Here's my long trip report on this past 2012 New Year's 7 day cruise we spent aboard the Crown to the Western Caribbean and our pre-cruise in Galveston...hope you enjoy....we did!
Our group...2 sets of Greats and the Grands, Bruce/Jana and son H, plus are kids MP/Traci and grandson Morgan...everyone ages 7 to 85.
Day 1 Galveston 27th
I am so impressed with Southwest....great people, very caring with disabled pre-board, we had 5 wheelchairs at the airport, comfy seats and great legroom. We'll be using them again in the near future.
Susan from Lady Bird limos was waiting for us in the luggage area....we all piled into the van with 10 bodies and 17 suitcases and started our 45 min drive to Galveston.
The Hilton is just off the main drag, Hwy 45, into town and right on the sea wall. The rooms are handy, clean and beautiful...staff wonderful, love our bellman Chris. Beautiful views of the angriest ocean I have ever seen...and stormy weather. The Hilton has a lovely pool with swim up bar...which was heated to 90...so swimmable even with 40 degree temps in Galveston. The rooms are handy, clean and beautiful...staff wonderful, loved our bellman Chris. The only negative is the air bed we requested, because of only having double beds....too small for us...it didn't go well that the bed had a leak...oh well.
It was a great idea to set up the rental cars through Enterprise....with Galveston stormy and raining...they picked us up at the hotel and got us set up with a van and sedan in no time. We headed out to dinner to a cute local restaurant called Shrimp and Stuff for fried fish, shrimp and oysters...Yum. Very funky, but my half shrimp/half oyster Po'boy and cup of gumbo hit the spot. Everyone was warm, full and happy....counter service with pagers for when your food is ready. They have a cozy, homey feel, perfect on a rainy night.
Day 2 Galveston 28th
Everyone was up bright and early for breakfast at Waffle House....Mom's find....for of course, waffles. But they seem to have another specialty...hash browns...Smothered (sauteed onions), Covered (melted cheese), Chunked (cubes of smoked ham), Diced (diced tomatoes, Peppered (jalapenos), Capped (grilled button mushrooms), Topped (with Bert's chili) and Country (country gravy) What fun!
Our plan for the day was the Johnson Space center, a 30 min drive north....what a great idea. We are all fans of museums and science centers and this is a winner. First thing we jumped on the red tram tour, which includes the astronaut training center and an overview of the buildings and facilities...but the highlight had to be Rocket Park. They have a real Saturn V rocket with capsule inside to walk around and see the magnificent size and how the different stages fit together. NASA lost funding before the rocket could be used. We were lucky enough to catch a docent at the end of his tour and hear part of the details. If you go make sure to find the docent speaking about the rocket...our decent worked at NASA in 1967 as a trajectory engineer. FYI: The tram trip takes 60 to 90 mins, and is completely handicapped friendly with a lift on the tram.
We grabbed a bite and then ran over to see the moon rocks on display in the museum....they have the Apollo 17 capsule on display, several flight suits, ejector seats and of course the famous moon rocks. One is available to be touched, one of only 8 in the world available to be touched by the public. Did you know temper foam was developed to be used in the original seats to protect astronauts from the G-force.
Morgan loved the Angry birds interactive kids area...we made opening day, so the news crews were there filming. They also have a great gift shop...H couldn't resist getting dad his coffee mug...too cute..."It's not rocket science, oh wait, it is!"
We headed back to Galveston for a quick stop at the strand, a beautiful historic area and the well known soda fountain at La King's. Everyone tried a different Shake.... pineapple, butterscotch, chocolate, and strawberry, plus my root beer float...classics and a full double....yum! 6.25 each. Bruce said they were just like back in high school. Don't miss the 100+ long candy counter...Willy Wonka watch out...they even had a substantial sugar free section....plus a wall of salt water taffy.
Back to turn in the cars at Enterprise. We walked next door from the Hilton to Landry's for a dinner of seafood...Traci, mom and I shared a platter of oysters Rockefeller and on the half shell, plus some Shrimp Etouffee. The boys had fish and chips and bowls of chowder...all good, all around.
