Luxury Dive Vacation in the Eastern/Western Caribbean: Caribbean Princess Cruise Review by cboyle
Overall Member Rating
Luxury Dive Vacation in the Eastern/Western Caribbean
Destination: Eastern Caribbean
Embarkation: Fort Lauderdale (Port Everglades)
PORTS OF CALL
Port Everglades, FL; Princess Cays, Bahamas; St. Thomas, USVI; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos Islands; Port Everglades, FL; Princess Cays, Bahamas; Ocho Rios, Jamaica; Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands; Cozumel, Mexico; Port Everglades, FL
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 More a Princess tour when the logistics or cost make that a better option. Tour operator contact information is included in each port review.
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 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, Mexican Riviera and the California Coast. 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.
REVIEW OF THE CRUISE
Saturday, 06/21/14 Ft. Lauderdale, Florida: All Aboard 3:30pm
We left home at 4:00 a.m. for our flight from RDU-TPA-FLL on Southwest. There were no problems with the flights and we arrived at Cruise Terminal #2 at about 11:00 a.m.
Check-in was already in progress and there were long lines both outside and inside the terminal. Fortunately, there was a separate entrance for those with priority boarding passes. We walked right into the terminal, went through security and ended up at a check-in station with only two parties ahead of us. (One of those parties was Cruise Critic member CornellCindy, with her husband and granddaughter; we had last sailed with her in 2008.) From check-in, we were sent to the Elite waiting lounge until the ship was cleared for boarding.
By noon, we were dropping our luggage off in our balcony cabin, which was starboard forward on the Lido deck. Being on the Lido deck positioned us conveniently (perhaps too conveniently) near the Prego Pizzeria and the Scoops ice cream bar. We each had a slice of the pizza of the day (Romano) and a cone to tide us over until dinnertime.
After lunch, we did a bit of exploring. This was our first time on the Caribbean Princess and it is laid out a little differently from other Grand-class ships. We like that all of the midships stairs are open for passenger use but not that the route to the Princess Theater goes through the Casino on the Promenade deck. A nice feature of the Lido deck is an exit to the bow above the bridge, which would be perfect for star-gazing; unfortunately, that area is locked off at night.
John and I generally prefer “Anytime Dining,” but embarkation evening in the main dining rooms tends to be chaotic. Therefore we prefer to dine in one of the specialty (extra charge) restaurants that night. During our tour of the ship, we tried to make reservations at Sabatini's, but there was no one there. We swung by the Crown Grill and made reservations there instead. This is another difference in the ship's layout: the entrance to the Crown Grill, the Shore Excursion Tour Desk, the Future Cruise Sales and the Captain's Circle Membership Desk are all in a lobby tucked off the Piazza on deck 6; there is a paneled corridor that allows passengers to bypass this often-congested area.
After our brief tour, it was time to go back to the cabin and unpack; we also decided that naps and showers would help us recover from our early morning travel start. Around 2:20 p.m., we were relaxing on the balcony when there was a brilliant lightening flash simultaneous with a tremendous thunderclap. We thought the strike must have been nearby on land but later learned that it actually had struck the ship.
We went to the muster station drill at 3:30 p.m. and the ship was scheduled to depart at 4 o'clock. However, at four, the Captain made a ship-wide announcement that lightening had struck the main radar mast and all three of the scanning radars there were fried. We still had the forward and aft radars, so we would be able to depart once at least one of the main scanners was repaired. The Captain made hourly announcements so that everyone would know what progress was being made on the repairs. Once a scanner had been repaired, we had to wait for a harbor pilot to be assigned; by the time we got a pilot, there was a medical emergency and the ship waited for an ambulance to take a child to a local hospital. It was fortunate for that family that our departure had been delayed; taking an ambulance is easier and faster than a helicopter evacuation at sea.
The ship finally departed 3-1/2 hours late, while we were at dinner in the Crown Grill. John had the seared scallops, shrimp and pancetta bisque and the beef chop with mushrooms and onions, followed by caramel coconut cheesecake for dessert. I had the spiny lobster cake, Black and Blue Soup, and double lamb chops, with molten chocolate cake for dessert. One big disappointment was the unavailability of the Wine Package. Despite the flier in our cabin advertising that all the packages (Ultimate Soda, Cafe Selects, Ultimate Beverage and Wine) would be available on this cruise, it turned out that the wine package was not. We later spoke to the Food & Beverage Director at the Cruise Critic M&G. He told us that only two people had asked about the Wine Package whereas 400-500 people each cruise buy the Ultimate Beverage Package; he felt that it was not worthwhile to offer both packages.
We generally skip the “Welcome Aboard Showtime” and tonight was no exception. The sea had been very calm since we left Port Everglades so there was hardly any motion to rock us off to sleep. The entire cruise would prove to be exceptionally smooth, with calm or very light seas.
