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Grand Princess Cruise Review by cboyle: California Coastal: Gateway to Southern CA and Baja Wine Areas


cboyle
16 Reviews
Member Since 2002
920 Posts

Member Rating

Cabin 5.0
Dining 5.0
Embarkation Not Rated
Enrichment Activities Not Rated
Entertainment Not Rated
Family & Children Not Rated
Fitness & Recreation Not Rated
Public Rooms 5.0
Rates Not Rated
Service 5.0
Shore Excursions 3.0
Value for Money 5.0

Compare Prices on Grand Princess USA Cruises

California Coastal: Gateway to Southern CA and Baja Wine Areas

Sail Date: March 2014
Destination: USA
Embarkation: San Francisco

San Francisco, CA; San Diego, California; Ensenada, Mexico; Long Beach, California; Santa Barbara, California; San Francisco, CA

ABOUT THE REVIEW

Other reviews give extensive information on the ship, cabins, food etc. Our reviews are not like that; they are primarily a journal of what we did in the various ports, including web links to tourist information sites and maps. In general, we prefer DIY port tours, private tours with other Cruise Critic roll call members, or shared public tours. However, we will take a Princess tour when the logistics or cost make that a better option. Tour operator contact information is included in each port review.

ABOUT US

John and I (Carolyn) are retired Mississippi State University professors in our early sixties, who currently reside in central North Carolina. Both of us are natives of New Orleans and, as such, are interested in good food (and wine!) and good times. Our preferred souvenir is a small regional or More national flag. On this itinerary, I would not need to acquire any flags.

We enjoy both cruises and land tours; often our trips combine the two. Many of our cruises have been in the Caribbean but we have also cruised to Alaska, the Mediterranean/Greek Isles, Scandinavia/Russia, the Panama Canal, the Hawaiian Islands, French Polynesia, South America/Antarctic Peninsula, the Far East, the Amazon River, the North Atlantic (Greenland, Iceland and parts of the British Isles), the Norwegian Fjords, the Galapagos Islands, the Holy Land/Egypt, Australia/New Zealand, the Canary Islands and the Mexican Riviera. We have taken land tours to the Netherlands, Canadian Rockies, Mexico (Cozumel), London, France (several wine regions and Paris), China, Argentina (Buenos Aires, Iguazu Falls, Mendoza wine region), Chile (Santiago, several wine regions), the Hawaiian Islands (Kauai, Maui, Hawaii) and to many parts of the continental USA.

On our trips, we prefer nature and wildlife tours that involve snorkeling, SCUBA diving or hiking. In particular, we will hike for miles to see waterfalls, volcanoes, caves or other interesting geologic features. We also enjoy lighthouses, forts, castles and anything else we can legally climb up on for a good view.

We are Elite members of Princess' Captain's Circle loyalty program, but have also sailed with Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Costa, Celebrity and Commodore.

This would be John's and my first cruise to the California ports, although we had previously made a port call in Ensenada and visited LA and San Diego on business trips. This cruise was the second leg of a B2B. Our review of the first leg (10-day Mexican Riviera with our DS and his family) is here: www.cruisecritic.com/memberreviews/memberreview.cfm?EntryID=252949

15 MAR (SAT) SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA (Departure 4pm)

Tourist Information: www.sanfrancisco.travel

Waterfront Map: wikitravel.org/upload/shared/f/fe/Sanfrancisco_fishermanswharf_printmap.png

After escorting our DS, DDIL and two toddler DGDs to the parking garage and helping them load up for the drive home, John and I returned to the waterfront to enjoy some sightseeing before reboarding the Grand Princess.

Instead of walking along the Embarcadero, we walked along the piers right next to the water. Along the way we found the location of the sea lions that inhabit San Francisco Bay. They seemed pleased with their perch and the visitors looking on.

Our destination was the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park (www.nps.gov/safr/). There is a small museum, which we had toured on a previous visit to San Francisco. Today we were more interested in the historic vessels and exhibits located on the Hyde Street Pier. Visitors may walk along the pier at no charge but there is an admission fee to tour the vessels. Because I have an America the Beautiful Senior Pass (www.nps.gov/findapark/passes.htm), John and I could receive free entry stickers at the ticket booth.

Not all of the vessels were open for touring today. We visited the two that were open: the Balclutha, a square-rigged ship built in 1886, and the C. A. Thayer, a three-masted schooner built in 1895 and currently being restored. We would have liked to tour more of the vessels but it still was a beautiful, sunny, warm day to be out walking along the Bay.

On the way back to the ship, we stopped at Pier 45 to tour the SS Jeremiah O'Brien, a WWII Liberty ship built in 1943 (www.ssjeremiahobrien.org). This vessel is not part of the SFMNHP and has a $8 pp admission fee. This was definitely a bargain as the ship was fascinating. The tour is self-guided and takes the visitor to many parts of the ship, including down into the engine room. One of the enthusiastic volunteers explained to us how the ship's engine room was used to film the engine room scenes in the movie “Titanic.”

