My reviews are written diary style with several entries per day. Due to the length of my cruise diaries, I've decided to put in a mini index up front with some of the major topics and where you can find my notes on it: 1) Cruise background & Pre-cruise - Beginning 2) Main cabin information - Day at Sea 3) Overall ship impressions - Tortola 4) Barbados Excursion: A Taste of Barbados & Scenic Drive with Lunch (Tour BGI-212) 5) St Thomas' Excursion: St. John Island Tour (Tour STT-120) 6) Chef's Table - Antigua 7) Ultimate Balcony Breakfast - Antigua 8) Sabatini's - Barbados 9) Food comments - Almost daily
Itinerary of the December 15, 2007 sailing of the Crown Princess: Day 0: San Juan, Puerto Rico Day 1: at sea Day 2: Bridgetown, Barbados Day 3: Castries, St Lucia Day 4: St Johns, Antigua Day 5: Road Town, Tortola Day 6: Charlotte Amalie (Crown Bay), St. Thomas Day 7: San Juan, Puerto Rico
Background: I am a 41 y.o. male with a European/South American upbringing and have been living in the U.S. for a total of 27 years; I have been residing in San Juan since 1991. I see myself as a person of refined tastes but do not necessarily live everyday life that way. I consider myself as someone who knows (both by upbringing and then personal experience) what "is good" and what "is not so good". As a consumer, I enjoy and seek out good value which does not always mean cheap; there are times when a $50 entree represents better value than a $2.99 fast food meal.
Not including this one, my cruise resume to date reads: Renaissance Cruises (1x), Princess (2x), and Royal Caribbean (3x). I'm also currently booked for the Caribbean Princess in April '08 and on the Adventure of the Seas for September '08 (which I will likely cancel in favor of another Princess cruise).
This cruise is the third of the three planned this year. In July I sailed on Royal Caribbean's Adventure of the Seas (AOS) and my review of that cruise can be found at http://www.cruisecritic.com/memberreviews/memberreview.cfm?EntryID=30616. In September I was on the Caribbean Princess, the review of which can be found at http://www.cruisecritic.com/memberreviews/memberreview.cfm?EntryID=32829.
This cruise of the Crown Princess was a present to my parents on my part. Originally, we were going to sail on Windstar Cruises out of St Thomas, but the week we were going to book, HAL sold them to ACL. With a type of uncertainty in the air regarding two companies we knew little about (three if we count Windstar itself) we went to "Plan B" and decided to book with Princess instead. At that time (February '07), the last time we had cruised Princess was back in 1998 on an Alaska cruise aboard the Sun Princess. Of course, since then, I sailed in September n the Caribbean Princess and was extremely satisfied with the product.
Friday December 14, 2007 San Juan, Puerto Rico
Pre cruise: Since I live in San Juan, this won't be applicable to this review. However, here a few notes regarding my parent's pre-cruise. They arrived Friday from Caracas, Venezuela and stayed the night at the Hampton Inn in Isla Verde. This is their hotel of choice when spending only a couple of nights in PR; on longer stays (1 week or more) they book at ESJ Towers because of the kitchenette convenience in each room. Friday night we had a nice dinner at Lupi's which is located about a 2 minute walk away from the Hampton towards the El San Juan Hotel and ESJ Towers.
I had quite a problem getting a taxi back home (I live near the banking district). Now, partially, I understand the reason why. The meter's last adjustment was when the price of oil was still $30/barrel. So the drivers are literally loosing money when, by law, they have to turn it on. Generally, I ask them to turn on the meter and then add an extra 50% or so to what the meter shows. That seems very fair to me until such time the rates are raised.
Saturday December 15, 2007 San Juan, Puerto Rico
7:17pm We left the Hampton Inn with my personal regular cab driver at around 1:30pm taking a leisurely drive through Isla Verde, then Punta Las Marias, through Condado, and finally entering Old San Juan through the northern route along the sea. We swung by El Morro and then found our way down through the traffic laden streets of Old San Juan to Pier 4, Princess' usual pier located basically across from the Old San Juan Sheraton.
We got to the pier at around 2:15pm and there was a line outside. I thought that at that time there would have been less people as waiting in line (for anything) is not my strong suite. So, a line outside to get in, and then a line inside to check in , then a line for security, and finally a line to board. It took a bit more than an hour to finally get to the cabin. C'est la vie.
A quick comment: My check-in for my Caribe balcony was fairly quick. The line moved reasonably. However, my parents (booked on a Dolphin mini suite) took almost ½ hour longer to check in. The reason was simple. One of the two Princess agents that worked had fingernails roughly an inch to an inch and a half long and was literally unable to type, which requires one to use one's fingertips. Ludicrous.
In the end, it took me almost one and a half hours to get to my cabin from the time I arrived at the pier. In my book, that's completely unacceptable. Fair enough, had I decided not to wait for my parents, I would have been aboard half an hour earlier. Still, compared to my Fort Lauderdale experience (where from arriving at pier to being in front of my cabin took 20 minutes) this was horrible. Next time, should I cruise on Princess out of San Juan again, I'll arrive at 5pm for an 11pm sailing - the place looked like a ghost town at that point.
The benefit for waiting so long to get on-board however, was that my luggage had arrived to my cabin before I had. I guess that there can always be a positive in every negative.
Next, another problem. I had pre-ordered 7 canapE plates thinking that these were going to be handled with a voucher system like almost everything else on board. The idea was to have one plate each night with my parents during our nightly pre-dinner cocktail hour. Instead, I found my shrimps and 1 canapE platter in my cabin. I called up room service (plus someone came over) to get this straightened out and have these delivered to my parent's cabin nightly at 6pm. Let's see what happens...