Sunday, 06/22/14 Princess Cays, Bahamas: 9:00am – 3:30pm (Last Tender)
This morning we anchored off Princess Cays, Princess' private beach on Eleuthera, Bahamas. We would be stopping here on both legs of this B2B cruise. For the first stop we decided to check out any changes and take a nice, long walk on the beach. Before heading to the tender embarkation area, we went up top to check out the radar scanners. Two of the radars were still undergoing repairs.
Once on Princess Cays, we discovered that the Princess Pelicans area (for younger children) now has a small pool and the play areas are roofed for more shade. The northern end of the Princess compound is now blocked off for an extra-charge Sanctuary area. However, you still can walk as far as you want to the south.
We were looking for the small (only a few graves) cemetery that we had found along the beach many years ago. We missed it on the way out because we detoured around a narrow, rocky part of the shore on a sand road. We found it on the way back though, and the coping of the largest grave is now almost at the high tide mark. I had remembered that the graves were in a wooded area but many of the trees are now uprooted and lying dead on the shoreline. If you want to look for this site, just walk down the beach about 2/3 mile (1.1 km) from the bridge at the tender dock. Further past the cemetery are two very low black rock walls perpendicular to the shore. If you see the walls or the black-top road (which is visible on satellite views of the island and does not go all the way down to the shore), you have gone too far. The approximate GPS coordinates are:
24 degrees 37 minutes 45 seconds N (24.6291667)
76 degrees 10 minutes 14 seconds W (-76.1705556)
We walked for about 3 hours, then returned to the ship. Yesterday I had waited on hold multiple times for many minutes trying to contact Room Service to exchange some of the items in our complimentary mini-bar. Our excellent cabin Steward, Reynaldo, noticed my list of exchanges on the desk and took care of it himself. All of the new items were waiting for us when we got back aboard.
After showers, lunch (Capricciosa pizza and curried shrimp salad) and reading on the balcony, it was time for naps. I slept right through the Captain's announcement that we had departed for St. Thomas. When I awoke about 15 minutes later, I looked out the window and remarked to John (who takes 5-minute naps) that the ship did not seem to be moving. Shortly after, the Captain announced that a hydraulic hose had broken --- that took 1/2 hour to fix before we were on our way.
This morning, John had called the Dine Line in an effort to make a reservation for dinner; he was told that no reservations were being taken. Because we prefer a table for two, we showed up at the Island Dinning Room at 5:30 p.m. (the listed opening time) only to find that people were already inside ordering and being served. We later spoke to the Maitre d' at the Cruise Critic M&G and learned that he was opening that dining room at 5:00 p.m. He also said that reservations were supposed to be taken for times when the dining room is less crowded (5:00-6:00 p.m. and after 8:00 p.m.). However, every time John called to make a reservation, he was told “First come, first served.”
In any case, when we asked for a table for two, we were given a beeper and told it would be a 30-minute wait. Precisely 1/2 hour later the beeper summoned us back to the dining room. There we and three other couples were escorted to the fixed-seating Palm Dining Room, where there were unclaimed 2-tops and 4-tops. We went through this drill several other times during the cruise.
The service in the Palm Dining Room was a little spotty because the wait team had two 2-tops and two 8-tops to handle. John and I both ordered the “Surf & Turf” –- a thin fillet and three good-sized shrimp. Unfortunately, my rare fillet came out well-done so it had to go back to the kitchen. The next fillet was suitably bloody. On a sad note for us, all of the rolls in the bread basket were the same and not very good (i.e., they were soft rolls) either. We have always enjoyed the delicious variety of breads on Princess and hope that poor bread is not another symptom of cost-cutting measures. (Note: The breads were much better on subsequent nights.)
After dinner we went to the show, a mentalist named Guy Bavli. His specialty is using body language to “read” people's minds and predict what they are thinking about; this was not as interesting as I thought it would be. The best part of the act was more of a magic trick. He took a married couple and claimed they were psychically linked. With their eyes closed, he would touch one (always the husband) and then ask who had been touched. Almost always, they both said they had been touched. However, one time the wife flinched when her husband had not been touched, which made me wonder whether she was being hit with focused puffs of air. For the last trick, the mentalist gave each spouse a bell and had them close their eyes. He surreptitiously took the bowl off the husband's bell and jiggled the handle, causing the wife's bell to ring. John thought perhaps there was a timer in the wife's bell. We will probably skip shows like this in the future.
Monday, 06/23/14 At Sea
Today was a lazy day of reading and starting this review. We relaxed on the Promenade Deck so Reynaldo could clean the cabin, then went to the Cruise Critic M&G in the Skywalkers Night Club. Although we did not have a very active roll call, there were about 20 people in attendance. We had quite a good turnout of cruise staff, including the Executive Chef, Maitre d', the Food & Beverage Director, the Hotel General Manager, the Customer Services Director and one of the dining room headwaiters. A number of people had questions about the ship, which were all graciously answered.