We walked back to Pier 35 and had only a short delay at the security check before we could re-board the Grand Princess. We shared a pizza at Alfredo's Pizzeria and made a reservation for dinner tonight at Sabatini's Trattoria. When we returned to our cabin, all of our complimentary minibar items were there. We had a few items left from the minibar setup from the previous cruise plus a half-dozen or so from our DS's setup, so we decided to exchange the new setup for two coffee cards; the exchange was made before sail away.

Today the Grand Princess departed only about a half-hour past its scheduled time. It was still full daylight and the air was very clear. We had excellent views of San Francisco, Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge and there were many sailboats in the Bay. We watched the sail away from one of the top decks. It was very windy, so we went inside not long after passing under the Golden Gate Bridge.

Because we were no longer traveling with two young children, John and I switched from Traditional to Anytime Dining. From past experience, we know that Anytime dining is chaotic the first night and it is wise to dine at one of the specialty restaurants instead. As usual, the food at Sabatini’s ($25 pp) was excellent; we had a window table with a romantic view of the rising full moon. We can never limit ourselves to one antipasto here: John had the calamari and the soft-shelled crab and I had the soft-shelled crab and the artichoke souffle. We both had the wonderful grilled veal chop as an entree. For dessert, John had the creme caramel, while I had the “Sinfonia;” we also shared a plate of artisan cheeses.

We were happy to learn that the Princess wine package was available, even though this was only a 7-day cruise. Although the coffee card, soda package and new all-you-can-drink beverage package are widely promoted on the ship, the wine package is not advertised at all. Even some of the wait staff are unaware of its existence (e.g., our Waiter tonight in Sabatini's) and they may need to check with a headwaiter. If you are interested in the wine package, you may have to be persistent in asking for it. The package comes in two versions and three numbers of bottles: Silver (wines up to $29) 12 ($240), 10 ($210) or 7 ($161) bottles and Gold (wines up to $45) 12 ($336), 10 ($290) or 7 ($217) bottles. Note that a 15% gratuity is added to the price of each package. Also note that either version can be used to purchase more expensive wines: the list price of the wine is charged to your onboard account (no gratuity added) and your account receives a credit for either $29 or $45. We bought a 7-bottle Gold package, which was a very cost-effective choice for us. [Note: If you choose to buy the wine package, be sure to check your on board account statement periodically to ensure that the package is being applied correctly. We had two errors on the previous cruise and one on this cruise.]

After dinner, John and I skipped the “Welcome Aboard Showtime” and read for awhile before settling down to a restful night of gentle rocking as the Grand Princess headed south to San Diego.

16 MAR (SUN) AT SEA

There was some fog early this morning but it cleared later. We read in the One-5 nightclub until lunch time, when we enjoyed pizzas at Alfredo's. Later in the afternoon, we viewed the movie “Gravity” in the Princess Theater.

In the late afternoon, there was a “Welcome Back” party for Gold and Ruby members of the Captain's Circle. Tonight was the first formal night and the Captain's Welcome Champagne Waterfall. We had snacked on chocolate-covered strawberries this afternoon, so we chose to go to the Anytime dining room (Michelangelo) around 6:30 p.m. and wait for a table for two. We only had to wait about 15 minutes for the pager to summon us to our table. After dinner, we went to the production show, “Stardust.”

17 MAR (MON) SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA (8:00am – 6:00pm)

Tourist Information: www.sandiego.org

Waterfront Map (B Street Cruise Ship Terminal is north of the USS Midway): www.portofsandiego.org/environment/clean-water/doc_download/4714-public-parks-brochure-2012.html

This was the only port that would not have a wine-themed activity. We planned to go to the San Diego Zoo and had hoped to be there when the zoo opened at 9:00 a.m. However, the ship was late docking and obtaining clearance from the local authorities. Thus we were not off the ship until 8:40 a.m. and took off for the SDMTS route 7 bus stop on Broadway and Front Street; this is about a 15-20 minute walk from the B Street Cruise Ship Terminal and the bus ride to the zoo takes 16 minutes. Unfortunately, the route and timetable information at the SDMTS web site (www.sdmts.com/mtscr/route.aspx?r=7) is incorrect; the #7 bus stops further east at Broadway and Third Street. Even though we missed the first possible bus because of this incorrect information, we finally managed to reach the zoo at 10:00 a.m. The adult fare for this bus is $2.50 and the senior (age 62 and up) fare is $1.10 (show your driver's license or other proof of age; exact fare, cash only).

The San Diego Zoo (zoo.sandiegozoo.org) is not only renowned for its animal collection but also for its conservation activities. On this beautiful spring St. Patrick's Day, it was a pleasure to stroll the beautifully landscaped grounds. The Panda exhibit is one of the most popular and crowded, so we headed there first. John's research had found that taking the Fern Canyon stairs was the quickest route there. When we arrived, there were only about a dozen people there listening to the staff member discussing Panda life and habitat. We had plenty of opportunity to view and photograph the zoo's two Giant Pandas.