The next couple of hours flew by in a whirlwind. I met Darius, my cabin steward. Did a little unpacking; went over to my parent's mini-suite (more on the cabins later). We made reservations for Sabatini's, I ate something at the Cafe Caribe since I hadn't eaten since breakfast (salad, a tasty grilled salmon with an apple glaze, a pork pate, some fried rice and curried vegetables), got my cruise card punched for my lanyard, and picked up two "You made a difference" cards.
I also called room service for a hot water service for my afternoon tea. This time (see other 2007 reviews) I'm not even going to pretend to order tea every time. I swiped the hot water bottle on the spot. A quick trip to the Horizon Cafe procured one of the larger mugs.
Attention serious tea drinkers. So far, I have only seen Lipton (yuk) teas at the buffets. On the Caribbean Princess, at least there was a variety of teas available (Lipton and Bigelow) but here, so far, I've only seen your basic regular and decaf Liptons (yuk). My decision to pack some 40+ tea bags of proper brands and varieties has again proven to be a life saver.
12am It's been a long day for me. Just got back from dinner and sail away from my parents balcony (the favored side as we left San Juan harbor).
At 7:40pm the lights went out in my cabin. Funny, but I still had juice running the computer and the TV. That was a good thing to get ready for muster/dinner.
At 8pm we had the muster drill. My station is the Fusion lounge. First some crew member up front, and then someone through the PA system, said something or other safety related - I was paying attention to the lovely crew member in front of me. In a real emergency, she will save my life. I have evil wishful thoughts of us hitting an iceberg in the middle of the Caribbean while putting on my vest...
After muster, I went to the Botticelli dining room for our second seating traditional dinner. As luck would have it, the three of us have a table of four. That, is both good and bad. It's nice to speak with other people instead of being cocooned in one's own little world. You can only learn more with other people around. Still, it was nice nevertheless to have our own table since it allowed us to switch to German for our table conversation.
The Crown has the "new" menu which I had already tried in September on the CB. Like last time, I had the seafood terrine and the watercress/radish salad. Since last time I had the prime rib, I tried the Cajun seafood crockpot which (in September) was supposed to have been spicy. Well, nothing even remotely spicy. I had to resort to about 10-15 splashes of Tabasco to give the dish at least some heat. I dislike using Tabasco, since the vinegar in it changes the taste of food. Still, all in all, with this dish that change was ok.
At around 11pm I stopped by the cabin but the lights hadn't been fixed et and then went off to my parent's again for sail away and yet still more terrific conversation which, as usual, ranged the gamut of topics, often varying from sentence to sentence.
When I saw their daily Patter, I almost died. There it was. Smack front page. The Chef's Table was available on the Crown. I tried calling right there and then but nobody answered; no surprise - it was midnight. Since my parents will wake up before me, it will fall onto them to reserve 3 spots.
Ok, lengthy entries today. More so than usual. Probably has to do something with trying to spend more time with my parents and thus having less time to myself like I would on my solo cruises.
Sunday December 16, 2007 Day at sea en-route to Barbados
2:42pm Woke up late at around 10am because I slept like a baby. Breakfast was the usual, some smoked salmon with trimmings, a spinach frittata and some links. Forgot to take along my own tea so I had to subject myself to the available stuff.
After breakfast, I stopped by my parent's cabin. As it turned out, the Chef Table program was already sold out. I am livid at Princess' 800 Number Customer Service. I specifically called them up to ask if the Chef's Table Program was available on the Crown and was told 'no'. If I had known that it was, I would have stood in line to board the ship at 8am yesterday! I am soooooo angry about this.
I went over to the Captain's Circle Representative to get my parent's status changed to gold, after all, they too cruised Princess to Alaska in '98. I let Esther know about the Chef's Table issue and how disappointed I was. Hopefully, something will be noted and changes made on Princess' internal web site that these CSA's use.
After deciding to plan for the March 2009 NY Met's Wagner Ring Cycle (I guess no 1Q '09 cruise for me), we had a pre-lunch cocktail in the piano bar by the piazza. As we were finishing, a barbershop quartet started their show and it was fun listening to them.
Lunch was a combination of Horizon and Cafe Caribe where they were serving Japanese food, including full spreads of different types of sushi rolls. We stayed until around 2pm just talking as rush hour was over and felt that our table wasn't needed.
This is about a good time as any to talk about my cabin.
Caribe 702 is a BB category balcony cabin. Below me, are the Dolphin mini-suites. Having been in my parent's mini, I can now put these two cabin types in perspective. Let me start with the mini. As you enter, the walk in closet and bathroom come first, then the bed(s) with desk, then the sofa area and finally the balcony.
For my room, let me describe going from the outside in: My stateroom's balcony is essentially the size of the mini's sofa area and thus is huge at around 10x9 feet in size. Half of the balcony is in the open, while an overhang (the size of the std. balconies above) covers my second, inner, half. Once inside the actual cabin, is the bed area with desk and a piece of furniture containing the fridge at the bottom, a flat surface above that, and then the TV on a shelve above. Like on my CB cruise, I am using the brass bar holding in the TV as a hook for my cruise card lanyard, shades, and hat. The walk-in closet and bathroom follow next before getting to the hallway door. The closet is roughly 6 feet long with one bar running through it lengthwise (I counted 36 hangers), plus a shelve above that. The Life vests are on that shelve as are the beach towels. Next to that closet is a mini closet with shelves squeezed in between the bathroom and the main closet. There are 7 shelves, one of which contains the in-room safe. Each shelve is a bit more than a foot square in size with roughly 8-12 inches of space between them. The one for the safe is about 5 feet high. The desk and the two night-tables offer additional storage space. I put the bucket chair inside the closet to have more space in my cabin.
Now, I'm sitting on my balcony writing this entry. I have never been a huge fan of the balconies because I don't tend to use them (too small) but these are truly huge. As luck would have it, the sun is on the other side so I've ventured outside with some tea. As a side note, I just called the purser's because I could smell some marihuana being smoked up forward; I hate illegal drugs. Whether security does something or not, we'll see. But at least I reported it. My guess it must be within the 5 balconies forward of mine.