It was nearly lunch time when the M&G ended. We checked out the pizza of the day (Mexican) and decided to try our luck in the Horizon Court Buffet instead. One item that we usually like is the marinated green-lipped mussels; they were only OK. There were also some wraps; I tried the jerk chicken and the curried vegetable (half of each), which both had a nice level of spice.
The afternoon was spent reading on the balcony. The sea had picked up slightly, so eventually a nap was required. I did see several flying fish, which are the necessary totem making a tropical cruise official. At 4 o'clock, there was no “disaster of the day” announcement but there were no complimentary chocolate-covered strawberries either. I finally called Room Service at 4:30 p.m. and was told that our request card had been misplaced. They called back a few minutes later saying that it it had been found; the strawberries themselves arrived soon after (the chocolate coating was still warm).
Tonight was the first of two formal nights on this leg and the Captain's Welcome Aboard Party and Champagne Waterfall. We went to the Island Dining Room a little earlier tonight and got a table for two right away. After dinner, we took in the very good production show “Piano Man,” featuring the music of Billy Joel, Barry Manilow and Elton John and then caught the tail end of the Waterfall.
Back in the cabin, we found that Reynaldo had brought us waffle robes to wear during the cruise. For some reason, the waffles were very tight and sprung back when they were stretched. John and I are not overweight but we could barely get the two edges of the robes to meet in the middle, let alone overlap. At the half-way point in the cruise, the robes were replaced but the new ones were also scandalously revealing.
Tuesday, 06/24/14 St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands: 7:00am – 9:00pm
On our first visit to St. Thomas, many years ago, we had snorkeled for the very first time (at Coki Beach). On our second visit, we took a sailboat excursion. By our third visit, we were certified SCUBA divers and took the ship's diving excursion. The visibility, condition of the reefs and the sea life seemed very poor, compared to places like Cozumel, so on later cruises we took the ferry to St. John to hike and snorkel there. All of those cruises docked at Havensight (West Indies Company (WICO) Cruise Ship dock), east of Charlotte Amalie.
However, our last cruise to St. Thomas docked at Crown Bay Cruise Ship dock, west of Charlotte Amalie. In researching that area, John noticed that there was a dive operation located right in the Crown Bay Marina. We decided to give diving in St. Thomas another chance and are we glad that we did! The sites we dove were outstanding and completely changed our view of diving there.
This cruise also docked at Crown Bay and we were greatly looking forward to diving with the same operation, Blue Island Divers (blueislanddivers.com). They are very easy to find –- just follow the signs for the walking route to downtown Charlotte Amalie. When you reach the Crown Bay Marina, keep following the boardwalk around to Blue Island. The dive shop is directly across the harbor from the ship –-less than a 10 minute walk. If you happen to dock at Havensight, they will pick you up from there.
Blue Island Divers is a very user-friendly operation for tourist divers– tanks handled and set up for you and a thorough dive briefing. Our dive master (G) was the most vigilant we've ever had in checking our exact air usage throughout the dive. He used that feedback to plan our route for the remainder of each dive. Also, we did not all have to surface when one diver got too low on air; those of us who were better at controlling our air usage could swim around the coral formations in sight of the boat until we were ready to come up. The dive sites were great; St. Thomas is wonderful for wildlife and coral. We saw lots of colorful fish plus a free-swimming spotted moray and a 6-pound lobster. G speared a Lion Fish (invasive species from the Pacific Ocean) and left it under a ledge to help the native fish learn that they taste good. The second dive featured a Southern stingray, spotted moray eel, many coral pinnacles and swim-throughs.
We had an extra-long day in port because the crew needed to do some sort of survey of all the tenders. I tried to work up some enthusiasm for spending the afternoon in Charlotte Amalie (we have never gone downtown), but we are just not that into shopping. After showers and lunch, we did return to the Crown Bay Center shopping area where John checked out some cameras and the liquor prices; I found a new cover-up to wear over my swimsuit. There were a number of iguanas on the rocks and in the bushes around the harbor.
Tonight was Italian Night in the dining rooms; that is one of our favorites. After dinner, we went to hear a comedian, Jim Colliton. There must be a large hearing-impaired group on this sailing because there were two women who alternated signing the shows. They must have had a hard time signing the comedian because they were laughing so hard and his jokes were coming so fast. We thought he was pretty funny too.
Wednesday, 06/25/14 San Juan, Puerto Rico: 7:00am – 4:30pm
We have visited San Juan several times previously, both as a port of call and as the start/end of a cruise. It is fun just to walk around in Viejo San Juan, which reminds us so much of the Vieux Carre in New Orleans. We have also hiked in El Yunque National Rainforest and kayaked in a bioluminescent lagoon at Laguna Grande near Fajardo.
