ICEBERGS, PUFFINS, WHALES AND A BLUE LAGOON?: Ocean Princess Cruise Review by thesavvyoldlady
Overall Member Rating
ICEBERGS, PUFFINS, WHALES AND A BLUE LAGOON?
This is our 2nd cruise aboard the Tahitian Princess and I must say it felt as if we were coming home again. Captain Stephano Ravera, who is probably the most popular and most loved captain aboard any ship in any fleet in the world, continues to be visible and welcome all of his passengers to his "Beautiful White Lady." Once on board it doesn't take long for you to lose your passenger status and quickly become part of the Tahitian Princess family. What More continues to resound in my mind is the captain's constant remark that he treats his guests as he would want his parents to be treated on any given cruise.
On July 7th we boarded the Tahitian Princess in Dover, England. We had arrived at Gatwick Airport on July 5th since my husband, the "Crabby Old Guy", and I don't like to take the chance of having our luggage arrive late and not have it with us when we board. Dover is a quaint little port town and you have the option of staying at a local B&B or the Ramada Inn. We chose the Ramada Inn which is about 4 miles from the town and we were not disappointed with our choice. The town of Canterbury, which may have a few more hotel options and a bit more scenic, is about a half hour away by cab or bus and is perfect for a day trip if you have the time.
Our embarkation went smoothly and we boarded the ship at 11:30 AM and the cabins were ready, cleaned and open to all passengers. We dropped off our carry-on luggage and went to the buffet to have a delicious lunch. After lunch we returned to our cabin to find our luggage in our room which was a nice surprise. There is no doubt the Tahitian Princess operates like a fine tuned instrument and the Captain and crew seem to anticipate all of their guests requests even before being asked. Our muster station was in the lounge and we were told that it makes it much easier for the passengers to have a place to sit comfortably in the event that they would ever have to remain at the muster station for an extended period of time. It was absolutely lovely to sit on the balcony facing the White Cliffs of Dover and watch the locals' fish from the pier prior to our departure.
July 8th was a relaxing sea day and at mid-afternoon 25 members of the Cruise Critic Roll Call met in the Library for a Meet and Greet. Captain Ravera and the Passenger Services Director, Giacomo Manfredi, stopped by to welcome us all to the ship. Pictures were taken and ideas on excursions were exchanged and as the norm in these days of technology internet friends met in person for the first time aboard the Tahitian Princess.
That night was our first formal dinner and a funny anecdote was told by one of our tablemates. Apparently he was having some difficulty tying his tie so he stepped out into the hallway and fortunately for him an older gentleman and his wife were passing by. He asked the gentlemen if he could please help him with his tie. The gentleman stood in front of our friend and immediately tied a perfect knot. Our friend's wife said "I thought you would have had to stand behind him to tie it" and he replied "Oh, no I do this every day...you see I'm an undertaker." Once again, truth is stranger, or in this case funnier, than fiction.
July 9th we docked in the port of Dublin, Ireland. We opted to take the Princess shuttle ($5.00 a person one way) into town. Once there we took the "Hop On Hop Off" bus which loops the entire city while the bus driver gives a great commentary about this bustling, modern and beautiful city. We hopped off at Saint Patrick's Cathedral and after a visit there back on and back off, at the Kilmainham Gaol (the now closed infamous 19th Century city prison), for a quick tour.
After these rather contrasting views of Dublin, we found a traditional Irish Pub for a lunch of fish-and-chips and, of course, 'a wee pint' of ale. Shopping was next on our to-do list and then a trip back to the ship. (If you are not in the mood to tour another large city you may find a tour through the countryside more appealing and there are many fantastic ones to choose from.) July 10th we woke to the melodious sounds of bagpipes from a bagpiper in full dress who had come to the pier to welcome the Tahitian Princess; a wonderful welcome to Scotland. So far Mother Nature has been considerably kind to us with unseasonably sunny and warm days on this cruise.
We decided to take a Princess organized tour of the countryside in Scotland and try the high-road and the low-road and visit Loch Lomond! At 8:30AM a charming kilted Scotsman, named John, escorted us onto the coach with a hearty handshake and smile and our adventure began. We drove through the lowlands to a wool factory and sheep herding demonstration. The demonstration was give by a burley, sun-worn shepherd. We were all so amazed at the ability of the border collies to rein in the sheep. Of course, a few of us (including me) couldn't resist volunteering to help out the shepherd with a little exercise in herding. Since they train the dogs first by herding geese the shepherd thought it would be an interesting as well as an entertaining sight to have six of us tourists try to herd the geese. Well, after chasing a gaggle of geese all over the field and working up a sweat we decided herding should definitely be left to the dogs and the shepherd.