Each balcony type cabin has it's pros and cons. Starting from the lowest deck up: Dolphin (mini suites): larger cabins, std. balcony, you can see straight down which is nice when pulling in/out of port. Uncovered balcony means no protection from the elements and no privacy. Caribe (std. balconies): standard cabin, double-sized balcony, you can't look straight down for maneuvers like the minis, if you look straight down you see the minis' balcony, half of the balcony is open air and half is covered (by what is the balcony from the deck above) Baja & Aloha (std. balconies): standard cabin, standard sized balcony, protected from the elements by a roof above (which is the balcony of the cabin a deck above). Riviera (std balconies): Just like Baja and Aloha except that the Lido deck overhang is your roof.
If I book balcony again on Princess, not a foregone conclusion since I very much enjoy insides because of the immense price differential, I will ONLY book Caribe. They become winners in my book because of their huge size and the fact that they have areas both open (nice to look at stars at night plus more sun) and covered for more (relative) privacy.
I'm also listening to the opera I bought for this cruise's day at sea (a bit of a tradition for me now) which is Mozart's Die Zauberfloete. It is the 1991 recording by Sir Georg Solti and the Wiener Philharmoniker. The featured singers are Kurt Moll, Uwe Heilmann and Sumi Jo is the Queen of the Night.
I'll listen to it until just before 4pm when I have to head to the Cruise Critic's meet we organized at the Skywalker's Lounge.
11:15pm Cruising with my parents is terrific. However, it also gives me less time to write my entries here...
Anyway, the Cruise Critic meeting was a lot of fun. It was nice to meet in real life some of our Roll Call Gang. Skywalkers was deserted and bit by bit we started having a nice little corner to us. After the meeting I had a quick snack at the buffet and stopped by the future cruise desk to buy 2 future cruise credits. It's always nice to have one or two in the account to jump on an opportunity that may open up.
Tonight was our first formal night. Unlike my September Caribbean Princess cruise, the level of formality was noticeably lower (less tuxes and more light colored jackets - for those actually wearing suits). Fortunately, most people still did participate (to some extend) in this but I was appalled to see that people were let into the dining room in fairly casual dress. Which part of 'formal' don't these people understand? If they want to be casual on formal night, they should please do us all a favor and go to the buffet. Their mean spirited, egotistical, ignorance ruins the ambience for the rest of us. Ok... rant over.
Dinner was very good. I had the blue crab quiche as an appetizer which was nicely spongy and moist. I followed that with the mixed greens salad and the bow pasta which I found so-so (asked for it on a small plate as the pasta course). As the entrEe I had the halibut served on couscous. For dessert, I indulged and asked if they could just get me some fresh berries with crème anglaise (both items that were part of other dishes on the dessert menu tonight). I love that combination. During dinner, we also met the Head Waiter and the Maitre D' Hotel; with both we had lengthy conversations as we are probably close to be as well traveled as they. I think we are now at the top of the wait list for the Chef's Table in the unlikely case that others might cancel.
I just stepped outside and from my port balcony could see the lights of Martinique fairly close by. That means we are crossing from the Caribbean to the Atlantic between Martinique to the north and St Lucia to the south in order to make our last sprint to Barbados. It's fun to look at our itinerary on a real map. I bought a waterproof Caribbean Chart from www.waterproofcharts.com (Caribbean Sea & the Gulf of Mexico - Chart #04) which I'm holding up against the wall with a few magnets. While the TV shows the electronic version, there's just something nice about seeing and handling a real paper chart.
I also called the front desk (again - as well as talking to Darius this afternoon) about my broken bed light. What is it about the Crown? Such a nice ship but so far, service details (not the general stuff) seems to be lacking. Another example: I haven't received tonight's slip for the fruit basket for tomorrow. Hopefully, they'll at least refill based on yesterday's. But I'd rather change the pear for another banana; the pears are awfully unripe...
Hmmm, after such a nice day, I just read on the ESPN2 ticker that my Cowboys lost their game vs. Philly. Oh well... Wish I could've finished this entry with better news.
Monday December 17, 2007 Barbados
4:45pm I woke up "early" at 8:15am in order to be ready for room service which I had requested to come from 8:30-9:00am. Experience has shown me that they tend to deliver more toward the beginning than the end of the time slot. On the slip, I marked a number of things but also wrote in if they could bring some salmon. I didn't expect it but they brought it. Terrific start to the day.
I took in breakfast on my balcony which was the shaded side this morning. The Crown is docked along the starboard side.
After that, it was rush-rush to the bus that was going to take us on our Barbados Sightseeing & Lunch tour. We left promptly (what a nice change that 'island time' isn't as deeply rooted in here in Barbados). We wound our way out of the port area until arriving to the workshop of local wood sculptor Reginald Medford. There, we received a quick demonstration of how he (and now his team) go about creating their mahogany sculptures. Who would have thought, but they use a power sander. Furthermore, they use the root system of the tree to create quite unique pieces. It was very interesting and some of the pieces were quite impressive.
After about an hour had gone by overall, we boarded the bus again to go to the Christ Church in Christ Church (!) which I didn't find interesting at all but seems to be a major local landmark. In any case, it allowed me some time to stretch my legs. A local tour guide popped in at one point and gave a tour including going into one of the mausoleums on property. I declined. The only time I ever want to enter a crypt is when I become its permanent resident...
After Church (he he), we went on to the Sundbury Plantation House. This is a 300 year old plantation house that has been fully restored. It's quite the little museum!!! At the Sundbury, we had lunch which consisted of a number of local dishes.