For this trip, we had booked an independent food/walking tour of Old San Juan. The tour did not start until 9:30 a.m., so we left the ship as early as possible so that we could walk around a bit before the day got too hot. The ship was docked at Pier #4 and we walked from there along the waterfront to the entrance to the San Juan National Historic Site. There is a path along the waterfront under the walls of El Morro, but it currently only goes partway around. We took the path out and back, then went through the San Juan Gate and up to Plaza del Quinto Centenario, where the tour would meet. It was still early, so we walked around some more (including over to El Moro and back). We estimate that we had walked about 3 miles before we remembered (D'oh!) that we could have been using John's MapMyWalk phone app to keep track of the distance.
Back at the plaza, we met our guide, Paulina, from Spoon Food Tours (www.spoonfoodtours.com). We were joined by a family of three, who were also from the Caribbean Princess. There was supposed to be another couple but they got lost on the other side of Old San Juan. Paulina called to explain where they could catch up to us, but they decided to cancel.
Paulina began the tour by pointing out some of the sights in the area of the plaza (such as the totem pole in the plaza, El Morro, the party street (San Sebastian), and the San Jose church) and told us about the history of San Juan. Then we stopped at a cafe (www.cafedonruiz.com) in the historic Ballaja Barracks for a typical Puerto Rican breakfast of pastry and coffee. Afterward, Paulina continued the tour, calling our attention to interesting buildings along the way. We visited the patio of the El Convento hotel and the cathedral (Ponce de Leon's tomb) and passed by the Cristo Chapel, La Fortaleza, Bastion de las Palmas, Plaza de Armas and other landmarks. We stopped at a craft shop (www.puertoricanart-crafts.com) for a brief explanation of some local items (no pressure to buy at all). At the end of the tour, we ate at a small lunch shop (www.cafemanolinoldsanjuan.com) with absolutely authentic Puerto Rican food – red beans and rice, mofongo relleno con camarones (mashed fried green plantains stuffed with shrimp), plantains in syrup and mojitos. The food was not spicy; there are hot sauces and a chimichurri-like sauce to add to taste. It all was delicious and very filling! Paulina knew her stuff and made the tour very enjoyable. Come hungry and expect to leave very full.
After the tour, John and I walked back to El Morro and climbed around on the various levels. Then we went over to Castillo de San Cristobal and did the same thing. I was glad that I had brought my “America the Beautiful Senior Pass”, which gave John and me free entrance to the forts. From there, we walked back to the ship to enjoy a well-earned G&T on our balcony. MapMyWalk registered almost 8 miles, so today was about an 11-mile day.
Tonight was the second of two formal nights on this leg. It seems rushed to have the formal nights with only one night in between; I had expected the second one to be tomorrow night. Our chocolate-covered strawberries were only 10 minutes late tonight, so I did not have to bug Room Service about them. This was the traditional lobster (accompanied by prawns) night; we had that plus a bottle of sparkling wine. One of the appetizers was escargot, so this was quite an enjoyable meal for us.
We had planned to skip the Captain's Circle Cocktail Party tonight. But it had just started as we were finishing dinner, so we decided it was not too late to attend. Our cruise friends, CornellCindy and her husband, were the most traveled passengers with 1,115 days. As usual, we did not win any of the three bottles of sparkling wine that were raffled off. There were only about 140 Elites on this leg. After the party, we saw the excellent production show, “Born to Be Wild.” The show features songs related to driving and road trips. Its centerpiece is a large pink Cadillac that rotates and serves a the stage for many of the numbers.
Thursday, 06/26/14 Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos Islands: 12:00pm – 6:30pm
We have only visited Grand Turk once previously. That day the time in port was rather limited, so we did a 2-tank dive on a shore excursion. Those dives made us glad to have another opportunity to dive there. With more time on this visit, we were able to make independent arrangements.
The cruise terminal is south of the main town on T&CI, Cockburn Town. There is a lovely, white swimming beach right at the end of the dock. The fixed pp fare for taxi rides is based on three zones. It was a $5 pp ride (less than 10 minutes) from the cruise terminal to the dive shop. Along the way, we passed a number of island sights, such as the wild burros, salt ponds and a replica of John Glenn's Mercury capsule (he splashed down near T&CI in 1962).
Grand Turk Diving Company (www.gtdiving.com) is a very laid-back operation, with friendly “potcake” dogs and puppies all over the shop and patio. (Note: Potcake is the dried remains of stew; it is scraped from the pot and fed to the dogs.) Be aware that you must have dived within the last 18 months to go out with this operation.
