First to introduce ourselves: We are Ann & Ross from Vancouver British Columbia. We are both 60 years old and still work full time. My DH is an Electrician and I am a Realtor. We have 2 children both grown and married and they each have 1 son. Our Grandson's are Ross & Luke ages 13 & 11. Luckily we live close to both of them so get to spend a lot of time with them. My Dad, Fred, always travels with us. Dad is 87 and lives near Montreal, Que in the summers and in Titusville, Fl in the winters. Dad loves to entertain and can often be found cooking up a dinner for 20 or so friends. He also collects antique cars; having several in various states of repair. He is very involved in many organizations including the church, the Mason's, the Shriner's, AMRA, and the Legion. He still works part time as an Insurance Broker when in Quebec.
On Dec 27th we flew from Vancouver headed for Orlando. Unfortunately Air Canada only got us as far as Toronto where we were told as we had missed our connection we would have to wait till Dec 30th for the next available seats. Naturally I did not agree with this. They finally found a spot for us the next day and we arrived in Orlando on Dec 28th. I am a firm believer in arriving a couple of days before the cruise as today's airlines are known for their tardiness.
We enjoyed a dew days with family prior to the cruise including a day spent at the Magic Kingdom and helped Dad host a New Years Day Dinner for 18 friends.
January 2nd Mario; my Brother In Law, drew the short straw so he got the job of driving us to Fort Lauderdale to the dock. We arrived at the dock just before lunch. Embarkation went smoothly and quickly. Soon we were aboard the Pacific Princess and headed for our cabins.
Once there we dumped our carry on luggage and headed to the Buffet for a lovely lunch. After lunch we returned to our cabins; as our luggage had arrived we unpacked and settled in. Cabin 7008 was a balcony cabin at the very front of the ship. Thus we enjoyed to the hilt all the rock and roll action available during the cruise. For me this is fine but as my DH suffers from sea sickness he would have preferred a cabin more to the centre of the ship. The real negative to the location was the bow wave as it made so much noise that if the patio door was open you could not hear the TV or carry on a conversation. The cabin itself was well laid out with plenty of storage space. The double closet provided ample space for hanging things up; then there was a bank of 4 drawers for all our "unmentionables". Under the TV was a cupboard with 2 large shelves + an open shelf above the TV. Then each nightstand contained a drawer and under that 2 shelves. Under the desk was another bank of 4 drawers + a cupboard with 2 shelves...so lots of storage space. Of course our empty cases fit under the bed. In the bathroom there was a corner medicine cabinet with 3 shelves as well as 3 open corner shelves above the toilet. I stuck up my usual suction cup hooks all around the mirrors to hold lots of little odds and ends. This trip I had taken along a suction cup container (sold in Wal Mart in Housewares or the $1 Stores) that one would mount in a shower for holding shampoo. That was a great addition to keeping the cabin tidy as my scissors, tape, pins, etc all could easily be dumped in this container and then retrieved when wanted. Of course the room included the normal fridge and safe which we used. Our Cabin Attendant, Bayani, was super; keeping fresh ice & drinking water along with lots of clean glasses in the cabin at all times. Princess does not supply a water carafe; so I took along a $1 Store jug which Bayani was happy to keep full of fresh drinking water.
Princess does maintain a self serve laundry; cost is $1. per load of wash and $1. for the dryers. The wash includes the soap which is dispensed automatically from a wall dispenser directly into the washing machine. Irons and Ironing Boards are found in the Laundry.
The Buffet was well laid out if somewhat smaller than on the larger ships. Still a good selection was available most days. We never had trouble finding a seat in the buffet area. There was also a Pizza station which in the mornings converted to an Omelet station where they would cook eggs to order. Unfortunately Princess only makes juice available to passengers in the morning during breakfast. At any other time of the day juice is supplied for a charge from the bars. Consequently every morning I would stock up on glasses of juice and take them to the fridge in our cabin. Then during the day when my DH or my Dad wanted a juice we had it available in our cabin. (That was my pet peeve on board)
The ship offered a very nice internet cafe. As I never went online I cannot comment on the speed.
The Card / Games room was small with only 4 tables but not overly used. We played bridge there most days.