After a short drive we were taken to a local hotel for an American/Scottish lunch. It was fine but unfortunately with all of the marvelous local foods to sample we had a rather nondescript chicken and vegetable plate. The one item of local cuisine was the dessert, a wonderful dish made of oats, cream and honey topped with fresh raspberries. From there we were off to the highlands. This area of the countryside is amazing, and a more beautiful sight I can't imagine. Experiencing the towering mountains that overlook lush green fields covered with purple heather was definitely a beautiful site which I will never forget. After experiencing our full sized tour bus driver expertly negotiating the narrow windy highland roads going up the mountains I was really thankful we hadn't decided to rent a car and drive it ourselves. Now I know for sure where the term Braveheart originated. We also made a brief stop at a farm for a quick visit with Hamish, a Highland Bull. Hamish, a local movie star with Harry Potter film credits to his name, stood tall and proud with a rack of curled horns that was most impressive and the hairiest face you've ever seen. I had a chance to feed Hamish some fruit and Hamish returned the favor by "sliming" me as my 8 year old grandson would say. All in all it was quite an experience. Next on our tour was an hour's cruise on beautiful Loch Lomond and then a return ride to the ship. I would definitely recommend this tour to everyone.
After returning to the ship we were informed that, unfortunately, the pesky Norovirus that seems to love cruise ships so well was now discovered on board. The Tahitian Princess crew was efficient, effective and professional while following full procedures to contain the virus. So as seasoned cruisers we began to wash and wash and sanitize our hands as we went to and from activities and meals. The efforts of the crew were taken to heart and while a bit inconvenient at times we all complied with the containment procedures and carried on having a relaxing time of it.
July 11th the entire ship awoke to the news at 7AM that there was a medical emergency and a passenger was being airlifted by helicopter to a hospital in Glasgow. The Royal Navy and Air Wing conducted the transfer both swiftly and efficiently. The nature of the passenger's illness was not announced but we were assured that it was not due to the Norovirus.
Fortunately, there were no new cases of the Norovirus reported today and it seems that only 10 passengers were stricken with the virus. If all goes well we shall drop from a red alert to yellow in the next few days and everything will go back to normal. Despite all of this commotion, the professional way it was all handled did not significantly impede our ability to have a relaxing and scenic cruise up the coast of Scotland.
We are traveling up to that part of the world, just below the Arctic Circle, at that time of the year when the sun is visible almost the entire day - the Midnight Sun. So, yes indeed, the sun is beginning to set around 9:30 PM. It is very odd to be finishing dinner at the late night seating just as twilight begins. By the time we reach our northern most point we should have less than 3 hours of night-darkness.
On the bright side the casino will finally open today since the UK does not permit gambling in their waters.
Interestingly enough, I have found that on the longer cruises you have more time to develop friendships with the passengers onboard. On the shorter cruises it's a bit more hectic as everyone is scurrying to find the perfect tour, activity or just the layout of the ship. My husband, The Crabby Old Guy, and I have been very fortunate to meet many wonderful people from different countries and all walks of life. The one thing we keep reminding ourselves is that laughter is universal and, believe me when I tell you, that we have had a lot of laughs on the Tahitian Princess. In the evening many of us congregate in the casino at the nickel or quarter slot machines and I think we are having a tournament to see who can lose the most money the fastest. You know the routine...bet 20 credits and win 2. The odd thing is that we celebrate our 2 credit wins together and with a laugh. I guess it's like looking at a glass half empty or half full. LOL
July 12th was a Sunday and we found ourselves in the town of Torshavn, located on the Faroe Islands off the coast of Norway. Never heard of them, well neither had any of us but that is part of the grand adventure of cruising in this part of the world, a new, far away place that few have heard of and fewer have been able to visit. As in many of the European countries, most of the shops and restaurants here were closed; this was a bit of an itinerary scheduling disappointment. (By-the-way, for those of you cruisers on the July 25th TP sailing from NY to Dover, you will be in Bergen on a Sunday and according to Passenger Services Director, Mr. Manfredi, the town market and shops will be open.)