The dive master (Jake) was also the boat driver and equipment prep man. This was the first time we've not had anyone in the boat while we're in the water. But Jake was excellent at getting us in and out of the water and he also led a wonderful dive. We were a little crowded with nine divers but all were experienced. A few had not done a backward roll exit before but they caught on fast. We saw 6 sea turtles, a spotted eagle ray, a Southern stingray, a barracuda, huge groupers, garden eels and a nurse shark plus loads of beautiful hard and soft corals and colorful fish. During the surface interval as we motored to the second dive site, Jake pointed out features of interest along the shore. The second dive site was not far from the cruise terminal, so the boat dropped us off at the beach there after the dive.
We had wanted to go to dinner tonight at Sabatini's or the Crown Grill. However, when John called to make a reservation, he was told that none were available. We decided to go by and see whether drop-ins were being accepted at either restaurant; we ended up dining at the Crown Grill. This time each of us had the appetizer and soup that the other had ordered last Saturday. For the main course, John got the rib-eye steak and I tackled the 22-oz Porterhouse (I only finished about 2/3 of it). For dessert we both had the sampler with small portions of all four selections. The entire meal was outstanding. We did not attend the show tonight, which was a magician.
Friday, 06/27/14 At Sea
This morning we attended the “Cooking Show,” starring the Executive Chef and Maitre d'. This “demonstration” is always played for laughs but this time it also included musical numbers. The “Dining Room Band” performed several songs. As the finale, there was an act representing each dining room. One was a dance group, who performed “Gangnam Style,” and two were singers. One of the singers was Hector, an Assistant Headwaiter in the Palm Dining Room. Hector apparently performs regularly during dinner in the Palm (we heard him there one night) and is quite talented; he won hands-down with two standing ovations.
The show was followed by a galley tour but we needed to get ready for the "Most Traveled Luncheon." This event honors the top 40 passengers who have sailed the most days with Princess. Of course, CornellCindy and her husband were seated at Table #1 with the Captain. We were seated at Table #3 with the Senior First Officer, so we were ranked pretty high on this cruise. However, on other cruises we have not even made the cutoff; it all depends on the passenger mix. Anyway, the food is always special at these luncheons and includes wine, bottled waters and specialty coffees. Each couple also receives a photo taken with the Captain.
In mid-afternoon, we attended the complimentary (for Elites) Princess Grapevine wine tasting. The tasting always includes two white wines (usually Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay), two reds and a dessert wine (usually Errazuriz Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc). This time the reds were a Bordeaux blend and a Syrah from France. At one time, the wines at the tasting were always the same five; it is nice to have the opportunity to try new wines.
After the very filling luncheon, we decided to forgo a full dinner in the dining room and try something different. We first went to the Elite/Platinum/Suite Lounge to sample the shrimp fountain and the drink of the day (Cosmopolitan, $5). Unfortunately, like all the steamed/boiled shrimp we tried on this cruise, the ones in the fountain were overcooked and soggy. The Cafe Caribe was having an “American Buffet”, so we tried our luck there. The buffet included many of the dishes being served in the dining rooms. We tried the mussels in wine sauce, a favorite, but there were no French fries to accompany them and they were not the same quality we have experienced in the dining rooms. Although many people prefer to eat dinner at the buffet, I don't think we will do that again unless it is absolutely necessary. I wish we had gotten some pizza instead.
On other ships, we have been told that we could not make reservations for the second leg during the first leg of a B2B. However, we decide to take a chance and stop at Sabatini's to see whether we could make reservations for Saturday night. To our surprise, this time it was no problem.
We ended the evening at the production show, “Do You Wanna Dance,” which is a medley of songs about dancing. At the end of the show, the Assistant Cruise Director mentioned that 350 of us would be remaining onboard for the second leg (Western Caribbean) of the cruise.
Saturday, 06/28/14 Ft. Lauderdale, Florida: 7:00am – 3:30pm
This was the turnaround day between the Eastern and Western Caribbean legs of the cruise. We had originally planned to stay aboard and relax on the ship (with a short detour to debark, pass through the immigration inspection and re-embark). However, we decided to take one of the shore excursions that are offered for both disembarking and in-transit passengers.
The tour we chose included two tourist attractions. Our tour guide, Anthony, provided entertaining banter about alligators, the Everglades and south Florida during our bus ride. The first stop was at Everglades Holiday Park (www.evergladesholidaypark.com). Here we took a 1/2-hour, 21-person airboat ride in the Everglades. I had never ridden an airboat before; John had ridden a much smaller one many years ago. Part of the time was spent rapidly zigzagging down the canals and part was spent slowly cruising along the banks looking for wildlife. Everyone was hoping to see an alligator but we had to settle for birds. After the air boat ride there was an “Alligator Show,” during which a large man “wrestled” an alligator (dragged it out of a shallow pool, sat on its back, kissed it, held its jaws open with his chin, etc.). There were about 8-10 medium-large alligators in that pool for us to view and a 12-footer in a pen by himself (to keep him from eating the others). There was also a baby alligator that you could hold for a $5 donation. This attraction is associated with the Gator Boys alligator rescue effort as seen on Animal Planet.