The Spa and Gym were very nice and seemed to offer all the normal items. I used the walking track and pool for my exercising. Being a small ship there was only 1 pool and 2 hot tubs but they never seemed to be crowded. Whenever I went into the pool I was always alone or maybe had to share with 1 other person and the hot tubs again were never crowded whenever we wished to use them. The pool was salt water and not heated; however given our itinerary the water was not cold.
The Theatre was really only a lounge with a dance floor and small stage to hold the band. However the ships company did a good job with the performances and we never had trouble getting front row seats. The entertainment is not of the caliber found on the new mega ships but was still enjoyable. Several nights in the Casino were advertised as non-smoking however as we do not gamble I cannot comment on that.
The ship did provide a wonderful guest lecturer to speak about all the ports of call and answer all our questions on them. Hutch's lectures were very well done and complimented with lots of slides. In addition Hutch was at the gangplank in the mornings at every port of call to answer any last minute questions and give directions.
We ate every night in the main dining room and found the food well prepared and served. A good selection of both main courses and appetizers was available. Unfortunately as on all cruise ships the coffee is very strong so I went with tea.
Now to the itinerary.
We started out by enjoying 2 leisurely days at sea prior to arriving at our first port of call St Barthelemy. Here we had to tender ashore and this was handled well and without any long lineups. This stony, volcanic, eight-square-mile island with no fresh water and little workable land is named for Christopher Columbus' brother, Bartolomeo. It is located near the northern end of the Lesser Antilles group in the West Indies, 15 miles east of St. Martin. Many St. Bartians are descendants of 17th-century settlers from Brittany and Normandy. In the 18th century, France leased the island to Sweden in exchange for trading rights to the Baltic. Almost a century later, locals voted to restore rule to the French. Today, St. Barth's, population 6,500, is a dependency of the French overseas department of Guadeloupe.
We walked around the Capital, Gustavia, stopping at the fish market where they throw the scraps into the water to the delight of hundreds of "Tarpon" who quickly gobble up these free handouts. A stroll along the waterfront took us past mega size private yachts. At "Le Select" a bar that is famous for its hamburgers we added a Canada Flag sticker to their decorations. This bar is decorated with stickers from all over the world. If you are visiting there take a sticker of your favorite local home establishment and add it to the collection. This island made me think of Monte Carlo as it was very clean, quaint with narrow streets, expensive cars and yachts and the prices in shops being outrageous. The local currency is the Euro and an ice cream cone was 6 Euros. Needless to say I returned to the ship for my ice cream. Our next port of call was Dominica.
This "Nature Island" is 29 by 16 miles of rainforest, dense lush vegetation, waterfalls, freshwater pools and bubbling hot springs from the active underwater volcanoes surrounding the island. Once off the ship, head inland or out to the water to experience the best of what this island has to offer. Indeed, it's easy to spend the day here and never see a beach at least a sandy one. As you drive the coastline on roads hacked out of the mountainside, jagged edges plunge into the ocean with mango trees and ginger root cascading down into the sea. And as you take the valley roads inland, you'll be awed by the utter majesty of the unspoiled nature rising up around you like a cathedral.
Originally populated by the Carib tribe of Indians in the 1800's, the French and British fought for control of the island. If you glance at a map of the island, it's clear by the town names that the French populated the South (Roseau, Soufrieres) while the British occupied the North (Portsmouth). Eventually, the British conquered the French portion of the island and maintained control until 1978 when Dominica gained independence. The island still has a Carib population of about 3,000 people; they occupy a northeastern corner of the island. A drive through this "Carib Territory" will give you a glimpse into life as it was for the native Indians a century ago and as it still is today.
Dominica has survived with a predominantly agricultural-based economy, though in the past year the World Trade Organization withdrew subsidies for Dominica's banana farmers, which caused quite a stir on the island. It remains to be seen what will come out of the protests against the lost subsidies. Tourism also remains strong with Dominica attracting a stream of naturalists who flock to the island to see 172 types of birds, 12 major waterfalls and peaks that rise to 5,000 feet. Divers and whale watchers also come in hordes to explore the waters that plunge to nearly 6,000 feet right off the coastline, providing an ideal base for seven types of whales that can be seen nearly year-round.
Weather on the island is a moderate 77 degrees year-round, although it's cooler in the mountains, humid in the rainforest and warmer on the coast. The driest months are January through April, but don't be surprised if you experience a brief downpour every day.