We worked our way back and forth through the zoo and were fortunate to see most of the animals, although some were hiding. There are about 3 or 4 miles of trails in the zoo, with lots of hills; we took the Skyfari (included in the day pass) twice from near the Polar Bears back to the entrance to save time.

Our final activity at the zoo was the 40-minute guided bus tour (included in the day pass). We were extremely fortunate to draw Chris “Zooman” Clobber as our driver/guide. Chris is a stand up comedian and a grandson of Laurence Klauber, whose personal collection was the foundation for the Klauber-Shaw Reptile House at the zoo. Chris was raised in the zoo and provides a fascinating and enthusiastic commentary. He also knows the best time to pause at various exhibits. For example, he stopped at the Polar Bear exhibit right at the time the bears were being fed and we got to see them jump in the water and swim to catch their food. From the top of the double-decker bus, we were even able to see some of the animals that had been hiding from us earlier.

The adult day pass for the zoo costs $46 pp and there is a 10% discount for seniors ($41.40 pp, age 65 and up). With the round-trip bus fare of $2.20 pp, our DIY excursion cost $43.60 pp vs $99 pp for the equivalent Princess tour. Of course, that does not include the $40 I had to spend to replace the sun hat that I somehow managed to lose on the way to the zoo.

We left the zoo at about 3:00 p.m. and caught the #7 bus back to the stop at Broadway and First Street. We sauntered back to the ship and made it back aboard about 4:00 p.m.

This evening we had reservations for the Crab Shack ($20 pp), which is a new dining venue introduced on the Royal Princess. This dining option is only offered on a few nights each cruise in the aft portion of the Horizon Court. The menu includes one appetizer (fried shrimp and hush puppies), one soup (Manhattan clam chowder) and four combination pots of boiled/steamed seafood. John and I both got the mixed boil with King Crab legs, shrimp, mussels, clams, sausage, corn on the cob and potatoes. The food was pretty good although the appetizer was only lukewarm. A real irritation, though, was the door to the aft terrace, which let in a blast of frigid air every time a server went through it to get drinks from the Terrace Bar. The door did not completely close automatically and some of the servers did not try to close it. John and I each got up and closed it because the cold air was so uncomfortable. The maitre d' saw John close it and must have had a word with the servers because it was less of a problem after that and the maitre d' suddenly became much more concerned about how we were enjoying the meal.

18 MAR (TUES) ENSENADA, MEXICO (8:00am – 5:00pm)

Tourist Information: www.enjoyensenada.com/

Town Map: www.lonelyplanet.com/maps/north-america/mexico/ensenada/

Valle de Guadalupe Information: www.bajabound.com/destinations/bajawinecountry/

John and I had visited Ensenada on a previous cruise but that was a short, perfunctory stop merely to satisfy the Passenger Services Act. There is a small shopping area at the port, a car rental booth and a tourist information booth. Taxis are not allowed to pick up passengers at the port but there is a shuttle ($2 pp) into the main shopping area downtown. Both the shuttle and taxis charge $1 pp to return to the ship.

John investigated possibilities for a private winery tour to the Valle de Guadelupe but decided that the ship's excursion was the best option for this port. John, I and 45 of our closest friends were bused to two wineries: one very large and one very small. While we were waiting in line for the tour to proceed to the bus, an agricultural inspector with a dog checked all of us. As we continued to wait, the dog reacted to a group going ashore with a baby stroller. They had to open all their bags and quite a bit of unsealed food (mostly apples) was confiscated; packaged, sealed food (like their carton of yogurt) was allowed. There were a lot of new cruisers on this voyage who may have been unaware of the restrictions on taking agricultural products off the ship. The Princess Patter had only mentioned bringing contraband back on board and an announcement about not taking food ashore was not made until well after passengers had started to disembark.

As we left the port, our guide (Gloria) strongly hinted that we should be tipping her and the driver (Jesus) at the end of the tour. During the 40-minute drive, Gloria gave us some information on the history and economic conditions in this part of Mexico but admitted that she did not know much about wine (she prefers whiskey) or the wineries we would be visiting. As we approached the first winery, Gloria informed us that she would handle the tips there but we should tip at the second winery. John and I have toured and tasted at over 100 wineries all over the world and this is the first time there has been any suggestion that the wine pourers were expecting us to tip them.

The first winery we visited was L. A. Cetto, which is one of the largest wine producers in Mexico. The tour was led by Ruben, a winery employee, who described the production process and showed us the processing machinery, fermentation tanks and barrel room. Next we were led to a tasting room that was barely big enough to cram in our large group. Gloria had brought along some slices of bread, cheese cubes, olives and olive oil, which she placed on the two long bars so we would have something to cleanse our palates between wines. Ruben gave generous pours of four Cetto wines but did not know much about them beyond his memorized spiel. Then he pulled out a tip jar, which we ignored. There was a little time allowed for those who wanted to buy some wine to take home. By now Gloria was anxious to herd us back to the bus. As we re-boarded, we were each handed a bottle of Cetto wine that was a blend especially produced to give to tour groups.

