
Then at 11:00 AM was a second meeting of the Cruise Critic group aboard in the Sterling Steakhouse, attended by about a dozen of us. As a self-appointed moderator I suggested that we have a round-table discussion of the cruise to date, concentrating on the more positive aspects to create a positive conclusion to a wonderful cruise. (There is always an endless list of negative comments from some, and I personally didn't care to hear them!) Many of us have cruised on "small" cruise ships before, many had not, and it was interesting to hear the different comments. Several had also cruised on Azamara's small ships -- identical to those of Princess, as well as on Oceania small ships, the last two brands being in the premium category of cruising.
Last evening there was a special cocktail party hosted by Captain Justin Lawes and his senior officers and honoring those 40 "most-traveled" passengers aboard and I had the opportunity of speaking with him and inviting him to today's Cruise Critic meeting. SURPRISINGLY, he did! And stayed for over an hour talking with us, answering many questions and taking many comments. He seemed to genuinely enjoy sitting there with us and, of course, we were thrilled by his presence and lengthy conversation. He is from the UK and is really charming - a wonderful icon for Princess. He made our CC meeting a great success.
Tonight before dinner is the Captain's Circle Cocktail Party in the Cabaret Lounge, so more free drinks! Being the last formal night, everyone should be dressed up although there are always the sluff-offs. Then later at 11 PM in the Pacific Lounge on Deck 10 all the way forward will be Princess' Champagne Waterfall -- with more free drinks! It looks like a fluid night for all! On other Princess cruises -- and ships, this Princess tradition had recently been combined with the Captain's Welcome Party -- to save money, I am sure! (Carnival bean counters at work.) On this cruise/ship, however, it is an event of its own, as it used to be.
Tomorrow's activities will involve a lot of packing -- for me; it is nice for a cruise to slowly wind down the way this one has done, providing a leisurely and unhurried last day to pack up for disembarkation on Sunday in Fort Lauderdale. There will be 8 cruise ships in Port Everglades on Sunday and the mayhem -- especially at the airport -- will be substantial. For this and other reasons, we are spending two nights at the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel, flying back to Orange County on Tuesday afternoon. We have twice before stayed at this hotel -- on Starpoints earned from my American Express card, and it has become a favorite of ours. Hopefully we will be assigned the same room #1080 as before, and as requested.
With the very warm afternoon outside the ship right now, cruising gracefully through the calm Caribbean, it is hard to imagine the more adverse weather that will greet most of our passengers from the Midwest and Northeast. Hopefully, Southern California will have returned to our more familiar fine weather by our return.
~~ Saturday, January 26th - Last Day at Sea ~~
Well, I guess I spoke too soon about the perfectly smooth seas we have enjoyed the entire cruise -- until the middle of the afternoon yesterday when a storm front moved in with heavily clouded skies and increased sea motion. It did rain but not substantially, although the sea motion continued, first a yaw (up and down) but later on a roll (side to side), due to a strong wind from the east. With our cabin location being almost amidships, the motion here was minimal compared with cabins all the way forward. Our route of travel has been to the northwest. More of an annoyance, the slight to moderate sea motion continued through the night until presently this morning. The skies are clearing so the sun should still make an appearance, and the whitecaps have disappeared from the waves.
Of course, with my only obligation today being packing, I look forward to a relaxed, quiet last full day at sea. There is another "Pub Lunch" in the Sterling Steakhouse at noon that I plan to enjoy.
Last night, despite the sea motion, we met in the Cabaret Lounge at 7:30 PM for the Captain's Circle Party (for second seating members) and enjoyed complimentary drinks and canapes. Recognition was made of those of each level: Gold, Platinum and Elite, and awards were made to the most-traveled members. Top awards went to a Florida couple with over 1600 days at sea; I haven't quite reached 300. Then a drawing for three recipients of a bottle of champagne was held; my name was not picked. Oh well...
Dinner was very special with lobster tails and Tiger prawns featured (my choice), as well as Beef Wellington. The lobster was very good but didn't compare with the ones we were served during our Ultimate Balcony Dining; those were huge! However, seconds were generously offered.
So not much to report right now. I look forward to an un-hurried, lazy day.
