December 21st – 28th Christmas cruise
This was my third cruise with Princess and I am still a fan and will sail with them again. Everything was just as expected from the great food, entertainment and the crew. This is a tough week to sail for them as they are away from their families as well, but they always put our interests first.
Embarking out of Houston: this is a new terminal as of November and it is very clean, but nothing out of the ordinary. Standard stuff for a cruise line terminal. Norwegian is expected to also leave from here in 2014 so, that will put them to a higher test when the crowds double. There were no reviews on this port when I booked the cruise (for obvious reasons) but, boy do I with there had been. Houston is a one lane shipping channel and high winds and fog are a huge problem this time of year. At 10:00 P.M. the day before we were set to leave home I received an email saying the port was closed due to fog and you couldn’t get onboard the ship until Sunday the 22nd. I didn’t want the hassle of changing flights so, I reserved a hotel room and thought we would just sightsee around Houston on Saturday and make the best of it. Saturday, we land at Houston Hobby and are greeted by princess staff who said the ship did make it into port but just a little later than expected. We would probably be able to board around 5 or 6. That email came when I was on the plane and didn’t have a chance to get it. So, we were pretty relieved that we could get onboard that day. Princess has had a lot of issues with this type of thing happening and are managing it pretty well. We were able to check in and then instead of sitting around for 4 hours we were offered to be shuttled to a little boardwalk area near the ocean for a chance to eat or just walk around. It was an ok alternative and I did appreciate the fact that they are trying. We were allowed to board the ship around 5:30 but none of the rooms were ready yet. We parked our gear there for a bit and then went to eat when our steward arrived to make up the room. It was a rush job and none of the first day amenities like the complimentary champagne etc. were being offered. The ship did manage to allow alcohol to be served while in port (which normally doesn’t happen until you are 3 hours out I am told) which took the edge off people as they hit the bars. Notice came later that we were missing a lot of people who changed their flights to Sunday so; we had to wait in port until 4:30 ish the next day. We were on the port side and had a wonderful view of the refineries and ships as they unloaded. There was a thick brown film covering all the patio furniture on the balcony and I can only assume it was from the refineries? I wiped it down myself since the steward didn’t seem to put much effort in this area.
Port of calls: Costa Maya to replace Honduras. It was ok. Small and not much shopping. We booked an excursion for the jungle beach. It took an hour to get there from the ship. There were plenty of chairs and there was an open bar that served free beer and other typical tropical drinks. Or servers were very fast and friendly. The beach was dirty and there was trash of all kinds in the water. Forks, water bottles, an oil bottle and just a lot of other assorted junk floating around. The sand went from hard coral to nice sand to slimy (yes slimy) in some places. The water was too murky and yucky to snorkel. Free kayaks were a big hit and there were other things like ATV’s or boats you could rent. If not for the free bar service this place would have been a bust.
Belize: this was our second port of call. The sips dock 15 minutes out and we took tenders into the port. We booked the ruins/river cruise with lunch excursion. It is an hour from the dock to the ruins. Our guides were very informative about a lot of Belize local culture and the ruins were very good. We were able to climb to the top of one of them and take a lot of pictures. Lunch was local food (rice, beans and chicken) with free drinks. Beer and diet soda were extra. Next came the river cruise and it was well done. We saw a lot of wildlife from monkeys to crocodiles. They pack the boat with people so, it can be a little uncomfortable. The area has been hit pretty hard by a lot of storms over the past years and the rainfall they have had was been unusually high for this time of year. A lot of flooding and the roads were a bit tricky. Poverty is not hidden here and was an eye opener for my children.
Cozumel: Great shopping and by far the best port. We did the dolphin/manatee swim at a local park. It was a good time but our dolphin was tired after pulling half the group around! I felt terrible for her. She wouldn’t respond to the handler’s commands and they had to give her a break. I refused to take a ride after that and just watched. I broke my heart. After the dolphin swim you are invited to view your pictures and if you like them you can purchase them for 37 dollars a pop. Ummmm no thanks. Once you are through that gauntlet you are free to roam the park for a sea lion show or just park it in some chairs on the man-made beach and snorkel. The beaches here were beautiful and the water was very clear. There were reports of a lot of jelly fish in the water though.
Next day and a half was spent sailing back to Houston. So long sunny weather. It turned cold and wet. We had a heck of a choppy ride back home. I can’t tell you how anxious I was about getting into the port at Houston! The track record has not been great and my mind was whirling with thoughts of rescheduling flights, getting a room etc….Luckily…..we made it in. We took an express walk off, got a cab right away and were at the airport with 2 hours to spare. Back home by 6:30 eastern.
Bottom line for me? I won’t ever sail out of Houston again. Too much stress with the weather and schedule changes.