Island Princess - Ft. Lauderdale - Vancouver Departing April 29, 2011
First, allow me to mention Continental Airlines which we used to fly from Vancouver, BC Canada to Ft. Lauderdale via Houston. It was awful! I think sardines in a can have more shoulder room than people on a Continental flight. We left close to on time from Vancouver which was good. Vancouver must be a prime spot for the airline as we had all senior cabin staff. Not a one under 55 so they must have to bid on the run and senior staff get it. Grouchy seniors should not be staffing a morning flight. Maybe they missed morning coffee.
The airlines have to re-think the charges for baggage - checked bags cost $25 and carry-on is free so everybody has the maximum size and weight carry-on and with a grouchy crew it takes forever to get everybody settled in - some with their carry-on five rows back. This makes for interesting times to collect it when we landed. Maybe they should allow free checked bags (one each) and charge $25 for each carry-on. That would stop all that cabin confusion.
What's with the free half hour of seat back TV? Then you have to pay to watch even the news - so unlike other airlines. So we sat and looked at the passing clouds for 3 hours while being careful not to breath too deeply as that would force the seat companion out into the aisle.
Houston gate changes were another annoyance. Come on guys - decide which gate for which flight and stick to it. Not rocket science.
On approach to Ft. Lauderdale we were a few hundred feet above the runway when our pilot hit the pedal to the metal and off we went for another go-around. No explanation, no announcement, just flew once around the circuit again and tried another landing (bounced a few times but we walked away from it so it was a good landing).
The whole experience turned me off flying in the US so I will stick to Canadian carriers who have a bit more leg room and have free TV onboard. Also they announce what, if anything, is going on.
Now, on to the cruise. Cab to the Port and a $2 per bag charge to load it from the cab to the cage destined to be loaded onboard. Couldn't I have done that? Just another form of customer rip off. Embarkation at Ft. Lauderdale was a bit confusing with long lineups for check in and then it took much longer than was necessary as we had to line up before getting on the escalators because they were backed up due to picture taking at the top of the stairs. Then line up again for security photos as we board. Then line up for elevators. Getting the drift? After we found our stateroom (D707 Mini-suite), parked our carry-on, off we went to the Horizon Court for the lunch lineup. Of course all the staff made sales pitches to sell us wine, beer, coffee cards, soda cards, and anything else that wasn't nailed down. We just kept repeating "No Thank You" which became our refrain for most of the trip.
The lunch was not bad - good variety and quality on embarkation day. You could go for a salad or a sandwich and soup, or a full course hot meal. We opted for the soup and sandwich to get into the eating groove. With free lemonade.
About an hour later we headed back to D707 and there was our luggage outside our door. Took a half hour to sani-wipe the whole cabin and then it was time to unpack and hang everything up. Our box of wine made it through as did our plastic bottle of Canadian Whiskey. Gonna enjoy those happy hours on the balcony.
The stateroom could use a retrofit - it had threadbare carpeting, a couch that looked like it came from a junk pile and bits of cabin fittings were loose and rattling as the engines revved up. Also had an annoying Halogen spotlight facing a print - the light kept flickering all trip - our steward said it is the way halogens work- they shut off when get overheated. Yeah right. Actually, the whole ship could use a little TLC as it looks like an old boat from the far east getting ready to become a ferry. Had it been our first cruise - I would have been very disappointed. It was NOT luxury.
Started in on the scavenger hunt to get all the spots stamped for the draws later that afternoon. The sail-away party was held in the Universe Lounge as we had some rain coming down on us outside. And yes, later that afternoon Dear Wife won a free martini at Crooners Bar as a result of all MY running around. Ah, two days at sea before we get to Aruba. Relax time? - not quite as there was lots going on and I got hit with the Trivia Bug. We set up a pretty good team as we won most of the trivia contests over the next 19 days. Got more lanyards, key chains, fridge magnets, flashlights, etc than I could possibly use. Won a bottle of Italian sparkling wine (they call it Champagne) as well.
Next morning off to breakfast in the Bordeaux DR. Nice but sure took long to eat - we decided to take all the next breakfasts in the Horizon Court to cut down on the time taken to eat (an hour for breakfast?). After all, we had things to do all day long. A daily walk on the Promenade deck, taking in the talks by Ken Williams on our destinations, learning about geology from Dr. Ray, and movies, and of course the Trivia every day (twice a day) were on our agenda. Every evening we took in the big production shows that included the Princess dancers and singers. Loved those! We loved their version of Motown and "Do you Wanna Dance?" Only saw three comedians: Tom Brisco (was very good) ; some unfunny fat guy (was very crude and obnoxious - we walked out) ; and Carlos Oscar (also was very good). Plus,we took in a few Movies Under the Stars, until we found out they showed the same movie on the local TV the next day - it was too hard to half-lay back and watch on the lido deck so we took to watching in our stateroom. We did not miss the dry stale popcorn served on the deck.
Early morning arrival in Aruba - 7AM - long before anything opens. We had to be back on board at noon - why bother stopping? What a disappointment. We walked off, walked through the downtown shopping core, walked on a beach and a park and had to be back for lunch at the Horizon Court (one of the lunches on a sea day took over an hour in the main DR). Getting off and back on was really very simple - nobody wanted to see our passports - just the cruise card.