Never one to eschew local cuisines provided they don't delve into the complete unknown/uncomfortable for me, I enjoyed it a lot. My appetizer was a bit of flying fish (local specialty: must drive those retrieving dogs mad...) which was served with a slightly piquant sauce. This was followed by a pumpkin soup which also seemed to be a bit spicy (nothing major though). As the entrEe, I chose the steak of Dorado but in hindsight, should've picked the chicken breast with Creole sauce which looked better. dessert was fun. There were 2 choices. A coconut pie and a rum triffle. I chose one and my mom chose the other and we went half and half on each. The rum triffle was very tasty and by far the best dish of the meal.
Once finished with lunch, a few of us walked a bit in the woods right behind the restaurant area. One could see from the growth of the trees that Barbados has prevailing winds. All the trees' green growth was slanted.
After that we all boarded again and drove through Bridgetown to get back to the ship. I had to smile inward because the driver/guide would point out everything - including the new condo buildings going up. There was one interesting structure. There was a bank that had taken over a building that had - quite obviously - been a McDonalds before. Seems that a KFC opened up nearby and chicken seems to sell better than burgers... First time I've ever seen that. Now if only someone could drive Starbucks out as well...
Once back on board, I complained once more to the pursers about my bed lamp being broken. This is getting ridiculous. If that isn't fixed by the time of the Captain's Cocktail party tomorrow, I will approach him personally on this by doing that silly picture line (we are getting awfully close to that period in time where I would consider asking for on-board-credit). Ultimately, it is his responsibility. I have yet to find any service truly worthy of those "You make a difference" cards here on the Crown... sad.... What a change from the Caribbean Princess where we had an English Captain running things.
7pm Hallelujah! The bed lamp has been fixed. Ok, just a one-line entry, but an important one. Gotta get ready for dinner at Sabatini's tonight.
1:22am Wow, it's pretty late.
Dinner at Sabatini's was terrific. First off, Sabatini's is located above the Outrigger bar aft (on the Caribbean Princess it is next to the photo shop by the Explorer's lounge. Here on the Crown the Steak House is located there). Opposite to Sabatini's is Adagio's, a nice bar. In my mind's eye, it is almost double as large as Sabatini's on the CB. The dining room here is large but, keeping with the style of the Horizon, with the tables separated by walkways, balustrades, etc. thus creating many intimate spots. Excellent design work.
We started off with a bottle of champagne I had purchased for my parents before hand. Unlike my September cruise, this time I participated in the whole meal.
First, from the menu, you choose your entrEe. In my case, I went for the langoustines. Then, they serve you a bit of everything. First, some cold appetizers of different types (some olives, marinated anchovies, salad, shrimp), then some hot appetizers (crab cake, calamari fritti and some deep fried zucchini). This is followed by the soup (seafood in my case), a sampling of both pasta courses (fresh pasta), your entrEe, and then dessert (I went for the zabaglione). The meal was quite decent and worth the cover charge. It also fit well in our 'routine' with dinner in that it wasn't hurried. Our affair took two and a half hours.
From around 11pm until 1am I decided to test lady luck. Nay, charm her. Apparently whatever I did worked because I started with $40 down. With the next $40 I started coming back at the blackjack table. I was back to +$10 overall when I was joined by one of those know-it-all players that keep insisting that my play was wrong. If my play was consistently so bad and I'm slightly ahead again, why should I listen to you who so proudly proclaimed to have lost all evening long? Idiots...
I excused myself and went to the Fun 21 table where at least dealers still mix the cards by hand. Once there, and safely removed from "all night loser", I continued working bit by bit and ended up cashing out +$100 for the evening (net of the overall $80 I staked). After $5 to the dealer, I felt terrific.
So, back to the cabin to get my temporarily adopted hot water carafe, hit the Horizon for some hot water, and now a couple of late night decaf teas or herbals before going to sleep. Got a couple of decaf Ceylon that should hit the spot very nicely indeed.
Tomorrow (today?) we'll be in St. Lucia. We have absolutely nothing planned but it is my parents' anniversary. Should make for an interesting day.
Tuesday December 18, 2007 St Lucia
9:36am I woke up at the un-godly hour of 8:26am. This presented me with a bit of a problem as I had put down 10:30am for my room service breakfast slip. I went to the Horizon for some hot water and then called room service up asking if, at their convenience, they could move up my order. Preparing myself mentally for arduous task of surviving without yet more food for another 2 hours, I was very pleasantly surprised when less than 10 minutes later a knock on my door announced my breakfast's arrival.
Excitedly, I practically ran to my cabin door. As the waiter placed down my tray on the little round table I tipped him (very generously!) and thanked him. He retreated backwards toward the door dangerously eyeing my carafe that I have temporarily appropriated.
Noticing his jealous stare, I immediately placed myself between the retreating waiter and "my precious".
Breakfast on the balcony was nice again, except for the interruption caused by Princess' hosing down of the Lido deck glass panes. Since water has a tendency to fall down when sprayed at height, the Dolphin and Caribe balconies got drenched by dirty water... Fortunately, the Caribe balconies also have a covered part and it is there were I ate.
3:30pm My St. Lucia stay was, well, nice. Just what the doctor ordered. A little shopping, a little family time, and a little time to myself. We have had overcast skies all day long. I guess people forget that green islands are green for a reason. I never noticed strong rain but a constant on/off drizzle.
This morning we went ashore and walked around a bit within the open air shopping complex right by the ship. It has a generous collection of your standard Caribbean jewelry shops, a couple of perfume shops, a couple of liquor shops, plus about 10 other ones ranging the gamut of usual shopping fare. There was also a few carts strewn around here and there with local knick-knacks plus a couple of watering holes. A bit beyond this mall is the dock to catch the water taxi to downtown and the water tours seem to do their pick-ups and drop offs there as well. At about a 2 minute slow walk (once ashore), it really is a short jump over to that place.
For lunch we went back to the ship, choosing to eat in the DaVinci dining room. By chance, all three of us had the Oso Bucco with risotto which I found quite acceptable in taste but was the right portion size as well (not too large).