Day 3 Galveston/Boarding Crown 29th
Everyone had a chance to sleep in this am....our shuttle to the pier was scheduled for 11:30 from the Hilton. The Grands had an early breakfast and the rest of us wondered over to IHOP around 9:30 for pancakes...H found the most amazing Carmel Hot Chocolate...huge, but super sweet. Great waitress and manager who went out of their way in service.
Our shuttle was really late....so we didn't get started until 12:30. The terminal was packed, but we found 4 staff with wheelchairs ready to help and off we went....except for the nasty man at the door who wouldn't let minor children and spouses go in the priority door with their families....and was rude to boot.....he almost put his hands on me to block my way....just a bit power crazy huh? This was a very poor reflection on the Galveston terminal authority.
The Princess Cruises' motto is 'Escape completely' and I think we did that and much more.
Aboard the Crown Princess
On first impression, the ship was huge as well as gorgeous. We discovered that the Crown Princess was large enough to carry over 3,000 people, 3,080 to be exact. What features did the cruise ship have you ask? Well, a casino, three duty-free shops, an entire smorgasbord of dining, a wine bar, four lounge bars, a luxurious spa, fitness centre, mini-golf, three pools, two hot tubs, poolside bars, two specialty restaurants, and a coffee cafe-the list goes on, but I can definitely say that being surrounded by all that for a week was absolute heaven.
The Piazza The crowning glory is the Piazza, an open-air plaza with the elevator going three floors up. The floors were gorgeous white marble with Romanesque columns flanking the main area. They held jazz performances, comedy acts and piano concerts here throughout the day and there was something about its architecture that was reminiscent of Venice. The International Cafe had tables in the Piazza and you could sit and enjoy enormous portions of three different types of gelato, cold salads and sandwiches, specialty coffees and desserts while listening to some amazing piano music.
One of the big up-grades to the Princess fleet is the addition of watching movies on deck poolside, 'Movies Under the Stars' is basically the biggest projector screen you've ever seen in front of literally hundreds of deck loungers, blankets and don't forget the free cookies and milk or popcorn.
Our cabin was a real surprise...this is our first handicapped cabin D308; with Bruce's knees the shower, with grab bar is perfect for him...a straight walk in. The ship is looking new...and our room reflects it....H has a new looking sleeper sofa, double TVs, a huge wall of closets, and a comfy queen size bed with down comforter. Our cabin Stewart, Apol, is a darling...and our room is spotless. We got our laundry and pressing ready for tomorrow 9am...I'll report back later on that.
The ship is packed and you feel it.....when we tried to make our dinner reservations for 10 we were told there was nothing except 8:30pm...not good with the Grands. Luckily, we ran into our old friend Emil...our head waiter in the Michelangelo dining room and it all worked out....table for 10....5:30pm.
The Michelangelo is a cozy, comfortable dining room....our waiters Theerapong and Tharatrip at table 229 had a full station to deal with but our food came out hot and delicious. Most everyone started out with shrimp cocktail, but Traci and I went with the Snapper Mojito....beautiful, but needed the missing jalapeno to make it snap. Everyone stayed with the gorgeous prime rib...perfectly med rare, except H and I, we had the tender tri tip...very nice.....plus a vanilla creme brulee with lemon madelines to finish.
Day 4 At Sea 30th
Here we are out in the middle of the Gulf....rolling seas and overcast with a windy chill....where is our sunshine? Breakfast in bed was a treat...we are trying to slow down and relax and not race out to every event. Vladimir, our cabin waiter is a dream...trying to find us everything we requested...he even offered to go to the buffet and find the papaya I had requested. I joined MP and Traci in the Horizon for coffee while they had a late breakfast...the Crown has doubled the size of the Horizon's seating....much needed this week...but the lines were ridiculous for the buffet. Hand sanitizers are everywhere, which we appreciate. Service in the Horizon was very attentive with at least 3 staff coming over to get our drink orders. I just don't like the crush of the crowds. ***I later found the Cafe Caribe area in the far rear of the Horizon....bright, spacious, quiet with its own buffet....Perfection.