Torshavn is an extremely picturesque port town. It's a simple walk from the pier to the town and many of the houses have roofs covered with live grass-growing sod. This custom is a holdover from early settlement days when the heavy sod helped keep the walls steady in the wind and help sop up rain. Unfortunately, one of the locals told us that insects love to nest in the sod which is why newer homes mostly have regular roofs. After a 10 minute walk from the ship dock we found the town square down near another pier. There was only one shop and a small cafe open. So there sat most of the Tahitian Princess passengers having a nice pint of the local brew or a coffee and enjoying a lovely sunny day. There were some passengers who opted to take tours either by cab or the ship's tour to the outlying parts of the island. I was very surprised to see how expensive the food and clothing was and most of us purchased very few souvenirs. A relatively simple three course meal of salad, cod and desert at one of the two local hotel restaurants was $90.00 US per person. A chicken Panini was about $11.00 US at an outdoor sandwich stand. While certainly a scenic stop and nice place to stretch our sea-legs most of the passengers agreed that the double whammy of stopping at a town that did not seem to care if we were there or not and landfall on a Sunday was a bit of a downer; a longer stay in another of the wonderful larger ports, such as Scotland or Reykjavik might have been more interesting.
That evening we had reservations for dinner at Sabatini's Trattoria ($20 per person surcharge). What a great place to eat. My one suggestion to those of you who have never eaten at Sabatini's before is to make sure you have a light lunch that day. The food is well prepared and you have a taste of everything on the menu, (8 antipasti, 4 pizzas, 2 soups (including a fantastic saffron flavored cioppino) and 3 pastas). Your only decision is what entrEe and dessert (the apricot pie is delicious) you would like. If you are a brie lover, as I am, make sure you taste the baked Italian brie. It seems to be creamier and softer than the French brie and ohhhhh so good. I will try and post a copy of the menu when I get home at the end of the month but in the mean time there is a sample menu posted on the Princess website. I heard that there is some talk about "simplifying" this grand menu, I hope that whatever changes made will be only minor as this is a fantastic value in an age of "plus-pricing".
Cruising in the North Atlantic and into the ports at the top of the world provide some stunning and unique scenery. The mountains, glacial areas and lava fields are beautiful in their rugged and other-worldly vistas. Captain Ravera and his crew took great care and time to cruise close to these areas to afford all unforgettable views and some simply stunning photo-ops, thanks to the TP bridge crew for all of that hard work on our behalf.
July 13th found us in our first of two ports in Iceland, Seydisfjordur. As we entered the fjord between snow capped mountains the beauty of this part of the world was just breathtaking. Now, for some reason that name of the town just didn't roll easily over the tongues of the majority of English speaking passengers onboard. So after we all butchered the name multiple times we now refer to it as "The-S Town". It doesn't help that the Icelandic language has several different letters in their alphabet than we do and therefore you really can't sound out most of their words. So what is the best way to get from point-A to point-B, do what The Crabby Old Guy and I do...keep a map handy and just point to the places you want to go to. Don't worry, they already know you are a tourist, LOL, and the good folks in all of these lovely towns are very willing to help you find your way around.
The town center is a short walk from the pier (less then 5 minutes and you will be standing in front of the town pharmacy) and has only about 750 residents. Imagine, the docking of the TP more than doubled the number of people in that area. But Seydisfjordur is an absolutely delightful place where the town's people were very welcoming to us and the prices of good quality gift items and cafe food are quite reasonable. If you are in the mood for lamb, a local favorite, check out the braised lamb with root vegetables luncheon at the local hotel near the beautiful Blue Church. It is local lamb that has heather incorporated into its diet and the taste is phenomenal in its simplicity.
Thankfully, Mother Nature continued to smile on us with lovely weather. There are tours available for the area but we opted to just walk through the town on our own. As you leave the pier and reach the main street, the first yellow house with a green roof on the right hand side (a little tourists shop) has an exhibition by Adalheidur S. Eysteinsdottir. This woman has been sculpting for fifteen years and models her sculptures after 1000 year old sheep that were brought over from Denmark. She has a unique way of using small bits and pieces of wood to create her sheep. She has exhibited in New York and Canada and is now making plans to bring her exhibition all over the world. You can check out her website at www.freyjulundur.is.
July 14th was a sea day and most of us just rested up for our next port of call, Reykjavik, Iceland. That evening was a formal night and we met a very dignified gentleman dressed in a proper tuxedo. On his lapel, though, were 9 different pins. When I asked him what they represented, he explained each briefly and when he got to the last one he, straight facedly replied "You see this little penguin? Well, it cost me $25,000 on my cruise to Antarctica."