The Cetto winery produces wine from far too many varieties and knows this. They are trying to determine the grapes will produce the best wines for this area. The wines we tasted were on the whole pleasing and showed good varietal characteristics but were not outstanding. We would be interested in returning to try wines from some of the smaller wineries in the area.

In contrast, the Casa de Dona Lupe (www.lacasadonalupe.com), is an extremely small wine operation. In addition to wine, it produces liquors, herbs, jams, spreads, filled breads and pizzas. We were encouraged to taste the jams and spreads on our own; Gloria had a couple of the stuffed breads and pizzas cut up so that we could each have a small taste of those. Each of us received a card that entitled us to four small pours of wine. No descriptions of the wines were offered by the pourers; in fact, they never spoke at all and Gloria was naturally of no help. I did not see a tip jar but no one there was doing anything that deserved a tip anyway. The wines were non-vintage and of uncertain variety. They were at best drinkable but only marginally. The food was better. At one point, we had a brief glimpse of Dona Lupe herself and there was a costumed dancer doing native dances and selling jewelry. At least there were clean bathrooms.

Altogether this was a decent way to spend a port day in Ensenada. However, we would not seek out any of the wines we tasted to purchase in the future.

After the bus returned to Ensenada, we were offered the option (which only one couple took) of remaining in town and returning to the ship on our own or of going directly back to the ship. There was a long line for the security checkpoint to re-enter the port.

Tonight there was a cocktail party for the Most Traveled passengers in the One-5 disco.; the three Most Traveled passengers had each sailed 1250 days with Princess. We went to dinner before the party and thus sampled only a few of the many delicacies in the impressive display of hors d'oeuvres and desserts. We did have a couple of snifters of cognac, which were very enjoyable.

19 MAR (WED) LONG BEACH, CALIFORNIA (7:00am – 6:00pm)

Tourist Information: www.visitlongbeach.com

Waterfront Shuttle (free) Map: www.lbtransit.com/schedules/pdf/30.pdf

Today John had planned to rent a car, drive to the Temecula Valley and visit two or three wineries. However, our plans were drastically altered by a Customs and Border Protection inspection at the port and delays at the car rental agency.

Yesterday we were given a suggested schedule for the CBP inspection, which was supposed to start at 7:20 a.m. after the ship had been cleared by CBP. We lined up about 7:10 a.m. with about 30 people ahead of us. We waited for over an hour for the ship to be cleared; by then the line stretched around the atrium and into the casino. Posts on CruiseCritic.com reported that the delay was due to a thorough search of the ship for illegal substances and that several people were taken off the ship in handcuffs. Once the ship was finally cleared, we exited to the cruise terminal, where we had to present our passports and custom forms. Even passengers who did not want to go ashore in Long Beach had to go through this procedure and no one was allowed to return to the ship until everyone had been processed (reportedly about 1:30 p.m.). If your itinerary calls in Long Beach right after a stop in Ensenada, do not plan to be on your way sooner than two hours after the ship's scheduled arrival time.

Because we were near the front of the line to get off the ship, we went through the customs and immigration inspection quickly and headed off to the closest car rental agency (Enterprise). There was no sign of the free Passport shuttle, so we briskly walked the 1.5 miles to the Enterprise office in about 23 minutes. Although there were only two people with reservations ahead of us, it took 50 minutes to obtain our car. The office was seriously understaffed, with only one person behind the counter to process reservations and answer the telephone; three other staff members wandered in and out aimlessly. The telephone rang constantly with people calling from the cruise terminal to be picked up. There were so many reservations that only the drivers could be picked up (supposedly in a half-hour); after they got their vehicles, the drivers would have to return to the terminal to collect the rest of their groups. John and I were thankful that we could make our own way to the rental office and did not have to rely on Enterprise to pick us up.

We finally left the Enterprise parking lot at 10 o'clock. We had planned to visit three wineries in the Temecula Valley (www.temeculawines.org) but had already lost three hours of port time. There was no way that we could be on time for our first winery appointment; however, I was able to call and reschedule it for later in the morning. We did not have appointments at the other two wineries, so we could make a decision later about visiting them.

John reviewed many wineries in the Temecula area before selecting Leoness Cellars (www.leonesscellars.com) because they seemed the one most serious about their wines. Many other area wineries seemed to be more like holiday destinations. We took the VIP tour and tasting ($35 pp) and were really pleased. We toured the vineyards, viewed the facilities and talked wine philosophy with Dawn, the Host Department Manager. Leoness is serious enough about their wines to submit them to wine reviewers for evaluations and typically their wines do quite well. After sampling eleven different wines there, we can understand why. Temecula is still finding itself as a wine region and Leoness is still making wine from too many varietals (a fact they recognize), but they are becoming an outstanding winery. We highly recommend a visit to anyone interested in a serious winery and serious wines.