The rest of the afternoon, while my parents were doing their siesta, I spent time in that mall area again, writing a postcard and buying some Swiss chocolate miniatures. Since things were fairly deserted, it gave me a chance to talk to and observe some of the employees in this mall. If they are to be a microcosm of the population at large, then my impression of St Lucians is that of a jovial and kind people who love to laugh.
Now back onboard, I've gotten a toasted chicken sandwich (nice and peppery) and two fruit tarts (with some honeydew which I've never had in a fruit tart before) from the International Cafe; I am starting to enjoy having tea by myself on my balcony. I do miss the scones though that they serve at Princess' tea in the dining room. Maybe tomorrow.
HAL's Amsterdam just pulled out and did a 180 degree inside the port before leaving; sure looked like a tight squeeze going out. Kudos to the pilot in these maneuvers in such tight waters. Right now, the container vessel Stadt Luneburg is pulling into the Amsterdam's berth. Doesn't look too heavily loaded as the bow bulb is almost completely out of the water. However, there's someone doing some heavy construction in the Caribbean as I count some 6 different types of diggers on-board plus 2 cement truck drums. Seeing the cargo ship pull in makes me think about those freighter cruises. Wish I would have the time to do one of those.
12:38am The 18th of December turned out to be a great day. Late last night I won $100, I spent a terrific relaxing day, and, well, before we get to that let me point out happenings up until now.
At around 7:45pm we went to the Captain's Circle Party. There, we were informed that they had to do two of them because of the high number of repeat cruisers. As this happened on the CB in September as well, things must be going great at Princess (Carnival).
After the Captain spoke, we went to the Cafe Caribe for dinner since it was German night. This is something I had enjoyed immensely in September and wanted to share that with my parents. They too liked the food but this time we ate quickly as they wanted to see a show. What I found interesting is that with the exception of about a third of the dishes, all others were different compared to the CB's German Night menu. Makes me wonder if they have 2 menus for German Night so that those doing back-to-back get at least some variety; on the other hand they may just have standard variations from ship to ship within the fleet.
I even got to eat two dishes I had never eaten before in my life, the pork loin baked inside the bread (Kassel in Brot) and a cheese strudel (Kaesestrudel), both of which I enjoyed a lot as well. The Goulash and Spaetzle were good again as were all the sausages.
With my parents off to the show, I, being utterly bored without wanting to do anything whatsoever, figured that since I was up $100 from yesterday, could afford to risk another $40 tonight. Lightning does seem to strike twice and I netted another $80.
Without wanting to tempt fate even more, I decided to retire. Once in my cabin, there were 2 messages on the voice mail from my parents.
We got into the Chef's Table after all!!!!!!!! Awesome!!!!!!!!! I honestly thought this would prove to be impossible. The 18th was indeed a great day (even better if you consider that one of the pot-head girls from two cabins down locked herself out of her cabin - naked... Sort of an extra bonus eye candy while getting back to my cabin. God, people can be stupid.)
Wednesday December 19, 2007 Antigua
10:45am I awoke to the lowly sound of the wake up call at 8am. Since I ended up going to sleep at around 3am or so, the night was very short. Basically, I spent a lot of time on my balcony staring outside. The moon was huge and I could see many craters on its surface with my binoculars. Aside from that and the stars, I also saw one cruise ship heading south, two yachts, and a few airplanes in the sky. I highly recommend bringing a good quality pair along. By around 1 to 2am, almost all the cabin lights were out so the view was terrific.
This morning we had the Ultimate Balcony Breakfast, which was a present I gave to my parents. Since the morning sun was on their side, we decided to eat on my balcony and intercepted the waiter bringing the production in the hallway. And a production it is. My father had the half cantaloupe with strawberries and one of the quiches, my mother had the other quiche and one of the salmon plates, while I had the second salmon plate and a few of the mini-danish. They had the champagne (a half of Moet), my father the juice, and my mom and I split the coffee. Without a doubt, plenty of food for three people - and it is designed for two...
We are docked at St. John's main pier. Next to us is Royal's Empress of the Seas and on the other dock I saw the German ship Aida Vita.
Antigua is always a port that I hold dear (and yet, for some reason, I have never taken a tour here nor will I this time). It was from here that I took my first cruise ever. It was on one of the original baby Renaissance ships, the IV, where we did the Windward Islands celebrating my Mom's birthday. Nowadays, some people remember Renaissance more for their later R-Class ships (of which Princess now owns three). But the baby Rens were awesome. 104 passengers in 52 suites, open restaurant seating with impeccable all around service but in a casual overall atmosphere. The Empress, scheduled to be transferred out of RCCL's fleet in March or April '08, also happened to be my 2nd cruise ever; that was a 4 day trip SJU-St Maarten-St Thomas-SJU before she was elongated. So, a bit of a melancholic start of the day for me.
I saw Darius, my cabin attendant, and let him know that he could skip my cabin this morning if he wanted to. I keep it clean and tidy to a great extend anyway (he and his assistant laughed rolling their eyes - something tells me the other cabins look like federal disaster zones every day), so no big thing for me if he doesn't do it today. In any case, with so little sleep last night, I want to have the flexibility of just popping in anytime for a nap, or go ashore, or whatever without having to think about giving him time.
11:37pm I went ashore around 1:30pm. In order to escape the crowds poured on by the Crown and by the Empress, I passed quickly through the Heritage Quay area to get to Thames Street. There I decided to take a right and at the end of the block another right again. I guess it's the old "Wizardry" pattern of exploring when you don't know a lay out...
In any case half way down on Redcliffe Street I ventured inside the Commissioner Grill. Why? Nothing in particular but it wasn't swamped (one large table of tourists and 2 tables of locals) and the menu posted at the door had a dish I'd never heard of before. The Grill is covered but with no air-conditioning. Nevertheless, it wasn't hot at all and I ordered the Foungee with Salt Fish. The salt fish was salted cod in a Creole sauce and foungee was boiled corn meal with some scallion and okra in it which left it having a consistency of mashed potatoes. I really enjoyed this simple and local meal.