July 15th. I can't begin to count the number of tours that are available to us during our 18 day "On the Top of the World", cruise. However, one tour in particular has been the butt (pun intended) of many discussions and jokes among the passengers, officers, crew and staff aboard the T.P. The Blue Lagoon in Reykjavik, Iceland is a spa done up in Scandinavian modern style where clients pay to take a dip in geo-thermal heated mineral water contained in a man made lava pit. The Crabby Old Guy insists on referring to this beautifully exotic and luxurious place, picked by Conde Nast as one of the top geo-thermal spas in the world, as a place where you bathe in a rock bed filled with industrial waste and pay a nice hefty price for it. In good sanitary style the spa management requires each patron to take a shower "with no clothing on" before you enter the Blue Lagoon waters. Some how this too offended Crabby's sensibilities as he felt somewhat insulted by the notion that he needed to clean up before getting into the "algae mineral pit"; some guys just do not get it.
Of course all of the hype about this shower protocol captured the imagination of all and folks began to speculate. Deep questions such as; just who takes a shower with their clothes on? And will the Blue Lagoon make me look like a Smurf if I stay in too long? Etc. Many of us also began to wonder if Iceland, being the liberal minded country that it is, would only have co-ed shower rooms (this one was mostly a source of speculation by the guys onboard). The women onboard even went so far as to plan, if necessary, to have their husbands stand in front of them in the shower room. By the way all shower rooms are separate and gender specific, thank you.
Many of us ladies and the more enlightened of the men, felt it would be a sin to travel all these thousands of miles to Iceland and not experience the Blue Lagoon. So bright and early, 7:15 AM to be exact, we all boarded our bus with our bathing suits and towels packed (tip to others, bring flip flops and a robe too!) and had a 45 minute drive through a rather desolate lava strewn countryside. It was almost eerie to be driving for miles without seeing at least one tree. The land, due to volcanic activity, is filled with lava rock and almost reminds you of the craters on the moon. Our tour guide informed us that it would take at least another 200 years before the area will be filled with trees.
We finally reached our destination and believe me we were all still rather clueless regarding what to expect. Thankfully, when we got into the facility, everything was quite civilized, modern, ultra-clean and very pleasant. We were given a high-tech wrist band with a microchip to wear which we were told was used to scan our lockers and lock them. The Crabby Old Guy, who is not a swimmer, was hoping that it was also a means to track him in case he got lost in the Blue Lagoon. No matter what your age is we all did a quick sprint (the sprint was definitely faster than most of us have moved in a good number of years) from the locker rooms into the lagoon. The air temperature was 53 degrees F and felt a tad bit nippy to be walking around in our bathing suits, even when dry. The water was an eerie murky opalescent blue and I'm guessing that it was at least 100 degrees F but it felt wonderful.
We were on the tour with two couples who we met onboard the first night. The six of us were floating in the lagoon when we saw a man with his face covered in white just like a mime. We thought he had put on some zinc oxide since it had become quite sunny. The next minute we saw him with a group of his friends and they too had white faces which led to a comment by one of our friends that they belonged to the Marcelle Marceau tour. It wasn't long before we discovered pails filled with white silica that you ladled into your hands and then smeared all over your face for a Blue Lagoon facial. One of our friends, Carol had been swimming off in the distance when she returned and saw us all in white faces. The look of shock was priceless! We all decided that we must have a photo of all of us in our white masks; the kids will never believe that we would do this without proof positive!
After returning to the ship and a quick on-board lunch we decided to take a ride into Reykjavik by taxi. The cab driver told us we had to taste one of their famous hotdogs at what translates into "Town's Best Hot Dog Stand". He told us that this stand, which has been there since the 1930's, is where locals go after being away from home to get a right proper hotdog. So as we stood in a rather impressive line of locals (it was after all 2PM) we spotted a photo and a cartoon inside of the stand of Bill Clinton eating one of their hotdogs. Imagine that. The cab driver had told us they don't like to tell people that the following week President Clinton suffered a heart attack. The hot dog tasted like a mix between an American hotdog and a sausage and the mustard they use is a khaki color and tastes completely different than our mustard and more like a honey base product. The dogs were also frequently served with mayonnaise or "bread crumbs" (which really taste like those fried onions you get from a can and use on green-bean casserole). We walked for an hour or two around the main district shopping area and found the prices to be rather high.
July 16th was a sea day- translate - another eating-sleeping-reading-meandering day on board the Tahitian Princess. Everyone was very excited about entering Prins Christian Sound in Greenland the next day. Sadly, the excitement didn't last long when the Captain announced that the Sound would be closed due to a large number of ice floes and icebergs that came down from the Arctic and now surrounded the entrance to the sound. We also were encountering rather substantial wave action and gale force winds that made navigation very perilous and once again those of us who have sailed with Captain Ravera before were very thankful that he was at the helm.
