Our third cruise with friends took us to the Western Caribbean aboard the Crown Princess. This trip was booked through internet travel service which provided excellent service and a hefty discount. The weather throughout the trip was perfect as we had only one sprinkle or two while awake and at sea. Temperatures were in the 80's. Our trip was from December 5, 2009 through December 12, 2009.
December 5 We flew AirTran to Ft. Lauderdale. Smooth flight. Cab from airport to Cruise Terminal cost about $16 with tip. Fifteen minute trip.
Embarkation was very smooth. Lots of booths set up to log in travelers. Our ship is docked near Oasis of the Seas, and a massive vessel that one is. We check in to cabin P207, Plaza deck with Oceanview. Small porthole but allows a lot of light into cabin. Beds are together to form queen. The cabin has excellent storage space with fridge and small desk. Room is well laid out. Bath is typical for cruise ship with excellent hot water flow in shower. Sink has virtually no cold water out of faucet, just lukewarm. Flat screen TV in room with limited channel selection. Mostly watched cruise channels for cruise director and Navigator's Log.
Our room steward, Ignacio, was very polite and accommodating. Our problem is that we don't like to spend time in our room. It's for showering, dressing and sleeping, in our minds so we are not very demanding of room stewards. I am sure that had we asked, he would have gotten us anything we wanted. I did hear from our friends and another passenger that doors had been left ajar by the stewards when they were finished. We used the safe in the room. If our door was left ajar, they could have had whatever was left in the room.
We began a tour of the ship stopped at Crooners for a drink. Service a little slow. There was a ridiculous martini shaking exhibition by the servers there if you ordered one.
We went to the pool deck. There are two main outdoor pools amidships. First hosts entertainment. Second has "jumbotron" television on which is shown "Movies Under the Stars" and, yes, guys, NFL football. Forward in bow is The Sanctuary for fee of 10 bucks per half day. It is a shaded area with plush chairs. It has its own pool... Below it is the Spa. We used neither of these. As to The Sanctuary, it is a nice area if you need more shade. We had no trouble finding a shady spot on the boat. Glass on port and starboard rails is UV coated to provide filtering until sun is high in the sky and then you have to move around for protection but there are lots of chairs. Stern hosts Outrigger bar and small pool for adults. Children have small pool and play area above. Top deck (19) hosts walking track (16 laps for 1 mile) and basketball court. Deck 19 is a little hard to find.
Dining areas, in addition to "cover charge" restaurants which we did not use, include poolside grill with hamburgers and hot dogs. The Wheelhouse Restaurant is kind of like a brew-pub. The Michelangelo and DaVinci dining rooms are identical. However, Michelangelo has anytime dining and the seating moves around. DaVinci is used for reserved time dining and the same waiter and table are assigned to you. There is the usual Pizza area. Each day has pepperoni and plain and then a third "special" pie. There is an ice cream bar with "smoothies" available. The buffets are on Deck 15 toward the stern with one area closer amidships and the other backs up to the fantail. Our comment card indicated the buffet arrangement is confusing and crowded. One line would close without warning and open on the opposite side. Occasionally seating was hard to find. Very often, we would take food from the buffet out to the stern at Outrigger and eat out there.
The food in the dining room was plentiful but was only average. The most disappointing thing about it was that it hardly ever came out hot. It was not cold, just not really hot on most occasions. Our comment card indicated this.
In addition to Princess Theater there is the Explorer Lounge which hosts entertainment and the ship has a respectable size casino. The Lounge is too small for some of the shows. It fills up quickly and with the lights down the servers have a very hard time navigating the crowded aisles.
We stopped often at the wine bar for Sushi. The food and service there, as well as the wine, were good.
There were two "formal" nights on this cruise. Most of the older passengers got dressed up for this. My wife and I are opposed to formal nights in the Carribean. Europe is another matter. She wore a cocktail dress and I wore a dark, island themed shirt with slacks and dress sandals. And that was good enough for my buddy and me and our spouses. (There was also this ridiculous champagne pouring event which, really, with people suffering in our economy, was a little lavish and "over the top" for my taste.)
The ship was beautiful. But it seemed like often some of the elevators were either not working or were taken out of service for some reason. Also, the Captain apologized twice for the fire doors closing in some areas due to a computer glitch. I am sure the people in those areas were pretty scared at that, but the Captain gave some instructions over the P.A. as to how to open the doors.
December 7 Grand Cayman
We spent the prior day at sea. Today we are up early. Our ship arrives at Grand Cayman. Followed closely by a Carnival ship. Catch the first tender into port. Pass on cruise ship tours. Off the tender at the dock and outside a security perimeter there are lots of people hawking tours. We meet Linda Ewbank (she has a license she shows us) of United Tours and sign up for about 40 dollars for Stingray City and the Reef and 7 Mile Beach. The deal is that they take you to Stingray City and the Reef to snorkel and then drop you off on the Beach at a public area. The public beach looked nice but nothing spectacular and no one wanted to go there at the end of the day. You have to take the bus back to the tender dock. We are told to come back at 8:55 a.m. to depart.