Because of our late start and the legendary LA traffic, we decided to enjoy a relaxed experience at Leoness and forgo visiting any other wineries in order to allow extra time for the return to the ship. If we visit this area again, we would like to taste and tour at Wiens Family Cellars (www.wienscellars.com) and Callaway Winery (www.callawaywinery.com). Dawn at Leoness said that she liked the Italian-style wines at Renzoni (www.robertrenzonivineyards.com), so we would probably add them to our list.‎

When we returned the car to to Enterprise, there were several people already waiting to be driven back to the cruise terminal. Given all the delays this morning, we chose to walk back to the ship at a leisurely pace (30 minutes this time). Even with stopping to take some photos of the Queen Mary, we probably beat those people back on board. BTW, we later read on CruiseCritic.com that, during port calls in Long Beach, cruise passengers can show their cruise cards for free admission to the Queen Mary; we might check that out if we ever call here again.

When we returned to our cabin, we found two free drink vouchers. Even though the long delay this morning in disembarkation was not Princess' fault, the company wanted to do something to mollify the passengers.

This evening we had dinner at the Crown Grill ($25 pp). John ordered a seared scallop appetizer and I had the marinated goat cheese and heirloom tomato salad. Instead of a steak, we both had the blackened beef chop covered with mushroom and onions. Several sauces are offered to go along with the meat, as well as three flavored salts. The finale was a dessert sampler with small portions of each of the four dessert options. Normally, we are hesitant to get the beef in the Crown Grill because it cannot be “grilled” on board the ship. However, the chops were outstanding and may become a new choice for us.

20 MAR (THURS) SANTA BARBARA, CALIFORNIA (7:00am – 6:00pm)

Tourist Information: www.santabarbaraca.com/visitor-info/

Waterfront Map (Tenders dock at Sea Landing, #18): www.santabarbaraca.gov/civicax/filebank/blobdload.aspx?BlobID=17186

Waterfront ($0.50) Shuttle Map: www.sbmtd.gov/maps-and-schedules/maps/dwe-map-stops.pdf

We were a little worried about our port call in Santa Barbara, which is a tender port. A storm on March 1 had blocked the harbor entrance with sand. Next, the dredge that was clearing the sand away broke down and it took a week for it to be repaired. Fortunately for us, the harbor was reopened a couple of days before our arrival.

We took the first tender from the ship to Sea Landing. There was a tourist information tent at the end of the sidewalk leading from the tender dock; good maps and attraction brochures were available there. From here it was a short walk (0.7 miles) to the car rental office (Avis). We reached the rental office just after it opened at 8:00 a.m. and were on our way five minutes later. What a pleasant surprise after yesterday's ordeal with Enterprise!

Today's plan was to visit Santa Barbara Wine Country (www.sbcountywines.com). Our first appointment was at Stolpman Vineyards (www.stolpmanvineyards.com). Tours at Stolpman are normally limited to members of their wine club. However, our sincere interest in wine and wine making must have come through in John's emails; we were able to schedule a tour of the vineyards and a tasting hosted by one of the owners, Peter Stolpman.

We had some extra time before our appointment, so we drove through Solvang to see its windmills and Danish-style buildings. From there we drove up scenic Ballard Canyon Road to Stolpman's vineyards. We met Peter at Villa Angeli, which is on a hill surrounded by vineyards and is the venue for many wine club events. From there, Peter drove us through the vineyards, stopping to explain the Stolpman wine philosophy and to point out the numerous innovative viticultural practices being employed. This tour was especially interesting to us, given our backgrounds in agricultural research and actually was one of the best we have ever done. After this unique tour, we went to the tasting room in Los Olivos to sample a selection of excellent wines. Stolpman is specializing in Rhone varieties like syrah and roussane with a side interest in sangiovese.

Our next reservation was for the VIP Tour and Tasting ($20-25 pp) at Fess Parker Winery (www.fessparker.com), which is north of Los Olivos. Another couple asked to join us when they overheard us tell one of the pourers that we had arrived for the tour. We had a brief tour of the vineyards and the facilities, followed by tastings of ten wines. Fess Parker (yes, Davy Crockett/Daniel Boone!) was one of the original wineries in the Santa Barbara area and produces a broad selection of good wines.

Our final appointment was at the Brewer-Clifton (www.brewerclifton.com) tasting room in Lompoc. We needed an appointment because the tasting room is only open Friday-Sunday. This was another good choice and we tasted six outstanding wines. Brewer-Clifton specializes in producing small quantities of wonderful pinot noirs.

If we had had more time, we might have visited Dierberg Vineyard (dierbergvineyard.com) or Gainey Vineyard (www.gaineyvineyard.com). The ship offered three wine tasting tours: a full day tour of two wineries plus free time in Solvang ($179 pp), a full day tour of four wineries plus a picnic lunch ($179 pp), and a half-day tour of two wineries ($159 pp).

Tonight was the second of two formal nights on this leg and three Captain's Circle parties for Platinum and Elite members were held. However, we decided to skip the party this time. Instead, we used our free drink vouchers for an after-dinner glass of Sandeman port.