July 17th at 8:00AM Captain Ravera, who had been on the bridge since 4:00AM that morning monitoring the seas, the weather reports and working with an on-board Greenlandic pilot, brought us as close as safely possible to the entrance of Prins Christian Sound and many of us witnessed for the first time up close and personal huge icebergs surrounding the entire coast line of Greenland like the rings of Saturn. New words were added to our vocabulary such as "bergie bits" (floating ice bigger than a piano), and growlers (sort of the size of a person). Massive pieces of polar ice were also being moved all around us by 50 knot winds (gale force) and we watched in amazement at the raw spectacle of Greenland's snow and ice covered mountain coast. Parallel to the coast were two belts of ice floes and it didn't take long for us to realize this wasn't a Disneyland ride, this was the real deal. It was a time when all of us, once again, appreciated having a professional crew on a well managed ship to give us as good a view of the land as possible but to keep us all safe and comfortable in some fantastic weather. This was all very dramatic and many of us sitting in the Tahitian Lounge watching the area were at times in awe and at times somewhat tense when a wind or wave gust took the ship. Crabby of course didn't help matters as he continued to hum the theme song of the Titanic in my ear. One other modest observation to share. It's interesting to note that there is very little animal life to be seen in this region. It is not at all what you see in Alaska or the Antarctic.
July 18th was supposed to be Qaqortoq, our only port of call in Greenland. Once again Captain Ravera announced that due to weather and a belt of ice directly in the path of our port we would not be able to dock in Greenland. Disappointment could be heard throughout the ship but we all understood that his decision was made for our safety. Still many wondered how if the Sound and the port are closed to the ships more often than open and whether Princess Cruise Lines Corporate should add a note to the itinerary stating the possibility of closure. Many people felt a bit frustrated that after visiting the Faroe Islands on Sunday when everything was closed and then missing out on Greenland only to have an additional port in Canada be added (Sydney, Nova Scotia) it was not the itinerary they had traveled from as far away as Australia for or had hoped or paid for.
Everyone was thankful that Captain Ravera was at the helm and looking out for our safety and we are quite aware that Mother Nature can be fickle at times but it would have been nice to be informed from the start that there was a very large possibility that these two events could be cancelled. Several people onboard told us they have taken a similar itinerary and have also been closed out of the sound before. One couple even mentioned this was the fourth time that they had cruised to the Sound only to have it closed. At any rate, when life gives you lemons you might as well enjoy some lemonade so we are now looking at three continuous days of not so scenic cruising in the rather cold and foggy North Atlantic heading to St. John's, Newfoundland which we should arrive on the 20th.
But there are some bits of good news. Due to the diligence of the crew and the passengers the Norovirus onboard has been contained and we are now at yellow alert which is the norm. The food is great, the ship is comfortable, the entertainment staff is working hard to put on some additional activities and the well heeled and well traveled companion guests on this rather eventful voyage are most interesting to talk with.
July 20th was a great day for all of us onboard the Tahitian Princess. It was the first time in four days that we didn't wake up to a cold and foggy North Atlantic Sea weather day. As we pulled into St John's, Newfoundland, at the eastern most tip of the American Continent, it was as if a miracle occurred... the sun was out and the passengers onboard all had big smiles on their faces. Everyone seemed to be stepping a little more lively and even though many of us aren't morning people until our first cup of coffee or tea, we were all chattering happily and laughter could be heard all over the ship. Kudos to Captain Ravera and his staff who worked vigilantly on the bridge both day and night to get us safely through the icebergs, gale force winds and fog. There were times in the past three days when the fog was so thick that you couldn't see the water. At 4:00AM of the morning we were to dock at St. John's, when most of us were sleeping Captain Ravera was called to the bridge by his officers. While the fog horn blew every 5 minutes warning other ships of our position the ship, again this is no Disneyworld ride folks, was safely guided through the proverbial pea-soup. When I asked the Captain how he managed the long hours on the bridge, he smiled and said, "It's part of the job, madam."
The Newfoundlanders were unbelievably welcoming to the passengers on the TP. We woke to the sounds of a fife and drum and when we disembarked there were two beautiful and friendly black Labrador dogs and a black Newfoundland dog to greet us. Many of the passengers took advantage of a photo-op with the dogs. We were also greeted with the firing of two cannons at the entrance of the harbor. Okay, there were quite a few jokes being made as to where the cannons were being aimed. Anyway, it was quite a nice welcome that made our journey there seem even more of an event.