~~ Monday, January 28th - Fort Lauderdale ~~
At this moment I am sipping freshly brewed coffee and peering through the floor-to-ceiling windows of corner Room 1080 at the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel. The sun rose just after 7 AM and is now shining brightly on the cruise ships down in Port Everglades, to the south; to the left (east) is the beach and the Atlantic Ocean. It is really quite a view! Upon check-in, however, the room was still occupied and we had to wait quite a while for it to be vacated and prepared for us; it was worth the wait!
The skies are brilliantly blue this morning with no hint of rain; temperatures are predicted to be in the high 70s or low 80s today and more of the same tomorrow. Our flight home tomorrow is at 2:21 PM so we will be leaving the Sheraton by noontime. Today we plan on visiting the little waterfront restaurant nearby at the Bahia Cabana hotel and then repeating our Water Taxi tour of the waterways of Fort Lauderdale that we so enjoyed two years ago on our last visit. Then lunch or dinner at Bubba Gump's Shrimp Co. Restaurant is also on our agenda.
The two Princess ships (ours and the Ruby Princess) have now departed and I only see a Royal Caribbean and perhaps a Holland America ship in port. Yesterday -- Sunday -- was a very busy port day with 7 cruise ships in port. The street traffic yesterday afternoon was also quite heavy. The Sheraton seems to be more crowded than usual with cruise ship passengers; I guess the word is getting around!
Our disembarkation from the Pacific Princess yesterday proceeded routinely without delay; our luggage tag color was called at 9:30 AM and we found and retrieved our 4 pieces of luggage quickly and, with the help of a porter, were soon in the taxi cue awaiting transportation to the Sheraton Hotel; it was less than a $10 fare and we arrived between 10:30 and 11 AM. We spent the time waiting on our room out by the Beach Bar & Grill -- pool and beach. Pleasant breezes tempered the warm sunshine. A couple of margaritas and a large serving of guacamole with chips helped pass the time. The Hotel just seems much busier than on our last visit; perhaps the time of year makes the difference.
That's about it for this cruise and trip; I may send one more email but this could be it for now.
~~ Wednesday, January 20th - Corona del Mar = HOME! ~~
This is a final journal installment to inform you of our safe arrival back home last evening after a full day of travel. The flight from Fort Lauderdale to Houston was surprisingly smooth; the plane was entirely full and as a result United again offered to check carry-on luggage through to final destination -- for free! We quickly took advantage, especially with the plane change -- and terminal change -- in Houston. I am not sure how much longer United -- or other airlines -- will continue to offer this complimentary service; normally the second checked piece of luggage is charged $35.
With almost two hours between flights in Houston, there was plenty of time for the LENGTHY journey from Gate C18 to Gate E1; there is a Food Court in Terminal E where we had a bite to eat. The approach to Houston Airport was through clouded, rainy skies but our landing was rather good, considering the very strong winds present at the time.
The flight on to Orange County left a little early but then we had a long tarmac wait until take-off. Throughout this flight were occasional "bumps" even though the skies appeared to be clear. Several times the seat belts sign came on, but nothing severe. Our route of travel was way to the south, around the bad weather in the Midwest, and our approach to Orange County was from the south, over Indio and Palm Springs, and touch-down was perfect, although almost 30 minutes late.
Baggage claim was routine and soon we were at the SuperShuttle dispatcher awaiting our pre-paid ride home. Surprisingly, SuperShuttle put us on one of the Yellow Cabs instead of waiting for one of their vans, which was nice and expedited our trip home were we arrived about 8:45 PM.
The house was found to be fine but COLD; I routinely cut off the gas main when leaving on a long trip, in fear of earth quakes, and the first order of business was to turn on the gas and relight all the pilot lights, which I accomplished -- with one exception: the furnace pilot which is always difficult to relight. To break the chill I turned on the range top burners for a while but finally shut them off and went to bed to snuggle beneath the blankets. Again this morning I unsuccessfully tried relighting the furnace pilot light, so now I have called for a service call to do it. Fortunately, it will be a LONG time until my next lengthy trip so the pilot light will be ON for a long time to come!
This then is the last of cruise journal entries for the Eastern Caribbean Cruise on Pacific Princess. It was a wonderful cruise that I shall long remember.