21 MAR (FRI) AT SEA

This morning we faced the unpleasant task of packing for the end of our 17-day B2B. Later we enjoyed our last pizza at Alfredo's Pizzeria.

The Princess Grapevine wine tasting was held this afternoon in the Botticelli dining room. As Elite Captain's Circle members, John and I received complimentary invitations. At one time the wines were the same at every Grapevine but in recent years there has been more variety. This can cause some problems for the staff hosting the tasting. One of the persons speaking to the wine described a Pouilly-Fume from France as being a chardonnay from Australia. We thought it was rude that some people drank the final wine as soon as it was poured and then walked out while others were still trying to hear the presentation on that wine.

After dinner, we went to see the production show “British Invasion” and enjoyed hearing music from our high school years.

22 (SAT) SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA (Arrive 7am)

This morning we waited in the Platinum/Elite/Suite Lounge (Vista Lounge) until our assigned disembarkation time. Disembarkation went smoothly and we had no problems finding our luggage in the terminal. The stop for bus route 8X, the Bayshore Express (www.sfmta.com/getting-around/transit/routes-stops/8x-bayshore-express), is just across the street from Pier 35. We rode the bus ($2 pp) to the intersection of Harrison and 5th Streets and walked the short (about 0.6 mile) distance to Caltrain's San Francisco Station (www.caltrain.com). We took the train ($7 pp) to a station near our DS's house. From there it was an easy walk to his home.

After enjoying another week with our DS and his family, we were ready to head back to RDU on United’s nonstop flight and get back to work on the plans for our next Princess cruise, a Canada/New England cruise on the Ruby Princess in October. Less


Published 04/16/14

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Cabin review:

Port and Shore Excursions


Winery Tour

18 MAR (TUES) ENSENADA, MEXICO (8:00am – 5:00pm)
Tourist Information: www.enjoyensenada.com/
Town Map: www.lonelyplanet.com/maps/north-america/mexico/ensenada/
Valle de Guadalupe Information: www.bajabound.com/destinations/bajawinecountry/

John and I had visited Ensenada on a previous cruise but that was a short, perfunctory stop merely to satisfy the Passenger Services Act. There is a small shopping area at the port, a car rental booth and a tourist information booth. Taxis are not allowed to pick up passengers at the port but there is a shuttle ($2 pp) into the main shopping area downtown. Both the shuttle and taxis charge $1 pp to return to the ship.

John investigated possibilities for a private winery tour to the Valle de Guadelupe but decided that the ship's excursion was the best option for this port. John, I and 45 of our closest friends were bused to two wineries: one very large and one very small. While we were waiting in line for the tour to proceed to the bus, an agricultural inspector with a dog checked all of us. As we continued to wait, the dog reacted to a group going ashore with a baby stroller. They had to open all their bags and quite a bit of unsealed food (mostly apples) was confiscated; packaged, sealed food (like their carton of yogurt) was allowed. There were a lot of new cruisers on this voyage who may have been unaware of the restrictions on taking agricultural products off the ship. The Princess Patter had only mentioned bringing contraband back on board and an announcement about not taking food ashore was not made until well after passengers had started to disembark.

As we left the port, our guide (Gloria) strongly hinted that we should be tipping her and the driver (Jesus) at the end of the tour. During the 40-minute drive, Gloria gave us some information on the history and economic conditions in this part of Mexico but admitted that she did not know much about wine (she prefers whiskey) or the wineries we would be visiting. As we approached the first winery, Gloria informed us that she would handle the tips there but we should tip at the second winery. John and I have toured and tasted at over 100 wineries all over the world and this is the first time there has been any suggestion that the wine pourers were expecting us to tip them.

The first winery we visited was L. A. Cetto, which is one of the largest wine producers in Mexico. The tour was led by Ruben, a winery employee, who described the production process and showed us the processing machinery, fermentation tanks and barrel room. Next we were led to a tasting room that was barely big enough to cram in our large group. Gloria had brought along some slices of bread, cheese cubes, olives and olive oil, which she placed on the two long bars so we would have something to cleanse our palates between wines. Ruben gave generous pours of four Cetto wines but did not know much about them beyond his memorized spiel. Then he pulled out a tip jar, which we ignored. There was a little time allowed for those who wanted to buy some wine to take home. By now Gloria was anxious to herd us back to the bus. As we re-boarded, we were each handed a bottle of Cetto wine that was a blend especially produced to give to tour groups.

The Cetto winery produces wine from far too many varieties and knows this. They are trying to determine the grapes will produce the best wines for this area. The wines we tasted were on the whole pleasing and showed good varietal characteristics but were not outstanding. We would be interested in returning to try wines from some of the smaller wineries in the area.