At 9:15AM my husband, "The Crabby Old Guy" and I boarded a van with a few of the nice people we met on board and were off through the beautiful countryside to get on a boat for whale sightings and a look at Puffin Island. (Some of us were shocked when in Iceland we saw roasted puffin on the menu.) Once on the boat they announced that a pod of 11 to 15 humpback whales and a calf were spotted in the fjord, so we took an unexpected brief detour to go whale watching. The commentator on the boat said whale watching is 90% patience and 10% luck. Let me tell you it was definitely our lucky day because for more than an hour the whales performed as if they were in a show at Sea World. One mother and calf both breached the water at nearly the same time; it was an incredible sight to see a 30 to 40 ton whale rise out of the water and jump 10 feet in the air. So much was going on that many of us missed incredible photo shots all around the small boat. It wasn't long before we all agreed to meet back onboard the TP and swap photos. Interestingly enough the majority of us had taken the cruise to see Puffin Island and the whale watching was just secondary, but at the end of it all we agreed that the highlight of the trip were the whales and even 100,000+ birds on the sanctuary island as fantastic as that was, could not top the whale watching experience.
After we spent over an hour watching the whales we headed back on the original course and sailed out to the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve and North America's largest Atlantic puffin colony...what an amazing sight that was! Over a hundred-thousand (who do you think counts all of them to verify the tourist script?) puffins, seagulls and kittiwakes were perched on and flying in huge warming flocks around the rocks and inlets of the sanctuary island. The puffins looked like miniature penguins all lined up in the crevices in the rock. I was surprised to learn that the puffins only keep their colorful orange beak for three months during the mating season.
Once back onboard the TP most of us headed for the buffet. Although many of us planned to take a stroll through the town which, by the way, is very hilly the urge to take a nice relaxing nap seemed to work for many others of us. You must remember that we all wanted to be bright-eyed and alert when we made our after dinner donations at the casino.
July 21st we docked in the French Territory of St Pierre et Miquelon. The town provided us a complimentary shuttle (a yellow school bus) to take us into the heart of the town which was about a 10 to 15 minute ride. The town was a beautifully quaint fishing village that had much of the charm of a French-mainland town. Outside the information center was a lady playing old
French songs on an accordion while inside the attendants were handing out maps and samples of the local berry liqueur.The weather was sunny and beautiful and it was just pleasant to take a leisurely stroll through the town. The shops were open in the AM and PM but, keeping with good French tradition, even when the cruise ships are in port, most of them closed between 12:00 noon and 2:00PM. We were told that cod fishing was the island's main industry. For any ladies interested they now also sell cod skin pocketbooks and wallets which are quite attractive. Oddly enough the cod skin resembles the snake skin bags and wallets that were so popular years ago.
Many of the ship's passengers were trying to get a signal on their cell phones, but to no avail. One of our dinner companions was told that there are no cell phones on the island. When she asked the information hostess how they were able to get by without cell phones she quickly and earnestly replied, "It's a very small island." ah, such a French answer...LOL. One passenger on hearing this story did reply that, "Our teenagers would be revolting and sending up smoke signals."
This evening was the one "Chef's Table" on this cruise (on this length voyage there are usually two but with Mr. Norovirus on board one had to be cancelled). Unfortunately, we were not able to do this food-as-theater event but from what we hear it is well worth the $75-80 per-person charge. The meal, which begins in the galley with a tour, includes champaign and wine pairings with appetizers and then everyone goes to one of the specialty restaurants for the remainder of their specially prepared gourmet meal. The entrEe is the chef's choice, and usually includes lobster, veal or lamb and all served in a grand style. Passengers are given a souvenir photo with the chef and Maitre de Hotel and a beautifully hand printed menu. Seating for these events are limited so if this sort of fine dining event is of interest inquire of the Maitre' de Hotel or the call the dining reservations line early on.
Oh, one final note of calm about our Norovirus visitor, particularly for those coming aboard for the July 25th sailing out of New York. I spoke with the ship's Senior Doctor, Dr. Lana Strydom, just today (July 23) and she told me that since 7/17 all has been normal on the gastrointestinal front! Food service and all amenities on board are back to a blissful state of enjoyment. They all did a great job in containing this thing.
July 22 was our last port-of-call in Sydney, Nova Scotia. Sadly, it was a foggy rainy day and for the first time on this voyage we had to tender into the port. Many of the passengers decided to just go into the town and walk around while others took tours of the city and Bell Museum. "Crabby" and I decided not to brave the elements and to stay onboard and get a few things done, like our laundry.