After breakfast, we tried our hand at morning trivia in Club Fusion...15 out of 20....Boo!
Mom wanted to hear the shopping lecture....so I went with her to the Princess Theatre...packed? We left after an hour when we found it would go on for another hour??? Two hours on Diamonds International.....Really?
Back to the cabin to find MP/T/M for pub lunch in the Wheelhouse Bar....yummy fish and chips with mushy peas, bangers and mash, and the Ploughman's lunch....all washed down with a nice Bass Ale.....crazy busy at 11:50 and the line was twice as long when we left. Service was excellent, but you eat at the tiny little bar tables...with five for lunch it was tight....grab a seat at the bar if you can next time.
We all explored or napped for the afternoon....I keep reminding myself this is a vacation, not a trip. Caught up on reading.
Everyone had promised to meet at afternoon Trivia for the "Brain Buster"...Ooooh! Bingo had been in the same room so it was way too crowded and we finally found a table. We do trivia because it is fun and silly and .....we want to win. Unfortunately, the German Formula 1 driver threw us for a loop and we should have stuck with our first choices...which were all right...13 out of 20....who knew it was Indonesia instead of Iceland with the most volcanoes?
After the trivia game we shot up to the Skywalker lounge for the Plat/Elite cocktail party...tonight's specials...the El Mejor...a margarita made with OJ instead of lime juice...love it....and a platter of guacamole and chips, with some cheese and olives. The drink special was $5.
Down the elevator back to 7 for a wonderful dinner at the Crown Grill...little did we know...WOW! The Dining room is beautiful, intimate with an open kitchen...so you can watch your steak sizzle. Be ready for a 2-3 hour dinner...perfectly presented and served by our waiter, Tony. You have your choice of huge steaks, chops, rack of lamb and lobster (4 med to a plate), plus family portions of fries, scalloped potatoes, creamed spinach, creamed corn, asparagus, sauteed mushrooms....all classic steakhouse favorites.
We started off with lamb Carpaccio, scallops with smoked bacon and truffle mashed potatoes...go for the delicious Carpaccio...others had lobster cakes with black prawns...H had both. Next course....Black and Blue Onion soup...a twist on the classic with blue cheese topping the crouton....I have to do this at home. On to the main...22 oz porterhouse, rib eye, filet....some chose the sea bass with huge prawns, which looked wonderful....but I can never pass up a rack of lamb...full rack cut into double chops....perfection....amazing! All done to perfection...way way way too much for any mortal.... But that didn't stop us giving dessert a test drive. Dessert...berry apple cobbler....lemon meringue tart....and of course the Fudge Chocolate obsession...all cooked to order. Where's the wheel barrel...take me home.
Day 5 At Sea. Happy New Year 31st
What a relaxing day....we slept in and had the treat of breakfast in bed again...love Vladimir, our room waiter. We met Mom, MP, H and Joyce for morning trivia...too bad.... losers again at 14 out of 20...drat that "Band of Gorillas" and "Waterloo" from Abba.
Up to the pool after dragging Bruce from the Internet cafe....last day of the year for stocks! MP found a table by the pizza parlor....Princess has the best thin crust pizza. beware the slices are huge, at least 2 slices in one. The pizza men are always cheery.
They have shrunk the pool area to add to the Horizon dining and the Movies under the Stars.....very crowded and a number of complaints were going around the pool and elevators. The ship is full to capacity and it shows.
I got our small change from the front desk...always remember to get this on sea days....port days are always a zoo. The desk also has a pocket-size Patter....ask for it.
Love the Piazza....the new Vines has free sushi and Tapas with a beverage purchase.. Need to try. The International Cafe has a nice selection of sandwiches, quiche, interesting salads and of course, pastries. And don't forget Gelato...3 scoops for $1. The bar and coffee lounge is right next door and servers are there to get beverages and help with platters. The piano/musical entertainment is steps away with plenty of comfy chairs and tables. Overall a great area.
We are off to the Grapevines wine tasting at 3pm....$10 pp. This is their biggest tasting...a full dining room, and Jan, our sommelier was wonderful and informative. A pleasant afternoon.