In contrast, the Casa de Dona Lupe (www.lacasadonalupe.com), is an extremely small wine operation. In addition to wine, it produces liquors, herbs, jams, spreads, filled breads and pizzas. We were encouraged to taste the jams and spreads on our own; Gloria had a couple of the stuffed breads and pizzas cut up so that we could each have a small taste of those. Each of us received a card that entitled us to four small pours of wine. No descriptions of the wines were offered by the pourers; in fact, they never spoke at all and Gloria was naturally of no help. I did not see a tip jar but no one there was doing anything that deserved a tip anyway. The wines were non-vintage and of uncertain variety. They were at best drinkable but only marginally. The food was better. At one point, we had a brief glimpse of Dona Lupe herself and there was a costumed dancer doing native dances and selling jewelry. At least there were clean bathrooms.

Altogether this was a decent way to spend a port day in Ensenada. However, we would not seek out any of the wines we tasted to purchase in the future.

After the bus returned to Ensenada, we were offered the option (which only one couple took) of remaining in town and returning to the ship on our own or of going directly back to the ship. There was a long line for the security checkpoint to re-enter the port.


19 MAR (WED) LONG BEACH, CALIFORNIA (7:00am – 6:00pm)
Tourist Information: www.visitlongbeach.com
Waterfront Shuttle (free) Map: www.lbtransit.com/schedules/pdf/30.pdf

Today John had planned to rent a car, drive to the Temecula Valley and visit two or three wineries. However, our plans were drastically altered by a Customs and Border Protection inspection at the port and delays at the car rental agency.

Yesterday we were given a suggested schedule for the CBP inspection, which was supposed to start at 7:20 a.m. after the ship had been cleared by CBP. We lined up about 7:10 a.m. with about 30 people ahead of us. We waited for over an hour for the ship to be cleared; by then the line stretched around the atrium and into the casino. Posts on CruiseCritic.com reported that the delay was due to a thorough search of the ship for illegal substances and that several people were taken off the ship in handcuffs. Once the ship was finally cleared, we exited to the cruise terminal, where we had to present our passports and custom forms. Even passengers who did not want to go ashore in Long Beach had to go through this procedure and no one was allowed to return to the ship until everyone had been processed (reportedly about 1:30 p.m.). If your itinerary calls in Long Beach right after a stop in Ensenada, do not plan to be on your way sooner than two hours after the ship's scheduled arrival time.

Because we were near the front of the line to get off the ship, we went through the customs and immigration inspection quickly and headed off to the closest car rental agency (Enterprise). There was no sign of the free Passport shuttle, so we briskly walked the 1.5 miles to the Enterprise office in about 23 minutes. Although there were only two people with reservations ahead of us, it took 50 minutes to obtain our car. The office was seriously understaffed, with only one person behind the counter to process reservations and answer the telephone; three other staff members wandered in and out aimlessly. The telephone rang constantly with people calling from the cruise terminal to be picked up. There were so many reservations that only the drivers could be picked up (supposedly in a half-hour); after they got their vehicles, the drivers would have to return to the terminal to collect the rest of their groups. John and I were thankful that we could make our own way to the rental office and did not have to rely on Enterprise to pick us up.

We finally left the Enterprise parking lot at 10 o'clock. We had planned to visit three wineries in the Temecula Valley (www.temeculawines.org) but had already lost three hours of port time. There was no way that we could be on time for our first winery appointment; however, I was able to call and reschedule it for later in the morning. We did not have appointments at the other two wineries, so we could make a decision later about visiting them.

John reviewed many wineries in the Temecula area before selecting Leoness Cellars (www.leonesscellars.com) because they seemed the one most serious about their wines. Many other area wineries seemed to be more like holiday destinations. We took the VIP tour and tasting ($35 pp) and were really pleased. We toured the vineyards, viewed the facilities and talked wine philosophy with Dawn, the Host Department Manager. Leoness is serious enough about their wines to submit them to wine reviewers for evaluations and typically their wines do quite well. After sampling eleven different wines there, we can understand why. Temecula is still finding itself as a wine region and Leoness is still making wine from too many varietals (a fact they recognize), but they are becoming an outstanding winery. We highly recommend a visit to anyone interested in a serious winery and serious wines.

Because of our late start and the legendary LA traffic, we decided to enjoy a relaxed experience at Leoness and forgo visiting any other wineries in order to allow extra time for the return to the ship. If we visit this area again, we would like to taste and tour at Wiens Family Cellars (www.wienscellars.com) and Callaway Winery (www.callawaywinery.com). Dawn at Leoness said that she liked the Italian-style wines at Renzoni (www.robertrenzonivineyards.com), so we would probably add them to our list.‎

When we returned the car to to Enterprise, there were several people already waiting to be driven back to the cruise terminal. Given all the delays this morning, we chose to walk back to the ship at a leisurely pace (30 minutes this time). Even with stopping to take some photos of the Queen Mary, we probably beat those people back on board. BTW, we later read on CruiseCritic.com that, during port calls in Long Beach, cruise passengers can show their cruise cards for free admission to the Queen Mary; we might check that out if we ever call here again.

When we returned to our cabin, we found two free drink vouchers. Even though the long delay this morning in disembarkation was not Princess' fault, the company wanted to do something to mollify the passengers.