After a relaxing lunch at the buffet (I am going to miss these lunches) I met with Silvio Zampieri, the Maitre D' Hotel. Silvio is probably one of the best Maitre Ds I have met on any of my cruises. I know last year several of the passengers had problems with the previous Maitre D' well, let me tell you, for those of you considering to take a cruise on the Tahitian Princess, Silvio is a breath of fresh air. We sat and chatted for awhile and Silvio told us that there was a change of scheduling and he was supposed to be on vacation with his wife, Laura and two little boys this cruise and instead he was here working. I can't even begin to imagine the sacrifices made for those who have chosen to work on these cruise ships. Silvio proudly took out a picture of his two little red headed boys and the look in his eyes spoke volumes about just how much he missed them! However, he said they and his wife would be joining him on the ship in Halifax. He couldn't be more excited and I wished that we could have been there to see this reunion. I asked Silvio how he dealt with difficult passengers on a day-to-day basis as well as supervise some sixty-eight personnel and with a smile on his face he only said, "It's my job Signora, it is not always easy but it is what I do to make sure that you all have a pleasant cruise, and besides, most of my staff are good hard working people and most of the passengers are a pleasure to deal with." Yet, there are the difficult passengers that all of the crew on all of the ships need to accommodate. It never fails to amaze me how some people can't make a request...they just demand.
Later this evening as we sat down at our table and I started to think about all the amazing people we had met on this voyage. A couple from Germany, Peter and Martina, a couple from Australia, Richard and Carol, John and Lisa from Florida, John and Sally, Bob and Elaine and Penny and Don, Pat and Mike, Carolina and oh so many more. What made this trip so wonderful was that we met people who we would love to have as friends for the rest of our lives. Perhaps, the length of the cruise gave us more time to enjoy the companionship of so many others. On a seven day cruise you have fewer sea days and less time to spend with other passengers. We have decided that we really enjoy this length cruise for many reasons, including the people meetings, and it won't be our last extended cruise. Peter thank you for the collage picture.
July 23 was a day at sea and the countdown to our "return to reality" had begun ...less than 48 hours till we disembark. Chef Michael Borns and Maitre D' Hotel Silvio Zampiere gave a funny and well staged - and succulent - culinary demonstration in the Cabaret Lounge and followed with a tour of the ship's galley. Aside from learning some new cooking techniques the banter between the two was very funny and left all of us laughing as we walked out of the lounge into the Casino. I just love the fact that on every cruise ship after you have seen the evening show you walk directly into the Casino. Don't you think this positioning is little like having the milk displayed in back of the supermarket...location, location, location! Now if only the slot machines would cooperate just once this trip and pay for this great adventure. Okay, can't I dream? Crabby says my dreaming is costing him a small fortune, LOL.
Today we decided to go to the Steakhouse Restaurant for their "Traditional English Pub Luncheon" (no charge). I ordered the Fish and Chips and Crabby had the Bangers and Mash and we were both delighted with our choices. I would recommend keeping an eye on the daily events to see when these special theme meals are being presented, they are a great break from the dinning and buffet lunches on these longer trips.
After lunch Crabby had to go to the library to return some books and I chose to wander over to the Casino since I was determined to see at lease on of those darn slot machines finally pay off...or maybe NOT! On the way I bumped into JJ King, our Cruise Director. If you have never sailed with JJ before you're missing a real personality. For you Baby Boomers out there I would describe him as a cross between Cary Grant and Fred Astaire, and he sings with the style of an accomplished crooner! Yes ladies, he's charming, debonair and sniffle, sniffle...happily married to the Manager of the Boutique Shops onboard. There I go again dreaming, oops just kidding Crabby.
As you can see I'm definitely a people person and love to ask questions (I blame it on my age). I asked JJ what led him to a life at sea. He replied "I come from Kent, England and have been with Princess Cruise Lines for 23 years. I first started out as an entertainer and singer. When you are a land based entertainer you spend a good deal of time auditioning for and waiting for your next job. At sea, well, we get to do what we love every single day, entertain people." When asked about some of the difficulties of his position JJ said that on the World Cruise they had 56 Cabaret acts to schedule and manage. This means setting up rehearsals as soon as the act boards, getting the staging right and dealing with the entertainer's needs and personalities.
Princess Corporate Offices assigns the entertainment onboard each ship and the Cruise Director and his assistant directors have a lot of logistic issues including saying some prays that they all make their flights and show up at their designated port to board the ship and entertain on time and with their equipment. On this cruise one of the entertainers arrived on the ship without his luggage. Quickly, JJ had to find an outfit for him to wear. A few hours later the wonderful pop-violin musician was all outfitted in his signature white attire, he was dressed in a pair of officer's white pants, a shirt from the boutique and a borrowed tie with some sequins glued on to it and he was on stage entertaining all the passengers. When for some reason or other the ship cannot get into the port or has to divert the Cruise Director and his staff are scrambling to create and fill time with unplanned events for the entire day. What I found most interesting about JJ was his ability to manage all the entertainment on the ship and still be very visible and take the time to sit and talk with the passengers. Also, Princess, particularly on this type of upscale cruise, does not inundate passengers with countless "advertisement" announcements during the voyage. The best cruise directors, like JJ, provide just the correct amount of PA- delivered information to help you know what is going on but not so much that you feel you just stepped into the middle of a Circus Midway. JJ and team, thank you for a job well done!
