Prologue: Oh Crap!!!! A Hurricane!!!!
The hurricane season has been fairly benign here on the east coast. That is until time for our long awaited cruise on the Crown Princess November 3rd. Sure enough Hurricane Noel is headed up the Atlantic. It will pass far enough off the coast to avoid storms but close enough to cause winds that could delay or cancel our flights to San Juan. Friday November 2nd is very windy at the Jersey Shore, but the winds in Philadelphia are still moderate. The winds remain moderate on Saturday morning so there will be no weather delay or cancellation.
Princess Wants us to Fly on What???
We booked cruise air because we were flying in the day of the cruise, not something we care to do normally, but due to work schedules we did not have that option. We check in at Philly for our 6:10 am flight to Dulles outside of DC, the first leg of our flights to San Juan. Marj, who is a nervous flyer but improving, takes a look at our little commuter jet (50 seats) and wants to know if I am kidding her. The flight goes smoothly and we have a seamless connection to San Juan on an Airbus, much more to Marj's liking.
The airlines continue to nickel and dime us for services that were formerly complementary. United Airlines charged us $2 per bag in addition to a gratuity to check our bags curbside. Since the inside line was miles long at 4:30 am, we gladly paid the charge. On the plane we paid $10 for two "snack boxes" after determining that they really were not that unreasonable.
Good Afternoon San Juan!!!
We arrived on schedule at San Juan just after noon and were greeted by a bevy of Princess reps who directed us to our baggage carousel. Shock of shocks, our baggage was already being unloaded. Because I frequent Philly International I am used to waiting nearly forever for my bags. After retrieving our bags we are quickly directed to a bus by the Princess reps. Our bags are loaded onto a separate truck and taken to be loaded directly onto the ship. The bus is old and creaky with a questionable suspension but does have functional air conditioning, so we are happy. The journey to Pier 4 in Old Town San Juan takes about 20 minutes.
We arrive about 1:15 pm at the pier and there is a long line, thankfully under cover, to board. It moves rather quickly and we are onboard in our cabin by 1:45 pm. We head to the Horizon Court for lunch and disembark to walk around and explore Old Town San Juan. We like the fact that sail away is 11 pm that gives us that chance. We return to the ship for dinner and the muster drill which occurs at 8pm. We enjoy sail away on our first balcony. The port is very pretty lighted up, especially the forts.
The Ship and our Cabin
The Crown Princess is huge at 113,000 tons, but we are very comfortable with it as we were on its sister ship the Caribbean Princess last year. There are several differences, the steakhouse, the Crown Grill, is located where Sabatini's, the Italian trattoria was located on the Caribbean Princess and Sabatini's is located on the Sun Deck (16th). Vines, a wine bar is located on the 5th deck and Crooner's, the piano bar, is larger and located on the opposite side of the 7th deck. The dining room on the 6th deck aft is now the traditional dining venue. There is an adult's only area on the 16th deck spa area called the Sanctuary, which charges $10 for a half day and $20 for a whole day. We found no compelling need to spend this money for quiet, seeing that we had a balcony. We also did not patronize the extra charge restaurants as we are quite happy with the fare in the dining rooms. As on the Caribbean Princess, we never felt crowded, despite the ship being full.
Our cabin was C701 on the Caribe Deck and included a very large partially covered balcony. We found the cabin to be roomy enough except for the miniscule bathroom. People over 300 pounds would have difficulty fitting in the shower. The alcove between the bedroom and bath provides more than adequate storage for luggage and clothing. For some reason the drawers on the desk and the nightstand took great force to open which is not very convenient. Our steward was named Penta, from Thailand, and provided us with superior attentive service during our cruise, to the extent we gave him an extra tip above the automatic tip placed on our account, which is now $10.50 per day per person.
Overall, we found the ship to be clean and well maintained. The crew was courteous and helpful, the servers were very attentive. Despite complaints from others in these forums, I did not have any trouble or detect an attitude when I used my soda card.
Overall I would have to give the ship very high marks and really not much to complain about.
There were two formal nights, one on the at Sea Day and one on the day between Tortola and St Thomas. It seemed many more people dressed formally on the second night. The enforcement of the dress requirements was spotty at best.
The entertainment onboard was good; we mostly went to see the comedians. The singer in the Crooners Lounge was a female and very good. We did not attend any of the production shows. We did take ballroom dance lessons and brushed up or Meringue and Swing. For some reason, there were no other lessons that week for some unknown reason although there was supposed to be two more.
We found the dining in the main dining rooms to be very good and found no reason to spend the extra for Sabatini's or the Crown Grill. We were on anytime dining and did not have to wait on any night for seating. We did enjoy bringing our breakfast up to the balcony from the Horizon Court Buffet and enjoy it with coffee ordered from room service. The food on the buffet was good, but standard buffet fare. The pizza, served adjacent to the pools on Deck 15 was good thin crust and featured cheese or pepperoni as well as a special of the day. The burgers from the grill were good and made to order. Our major complaint about the food was what was not offered. No escargot and no crème brulee.
This is a very port intensive cruise, calling at Barbados, St. Lucia, Antigua, Tortola and St. Thomas before returning to San Juan. The cruise kicked off with one day at sea.