After lunch, I stopped by an internet cafe further down on Redcliffe St. Only had 126 emails accumulated in my in-box since Saturday... Most were deleted and a few answered. I then went a bit into Redcliffe Quay which is - by far - a nicer place to hang out than Heritage Quay: low buildings, trees canopying the area, lots of little and quiet restaurants, plus a sprinkling of local stores. The Germans from the Aida ship seemed to be going nuts over the ice cream store. A quick purchase of a Hilfiger polo shirt completed my mini-walk around the port area.
THE CHEF'S TABLE:
At 6:45pm we met at the International Cafe for the Chef's Table Event (tour?). After Maitre D' Hotel Nicola Furlan herded us all together (there were 11 of us) he went through some of the facts and figures of the Crown Princess especially those pertaining to Food & Beverage. The galley of the Crown Princess prepares all the food consumed aboard with 2 exceptions: kosher dishes and baby food. These come prepared ahead of time.
At roughly 7pm, it began.
In a single file we made our way to the main galley through the Michelangelo dining room. Once inside, we were at a dish washing station, we were made to wash our hands (20 second scrub) and were then handed white overcoats (like lab coats, not chef's coats). It was here that Nicola 'handed us off' to Executive Chef Martial Diffor. Chef Diffor is a very young man from Strasbourg (close to the Swiss-Franco border in France) and his wife had given birth to his firstborn just yesterday.
Once everyone was properly garbed we went through the kitchen, keeping to a side to allow the waiters space to move through. Everywhere, all cooks, waiters, and other staff looked up at us. Without exception, they all smiled and seemed happy to see us. At times, a few words were spoken and all of us kept thanking them for their hard work in putting out some terrific food. I at least felt that it was very important that I do so since these hard working men and women rarely get a chance to get a direct thank you from us passengers.
At the end of our galley walk-through, by the second entrance/exit to the restaurant, a couple of tables had been set up. There, our little group was joined by a couple of more Officers from the F&B Department. My parents and I mostly spoke to Guenther Kopf, the First Purser Food & Beverage who was from Austria; a nice opportunity to speak German for me.
Chef Diffor explained how the galley is set up and works. Along the cooking line, there is a defined section for each dish for that particular meal. For each dish, there is a color photograph with notes clearly stating what everything is on the plate plus there is an actual finished sample plate under the photograph. This gives a good reference to the wait staff.
There is a cook for each plate. Actual cooking is done "behind" him and he plates the dishes at the counter which the waiter then takes to the dining room. The food at these stations comes out "standard". There is one cooking section exclusive for special orders.
At this point we were served some Moet & Chandon Brut champagne and the amuse bouche. The first I had was the Quiche Provencale. Then, I had the Blue Crab Margarita with avocado and mango (think of a ceviche here). Third, came the Blinis with Sevruga caviar and crème fraiche and finally the foi gras terrine on toast with apple chutney. All the portions were just about bite sized - else I would have been full already.
After the hors d'oeuvres, we walked back to the first entrance we had been at and returned our coats. We then left the Michelangelo dining room and moved down to the Da Vinci restaurant. There was a line of people waiting to get in but we had a specially prepared table so we moved right in with Nicola and Chef Diffor. I saw a lot of people looking at us wondering why a Chef would sit with us. The Chef passed around a hand written, one page, menu for the evening (which included the appetizers we had already eaten in the galley).
Our first dish was a goat cheese souffle which was followed by a champagne Risotto. This was followed by a "Lip Smackin' Bloody Mary" sorbet to cleanse the palate. These two menu items were accompanied by a California Sauvignon Blanc.
Then it got real interesting because the main entrEe was a "Trio of Beef, Veal, and Pork Tenderloin on Medieval Spiked Flambe Roaster". All of a sudden, the Chef and Nicola came from the galley with three carts which they parked close by. On each cart top, there was a large wooden tray with a cast iron hook. From this hook hung a metal tube with spikes sticking out; each spike about 2 inches long. On these spikes, they had impaled the various tenderloins. Arranged in pre-cut holes in the tray were several small bowls of dips, etc. for our meats (Herb butter, BEarnaise sauce, Jus, and Salsa Verde).
Chef Diffor then proceeded to flambe the tenderloins table-side. This was quite the show stopper. We were all taking pictures and many a waiter stopped their own work to see the Chef in action - as did many fellow diners that took the opportunity to take pictures as well.
For good measure, they started plating with half a Maine lobster to which we were then served some of the tenderloins, boiled potatoes, and a myriad of fresh vegetables (I had the cauliflower, broccoli, and the baby zucchini). The wine paired with the entrEe was a Californian red.
Once we managed to eat all of that food, the table was cleared and we were served a third wine. This was an Errazuriz, a Chilean dessert wine. The cheese dessert which was a Potted Stilton cheese with Port Wine & Walnuts, served with Rosemary Biscotti. The second dessert was an Iced Parfait of Amaretto with a Vanilla sauce, and a Brandy reduction.
After a round of coffee for those that wanted them, Chef Diffor sat back down with us for a quick chat. Turns out that the program has been on the Crown only for the past 5 weeks or so. It is done only once per week and is limited to just a very few number of passengers (in our case 11, but normally only 10).
Chef Diffor then autographed copies of Princess' Cook Book as a present to each couple while a red rose was gifted to each lady present at the table. A ship's photographer took pictures of the Chef with each of us plus a couple of group pictures to celebrate the event. These pictures would then be delivered to our respective cabins tomorrow.
After we bid each other good bye, my parents and I stopped by the International Cafe for an after-dinner port wine.