We walk around the town. There is shopping but nothing much to speak of unless you are in the market for some high end items. Our friends have gone farther down the road to a "walk in" dive session which they loved. We go back to the tender dock for our tour.
A few more tenders arrive. It's past 9:15 or so. It's obvious the hawkers are trying to fill up slots. We meet our bus driver who leads us to the parking area for tour buses. He drives us up past 7 mile beach with some nice commentary. We arrive at the marina. Our boat won't start. The driver calls for help and makes arrangements with another boater with another tour conductor to take us on. The boat is in decent shape and holds our 20 people easily. Maria is the photographer with Gordon as the mate and Howard as the captain. We leave the marina past some beautiful houses.
Thirty minutes later we are at Stingray City. Our boat has snorkel stuff but we have brought our own. The boat anchors off the sandbar visited by the Rays. In the water we are immediately surrounded by Rays. Gordon is in with us and he has a name for each. We feed them. He holds them. Then we hold them. We take pictures. Gordon is great with a young man who is a little scared. The Rays are soft to the touch and very gentle. When they brush against you it's like a soft glove touching your skin. When they take food from you they suck it out of your fingers. They have no teeth. After about 45 minutes we are off to the reef. There is great snorkeling there. We see lots of colorful fish and coral. Back on board, Maria has a laptop and shows you the pictures she took in the water. I am impressed with her setup. We order all 4 pictures and she puts them on a disk for us on the boat! We return to the marina and a bus picks us up to take us to the tender dock.
Once back at the tender dock we jump over to Margaritaville for a drink, right across the street. There is the typical Martgaritaville souvenir store there. We eat on the deck overlooking the street. Someone is entertaining with kind of a music-comedy thing, picking on cruisers. It's fun. The last tender is out at about 4 p.m. By 5 we are well underway.
Tonight we watched the Ravens-Packers game under the stars on the ship's jumbotron. What an unforgettable experience to be at sea, in the Caribbean, and watching the game on that big screen. Even the ladies were impressed. The weather in Green Bay was awful but our weather was beautiful. (For a Ravens fan the game was awful as well!) In the evening, when not showing a football game, there may be a movie being shown. The ship provides blankets if it is cool out. So, you just sit yourself down on a chaise with a good view and curl up with a blanket if you are chilly. The bar service continues throughout and popcorn is provided, if you want some.
December 8 Roatan
We have arrived at the new facility at Mahogany Bay this morning. The Captain has backed the ship into dock and a security "perimeter" has been set up around the ship which is really not much more than white uniformed shore staff manning checkpoints. From our vantage point on deck 19 during our morning walk we can see the path that leads from the ship to the shopping area and also the pathway and aerial "tram" that takes you to the beach at Mahogany Bay. It looks very inviting.
We disembark and make a brief stop at the stores, mainly to pick up the free charms that are offered. I suggest to the ladies that we check out the beach. The tram is 5 dollars for an all day ticket. The walk is no more than 10 minutes to the beach through a paved, lovely area. We pass on the tram and walk. On the way there is some additional shopping. But all the stores are not as yet occupied. The facility has only been open 8 days.
Crossing over a bridge there is a large, beautiful beach and an area with several large bars. The facilities are brand new and the restrooms are very nice and well kept. There is plenty of shade from the palms and sun, closer to the water, if you want. A band played live music at a bar/restaurant at the far northern end of the beach area. Now, I have to admit that I had mixed emotions about staying here as I had wanted to explore a little and travel to Tabyana Beach but the vote was to stay and so we did. From pictures I saw of Tabyana, I think the snorkeling there would have been better. At this point in Mahogany Bay's life, the water was somewhat more turbid with less sea life, but there were things to see while snorkeling. I think the beach needs time to establish itself, being so new. And the Mahogany Bay beach is somewhat more compact in size, it appears, than Tabyana. There is no question that this beach, from what I have seen on the Internet, is designed to "mimic" Tabyana. Mahogany Bay's main advantages are cleanliness, security, no cost to get there, and no time wasted in getting there. I also want to remark that the cabs to take you to Tabyana are kept away from the pier. I stopped to ask one of the security people where we could find one and was told they were about a 5 min. walk from the area's exit. Travel time from the pier to Tabyana is now about 25 minutes, I was told.
We spent the day on the beach, in the shade. When we had enough we retreated to Hurricane Hole, one of the bars, which had a large, shady area in which to sit. A DJ was playing great dance music and some of the entertainers from the ship were hanging out to dance and enjoy the music. It was festive, and the food and drinks were good and reasonably priced. A really fun time. At around 6 we were on the boat and ready to sail.