Next up was a day in St Lucia. St Lucia Castries is the capital of this lush tropical isle. A town of charming, pastel colored colonial buildings. Yet despite its peaceful setting, St Lucia has a turbulent history. First settled by the peaceful Arawaks who were overrun by the fierce Carib Warriors in the 9th century. St. Lucia became a hotly contested territory with the arrival of Europeans; the first being LeClerc, a French Buccaneer. It was passed back and forth 14 times between the British and the French from 1746 to 1814, when the Brits finally took possession for good. Traces of both cultures still remain in the language many St. Lucians speak both English and a French Creole patois. Sugar was the lure: sugar was king - within 4 decades some 50 plantations flourished on the island. St Lucia became part of the Caribbean's 18th century trade triangle of sugar, slavery, and rum.
Here we contracted with a taxi for a tour to the north end of the island to view Rodney Bay Marina and Pigeon Island with a stop to ride the Rain Forest Arial Tram. The tram ride is approximately 90 minutes with a guide describing the flora that you are gliding past as well as answering all your questions. At the end of the ride the guide takes you on a short walk thru the rainforest. This is all finished off very nicely with a glass of rum punch (very strong).
The final stop in the Caribbean was Scarborough, Tobago, Trinidad. Here we again contracted with a taxi for a short tour of the island. Our first stop was Fort King George built in 1779 by the English, it is currently under going a restoration. From this vantage point 425ft above the town we had a wonderful view of our ship and the Caribbean. We then crossed the island to Plymouth stopping briefly at the ruins of Fort James. Our last stop was the location of Fort Bennett and Black Rock. Later we walked to the Botanical Gardens from the dock.
The many passengers who ventured out to dive or enjoy snorkeling in the warm Caribbean all reported wonderful trips.
Leaving the Caribbean we continued south to our next stop Devil's Island, French Guiana . Established in 1852 as France's Penal Colony it actually consists of 3 islands in the misnamed Salvation group; Royale, St Joseph, and Devil's Island. The Salvation Islands got their name in the 17th century when settlers fled French Guiana to avoid the plague. In the century that the French used the islands as a penal colony, 80,000 prisoners were condemned to hard labor there. Today Isle Royal serves as a tracking station for a small number of scientists employed by the European Ariane Space Program. This was one of my favorite stops. There are no organized tours and the only transport is ones 2 feet! Arriving on the Island we walked to the left and then right and up the first flight of steps that we came to. At the top of these stairs is a small museum depicting the Penal Colony. Of course most of the descriptions are in French so it gave our brains a good workout. We left the museum to continue upward (out the front door of the museum and to your right) to the top of the island where the Hotel with gift shop is located. From the Hotel we walked past the old Guards Barracks (some being used as Hostel Accommodations) to the Church and Prison Hospital. Behind the Hospital and down the hill a little is the Children's Cemetery. Just below the cemetery you will find lots of monkeys. We then turned right and followed the track back up and around to the old Guards Barracks and back to the Hotel. Here we stopped for a cold can of Coke ($3) and a great view out over St Josef's Island. Then we carried on back towards the museum but tuned left to head to the beach. It is here that the Prison Commander had the Prisoners build him a swimming pool so he could enjoy the warm ocean waters without the treat of sharks. Walking along the shoreline you pass the old butcher shop and metal working shop before arriving back at the dock and the tender ready to head back to the ship.
Soon we were entering the Amazon River, the largest and longest river in the world. We would sail upstream for nearly 48 hours traveling some 500 miles before arriving at our first stop Santarem.
A small city of around 130,000 people, feels more like a large town than a city. Rarely visited by tourists this city does not have The usual tourist traps. We hired a taxi with an English speaking guide and headed out. The local Market was very interesting but with nothing in the way of souvenirs. Our next stop was a view point from which We could see the "Meeting of the Waters" . We stopped at their museum and were given a guided tour by one of the staff who spoke English. Next we checked out the zoo. Very small and primitive but I was allowed to play with the monkey and pet the baby Jaguar; could have held the snake too but declined that offer. Not to be missed was a stop at a local farm where the Farmer and his family demonstrate how they make Manioc Flour from the plant to the finished product. They also tapped a rubber tree for us so we could see the latex seeping out of the tree. Artfully displayed was an array of many of the fruits of the Amazon with the opportunity to taste them; the Brazil Nuts were delicious and I never realized that the nuts grew in a BIG shell which when opened has at least 15 or more of the Brazil nuts (as we buy them in the store) inside. Our final stop was at the beach were we could have swam however I contented myself with wading. The cost of a taxi with English guide is $40. per hour.