17 MAR (MON) SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA (8:00am – 6:00pm)

Tourist Information: www.sandiego.org
Waterfront Map (B Street Cruise Ship Terminal is north of the USS Midway): www.portofsandiego.org/environment/clean-water/doc_download/4714-public-parks-brochure-2012.html

This was the only port that would not have a wine-themed activity. We planned to go to the San Diego Zoo and had hoped to be there when the zoo opened at 9:00 a.m. However, the ship was late docking and obtaining clearance from the local authorities. Thus we were not off the ship until 8:40 a.m. and took off for the SDMTS route 7 bus stop on Broadway and Front Street; this is about a 15-20 minute walk from the B Street Cruise Ship Terminal and the bus ride to the zoo takes 16 minutes. Unfortunately, the route and timetable information at the SDMTS web site (www.sdmts.com/mtscr/route.aspx?r=7) is incorrect; the #7 bus stops further east at Broadway and Third Street. Even though we missed the first possible bus because of this incorrect information, we finally managed to reach the zoo at 10:00 a.m. The adult fare for this bus is $2.50 and the senior (age 62 and up) fare is $1.10 (show your driver's license or other proof of age; exact fare, cash only).

The San Diego Zoo (zoo.sandiegozoo.org) is not only renowned for its animal collection but also for its conservation activities. On this beautiful spring St. Patrick's Day, it was a pleasure to stroll the beautifully landscaped grounds. The Panda exhibit is one of the most popular and crowded, so we headed there first. John's research had found that taking the Fern Canyon stairs was the quickest route there. When we arrived, there were only about a dozen people there listening to the staff member discussing Panda life and habitat. We had plenty of opportunity to view and photograph the zoo's two Giant Pandas.

We worked our way back and forth through the zoo and were fortunate to see most of the animals, although some were hiding. There are about 3 or 4 miles of trails in the zoo, with lots of hills; we took the Skyfari (included in the day pass) twice from near the Polar Bears back to the entrance to save time.

Our final activity at the zoo was the 40-minute guided bus tour (included in the day pass). We were extremely fortunate to draw Chris “Zooman” Clobber as our driver/guide. Chris is a stand up comedian and a grandson of Laurence Klauber, whose personal collection was the foundation for the Klauber-Shaw Reptile House at the zoo. Chris was raised in the zoo and provides a fascinating and enthusiastic commentary. He also knows the best time to pause at various exhibits. For example, he stopped at the Polar Bear exhibit right at the time the bears were being fed and we got to see them jump in the water and swim to catch their food. From the top of the double-decker bus, we were even able to see some of the animals that had been hiding from us earlier.

The adult day pass for the zoo costs $46 pp and there is a 10% discount for seniors ($41.40 pp, age 65 and up). With the round-trip bus fare of $2.20 pp, our DIY excursion cost $43.60 pp vs $99 pp for the equivalent Princess tour. Of course, that does not include the $40 I had to spend to replace the sun hat that I somehow managed to lose on the way to the zoo.

We left the zoo at about 3:00 p.m. and caught the #7 bus back to the stop at Broadway and First Street. We sauntered back to the ship and made it back aboard about 4:00 p.m.


15 MAR (SAT) SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA (Departure 4pm)
Tourist Information: www.sanfrancisco.travel
Waterfront Map: wikitravel.org/upload/shared/f/fe/Sanfrancisco_fishermanswharf_printmap.png

After escorting our DS, DDIL and two toddler DGDs to the parking garage and helping them load up for the drive home, John and I returned to the waterfront to enjoy some sightseeing before reboarding the Grand Princess.

Instead of walking along the Embarcadero, we walked along the piers right next to the water. Along the way we found the location of the sea lions that inhabit San Francisco Bay. They seemed pleased with their perch and the visitors looking on.

Our destination was the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park (www.nps.gov/safr/). There is a small museum, which we had toured on a previous visit to San Francisco. Today we were more interested in the historic vessels and exhibits located on the Hyde Street Pier. Visitors may walk along the pier at no charge but there is an admission fee to tour the vessels. Because I have an America the Beautiful Senior Pass (www.nps.gov/findapark/passes.htm), John and I could receive free entry stickers at the ticket booth.

Not all of the vessels were open for touring today. We visited the two that were open: the Balclutha, a square-rigged ship built in 1886, and the C. A. Thayer, a three-masted schooner built in 1895 and currently being restored. We would have liked to tour more of the vessels but it still was a beautiful, sunny, warm day to be out walking along the Bay.

On the way back to the ship, we stopped at Pier 45 to tour the SS Jeremiah O'Brien, a WWII Liberty ship built in 1943 (www.ssjeremiahobrien.org). This vessel is not part of the SFMNHP and has a $8 pp admission fee. This was definitely a bargain as the ship was fascinating. The tour is self-guided and takes the visitor to many parts of the ship, including down into the engine room. One of the enthusiastic volunteers explained to us how the ship's engine room was used to film the engine room scenes in the movie “Titanic.”

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