The second stop was at the Flamingo Gardens (www.flamingogardens.org), a botanical garden and wildlife sanctuary. John had looked into doing this attraction independently, but the expensive taxi ride there and back to the ship made taking the shore excursion worthwhile. The first part of our visit consisted of a narrated, 30-minute tram ride that included areas of the park not accessible on foot. After that, we had an hour on our own to visit the animal and bird exhibits. This attraction is also involved in animal rescue; almost all of the animals have been injured and could not survive in the wild. In addition to flamingos, there were a number of raptors (falcons, eagles, owls) and a free-flight aviary. Among the animal exhibits were Florida panthers, bobcats, a river otter, a black bear (could not see him) and a couple of alligators. Many of the plants and trees were labeled but additional signage would be nice. As we re-boarded the bus, we were each given an ice cream sandwich!
Neither of these attractions is what I would rate “must-see” but together they made an enjoyable half-day excursion. The final stop was the FLL airport, where all but 10 of us departed for their flights home. When the rest of us returned to the ship, there were only a few new passengers checking in. Flashing our “In Transit” cards got us around all of the lines (except security) and we were back aboard the ship in short order. Being in-transit also exempted us from the muster station drill.
For dinner tonight at Sabatini's, we both chose the soft-shelled crab appetizer; John also had the calamari and I had the marinated vegetable salad. We both ordered the grilled veal chop as the main course. For dessert, John had the zabaglioni and I had the limoncello tart; we also shared a cheese plate. Everything was excellent.
We skipped the “Welcome Aboard Showtime” and spent the rest of the evening enjoying the pleasant breeze and the sound of the sea from our balcony.
Sunday, 06/29/14 Princess Cays, Bahamas: 9:00am – 3:30pm (Last Tender)
This morning we were again anchored off Princess Cays. On this visit, we wanted to check out the snorkeling. We took one of the early tenders and found lounge chairs in the shade of some palm trees near the Offshore Pavilion. We deposited our towels and gear bags on the chairs and headed for the water.
When we tested the water last week, we decided that it was too warm to bother with our shortie wetsuits. We had needed the wetsuits in the past when we called at Princess Cays in March. Today, however, the water temperature was very pleasant and we snorkeled for about an hour without feeling chilled. It was great to see how well the reef had recovered since our previous visit. There were lots of sea fans, sea whips and even some brain coral. There was not a huge number of fish but we saw lots of Sergeant Majors and Yellow Jack as well as some grunts, blue tang, parrotfish, bluehead wrasse and a trumpetfish. This was an enjoyable snorkel, especially before the water filled up with thrashing swimmers.
After our snorkel, we relaxed for awhile in the shade before heading back to the ship for showers and pizza lunch. This was followed by our usual program of reading, relaxing and napping.
We have noticed that the menus for the second leg of the cruise are very similar to those for the first leg, with some slight variations in the dishes or preparation. After dinner this evening, we went to a show by comedian Al Katz.
Monday, 06/30/14 At Sea
Today was a lazy day of reading and working on this review. This morning, we went to the Cruise Critic M&G in the Skywalkers Night Club. This time there were only 12 people in attendance and the only staff member who came was the Customer Services Director, Dana. We met a couple who will be on the Singapore-Cape Town cruise with us next April.
At noon there was a Mexican buffet in Cafe Caribe and I wanted some of that. John preferred pizza (Hawaiian) but I let him share my tortilla chips.
Tonight was the first of two formal nights on this leg and the Captain's Welcome Aboard Party and Champagne Waterfall. Our chocolate-covered strawberries were 50 minutes late this afternoon; I had been on hold with Room Service for 10 minutes when they were finally delivered. I'm not sure what is going on with Room Service; this has never been an issue before on other ships. By the time the strawberries came, it was almost time to go to dinner, so we stuck them in the fridge to eat as a snack tomorrow. After dinner, we again enjoyed the production show, “Born to be Wild.”
Tuesday, 07/01/14 Ocho Rios, Jamaica: 9:00am – 4:30pm
For some reason, the ship did not set the clocks back to correspond to the local time (EDT -1) in our next three ports. That would not cause any problems with our scheduled dives, but could be a potential problem for those who did not see the note above the calendar in the Princess Patter on embarkation day. The time difference was mentioned in a little box at the bottom of today's Patter but it would be easy to miss; I hope we don't leave anybody behind.
John and I have been to Jamaica several times before and docked both in Montego Bay and Ocho Rios. When were were last in Ocho Rios, we took an excellent tour to Dunn's River Falls and the Coyaba Botanical Gardens with Peat Taylor (www.peattaylor.com).This time we considered a couple of other sights but all the Princess and independent tours that included those sights also included Dunn's River Falls. Although we really enjoyed climbing the Falls, that just didn't appeal to us on this trip.