Wow. What can I say after all this. It was a spectacular event and although I've tried to describe it in much detail, this report does not do justice to the experience we had. I feel so very lucky to have been able to participate in it. I also know, because it is so very exclusive, that I will NOT sign up again for it. Not because it wasn't good - far from it. But because so few passengers are able to participate, I feel it would be unfair to take someone's spot in the future that hadn't done it before.
Ok, it's almost 2am. Time to go to sleep. Tomorrow (Tortola) is the last day we get to sleep in since on Friday we must clear customs in St Thomas and on Saturday... sigh... it's over.
Thursday December 20, 2007 Tortola
2:19pm Hooray!!! I actually was able to sleep in late. Woke up at 11am. Yup, that's what vacations are about.
After a quick stop at my parent's I went on land. I just did a little walk around the waterfront area. Leaving the cruise ship dock area, I just followed the road. After port security, you first pass a field on your left that has many kiosks with all manner of small merchandise; this is opposite the Jewels store. Then I passed the Mill Mall area where I stopped in at Best of British, a store specializing in British foods, spirits, and other merchandise (I bought a couple of teas and some Scottish shortbread). A bit further down is the Village Cay Marina.
Just inland from the marina I had lunch at Nexus Cafe which consisted of a small indoor bar, a large open outdoor but covered restaurant area, plus a completely al-fresco area with picnic type tables. This seemed to be more of a local place since during my whole lunch I only saw 4 tourists, including myself, sticking out like sore thumbs. Correspondingly, the food had character and didn't taste dumbed down for the mass market. I had a curried tomato salad and a Jerk Chicken wrap. The jerk chicken wrap had a very nice scotch bonnet pepper kick to it. While I ate from the menu, most people ate from the buffet including many that took food to go.
Today I can't take tea here in my balcony since we are the sunny side today. Well, it gives me the chance to finally go to Afternoon Tea in the dining room. At least I get to eat the scones once this week!
Talking about sunny, I've noticed one thing about my balcony when it has been in the sun for a while. The first metal sheet (the one closest to the balcony door) seems to be buckled. When it heats up, and I step on it, it buckles down with a very loud "thud" and then pops back up again as I step away. Since my balcony is the mini-suite's sitting area roof I feel horrible for the people below me. Fortunately, it looks like they spend precious little time in their cabin. At night, once the steel has had a chance to cool down again, this problem isn't present. But just in case, I do some fancy footwork with a long first stride when going outside.
6:09pm Afternoon Tea was just as nice on the Crown as on the CB. I had brought my own Mighty Leaf Darjeeling, which I prefer in the afternoon. However, at least here, they did offer a choice of teas (Lipton & Bigelow). Hot water was provided but it didn't seem hot enough. Funny, I didn't see cucumber sandwiches but the rest of the offerings were very tasty nevertheless.
12:51am Again a late evening and little time for writing.
Where to start... Well, best at the beginning. The last present I gave my parents on this cruise was a bottle of Dom Perignon which we were going to share tonight (sort of like giving your mother a box of chocolates for her birthday because you know she'll end up sharing them with you).
The room service waiter arrived and placed the icer and glasses on their table. I then proceeded to remove the wrapping and began undoing the metal cork restrainer when all of a sudden the cork popped and half the champagne fountained out. Immediately we tasted a sample and just as I suspected, from having my hand bathed in it, the champagne was too warm (although the bottle felt cold). I called room service to complain. First time ever I've had to send back a bottle of Dom. Guess there is a first time for everything. Just in case, we decided to put the bottle away in the fridge until tomorrow.
Tonight's dinner was the Gala Dinner which was our second formal night. Same complaint on my part as on the first one. In any case, I asked our waiter for the availability of escargots and he said that these are off-menu items but that they are available with 24 hour notice. Good to know.
However, word spread about my question (and it truly was just that) and 10 minutes later, 3 portions of escargots appeared at our table. Since my father doesn't like them, my mom and I polished off them little slimy garlicky critters. The actual dinner then followed. I had the seafood tian as the (now second) appetizer, a Caesar salad, the pheasant and then the no-fat cheesecake which was surprisingly good. My mother enjoyed her Beef Wellington as well.
Following dinner we stopped by the International Cafe as I invited my parents to an after dinner drink. My port wine came in a dirty glass so I sent it back. Not a good day for me and wines I suppose. Later, just before leaving, my mother noticed the bartender pouring my 'old' port back into the bottle... Not good. Look, I'm no prude and I'm not stupid either. These things can happen (though they shouldn't) but at least have the decency not to do it in front of the customers...
I also paid off most of my bill. Since the champagne waterfall event was going on, everybody was more into that so I had the purser's desk to myself. A little casino action increased my take this week by an additional $60 net. $240 for the week. Not bad for someone who is usually risk averse and only knows the basics of blackjack!!!
Since today is a fairly small entry, let me take the opportunity to describe the Crown Princess itself a bit. She's a pretty new ship, having been launched in 2006, and is in terrific shape with just enough differences here and there to differentiate her from her sisters (i.e. location of specialty restaurants, cigar lounge, etc). Just like her sister-ship Caribbean Princess (and I imagine others from the class) the Crown is designed to reduce the image of a huge ship. All spaces are fairly intimate in size. For example, the Piazza (the main atrium) which in other ship's would be the focal point in terms of size and space does not come across that way. Winding passages snake around and connect different public areas which means that the only time you can see how long the ship really is, is in the hallways of the cabin decks, the promenade's wrap-around, or once ashore. The decoration was elegant and subdued; don't expect Vegas here - even the casino with its 1920's Industrial motif doesn't scream at you. The woods abound onboard and are mostly of a warm color giving an airier feeling to all areas. There is tons of art work around and it ranges the gamut of styles and motifs; nevertheless, none is overpowering (as a note, I think it would have been more fun to dedicate the art work in the 3 main dining rooms to the better known works of Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Botticelli).