Dinner is always amazing and Emil is spoiling us with fresh cheese and fruit platters before dinner every night with our wine.
Day 6 Roatan January 1st Happy New Year!
Today we have plans with Victor Bodden's tours for an Island tour of Roatan. We exited the ship...please be aware: the walk from the ship to the terminal is fairly long and slightly uphill. It looks to be recently constructed....by Carnival. You exit and walk down to the taxi stand where for $2 pp they will take you the mile over the hill to meet the independent tours. Victor is waiting for us and we are handed over to our guide, Leonora and our driver, Rupert and their huge tour bus. We chose Victor Bodden's Best of Roatan Tour and decided to pay the extra $5 per person to have our own guided tour...well worth it. Our guide was in the assigned meeting place and quickly got us on our way.
What lovely people....they couldn't be more helpful. We head north on the island to the East side view point...and shopping. Morgan buys a huge seashell for $20 and I find 2 cute Guatemalan bags $10, a wooden salt bowl $5, and cute coconut shell starfish earrings....plus 2 seashell trumpets.
Another shopping stop...small oil painting of colorful parrots $20, bags of fresh Honduran coffee beans....which smelled marvelous.
Then off to the butterfly farm...$10 pp entrance to see tons of huge butterflies, wild Capuchin Monkeys, jaguar and wild cats.....right in the cage with them. The monkeys loved my dad and wanted to lick his face? Salt lick?
Back down the road....to the West end...very pretty...the water is crystal clear and warm. We stopped for a lunch at Half Moon Bay...tasty but expensive....I tried couch..not for me, but the fried shrimp were great....$140 for lunch for the 5 of us. Right on the ocean...it couldn't be a better spot to have a few cold ones. I wished we had brought our snorkel gear...this is the perfect spot for a dip.
Next stop....West Bay....the most gorgeous beach on the island...unfortunately; it is jammed packed with people...not our style. Bruce and I have a chat with a real estate broker...crazy prices...I think Roatan has been discovered?
Back to the ship... another beautiful day in a beautiful place. If you need help, they do have one wheelchair at Mahogany Bay terminal...
Bruce decides the Rose Bowl is more important than dinner, so we leave him to Stanford and go off to our regular table 229 for another wonderful dinner.
Belize Day 7 2nd
Today we are off to cave tube with Charlie's cave tubing....
We decide to get up and out to breakfast at 8am, the ship docked at 7am...the Crown is anchored off shore as are the other 3 ships and we are tendered in by high speed tender, approx 15 mins. Sunny skies and turquoise seas. We exited terminal tour and the boys in the superman shirts were waiting for us just outside the door....off with Alf and his assistant in a comfy air-conditioned van for the hour ride to the cave site. Belize is a poor country and it is evident all around....tip well and often. The last ten mins of the ride is on a rough dirt road....but the site area is well maintained, clean and well organized. There are large clean restrooms, changing rooms and several restaurants on site. Be prepared with water shoes...the 20 min hike to over uneven terrain and on loose rocks...you carry your own tube and wear a life-vest and headlamp. We had to cross a knee deep river three times...nothing major and the water was perfect. Our biggest mistake was leaving so late...they wanted us off the ship as soon as possible....and we didn't listen...the river was filled with bus loads of tourist and we missed hiking 30 mins up the river to go through additional caves...drat?
The river was "refreshing" but I though very comfortable...pleasant in fact. Our tubes were hooked together in line and off we went into the caves for about a 2 mile long ride with headlamps on....very cool. There is a small waterfall in the middle of the cave...and bats. After we exited the caves, we cruised comfortably down the river another couple of miles through lush tropical jungle....the original lazy river. You end where you began and hike a short way back to the central area. We changed and sat down in one of the small restaurants for a little lunch, which way included with our tour...BBQ chicken and beans and rice, and a Belizean beer....Yum. I found time to purchase a Wist shell necklace and bracelet and a stone carving with a sea turtle and Mayan gods.