I had thought we would dock at the main town pier near the craft market but instead we docked at the “James Bond Pier.” That is the building and pier that starred as the bauxite mine on Crab Cay, Bahamas, in the movie “Dr. No.” Anyway, there are no craft stands at this pier and thus no reason to get off the ship.
This morning while we were reading and typing on the Promenade, we saw a number of crew members joining the ship. Later we saw an ambulance drive up; a man was taken off the ship in a stretcher, accompanied by his wife and luggage. He was getting oxygen but did not seem to be in a lot of distress, so maybe it was not something too serious. It is a shame that they had to cut their cruise short.
Today was Canada Day; there was a notice in the Princess Patter and a large cake decorated like a Canadian flag outside the dining room.
Tonight was Italian Night in the dining rooms. When one of the Assistant Headwaiters (Jacek) asked us whether everything was to our liking, John mentioned that we were a little disappointed that the pasta of the day was Spaghetti with Meatballs, not the usual Penne Arrabiata. Jacek proceeded to have the chef make “Spaghetti Arrabiata” just for us. After dinner, we went to see the production show “Caribbean Caliente,” which was new to us and very entertaining.
Wednesday, 07/02/14 Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands: 8:00am – 4:30pm (Last Tender)
We have called at Grand Cayman many times on cruises but have never visited Hell or the Turtle Farm. We have snorkeled at Stingray City twice and also dived there. We have snorkeled and dived a number of other sites as well. In fact, it was snorkeling at Cheeseburger Reef, above a coral canyon filled with tarpon, that made John want to become a certified diver so that he could be down there with the fish. Today we had scheduled a dive with Neptune's Divers (www.neptunesdivers.com); we had dived with this company once before in 2010.
We met the co-owner, Casey, and the dive boat at the Tiki Beach Bar ($5 pp taxi ride). There was a lot of confusion at North Terminal (where the Caribbean Princess tendered); none of the minibus/taxis wanted to leave without a full load. After waiting a good while in one taxi (three other people got tired of waiting and left), we ended up being taken down to the Royal Watler Cruise Terminal (where a Carnival ship was tendering) and put in another taxi and finally into a third taxi. With all this delay, it took us 45 minutes to get from the tender dock to the Tiki Beach Bar, although the ride itself was only 10-15 minutes. Maybe next time we will try the public bus instead of a taxi; they are cheaper ($2.50 pp) and probably a lot faster (leave every 10 minutes).
Today, we were the only two divers so we essentially had a private charter. There were also two dive masters: Neil led the first dive and Stu led the second dive. The two sites they chose for the dive were large coral gardens with lots of fish. We saw big parrotfish and a pufferfish plus a mutton snapper that likely followed us to the second dive site. There we saw many more reef fish and an anchor from a Spanish shipwreck that dated to the 1700s.
After the dive, Casey was kind enough to drive us back to George Town and save us the hassle and expense of another taxi ride. I apologized for having to remove my BCD and tank in the water because it is getting harder for me to climb some boat ladders after a dive with all my gear on. She said that Neptune's Divers is happy to accommodate older people and those with disabilities who need extra assistance getting into and out of the water. In fact, she mentioned that she had recently certified an 84-year-old woman who had always wanted to learn to dive. That woman came to Grand Cayman by herself, stayed in a B&B and rode a bike to the dive lessons each day. What a role model for us aging Boomers!
Being soaking wet and covered with sand, we had no burning desire to shop in George Town. We tendered back to the ship for the usual routine –- clean up, snack, read, nap, get ready for dinner. Tonight was the second of two formal nights (again, already?) on this leg. Our chocolate-covered strawberries were only 20 minutes late tonight but we decided to save them for breakfast tomorrow. Again we enjoyed escargot, lobster and sparkling wine for dinner. Jacek also brought us bruschetta because he now knows we like garlic.
We finished dinner early enough to catch the early showing of “Bent Magic,” starring Landon Swank. He is reputedly the highest-placing illusionist in the history of “America's Got Talent.” There was a video shown of part that performance. It looked to me like the tricks he did on TV were better than the ones he did tonight; we have seen better magicians on other ships. After the show, we went to the Captain's Circle Cocktail Party. The most traveled passengers had 1,286 days and we again failed to win a bottle of sparkling wine.
Thursday, 07/03/14 Island Of Cozumel, Mexico: 10:00am – 7:30pm
We have called at Cozumel many times on cruises and stayed on the island several times as well. Except for one tour to Tulum, we have always snorkeled or dived on our port calls here. Today we had a 2-tank dive reserved with Buena Ventura Diving (buenaventuradiving.net), a company we have dived with since 1996.