In Barbados we docked next to the Queen Mary 2, which followed us into port. Princess really dropped the ball on this port because there were no Princess personnel or signs to direct us to our excursions. We only found by chance that you have to go through the duty-free shopping mall to the other side to board your excursion. That information came from QM2 reps at the end of the pier. We went on the "Best of Barbados" tour purchased through Princess, which took us to Gun Hill, a plantation and Orchid World, where Marj found out why she has killed so many orchids. The guide was very good and informative. We topped off the day by shopping in the duty-free mall at the port. The QM2 sailed out prior to us with a great exchange of salutes.
We next sailed into St Lucia which was by far the most tropical and lush of the ports visited. The QM 2 also called there but had to dock outside the harbor and tender because of her draft being too deep. The P&O Oceana joined us in port. We opted for the "St Lucia by Land and Sea" excursion, again through Princess. This excursion turned out to be a near disaster in the making. We were loaded into a former Japanese transit bus of questionable vintage and mechanical condition. We stalled seven times while climbing the mountains which can be pretty scary. We did not allow this to ruin our enjoyment of this beautiful island. We visited a plantation where we had lunch and when we got back to the bus we were greeted with the engine compartment opened and repair in progress. Our guide, who was good, commandeered a couple of smaller busses who just arrived to take us through the town of Soufriere and to see the volcano. After the volcano, we proceeded in our old bus, downhill all the way thank goodness, to the catamaran for the rest of our tour. The catamaran was dangerously overloaded and neither the crew nor signage gave us any hint where the life preservers were, if they had any. The "placid beach" we stopped at had rough surf and rip tides. Vendors besieged our catamaran on kayak. In general, we found the vendors on St. Lucia to be the most aggressive we have encountered outside of Jamaica. When we got back to the ship we filed a complaint at the tour desk. We were later informed we would get a 40% refund but when we got our bill, they refunded the entire amount. We sailed out of the harbor at Castries ahead of the P&O Oceana amid an exchange of salutes between the ships. The ships were sufficiently close to each other that there were jovial exchanges of shouts of good wishes between the passengers which was great fun. We were exhausted at the end of the day and did not last too long after dinner.
We chose a relaxing beach day at Antigua and it was a good choice as we were still tired from St Lucia. We went to Runaway Bay for a nice morning on a beautiful beach, returned to the ship for lunch and shopped in St Johns during the afternoon.
We arrived at this gem of an island expecting to be tendered and much to our pleasant surprise we docked instead. Our "Tortola by Land and Sea" tour, booked through the ship was the polar opposite of the St Lucia tour. The open air taxi bus operated flawlessly and the catamaran had plenty of room and safety equipment. The guides on both the catamaran and bus were well informed and pointed out many of the partying as well as historical ways of the islands, including one place that has wild full moon parties and has many brassieres hanging from the ceiling. For some reason my wife indicated that she really wouldn't want me to go there if we visit Tortola in the future. We did agree that Tortola was added to the short list of islands we would like to visit again for a long term stay, along with Grand Cayman.
This was the final port on our cruise and is only 20 some miles from Tortola. We sailed a rather circuitous route by way of St Croix and covered 146 nautical miles that night. Since this is a US territory we had to clear immigration starting at 7:00 am in Club Fusion. The line was extra long, but progressed quickly and we were up in the Horizon Court buffet for breakfast before 8am. We were in St Thomas the year before on the Crown Princess so we took a taxi into town for shopping but decided to ditch a beach stop in favor of relaxing by the pool on the ship. We docked at Crown Bay which is still being developed and only has a few shops opened. It will be a very nice facility when finished. There were no problems with taxis to any point on the island and prices were clearly marked at the taxi stand. Taxis to town were $4. The Emerald Princess was in port at the same time and docked at Havensight. The reason was that the Queen Mary scraped bottom at the second berth at Crown Bay so they need to do a little dredging before they can dock more than one ship.
Aw Shucks San Juan Again!!!
All good things must come to an end and we arrived in San Juan at about 5 am on Saturday November 10th. After breakfast we went to our designated waiting area in the Casino and disembarked around 9 am as we had a noon flight out of San Juan. The scrum for luggage was horrendous but cleared customs and got out quickly and boarded the same old but reliable bus back to the airport. Once again, as in our other ports, hiring a porter speeds your way out of customs.
Surely Miami International Airport is the Official Airport of Hell
We were a few minutes late out of San Juan so our 1 hour 35 minute connection time at Miami was reduced but still reasonable. That is until you have to walk what seemed to be miles to get between concourses for American Airlines. There are no moving sidewalks or any shuttle vehicles to take the infirm and elderly to their gates. We made it just in time to catch our plane with very few minutes left over to grab a couple of sandwiches to eat on board. One lady off our cruise had to take a wheelchair because she could not make it on foot. No airport should treat its passengers like this.
Home Again and Here Comes the PCD
We arrived home late Saturday night much to the delight of our pets. We did have one small antidote for Post Cruise Depression (PCD) we purchased two future cruise credits onboard for $100 dollars each and is good for a deposit for one person. You also get up to $50 onboard credit per person. They are good for four years and are fully refundable if not used.
Overall I would rate this cruise very highly and would not hesitate to recommend it to others and would go back without hesitation.