December 9 Cozumel
Today's stop is Cozumel. Our cab ride into town is $16. We shopped, and shopped some more. Finally, some of us decide to leave and visit "San Francisco Beach". From downtown to the Beach is about a 25 to 30 minute ride. The fare for the cab was about $25, I believe. Once there, there is a Carlos and Charlie's Restaurant, A large beach area with lots of activities, a fresh water pool and shower, a changing room and a large, shaded outdoor area to eat in. But there is also beach service and our waiters were very attentive, fun and pleasant. The deal here is that you have to spend some money to use the beach chairs, which have umbrellas, or you pay to use them, I think they ask you to spend at least $10 a person, but that was no trouble for us between beer, drinks and lunch. All were reasonably priced. The snorkeling off the beach here was okay but, again, the sand was stirred up by the activities which made it hard to see anything well. The stay there was very pleasant and at the end of the day the cabs are lined up in the parking lot to take you back to the pier.
Leaving Cozumel was interesting. Our ship was accompanied by a high speed, small Mexican gun boat with a 50 caliber machine gun mounted in the front. That was the only time we saw anything like that on the cruise.
We were at sea today but it was a dramatic day. The ship's radar spotted a craft which appeared to be adrift and spotters on the bridge saw a man waving for help. An announcement was made for the rescue boat to be mustered and the Captain went on speaker to let us know what was going on. The rescue boat was sent off to investigate. We could not even see the craft from our vantage point on deck. Later, the assistant cruise director made a remark that the fellow waving for help was clinging to some Styrofoam in the water, but that was never confirmed by me. The Captain put the ship into what I perceived to be a 360 degree turn and brought the ship starboard side to the returning high speed rescue craft. An announcement was made that the sailor was recovered and in decent shape and would be taken to the ship's medical center to some loud cheers and applause. We found out he would be turned over to authorities in Ft. Lauderdale. We also later learned that the Crown Princess has had several rescues at sea - a penchant for being in the right place at the right time. Under Maritime Law the ship must render assistance to any sailor in distress. It was a good job, and very impressive, to say the least. My compliments to Captain Fortezze who turned an 113,000 ton boat like it was an offshore fishing boat.
December 11 Princess Cays
This was our last stop on our itinerary. The ship anchored offshore and we tendered in. It was a beautiful day. We made prior arrangements for a "bungalow" for $200 through the ship. The bungalow was well worth the cost. We split the cost 6 ways, with a $20 tip for our server, and everyone loved having it. (The bungalow next door had an infant and it was godsend for them, as it provided a cool, shady area to nap in.) The bungalows have 4 lounge chairs with 2 umbrellas in front, in the sun. There are 2 plastic upright chairs on the "deck" in front of the bungalow. There is a table and 4 chairs inside. The bungalow had double doors to enter, air conditioning, and a fresh water shower outside. It also had bug spray, tissues and a couple of other sundries on its shelves. A golf cart that sat all six of us whisked us from the pier to the "Oleander" bungalow (pink!!) - they all have different names. From there we set up and could go into the water with some great, great snorkeling. The snorkeling here was terrific (my buddy said it was perhaps he had ever seen at a developed beach) with all kinds of fish, including two Barracuda, one bigger and one smaller. There was great reef life there as well. The best thing about the bungalow is that there is a buffet lunch included for all on the ship but with the bungalow you don't have to stand in line for food and the line was very long. The food was brought to our bungalow by a server and included delicious chicken, hamburgers, hot dogs, salad and deserts, including fresh fruit and cookies. The bungalow can seat 4 if you want to eat inside but it was such a beautiful day that we just used the table as a buffet and ate outside on the beach and deck. The servers kept plenty of ice water on hand in the hut and were very attentive on the drinks. ALL of bungalows appeared to be occupied or at least almost all of them. So, I would advise that if you are interested you sign up early. There is also some shopping here from local artists, not much to speak of, but interesting. There is also a nice, kids play area and little pool here. At the end of a delightful day we could have been picked up by the golf cart driver and taken to the tender dock but the relatively short walk was very pleasant and we were soon back aboard without incident.
That night we made our last visit to the Adagio Martini Bar across from Sabatini's Restaurant. This is probably the most secret place on the entire ship. (A warning to all that the lounge singer here was awful for our taste.) He was an older gentleman named Ludvicho or something like that. Some of the older patrons seemed to love him but he was pretty bad to our thinking. But our server, Lloyd, who had been so gracious to us on our visit up there in the past more than made up for the singing. We loved him and got to know him quite well and nominated him for "employee of the cruise". One last remark on this bar is that of any place on the ship, this one shows vibration the most when under way. Given the fact its on Deck 16, I could not understand that but it was there, nonetheless.
December 12 Disembarkation at Port Everglades.
We arrive early. Our bags were put out the night before. Disembarkation was very, very smooth. The cab service at Port is perfect. We were on our way very quickly after a wonderful trip on Crown Princess.