The Caribbean Princess docked at the Punta Langosta pier; two Carnival ships were docked at the International pier. It is quite a walk through the Punta Langosta shopping area to the taxi stand; however, the taxis go as soon as you walk up. It was a $10 (total for 1-4 persons) taxi ride to the Caleta marina.
At La Caleta, we met our boat (Ecodiver), our driver (Victor) and our dive master (Jorge). There was only one other diver joining us today; after a short wait for him to arrive (we were early), we were on our way. The reefs around Cozumel are a National Marine Park and we were given pink wristbands to show that we had paid the user fee; there was a park boat checking and we had to hold up our arms so they could see the bands.
As usual, the sea life and corals in Cozumel were outstanding. On the first dive, we saw three nurse sharks. These are drift dives and today the current seemed a bit stronger than usual. When one of us would spot something of interest, it was difficult to stay in place to point it out to the others or to swim back to see it. I saw a large crab under a ledge but it had crawled under too far to see by the time John managed to get there; I had better luck showing him a huge lobster.
More boat tours must be leaving out of La Caleta because this time there were taxis already waiting when we finished the dive. As we approached the security checkpoint to go back to the ship, I could not find my cruise card. Fortunately, we always bring our driver's licenses and each passenger is photographed when he/she first joins the ship. Despite my disheveled appearance, I must have resembled the ship's and license's photos enough to be allowed back on. I immediately went to the Passenger Services Desk to get a new cruise card and cancel the old one. Safely back in the cabin, we set out our gear to dry one last time and followed the rest of our usual afternoon routine.
Tonight we had dinner at Sabatini's. I had the Vitello Tonnato and the artichoke souffle; John had the soft-shelled crab appetizer and the souffle. The excellent pasta course was a spaghetti with marinara sauce that included calamari, shrimp, clams and mussels. For an entree, we both had the Bistecca Toscana plus a lobster tail; the steak was better in the Crown Grill. Desert was the espresso crème brulee for John and the white chocolate semi-freddo for me. After dinner, we attended the production show, “Do You Wanna Dance?”.
Friday, 07/04/14 At Sea
Today was Independence Day, which got more attention than Canada Day. In addition to a notice in the Princess Patter, there were red, white and blue decorations all over the ship. There was an elaborate display in the Piazza. Of course that included a large cake decorated like a US flag. The flag cake was flanked by four round cakes with the faces of four US Presidents –- Washington, Clinton, “W” Bush and Jackson. There were also some large (lard?) sculptures, such as the Statue of Liberty, an American Eagle and the Liberty Bell. No fireworks were planned but the “Star-Spangled Banner” was sung before the evening shows.
Alas, this was also the last day of the cruise; tomorrow we would be disembarking and flying back to North Carolina. We did not want to start packing yet, so we spent the morning reading and typing in Skywalkers Nightclub.
Then it was time for the "Most Traveled Luncheon." We were seated at Table #3 with the Security Officer (the Senior First Officer had had his wisdom teeth taken out in Cozumel and could not eat). Needless to say, the Security Officer had lots of great stories about people missing the ship. He told me that at least 4-5 people each cruise lose their cruise cards.
In mid-afternoon, we attended the Princess Grapevine wine tasting. Four of the wines were the same but the Bordeaux blend was replaced by a Beaujolais Villages. After the wine tasting we went back to the cabin to start the sad task of packing.
After the very filling luncheon, we made a more sensible decision about dinner than we did last week. First, we took a nice long walk around the ship and looked for our photos in the photo gallery. Unfortunately, no one would buy our photos under the misconception that we were Brad and Angelina. Then we each had a beer with two slices of the specialty pizza for me and a slice of Margherita pizza and two bags of popcorn for John (he has been feeling popcorn-deprived). Later we visited the ice cream bar for desert.
The show tonight was a different mentalist/illusionist from the first leg, so we skipped that and enjoyed a peaceful evening on the balcony reading and watching the Florida Straits go by. Hurricane Arthur came ashore this morning at Cape Hatteras but by now was well on its way to Nova Scotia. We did not feel any effects from the storm; in fact this has been about the smoothest cruise we have ever had.
Saturday, 07/05/14 Ft. Lauderdale, Florida: Arrive 7:00am
The repairs to the ship's thrusters were completed last Saturday, so today we arrived in Port Everglades at the usual time instead of just after midnight. Our flight to RDU on Jet Blue was not until after 2 o'clock, so we arranged to stay on the ship as long as possible. After breakfast, we waited in the Platinum/Elite/Suite Lounge until our color group was called. Almost everyone else was already gone, so it was no problem finding our luggage or getting a taxi for the short ride to FLL.
Our non-stop flight was uneventful (with some turbulence) and we were back home by late evening. Once we had unpacked and sorted through the mail, it would be time to finish planning our next Princess cruise (Canada/New England, October 2014). Less