Friday December 21, 2007 St Thomas
4:22pm We had to wake up very early today for U.S. Immigration procedures. For those of us with early tours we had to be in line at 7am. That meant waking up at 6am for me... ugh... Last night, I still stopped by the buffet and picked up a couple of things as a make-shift breakfast which I washed down with some tea.
We are docked at the Crown Bay port area which is quite a bit away from downtown Charlotte Amalie. There's a dock side shopping mall in the mold of Havensight (was there on my AOS cruise) and like St Lucia.
At 8:20, we reported to the ferry that took us over to St. John. With clouds rolling in we boarded with half the crowd heading upstairs for some hopeful early tanning action. We cast off and some guy somewhere started talking over the PA about the sights on the shore. While I enjoyed the view overall, there were some gems like seeing some of the houses of the Rich and Undeserving that have sprung up in a particular area, including Michael Jordan and Madonna.
Upon arrival in St John (45 minutes later), we boarded open air "buses" for the sightseeing tour. It started raining a bit and John, our driver/guide, kept referring it to liquid sunshine. Kinda cute. About half way into the tour the sun was out for good.
St John is mostly a forest managed by the US Park Service. Rockefeller bought up most of the island (some 5000 acres) and, after keeping about 110 acres for himself, donated the rest to the Park Service. Only about 5000 residents live there permanently, the island has only a first aid type medical facility, and doesn't have enough children to warrant a full high-school. High-schoolers must ferry over to St Thomas daily.
The route we took is essentially a very winding and small road which gave some people (myself included) some shivers. However, one forgets that these guys drive it daily and fully know the ins and out of it. At one point John pointed out Tortola in the near background. I thought it interesting that it took the Crown Princess almost 12 hours to get from Tortola to St Thomas, when with the ferry, we made the trip almost as far in 45 minutes... What a waste of fuel, no?
We stopped by the camping grounds inside the Park that book up solidly 9 months in advance (yikes - the price was like $140/night - I'd rather cruise!!!) which has both cabanas as well as tent places. After a couple of more stops to ooh-aah and take pictures we did a final "sprint" back to the ferry port area for a 20 minute shopping window. Finally, the ferry took us back to Crown Bay (45 minutes again) where we arrived at roughly 1pm.
Between one thing and another, we missed the dining room lunch (closed at 1:30pm) and decided to go try the pizza on board. I had two slices of pepperoni and found the pizza quite acceptable. However, I remember my first cruise on Princess was on the Sun and the pizzeria was located inside and the product was actually very very good.
I then hit the Crown Bay Mall for some last minute shopping. It is the first time I've come here and I must say the location is not to my liking. It is waaay out of town so unless you are willing to spring for a taxi, you subject yourself to the smaller number of stores that have opened there. Even though I always hated the hustle and bustle of downtown Charlotte Amalie, I now found myself missing it a bit. Strange...
About half of the commercial space has tenants in it. The liquor prices were decent and I purchased three 1 liter JW Blacks at $24 each plus a Cruzan Reserve Rum for my landlady (Riise was sold out on the JW but the other store matched the $24/l. price on their cash-register). At one end, a local Jr High school steel band was playing which I found refreshing in that it gave the kids a chance to perform. They looked cute and excited to play for the tourists; I donated generously to their "tip jar".
It's now 5pm. Time to pack. Usually I try to get as much done as possible the day before but...
11:36pm Had a terrific last dinner tonight. As a starter, we received a specially prepared shrimp scampi type of dish which was followed by an, also specially prepared, linguini with a lobster reduction. Both of these were arranged by the head waiter. After that, we had the traditional Baked Alaska. Chef Diffor also stopped by our table to say good-bye.
The dining room was noticeably empty. Whole tables didn't show up and there were many 10 and 8 tables with only 2 or 3 diners.
I purchased some final things in the on-board duty free stores and then, while packing, I realized that my soft cover luggage had developed a tear right by one of the handles. Not good. Fortunately, I had packed a roll of duct tape and it came to the rescue. It truly is a cruiser's best friend.
I have also made a quick trip to the Cafe Caribe to stock up on some goodies for "breakfast" tomorrow. I do not want to join the hordes at the Horizon or other venues. So now I have a couple of ham & cheese croissants, a couple of cheese-danish type of cakes, and a large scone to keep me company in the morning. All I have to do in the morning is to get some hot water for my tea (down to my last two after the herbals I'm having right now) and I'm all set. I'll consider it my own private Ultimate Balcony Debarkation Breakfast...
If Princess wants to kick me out by 8am for an 11am departure, I will be sitting in my room exactly until 7:59:59am.
So now we get to the last part. As in my previous reviews, I will not include debarkation reviews as these can be hit or miss even in the best of cases. Plus, it is always so sad to write about that day. It's like a slap in the face that a vacation is over.
So, in summary, this cruise very much met expectations and at times exceeded them. The food was, overall, good to at times truly exceptional. Service was at par of what I expected with special services generally only coming from the F&B end of things and then only, from personnel at higher levels.
The Crown is truly a beautiful ship. My parents, more than frequent cruisers on Silver Seas, positively commented on the ship continuously as far as the hardware was concerned.
In general, there seems to be a sense of lack of discipline, in my opinion, compared to what I experienced on the Caribbean Princess about 3 months ago. Let's call it a bit of a lack of motivation by staff as well to go that extra step. I would not be surprised at all that this is a direct result of the loss of the value of the dollar which means that these hard working people are truly working for 'less' than they were just a couple of years ago. People!!! Tip handsomely and please, don't take off the automatic tip. These guys deserve it and we can enjoy our cruises more because of their hard work.
I would definitely cruise on the Crown again immediately, however, I'd prefer one more day at sea at least. This is a very port intensive itinerary. I'll definitely be looking at those Eastern itineraries out of Fort Lauderdale in 2008 which will now include a stop in Turks & Caicos.