Oh! I don't want to forget to give a special mention about Frankie, the Assistant Cruise Director who also can be seen working hard all day and into the evening all over the ship. Late one evening as we were leaving the Casino Lounge Frankie was diligently putting away all of the Karaoke equipment. I asked Frankie "When do you sleep?" He laughed and said "When the job is done." Frankie was known by many of the passengers we joined on the cruise and all loved having him on board. Frankie not only oversees many of the programs on board he also MC's several of them. He has over 17 years experience at sea conversing with passengers and making their voyage very comfortable and enjoyable. We would love to cruise again with Frankie, and if any of you see him on a cruise, say "HI" to him for Crabby and I.
July 24 is our final day at sea. It's hard to believe that 18 days could pass so quickly. According to the map we are just off the coast of Maine. It's going to be a very busy day and the Tahitian Princess is rocking and rolling and not just with activity-it is a bit wavy out there in the Atlantic. Oddly enough this is probably the roughest seas we have had in the 18 days. Perhaps, the seas are waving farewell, (ouch! Bad pun).
Early that day Crabby was busy packing and I was going to see what sales were going on in the boutiques today. Yep, the tee shirts are all on sale. Some great jewelry sales but my dear husband would throw me overboard if he saw an exorbitant amount (according to him) on my cruise card. You know, I should just buy a piece of jewelry and charge it to that darn slot machine by the door. Can't wait for Crabby to see my casino credits, oops!
This afternoon the Crabby Old Guy is giving a seminar on...and you won't believe this...drum roll..." A Behind The Scenes Look At The Marketing of Viagra"! Yes, Crabby worked for Pfizer and was amazingly involved with the birth of the world's most incredible sex drug. Yes, there were plenty of chuckles during the talk as he described how the churches, Congress and many celebrities were involved in getting the drug to market quickly. He did request that no one ask a personal question in regard to taking Viagra themselves and made sure that everyone knew there would be no samples...LOL. I was just happy this talk was given on the last day since poor Crabby, can you image if it was the first day would have spent the entire trip answering questions.
Well according to Frankie, who MC'd, and JJ the seminar was just great. He had over 200 people there and they all seemed to enjoy it. Considering the rolling of the ship it was a great turn out. Good job Crabby!
Let me tell everyone before I receive a 1000 emails complaining about my calling my sweet husband The Crabby Old Guy. He was the one who gave himself that name. He reads all my blogs and reviews them before I publish then and very often will remind me of a funny story about himself that I missed. Dinner this last evening was going to be very special night. We had decided a few days before to invite some of the people who had become friends to have a farewell dinner with us at Sabatini's Trattoria. I also invited Captain Ravera and the ship's physician Doctor Lana Strydom to join us. We were all so pleasantly surprised when the Captain and the Doctor sat down and joined us.
The company of friends, food and conversation was wonderful. We exchanged email addresses and reminisced. We had shared so many adventures and laughs in the past 18 days that we all agreed that we had to stay in touch. Nello, one of the wonderful dining room supervisors, and Silvio stopped by and we thanked them for their fabulous service. It was an interesting feeling to know that we boarded the ship in Dover and did not know any of the passengers onboard and we were now leaving with the feeling of family members leaving a reunion.
July 25 arrival New York. The Statue of Liberty never looked so sweet. Breakfast would be the last meal we had onboard the Tahitian Princess - for this trip. Entering the Buffet on Deck 9 was bittersweet. Good-byes and hugs were seen everywhere. We all wanted to hold onto one more moment on this amazing cruise. My wonderful friend Carol (an artist from Australia) surprised me with a pastel of a beautiful dolphin. Carol, it is hanging in my office and I will cherish it forever.
Captain Ravera, and crew, once again you have given us a memorable and safe cruise. It was a privilege to be invited to dine at your table. Hopefully we will meet again on the Ocean Princess (the new name for the Tahitian Princess when it leaves dry-dock in November). We appreciate the hours you stood on the bridge through the fog, icebergs and rough seas while we slept comfortably in our beds. You are a Captain of Captains!
Ciao and Warm Hugs,
The Savvy Old Lady Less
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