Alf gets us back in the van to head back for the long ride to Belize City....with a short stop at Travellers rum factory....for a tasting. $1 US for 3 tastes of your choice...I go for the cashew wine...nasty...the coconut rum...delicious...and the 5 yr old "5 Barrel" rum....double yum! So I invested in a bottle of the coconut rum for $10 and the 5 Barrel for $15. Highly recommended....this is a must do with Charlie's!
Off to the terminal.....but before we enter the door...there is a very nice bamboo drum man...who could resist...not me? One bamboo drum...$10. We passed quickly through security and on to the tender for a quick 15 ride back to the ship by 4pm. We have dinner at 5:30, so just time for a quick shower and change for dinner...plus a bottle of Schramsberg while we sail away....beautiful sunset.
Dinner was a dream...venison and quail terrain, gnocchi with sauce Provenal and cocoa crusted pork tenderloin....plus our friend, Emil, was preparing bananas flambe. Pure Evil.
Day 8 Cozumel 3rd
What a perfect day....sea, sun and snorkeling. Cozumel
We had a 9am start time for our glass bottom boat/snorkeling tour with Chi Chi Charters....great great and great. After the long, and I mean long walk from the ship to the terminal and then again through the shopping gauntlet...crazy long. Be aware that there are some peddle bikes (good tip only) for the first half but nothing through the shopping area?? Not ideal for the disabled.
Taxis were available...$8 for a sedan and $16 for a 10 person van..Down to Carleta Marina to catch our boat. Amanda met us for final payment and handed us over to Angel and Al, our captain and snorkel guide. We cruised 30 mins in crystal clear turquoise seas to Columbia reef, our first stop. Gear on and jump in. Clear down to the 50 foot bottom...huge schools of colorful fish....which we swam through the beautiful yellow and black stripped Trigger fish and grey groupers.... Barracuda, couch shells, moray eel, stingray, flounder, starfish, and more....I could do this for days...it was like swimming in a huge aquarium.
Off to Palancar, Chankanaab Reef and El Ceilo (which means heaven and it is)... No more than knee deep turquoise water and white silky sand....it is truly heaven. This is where Al lays out a table full of snacks...homemade salsas, guac and chips, and fresh fruit while we lazy in the water drinking Coronitas and sodas.....love that! Thanks ChiChi for a wonderful day!
Back to the ship by 2pm for a shower....the off to Trivia and a wonderful dinner of escargot, Wellington, and chocolate souffle.
Tonight Morgan sleeps over.... and wants breakfast in bed....Hey, Vladimir!
FYI: Be aware that the old marina is a natural harbor and there are no piers or landings so the steps down to the boat are at best cuts into the rocks...very steep and uneven. We were able to get Bruce, Kenny, Dad and Joyce down with the help of all of us and the two hands....this was everyone's favorite tour. The new marina is opening soon, but no official date?
PS...I love Cozumel...south side hotel area near the national park.
Day 9 At Sea January 4th
Sleeping in...breakfast in bed.....Trivia, pizza and another wine tasting. This one was $25 pp and started with Vieux Clicquot, so I can't resist? Lovely canapes and Jan is a fantastic sommelier. Plus, plenty of packing up to turn in suitcases after dinner.
Tonight another wonderful dinner topped off by Baked Alaska and the parade of waiters.
Day 10 Galveston 5th
Disembarking was delayed, so we were late by an hour....but it was smooth enough. The terminal is very small and our driver was waiting across the street at Starbucks for us. One quick call and he was at the curb. Thanks Lady Bird Limo...I would trust them in Houston/Galveston again. Rainy and cold...about 49...we headed up the freeway to Houston for a short tour. Past Radiant Stadium and Rice University....too much rain, so off to lunch. Warm gumbo and crawfish bisque.... Pappadeaux's Seafood Kitchen. What a great choice...comfortable, warm, friendly service, delicious food, yummy coffee and the manager bought us dessert since it was our first time. Who could ask for more?
Our driver dropped us at Hobby right on time. I am so impressed with Southwest....friendly, helpful, fun. A little overweight, but we were able to adjust quickly and our skycap was so patient. Off we went in 5 wheelchairs and 5 extras...through security...always fun? Happy to be going home......