Our second stop on the Amazon River was at the village of Boca Da Valeria. Approximately 75 people live here; however many people from neighboring villages come here to sell their crafts when a cruise ship stops. The locals do not speak English so communication is a problem. Take a lot of $1. bills ashore with you as they want $1. for every photo that you take of themselves or their children; many of whom are dressed in costume. Do not bother taking trinkets for them as the children will mob you for the trinkets and at the school you are not even given a smile for leaving gifts. We paid a local $5. for a ride in his dug out canoe and it was a long time sitting on the hard seat.
Finally we arrived at Manaus the large city of 1.5 million located 1000 miles upstream from the Atlantic Ocean and plunk dab in the middle of the jungle. The highlight of the city is the Opera House. Built in Paris and brought over in pieces and reassembled in Manaus. From the dome to the opulent entrance hall with Venetian Glass Chandeliers to the Upper Reception Hall with inlaid floors, a ceiling reminiscent of the Vatican in Rome. We visited 2 museums which are small for the city the size of Manaus. The local public markets were interesting; bananas by the tractor trailer load being unloaded by hand; watermelons, fish of all kinds, and the color and activity level was great.
The next morning we met our guide "Connie" of Amazon Riders early and headed out for a full day tour in the jungle (8am-8pm). First we started with the "Meeting of the Waters" where our guide had us trailing our hands in the water over the side of the boat so we could feel the difference in the temperature between the Amazon and the Rio Negro Rivers. A stop to see the largest fish of the Amazon River which a local had in a pen. Cruising along the tributaries of the Amazon we saw lots of birds and monkeys. At lunch time we stopped at a floating restaurant where we enjoyed a wonderful buffet of Amazonian dishes. The fish was excellent and it was fun to know that I had tried so many local dishes. From here we walked along a boardwalk thru the jungle to Lake January to see the famous Regia Victoria Water Lily the largest of its kind in the world. Adjacent to the restaurant was a large shop selling local crafts and souvenirs. This was the only place I really found to purchase souvenirs and their prices were very reasonable with a little negotiation. After lunch we headed out to try our hands at fishing for Piranha; both my Dad & Husband caught one. Then we cruised up a small creek where we spotted a Caiman sunbathing, a sloth, lots of birds. We stopped to inspect the efforts of some teenagers who were fishing for "Fish Eggs" to sell for pocket money. The cat fish lay their eggs in holes in the muddy banks of the creek and the teens dive down and feel for the eggs. Sometimes they get the whole cat fish too! By now it is late afternoon and we stop at a Locals floating home for a visit and refreshing sip of fresh coconut milk. Here the children had a sloth with a baby that I was able to hold. They also had a pet otter who smelled our fish laying in the bottom of our boat and hopped aboard to enjoy a quick snack. Our guide hauled the otter out of our boat by the tail and let him go into the water with 1 of our fish. We proceeded to board our boat ready to depart; however, we were not quick enough and the otter returned for the 2nd fish climbing right into the boat and my Dad's lap to get it! Unfortunately the Otter did not stay around for his Kodak Moment! As dusk settled over the Amazon we went looking for Caiman. Once it was fully dark our guide found a Caiman and caught it for us with his bare hands. Bringing it aboard he provided us with a lesson on the Caiman; we all petted it and took photos before it was released back into the water unharmed. This brought our very full and fun day to a wonderful close. Believe it or not we did all this on a private tour for only $75. each; there were only 13 of us divided between 2 boats and 2 guides.
If any of you would like any additional information or have questions please do not hesitate to ask ann at century 21 vancouver dot com As you can see we had a wonderful cruise and have many great memories of our time on the Amazon River Just a couple of quick notes You will be amazed at how few bugs especially mosquitoes you see. Skip the long sleeves & long pants. Take bug repellant just in case. Take along some powder as with the humidity you can never seem to get really dry.