That evening we decided to take advantage of our voucher for a free bottle of wine (as a returning Princess customer) with our dinner in the Bordeaux (we were on anytime dining) . We asked for a table for two and got it - right next to one of the work stations - not nice. They should put some of the larger table next to the stations - not a romantic table for two. But they must have figured a table for two would be interested in the workings of a dining room rather than have a conversation for two, and we suffered for it. We had a dinner but it was far from romantic. Waste of a bottle of wine. After dinner we went to Crooners to have that free Martini for her and pay for one for me. At $7 per drink we did not stay very long, but it was nice while we were there. But I asked for a Rusty Screw and got a Rusty Nail instead - oh well (and that is after telling the waiter how to make a Rusty Screw). At least we had that stash in our stateroom that we knew how to serve up.
Cartagena next morning. This one was 9 AM until 2:30PM so we took a cab into the old town and walked around seeing quite a bit - loved the Gold Museum. Lots of little nooks and crannies that were interesting and fun. Picked up some Colombian coffee and back on board again with no hassles other than showing the cruise card.
Finally, the next morning - the Panama Canal. Got up early only to be advised we were going to go through a bit late. Could have used the extra hour to catch a few Z's but when you are up - you're up. Took our time over breakfast in the Horizon Court with a nice view of the approach from our table. Then we had running commentary from Ken Williams throughout the ship - so we could move about from the front to the back to our cabin and not miss anything. We were busy all day and with the Statendam right beside us made for interesting sights - you could see what was happening to them as we were too close to the trees to see ourselves. This day made the trip worthwhile. We probably shot over 100 photos that day alone. Later that evening we got the info on Panama City from Ken so we were ready for the tender trip in the morning.
Puerto Amador is a jut of land that was three islands until fill was added and a causeway was built connecting it to the mainland. Nice, clean, modern with a few tourist shops and duty free shopping. We opted for a 2 hour cab ride around town. Saw lots but had to put up with being stuck in traffic for a half hour. Felt a little ripped off, but enjoyed what we did see.
This was followed by a day at sea until we got to Puntarenas which was a pleasant stop. They had the requisite tourist stalls set up at the end of the pier for those needing "whatcha bring me? " stuff. The ground tours were full up and everybody got to see a little wild life. Made for great stories around the bar later that evening.
A couple of days at sea got us to Cabo San Lucas - same stuff going on as other days at sea. Sure wish they could be a little more innovative with the daytime activities. It was trivia, line dancing, zumba or the reverse each day.
Cabo was very interesting but much too short a stop when you have to factor in the tender use. I fail to see why we had such a short time (9AM - 4 PM). If we had more time we could have taken a longer shore excursion and saw a bit more of Baja California. As it is, we had to squeeze a lot into a short time frame. While on the subject of ports - why not include a stop between Costa Rica and Cabo? Could have made it Hualtulco or Acapulco or Puerto Vallarta or even Zihuatanejo. Instead we got days at sea. Princess could have made this trip a heck of a lot more interesting.
A couple of more sea days later we arrived in San Francisco. This is when we needed our passports, customs forms, and cruise cards that were replaced for the second part of our trip. Princess treats the SFO to Vancouver as a separate trip and the Ft. Lauderdale to SFO as a separate trip. So we were really on two back to backs. And the folks carrying on to Alaska - they do a back to back to back! Silly process.
Everybody had to clear US customs and immigration - even those not getting off - I guess because of our next stop - Astoria in Oregon. Anyway it was a bit of a mix up as some folks just do not read instructions and ended up in the wrong clearing room. others were too important" to stand in line and they would clear immigration on their own time later. Only thing is - nobody gets off until EVERYBODY clears. So we were delayed in getting off and again, just a short stop in SFO. No reason to have it that short - other than just to be miserable. Could have used at least a few more hours. All we had was from 10 AM to 3 PM - much too short for such a vibrant city.
At Astoria (after a few more days at sea) we at least had from 8 AM until 5 PM which was sufficient. Astoria did a good job of lining up craft booths at the end of the dock. Picked up some real quality souvenirs.
We got off in Victoria the next morning to head home. At first Princess said we (the 100 or so that were getting off) had to slug our own luggage off and through Canadian customs. Some of us complained to the passenger services folks and later in the evening (as we left Astoria) we got notice with luggage tags attached that they found someone to look after getting our luggage off the ship. We just left it out before 8 AM and it was collected and waiting for us at customs.
In all, we had one breakfast, one lunch, two dinners at the Bordeaux; one dinner at the Bayou; and all the rest of the meals at the Horizon Court. Service in the dining room was super slow, and not very good so we avoided it. We did not bring clothes for any formal nights as we decided to be comfortable instead - and for the most part - that turned out good.
The Island Princess could use an update as it is getting long in the tooth. The public areas could use a full cleaning (including carpet cleaning), while the chairs in the bars need a little repair. Our cabin was old and looked tired, which it probably was due to the vibration and rumble when the engines were running.
If we cruise again, we will try RCL or HAL - but, that will not be for a while as we have to save our money again (takes us 4 years). Maybe a refurbished Princess ship - but likely not. Cruising used to be fun - now it is too rushed, too expensive, and all the waiting staff must be on commission. In the meantime we will revert to all inclusive charter flight vacations to either Mexico or Dominican Republic or Cuba - they are much cheaper and a lot more fun. And the charter flights are roomier than Continental with no connections required.